COMMUNICATING WITH PLAYERS DURING THE OFFSEASON
About the coach
Bob Bunton has compiled an 81-45 record in 12 years as coach at Parkway North. He's been with the school for 30 years. As a head coach, Bunton has led the Vikings to three district titles, a Suburban South championship, two quarterfinals appearances and one berth in the semifinals.
Unlike in some states, high school football head coaches in Missouri typically teach a full load of classes. Juggling the professional responsibilities of your classroom students and maintaining your year-round communication and progress of your 100-plus football players can be a real challenge.
The offseason months of a football season can be as demanding as the in-season work with players. The months from August through November are pretty much structured with practices, games and academics. It is the school months from December through May that can sometimes require more work and attention in the attempt to monitor players and their academic and athletic progress.
I think coaches of any sport would agree that an athlete's grades are best during the season. The rigid time structure and disciplined routine is constant, and that allows little time for outside activities. The offseason, in which we do not see players every day, and the lack of structure is when coaches earn our pay.
At Parkway North, we encourage our kids to play other sports. Competition and the influence of being around teammates and coaches is usually a healthy environment. But, the football players who do not compete in another sport are expected to be in our after-school weight training program. Our kids are expected to be lifting, training and in the presence of teammates to constantly foster that competitive edge that is necessary to be successful each fall.
More importantly, as the head coach, the offseason gives me prime opportunities to monitor our players' grades on a weekly basis. At North, we have an academic lab period of 90 minutes every other day. This is utilized by meeting with players and having them check in with the coaches as to the progress of their grades. It also is a great way to stay in touch with these kids and connect with them off the field.
Our online Infinite Campus program allows the coaches to meet with the kids and monitor their immediate and updated grading and attendance.
I think coaches sometimes lose sight of the fact that these are kids and that they do not always think football 24-7. The kids give us everything during the season, and the sport demands a lot of time from a lot of people. The offseason, in my opinion, is a great time to fully get to know kids away from the field.
We publish a winter newsletter to begin our second semester and have a team meeting during the first full week of school in January. At that meeting, we hand out the newsletter, which is geared to grades, accomplishments and news about our program.
The newsletter typically will remind players of academic eligibility rules, ACT dates, summer camp info (so families can plan vacations), football player successes in other sports, updates on where our senior players are attending college, and any other miscellaneous items like new uniform pieces and reminders of our spring football meeting in May. Any kind of good news briefs that positively promote our program and players are published for our kids to see.
At our spring meeting in May, we will attempt to have a guest speaker from outside the program (professional player, alum, or coach) to further promote our motto or goals for the upcoming season. The meeting is also done in our school theater for a more professional setting. Our summer calendar is outlined in greater detail, and this is where we watch our preseason highlight video on the theater’s big screen.
It is a meeting where we really get enthused about the ending of the school year and the start of preparation for the summer football schedule. We vote on our captains, and we always leave that meeting on a positive note.
In closing, I think communication and developing relationships with players may be the most important characteristic of our football program. In the age of technology and instant communication, there is no reason not to be successful in communicating with your players in the offseason. Sometimes knowing your student-athletes away from the football field can help you understand the type of player that young man is for you in the fall.