As written for now closed Coach XO…
Hi, I’m Justin Dottavio, Head Football Coach at Cornerstone Charter Academy in Belle Isle, FL. I also write the blog “Ironman Football.” Today I’m going to discuss the balancing act a small school coach goes through to instill discipline and maintain steady attendance during the season and off-season.
I will say that in the 13 months since I’ve been head coach at CCA, we’ve changed our rules and policies drastically. What began as “miss a day, miss a quarter” has slowly become “miss a day, you don’t start.” With thirty players on our roster (our largest ever at CCA) we don’t have the luxury to sit players for an entire quarter, half, or game (yet I did bench a kid for our spring game this year). There’s no better way to motivate than sitting the bench. I sat our All Conference DT for being late to pre game and he picked up 8 tackles in a quarter of play last spring.
Since we don’t have the numbers to run too many people off, have to come up with creative methods to correct behavior. One method is called Opportunity for Self Improvement (OSI). It’s punishment after practice where players have to clean the locker room and weight room, clean the field and do the usual weight and conditioning work. If any players get in trouble during the school day our entire team runs a 200 for each e-mail, phone call, tardy, or dress code violation. In addition, we do an up-down for every D or F on a report card or progress report.
With regards to skipping or being late to practice, I’m not very lenient. If a player has a detention the entire team runs for the player being tardy to practice. If they miss the entire practice, they will not start in the game. However, they can come in as soon as the player in front of them proves they cannot hack it in a game situation. One of the most talented players we will ever have missed a practice so our decision was to allow him to start on offense, but not on defense. This way, I could take away the part he really wanted and he knew if he didn’t perform on offense, he would not get in on defense. The method of taking away aspects of the game has worked and we do it for kick off returns, punt returns, and even pull guys down by the goal line.
When players or prospective players fail to attend workouts I will let them come out to play. The issue is juniors don’t like being listed below 8th graders on the publicly posted depth chart, and usually they disappear quickly. Our workouts are grueling and I have a reputation for causing “one workout warriors” or “OWOWs” as the veteran players call them. If someone misses spring, they owe 12 OSI sessions with a sponsor willing to do the duty with them. If someone quits they cannot come back until they make up missed practices with OSI and acquire a sponsor as well. They must also be voted back in unanimously by our “Blue Shirts,” which are our captains.
Being a small school we have many two-sport and a couple of three-sport athletes. They are not punished at all for playing another sport, but they are required to attend our workouts as soon as their sport has ended. If a player quits their other sport mid-season, they cannot begin playing football or our off-season program until their other season is over, and their uniform is turned in. This instills a family atmosphere amongst other coaches and we share many players with soccer, baseball and basketball.
Lastly, if an in-game issue arises we will pull players for a chunk of time to realign their priorities. For instance, if the ref says #00 is out of line- he’s off the field. If #00 talks back to a coach- he’s off the field. If #00 blames his teammates- he’s off the field. It’s that simple. I put our 3rd string QB in for a few snaps during our homecoming game (we lost) to prove a point about leadership. My expectations for myself, my staff, and my players is ridiculously high for an independent program, but my philosophy is to prepare like we’re St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, FL) or Lakeland (Lakeland, FL) and we will one day be them.
I will end this article by saying I would rather teach a lesson (like George Sr on Arrested Development) than win a game. I know that sounds insane but if we’re 0-10 but 100% of my team graduates from COLLEGE and becomes a productive member of society- I’m a winner. It would be great to win rings and have the ego and fame that comes with being Nick Saban or that hoodie guy in Foxboro, but not at the expense of teaching leadership and character.