While there are a handful of strong organizations at this level that bring in money, and others that are even able to pay players or provide incentives, most teams are just here because of the love of the game. Most owners come out of pocket and don’t come close to breaking even and are okay with it because they love the game so much and they love to provide players with an opportunity to keep playing the game they love.
Needless to say, most owners probably aren’t pouring six figures into their team, and many aren’t even pouring in five figures. That’s fine, because the core of being successful at this level doesn’t come down to money, it comes down to character, structure and teamwork. Now don’t get us wrong, money definitely helps in big ways in a lot of areas and generally there’s a trend between money and success at this level, but not always. We believe that the average developmental football team can go a long ways by doing more with less.
Here are 10 things you can do to improve your organization for free, or for little expense, to ensure that it’s a better experience for everyone involved and that everyone gets closer to their championship goals.
- Treat people the right way.
To grow your team and be accepted by the community, it is crucial to treat people the right way. This one might sound like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at some of the things we’ve heard from different teams across the country. Again, it is our mission to try to help teams by providing exposure and new ideas to improve their organizations, so isn’t our place to try to publicly slander any specific organizations or people.
Whether you’re an owner or player, perception is everything. You should desire that every recruit that comes along, every fan, every member in the community and even every member of a rival organization has a positive opinion about your organization and the character with which it operates.
Successful football teams and leagues are about community, about us working together for the greater good. Be professional. The public’s perception of your team is based on the company you keep, the way you run your organization, the way you look and, lastly, whether or not you’re any good. Furthermore, the organization as a whole is a reflection of its leader, so treat the people within the organization the right way and set an example for everyone to follow in life outside of football.
Treat all newcomers equally. Maybe you don’t think the 5-foot-1, 345-pound lineman or the slow, chubby wide receiver that shows up at tryouts will help you out much on the field, but you don’t know who all he knows, what skills he possesses or what he could add to your organization aside from limited on-the-field performance. Don’t burn any bridges.
Don’t overlook a player that comes from a rival high school than the majority of your team did, just because the veterans at his position are your boys. Don’t stiff a local business on big purchase and then expect to play at the best stadium in town. It usually doesn’t work that way. Word travels and people talk about your organization, so make sure they only have good things to talk about.
Don’t lie to sponsors about what they will receive for x amount of dollars and don’t lie to your team, claiming to have sponsors you don’t really have. Don’t lie about what your team brings to the table to attract recruits only to not deliver when the time comes.
- Always have your leadership team on the same page about everything before the information is passed beyond your leadership team.
Developmental teams exists with many different leadership structures. Some have an owner who decides everything, then passes it on to a coaching staff to implement within the organization. Some have one person that’s both the owner and head coach that runs everything with a few assistants to help him out. Some teams have a staff that does a majority vote on different decisions and then moves forward by delegating responsibilities and taking action. Then there are the start-up teams that have an owner-slash-head coach-slash-GM-slash-offensive coordinator-slash-player. Any of these structures are fine, and we’ve come across successful teams of each type.
However the core of your organization is structured, it is crucial that you have a strong structure. Whenever potential new players or fans come along, first impression is everything. If they don’t like what they see, they won’t stay and your organization will not grow as well as it could. And, whatever opinion they developed about your organization based on their first impression they will pass on to others, which isn’t good for your organization.
Already have decisions made and questions answered before newcomers ask about them. A big part of being successful is looking organized and the best way to look organized is to BE organized.
Whether you’re thinking about starting a team, or you run an existing team and you’re getting ready for a new season, get your leadership team, inner circle, or whatever you consider your front office, on the same page about everything before you bring others along. From uniforms, to venues, to style of play, before you move any further and bring anyone else to anything your organization does, get united and get a strong vision in place.
You don’t want to be asked questions that you should have the answer to, but don’t have the answer to. You don’t want another staff member to give someone a completely different answer to a question than you did because it tells others that you are unorganized, and the type of people you need for this thing to be successful probably do not want to be part of something that is unorganized.
- Be organized.
We’ve all seen it either on social media or in person – pictures from a developmental game where players on the same team’s uniform doesn’t even match. If you’ve been around this level of football for more than one month, I’m willing to bet you’ve seen it.
This is sad and it’s keeping a lot of prospective players, fans, and sponsors from giving your organization a chance. When people outside the organization see that, they think, “Wow, this is a joke.” Sure, some of these teams might play lights out and win a bunch of games, but most of them don’t. Not looking organized because you’re NOT organized is limiting your organization in a big way.
This goes back to making a good first impression. People will only take you as serious as you look. Don’t expect to attract many quality committed people if you aren’t organized. Again, the best way to look organized is to actually BE organized.
