High School Sport Coaching

High School Coaching

Why Not Build a Program?

As coaches, we often take over teams not knowing whether we’ll be there next season or two years from now. That is the nature of our profession; the volatility of the coaching environment, better opportunities, changes in our own lives. At practice or during a game, we can become distracted by challenges or other aspects of our life, and do a less-than-ideal job with our team. It’s easy to justify thoughts such as, “Well, I don’t plan on being here next year so what does it matter?”

It does matter! To the players, their families, the school, and, more importantly, you! Everything you do is a reflection of your commitment and character. It doesn’t matter if you’ll be there tomorrow, the next day, or next week. What does matter is that you’re there right now. You have a job to do, and you owe it to your players to do it the best way possible.

Build your program just as you would your house

A master carpenter had worked all his life and was ready to retire. His boss explained that he needed him to build one more house. Reluctantly, he agreed, even though his heart wasn’t in it. During the job, he wanted to finish quickly, so he took shortcuts, used inferior materials, and generally provided shoddy workmanship. Eventually, he finished the house.

As he was gathering up his tools, his boss showed up to see the result. From the outside, the house looked magnificent, but the carpenter knew it would have problems and certainly wouldn’t last as long as many he had built. When the boss paid him and shook his hand, he handed him the keys.

He said, “You’ve built so many beautiful houses for me I want to repay you as you retire with this house as a gift.” Stunned, the carpenter thought, “If I had only known, I would have built it better.”

So it is with us. We build our houses (programs) every day. We need to use the best resources, and do the most magnificent job possible so that they will last a long time. Those programs will always be a reflection of us, whether we’re there one day, one season, or many years later.

Build the program so they can say, “We did it all ourselves without any help from the coach.”

That’s a pretty harsh and outrageous statement to some coaches. Especially when you’ve invested your heart, soul, and time into a program. But, as you think about that statement, it’s the ultimate compliment. It says you’ve given the players and the program the tools to stand by themselves. True credit comes from within as a coach. Quality-focused coaches don’t need people always complimenting them on what a great program and team they’ve developed. The results speak for themselves. It’s okay to let others have and take credit for the program. Be proud of your work and the success you’ve allowed others to enjoy.

What are some of the keys to building a program?

  1. Passion – Spread the fire for your mission!
  2. Engagement – Load every helper you can find aboard your train!
  3. Salesmanship – Use every opportunity to sell your program to anyone who is standing in front of you.
  4. Planning – Develop a plan for what you want to accomplish with timetables and goals for each season.
  5. Expectations – Start from day one and expect the best from your players.
  6. Resilience – Be prepared to deal with setbacks; let nothing derail you.
  7. Work ethic – Work every day with a fire!
  8. Avoidance of fool’s gold – Don’t be comfortable with small victories; continue to work for the bigger prize.
  9. Encouragement/praise – Everyone in your program – players, parents, administrators, and supporters – need encouragement and praise.
  10. Humility – Step back and ask yourself, “Could they run it without me?” If so, you’re doing your job, if not, you still have work to do.

Building a program starts the first day that you’re announced as the new coach. You can’t predict how long you’ll be in one place, but you can never go wrong thinking that you’ll be there for 20 years. That approach allows you the opportunity to build your dream and a positive program.

What will your program be known for, and stand for?

Without a doubt, building a program is a monumental task. As others see it, what will they notice? What do you envision? What will you be most proud of?

  1. Development of players or winning at all costs?
  2. Encouraging or threatening environment?
  3. Positive character or embarrassing behavior?
  4. Adhering to or breaking the rules?
  5. Empowering or demeaning players?
  6. Dealing with or screaming about mistakes?
  7. High expectations or mediocrity?
  8. Humility or boasting?
  9. Passion or complacency?
  10. Creativity or suppression?
  11. Positive influence or trophies at all cost?
  12. Shared leadership or dictatorship?

* * *

Indiana High School Volleyball Hall of Fame Coach Jean Kesterson shares her “Seven Steps to Developing a Successful High School Program”.

1. Vision

Shared Vision: Coaches, Players, Parents, Administrators, and Community

  • Develop a System
  • Define roles: Coaches, Players, and Parents
  • Develop a quality staff
  • Develop a feeder program
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel
    • Ask proven winners
    • What do winners do that you can do in your program?

Setting Goals

  • Develop 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year goals
    • Look at Schedule
    • Divide season into mini-seasons
  • List practice goals
    • Practice your strengths
  • List program/team/individual goals. Goals are SMART
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Attainable
    • Realistic
    • Timely

2. Pay the Price

  • See Happy Players (important)
  • Set high standards for the program
  • No other team will out-work the volleyball team
    • Don’t confuse activity with productivity
  • Strong conditioning program
  • Play volleyball
  • Chalk talk sessions
  • You need to work harder than your players

3. Coach Happy Players

  • Fill the Circles
    • Mental
    • Social
    • Physical
    • Spiritual

4. Promote, Promote, Promote

  • Make it important to play volleyball for your school
  • RECRUIT. Get the best athletes to play volleyball
  • Be visible. Get involved in everything at your school
  • Belong to your state and national coaching associations


  • Fun environment
  • Website
  • Media guide
  • Special events at games
  • Camps
  • Merchandise
  • Highlight films/PowerPoint presentations
  • Happy players and happy parents will promote for you

5. Communicate

With whom?

  • Players
  • Parents
  • School/administration
  • Community/feeder programs
  • Media
  • Alumni


  • Website
  • E-mail
  • Media guide
  • Summer evaluation
  • Player self-evaluation/teammate evaluation/1 on 1
  • Don’t burn any bridges
    • Making Cuts
    • The day before, on paper, players list five things they like about themselves. On the back side, players list five things they want to do in high school (no volleyball). Players make teams.
    • Ask good kids to stay in the program as statisticians/managers


  • 9th grade/Middle School meetings
    • The why is the most important thing
  • Pre-season meetings with parents
  • State Finals meeting

6. Establish Tradition

  • How is your program branded?
  • Establish tradition
  • Goal circle
  • Team meals
  • Pre and post-match prayer
  • Irish cheer
  • Crazy Dress Up Day
  • Senior night
  • Parent night
  • Dads decorating the bus
  • Certain uniforms
  • Pep band/music at games
  • Seniors make banners
  • Who sits where on the bus
  • Seniors design uniform shirts

7. Have Fun

  • Coaching is a precious gift
  • Passion is contagious
  • Coach/teach excellence

* * *

When you’ve taken care of the details while building your program, you’ll see positive results. It takes time, so don’t get discouraged. Use your power of being positive to create an environment where players feel encouraged to be creative, make mistakes, be challenged and just be themselves.

One day, standing on the sidelines, a smile will cross your face as someone takes time to congratulate you on your program. Or you will see an incident on the field, and suddenly realize that what you’ve been working for all these years came together in one wonderful moment.

Unlike the carpenter in our story, work hard every day and put your best work into your program. After all, you’ve been handed the keys.