Leadership development is one of the most commonly requested topics each year in our readers survey. Coach Iverson presents a great overview about how his program addresses this concept. Read more here...
By Clay Iverson
Mukwonago High School (Mukwonago, WI)
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As always it is a pleasure to contribute a report for X and O Labs, it is a great place to go to learn, add to, and gain research on a number of items related to a game that has meant so much to me and to many others.
I have not only thought it to be an honor to contribute a piece to X and O but also it is fun, I like sharing what we do from an on the field perspective. I have never had an issue with sharing any of the schemes, plays or series we run at Mukwonago or where I have been. I do not get paranoid about who has our film, and in general if one of our opponents had our play book I would be just fine with that. There is no magic in there, and as many of you know there is no magic in any playbook. The X’s and O’s of football are easy to learn and if you have the internet and the ability to read, well, you can get whatever you are looking for and then some. So sharing in these areas has been a great experience.
This report’s topic however, is something we rarely share outside our program. One reason is people don’t ask, which I think is too bad. The second reason is we don’t bring in up because it has let us have success at multiple places in multiple leagues. I suppose selfishly we like to keep it in house. I do feel though more and more coaches are starting to understand the importance of leadership training and teaching family (not just preaching family) within a program.
We Want to Win
I think sometimes when coaches hear leadership or developing the complete person or family they feel that means putting winning on the back burner. I know that is what I thought, until I started to listen to what the great programs were doing. When it came to scheme they were simple, when it came to program and player development they were very intricate. Make no mistake I have never coached a game I didn’t want to, think, or prepared as hard as I could to win.
When I was younger I didn’t go to many of the leadership or team building clinic talks (I thought that was a waste of my time, especially when the guy down the hall was going to teach me a can’t fail way to protect my 5 step game vs. man pressure schemes). Yikes, that seems absurd to me now. It is amazing the great players I got to coach when I first started who won enough games so I could stay in this great profession.
What sets programs apart is not the X’s and O’s and I would argue it is not so much the Jimmies and Joes either, but the development of the servant leader and the investment of a true football family.
Who is the Servant Leader
As a coach think about the things that you get upset about, I mean the things that really keep you up at night, that get under your skin. If those things are how to run the smash route perfectly or what depth your safety should be at in cover 1 I would argue, humbly, you are a football enthusiast, not a football coach.
While technique and scheme are important they are meaningless without a group of young men that are dedicated to improving daily, love one another, and have the courage to serve others before themselves.
My main concern as a coach now, the things that keep me up at night, are reaching the level of complete servant leadership within our program. This includes the following:
Having players who:
- Sacrifice anything that would take away from the team’s success (parties, soda, junk fund, too many video games, drugs and alcohol, etc.)
- Put (family) team success over their own individual stats or honors
- Play and practice hard all the time
- Never miss a 6:00 AM lift
- Are great young men in school and in the community
A football coach likes to win, if you had a team full of guys that are all in on the 5 above points, I think winning takes care of itself and not to mention you will get rid of those restless nights (well at least most of them).
Developing the Servant Leader and the Family
As with most things in football the devil is in the details. We have all given our leadership talks, preached the importance of being a family, and maybe even threw in a leadership counsel or retreat. I think all of that is great and they are all great items to use when developing a team of leaders and servers. However, you need a game plan or else just like on Friday night everything kind of runs together into “what should we do next” situations.
Here is our servant leadership/family development game plan; we use it for all 10-12th graders, and pick parts of it to use with freshmen and even throughout our youth programs.
Over the last decade plus, the place I have seen the most growth in young men’s leadership and team/family development is during our 6AM work outs. We start these in the beginning of January and they run until the football season. We will go 3 to 4 days a week. I love the mornings, especially in those winter months in Wisconsin. The kids are serving each other and the family daily. We remind them of that – “overcoming obstacles for each other will serve us during the season.” I would say getting out of bed at 5:30 AM when it is -20 outside in the middle of February is serving and sacrificing for one another. Plus they are investing, it has to be important to them, there are no excuses. We start to build that family, that love for each other in those invisible mornings that no one can see but us.
Coaches also are building relationships with kids at this time, talking to them, getting to know them. We are encouraging them, letting them compete, letting them struggle and succeed; fall down and get up – all the things we would want our young men to experience is happening during those mornings. We are also constantly developing leadership during this time. We have players in charge of leading warm ups, bringing in music, encouraging, even developing different competitions we will do. Leadership is develop through adversity and overcoming obstacles, we create a few of those for our kids and then help them get through them. When they are ready we let them get through those on their own. These are things our family and our leaders will have to do during the season – we practice it all the time.