Be organized at tryouts, be organized at meetings, be organized at practice and be organized at games. Decent practice jerseys can be purchased online for anywhere from $1-10 apiece. Good quality team T-shirts can be printed for about $4 apiece. These small investments go a long ways.
Have a plan and at the very least a tentative schedule going into each meeting and practice. Too many teams at this level just wing everything and play it by ear and never get the results they want. If practice starts at 10:00 a.m., then make sure players are lined up stretching at 10:00 a.m. Don’t sit in your car until 10:15 a.m. to see who else shows up while everyone stands there wondering what’s going on, then decide on whether or not you’re actually going to do anything. Whether you’ve got 35 people at practice or seven people, be organized and structured with what you have, utilize the time and build on it. Keep the people that are part of this and get rid of the people that are consistently not a part of it.
Most players that have played at a higher level aren’t going to give you a second chance if you lack structure and organization. Most potential sponsors aren’t going to give you a chance. Notice we said most. You might already have some guys that played at a higher level on your team, but I bet you would like more of them, right?
At higher levels, players are paid or compensated in some way (meals, scholarships, etc.) and have top-of-the-line equipment, and while you might not be able to provide them with all of that, make the most out of what you can do. Look the same, be professional, and have a plan.
- Don’t waste people’s time.
Wasting people’s time goes hand-in-hand with whether or not you’re organized. If you have a two-hour practice scheduled for 10 a.m., then start it at 10 a.m. and get over by 12:00. If people are running late, don’t change everyone’s day just to accommodate them. Get started and they can fill in when they show up, or do a punishment run or whatever system you have in place, but don’t waste the committed, on-time player’s time by waiting for the less committed and less on-time people.
If you’re practicing at a certain field, make sure you have permission to use that field at that time. What you don’t want is your whole team to show up at a field to find out that practice has been moved. This is going to send a bad message to the guys on your team that are not used to it.
If you’re having a meeting at a business or a restaurant, make sure they know to expect your team. What you don’t want is for everyone to show up and have to go elsewhere if the place is too crowded, or even worse, you don’t want to get run off for loitering if people aren’t making purchases. All of this affects the perception of your team to newcomers and to the public
When you have a meeting, make sure you have an agenda, start on time and stay on schedule. Players don’t get paid and take time away from their families or jobs to give it to your team, so don’t waste their time or you might lose them.
Lastly, to reach your championship goals and growth goals, you have a lot of progress that needs to be made, and the less organized and less on time you are, the more likely you are to NOT reach your goals.
- Develop the guys that show up to everything.
This bring us to our next point: develop the guys that show up to everything. Every team has some, but not nearly enough of them. You know, the guys that show up to every practice and every community event. Depending on the team, this might be anywhere from 10 percent to 75 percent of your team.
Whoever these guys are, develop them and make sure they have a role. These are the guys that care about the team and are not just in it for themselves. Developing and keeping these guys is crucial to building a strong and lasting foundation. Some of these guys are talented and some of them maybe not as much, but their commitment to your team is exactly what will build your team into a good family-like environment for the years ahead. Make sure they get in the game, make sure their higher level of commitment is recognized and appreciated in front of everyone. What you honor will grow. Honoring commitment leads to more commitment.
Many teams at this level go wrong by letting a more talented player who is never at practice and never at community events show up and start a game ahead of the committed, but less talented guys on game day. This is a huge mistake. If you do this, you might win the game, however you’re telling your entire team that showing up to practice and community events does not matter, and once they believe that, good luck ever getting a good turnout again. Is winning a game worth losing your team?
You always have to think big picture. Would you rather put a great product on the field down the road in due time or put a decent product on the field immediately?
- Be consistent with your brand.
Some of the community may know about you, most of the community may know about you, but not everybody, everywhere knows about you. Whatever state you’re in, becoming a household name comes down to consistency with your brand.
Pick a team name, pick colors, pick a logo and do your absolute best to stick with it for however long your team is around. That doesn’t mean you can never change it, ever, but don’t be the Cats and wear blue one year, the Dogs and wear red the next year and the Sharks and wear black after that. That’s limiting your overall potential growth and development. Typically, drawing in better talent and getting access to better venues comes with time, consistency and a favorable reputation, so do right and be consistent.
It’s OK to get new jerseys and design a more modern logo similar to what you’ve always had, but changing your look too much sends the message that you’re unsure about your identity or that you’re trying to change to move on from a bad situation or event that occurred under the former name. Changing the looks on the outside is nothing without changing the operations on the inside.
We know teams at this level make mistakes and wish they would have done certain things differently and in some cases, maybe a new look and a fresh start is necessary, but really evaluate everything before you make a decision on this, because typically it’s just wasting money to get the same results.
You can’t rename the Cleveland Browns, give them an awesome logo and awesome jerseys, but keep all the same structure and the same people around and expect much different results. We’ve seen some teams do this and at the end of the day, it’s usually just a waste of money.
