Creating a Championship Team

To say that I was proud of my boys after their team won this year’s state football championship (independent league), would be an understatement.  The Charlotte Christian Knight’s 47 to 21 win against their cross-town rivals was a fantastic end to their high school football careers. Now that the victory is two weeks old, their lockers emptied and equipment turned in, I was reflecting on what made this season so special.  I know that I could describe it from my point-of-view, but I wanted to find out from them, why they thought their team had such a good season.

I asked each of them to list the top ten reasons why the 2017 team was so successful. After reviewing their lists, I group them into three groups and added one that 18 year-old teenagers probably wouldn’t consider. The reasons they gave me can be put under the following three headings:

  • Outstanding Coaches
  • Top Talent
  • Team Cohesiveness

The one that I’ll added is:

  • Well-tuned Infrastructure

What’s interesting is that the lists of each boy were very similar.

The boys started their 2017 football season in early June, just days after turning in their final exams as junior high school students. You could tell that something was in the air as the boys were very excited to start summer training.  As their practice time was limited at the start of the summer by league rules, they supplemented time on the field with pumping iron in the weight room.

Outstanding Coaches:

Our school is blessed to have outstanding coaches who have a passion for the game and love for their players. Most of the coaches have played college and professional football; one has three super bowl rings! They leave their day jobs early to come and coach our kids… unbelievable.

These coaches know the game of football and teach it to their players. A couple of years ago we moved to a no-huddle-offense; not an easy transition for high school players. The opposing teams struggled with the fast pace of play that our team brought to the field, as did the referees who couldn’t get out of way fast enough.

Good coaches know how to run practices well. In fact our practices were so effective that other teams from other leagues asked if they could watch our team practice.

Our coaches expected a lot from our boys. They ran multiple formations on both sides of the football and worked with them until they got it right.  Because our coaches were so good at breaking down film from our opponents’ games, our players had a mental advantage even before game night.

My role as the dad of two football players was to take photos during the games. In this role I was able to spend a good amount of time on the opposing team’s sideline. This is where I noted the stark contrast of how our boys were coached compared to how the other players were coach. The words and the insults that flew toward players on this side of the field never happened on my boys’ team. This is one of the key reasons why our players have so much respect for their coaches.

Lastly, and probably most important, our coaches wanted to develop our boys’ character both on and off the field. The expectations were very high and if you didn’t meet them, you sat on the bench.  Our team Chaplain got the guys together for devotions every week; two seniors were selected to lead.

Our boys were in good hands with these coaches.

Top Talent:

Our school does not recruit athletes or give athletic scholarships. So how can it be that we have such high-caliber football players at our school?  Two reasons:

  • The School’s reputation of high academic standards, the arts and athletics based on Christian values.
  • A well thought-thru program that starts in the 6th

According to my boys, this year was different because we had so many good athletes and a deep roster. Players knew their roles and always gave 100%. We had freshman and sophomore players who made major contributions throughout the season. And the major blessing that the team enjoyed was that 22 seniors players brought maturity, size and experience to squad.

Team Cohesiveness:

The team chemistry was outstanding.  These boys became a band of brothers!

With 22 returning seniors we had many players who stepped up and became leaders on the team.  The strong individual egos of the past few years gave way to individuals who put their team first. The objective was to support each other, make the team better and achieve the ultimate goal: winning a state championship title.  If someone messed up, a teammate picked him off the ground and encouraged him to do better next time. Not every player got the playing time they wanted. Still, they worked hard and didn’t complain. They were part of the team, even if they stood on the sideline.

Accountability was very important to this team: keep your grades up and don’t screw up at a weekend party. Every member of the team was expected to take personal responsibility and hold his teammates accountable. You had to show up for practice and be ready for Friday night.

Where do these strong bonds between the players come from?  I’d say it starts at the top with the senior players and how they were role models to younger players. There are team dinners before the games, service projects that they work on together, varsity players mentoring middle schoolers, weekly team devotionals and Thursday night senior dinners. Most importantly, its their shared Christian faith.

As a parent looking from the outside in, you really got a sense that these players loved each other, that they had each others’ back and that they were proud to wear the same uniform.  As the weeks went by they were creating more and more memories, experiences they will cherish for a lifetime.

Well-tuned Infrastructure:

Our school has more than a football team; they have a football program. This program – starting in the middle school – involves players, coaches, trainers, teachers, administration, parents and even grand parents. Everyone plays an important role and over the years, we have learned what works and what doesn’t work. The number of volunteer hours and the financial support that lays the foundation for the program is incredible.

Without giving up too many “trade-secretes” of our program, let me share with you one nugget that I particularly enjoy: the Friday morning coaches’ Breakfast. On the Fridays when we had a home game, the coaches invited the varsity players’ parents to an early morning breakfast.  We were shown film and given commentary to the past week’s game and film and strategy for beating the evening’s opponent. It was a fun time to fellowship with other parents and coaches. But it is also  was a serious time when former university and professional players shared their valuable insight to parents who really wanted to better understand what’s happening on the field.

These past four years, especially the last one, have passed by much too quickly. Last Sunday we had a final celebration of a fantastic season. All 22 seniors were personally recognized and encouraged to continue to give their all in the future, be it on the field, in their studies, in the workplace and in their future marriages. It’s been fun to have shared this experience with my boys!