Other Pillars of Our Servant Leadership Football Family
Along with player meetings, morning lifting/character-building, Black Flag Saturdays, dedications and community service days, we have a few other items we feel helps us build leaders, build family, and build our program. Here they are if you would like more info on the below or anything we do please contact me…
- Never use hard work as a punishment – we do sprints, up/downs, hills, etc… just like most, except we never use them as a punishment. It is backwards thinking – I want my guys to play hard, but I am going to use hard work as negative reinforcement. Instead when we compete the winners get to run, or whatever we are competing for. Then the reward for great work is you get to get better. If a player gets a sack in a game I am not taking him out because he did great – he gets to go again. Same whenever we compete. The biggest punishment I can give is making a player sit out and watch.
- In Huddle – I stole this (OK I basically have stolen all of these) but I stole this one from Coach Bob Neilson from South Dakota. After practice or before our field walk (our players walk the field hand in hand about 3 hours before kickoff) a senior will talk to the team about what football, this family, or what leadership means to him. Great way to keep the kids in front and your voice in the back. It also makes some kids lead in different ways. Again you will surprised what they say when you let them talk.
- Got you/Got me – When we condition in or out of season we will often partner up and whatever we are doing your partner is watching and when you are tired he will do the work for you – then you watch him and do the same. We have done 100+ up downs or pushups for 5 straight minutes with this. Again it teaches serving a teammate, leadership, family and most of all no one can do this alone.
- No Awards – Well we give out one award at the banquet MVT- Most Valuable Teammate – it is the only award I will ever give and the kids vote on it.
- One motto – We have stuck with one saying or motto or whatever you call it. Ours is +1. We are going to do a little extra (+1) in whatever we do. It is what is important to our program. Whatever is important to your program stick with it – we don’t change year to year. We know what and who we are. A group that is going to work a little harder, have little more fun and do the little things just a little bit more than the normal person is willing to on a daily basis.
- Outings – We go paint balling, I have the seniors over to my house, we have a team picnic, we go bowling; in short we know we will work hard, but we want to have fun too. This is what a family does, they enjoy being together.
- Overnight camp – this is the most time consuming thing for me as a coach – but we do a three day two night camp at Carroll University in WI. It is a college setting we are alone and together. We do three practices a day, we watch film, we work out, we eat, we do two team building events – one is the kids favorite our talent show; coaches seem to take the brunt of some pretty good impersonations on that night. I guess the point is we are together all the time.
- We say I Love You – This is a whole different article but we make sure our kids know that we love them and they will work to love each other. We start by explaining what love really means – then we say it. We say it at practice, before games, in meetings and we mean it because we have taught it and worked for it.
What You’re Missing…
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- The three questions that Coach Iverson asks each returning varsity football player before spring workouts.
- The “Black Flag Saturdays” routine that Coach Iverson took from legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable, which helps develop mental toughness starting in March.
- The “Dedications” concept that Coach Iverson will have each player be involved in before the start of each season.
- The four rules that Coach Iverson uses in his community development program, which can range from working on school projects and helping those in town.
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Chances are, many of you do a lot of this stuff, or like items already. If we do anything well is that we put this stuff first and we don’t waver from it. Building servant leaders and a football family is our goal. If we reach it our record always seems to take care of itself even when playing in one of the toughest conferences in the Midwest. I can honestly tell you this, because in 11 years as a head coach we have had winning records in ten of them. The one year we came up a game short was the one year we let the above items go and thought we would out smart people. The football gods humbled us real quick for that.
I hope there is something in this article you can use, or it adds to something you are doing, or it sparks conversation about what this game was meant for; teaching lessons to young people that go beyond blocking and tackling; lessons that focus on creating great adults in whatever they choose to do when that final whistle blows. All the best this off-season and in 2016.
Meet Coach Iverson: Clay Iverson is currently the Head Football Coach at Mukwonago High School where he just finished his tenth year running successful programs. During that time, he has compiled an 80-29 record, won four conference titles, and has 10 straight playoff appearances with four quarter-final appearances and a final four appearance in 2013. Coach Iverson has also been District and County Coach of the Year twice. He previously held the Head Coaching job at Pewaukee High School, where he still holds the record for most playoff wins, and best overall winning percentage. At Pewaukee, he was the prep coach of NFL star J.J. Watt.