- Spend wisely.
That brings us to our next point: spend your money wisely. Too often, teams at this level will take whatever player fees and sponsorship fees come in and then buy new jerseys, EVERY YEAR, and go for the “new year, new look” thing. A good set of jerseys should last you at least two or three years at this level, if not more.
Your money can be better spent elsewhere. Buy a billboard ad or a TV commercial, buy the players some travel gear, buy the entire team a gym membership, buy software and hardware to film games and post player’s highlights online so they can actually get an opportunity to move up to the next level, feed the players pizza or burritos for free after every home game or something. Buy post-season awards, give the Player of the Game some type of gift, pay a graphic designer or web developer to amp up your online presence and online look.
New jerseys every year is not the answer unless you’re in the position to spend a lot of money. These are just a few options of many ways your money can get you so much more than just new jerseys.
- Film games and keep stats.
Several leagues around the country are starting to require this and that is a great thing. A good portion of developmental football games nationwide take place without anyone ever really knowing they existed or what went on, unless they were there.
Film the games like they do at the high school level and beyond. Film each play, that way you can make corrections and also create highlights for your players to send to colleges, arena teams, international leagues or wherever.
Keep stats. Stats are a good way to document your team’s history and your team’s success, and stats don’t lie. Stats add more meaning to every game and every season. Stats add value when you’re promoting your team or your players. Keep stats. Too many teams at this level “don’t remember” their record from five years ago and have never officially recorded stats at any game. That’s a problem. To build your organization into something legit, then BE legit. Do everything the higher levels do.
You can track stats live, or you can film the game and tally up the stats based on the film. You can get a friend to do it or offer to pay a local reporter like $50 to come do it for you. If you’re serious about your organization becoming respectable, then it’s worth it.
- Effectively use social media.
With the internet, there is the potential for more effective free advertising now than any time in history. Take advantage of it. Run a professional Facebook and Twitter page, at the least. Once you’ve got that down, run a YouTube page. These are all free. Then, you can always add Instagram, Pinterest and those other platforms too, but Facebook and Twitter is a must.
Look at how college and NFL teams run their social media accounts and follow suit. What you post on Facebook and Twitter is your message to the public, it is not your message to your team. This is where a lot of teams go wrong.
Use it to promote tryouts, games and community events. On Facebook, you can post a score-by-quarter during the game and game photos, or even a new post for every score. On Twitter, you can tweet about each exciting play, but know how each platform operates and don’t make your team’s presence unwelcomed to your audience.
Do not use public social media to organize practices, when you do this it sends the message to the public that you are not organized. There are community groups on Facebook that will send a message just to the group, use that instead. Know the difference and where the draw the line between internal communication and external communication with your team.
Do not use your team’s social media account to post personal opinions. Do not use it to communicate negatively about other teams or other people. Do not use it to post obscene or inappropriate content. This is where a lot of teams go wrong. If you don’t run your team page professionally, you’re severely hurting your team’s potential. Your team has the best chance of succeeding at this level if you have a squeaky clean image.
No reputable sponsor is going to want to give you a dime after seeing your social media accounts and seeing naked women, drugs, or a bunch of filthy talk about other people because they don’t want to attach their name to that, and most people that have something good going for them in life won’t want to either.
Last, but not least, make sure you use correct grammar, correct spelling and correct punctuation. If you don’t, you’re going to turn quality people away because they will think “Who in the heck is leading that up?” because to a successful, professional person, a leader worth following does those things. Also, DO NOT TYPE IN ALL CAPS, it looks like you’re yelling and that you’re way too excited about something that you should be calm, cool and collected about, if you’re truly a good leader of your organization.
Our next Inside the Office article will be focused solely on how to maximize social media to grow your team. These last few paragraphs were just a basic, basic summary of a major topic.
- Draw a line in the sand and trim the fat.
Too many teams at this level go wrong because they know what they want, but they are not willing to take the necessary steps to get it. Decide what your vision for your team is and make your vision and your standard known to everyone, then get rid of the people that are not committed to it. Each person is either helping you get to where you want to go or they’re hurting you, there is no in between.
Is there a person or a group of people that causes division in your team? Address it, then get rid of them immediately if it doesn’t change. If there a person or a group of people that wastes people’s time by not being committed? Address it, then get rid of them immediately if it doesn’t change.
Decide what standard of character you’re going to hold each member to and decide the penalties for the guys that do not meet the requirements.
Sure there may be things we left out, and many of you owners could probably write a better article than this. Maybe nothing on here applies to your organization because you already have it all figured out, and that’s great. That’s where all teams need to be. However, it’s our hope that each organization that took the time to read this has some idea or some takeaway as to what the next step should be for their organization to reach its goals.