California Coach: A Playbook for Dealing with No Season

By Jeremy Plaa, Head Coach at Thomas Downey High (Calif.)

Keeping our kids motivated during this off-season, or non-season for some states, is an on-going and evolving process. At Thomas Downey High School in Modesto, Calif., we’ve had months of “conditioning only” activities. We have not been allowed to use weight equipment or footballs, or even have cones on the field. As in most places in California, the restrictions are heavy to keep our kids safe. So we’ve had to come up with some creative things to help keep our kids connected to our program.

Monitor Grades

The first and most important thing our coaches do is monitor their grades. With a constantly changing start date in our state, it’s been difficult to figure out what term grades will actually determine our kids’ eligibility. Regardless, we are constantly trying to motivate our kids to bring their grades up. I will check our kids’ grades every two weeks and then communicate our straight “A’s” on Twitter for positive reinforcement, and then text individual players who have bad grades. I will also notify all position coaches of their group’s grades, so the assistant coaches can also help to motivate their kids. 

Structure Conditioning Workouts

We condition for three days a week, for 90 minutes at a time. We have to be separated into 25-member pods to make sure we can isolate a pod in the case of any positive COVID tests. Ninety minutes of just conditioning is a challenge, so we build in a “halftime talk.” Most of our coaches will do 30-45 minutes of flexibility and conditioning drills, and then do position-specific drills with their group. In between, we think it’s important that our kids talk. We have them address the group and the coaches. Our coaches will choose their own topics or themes and try to come up with something that will get the kids talking. 

An App to Stay Connected

Staying connected has been made easier with apps like GroupMe. In the past we’ve used group texts and Hudl messaging, but nothing has been as quick or efficient as the apps meant for group texting. As we all know, kids have their phones attached to their hands most of the time, so constantly communicating with them through the group apps makes them always feel connected to another human. We’ve been paused twice in our conditioning, and both times I felt many of our kids’ helplessness was overwhelming. The GroupMe app really helped our boys stay connected to each other. And I made it a point to reach out to the program at least once or twice a week with updates.

Reviewing the scheme

We use some online tools to help keep kids connected as well. We use an online playbook to coordinate our scheme and terminology. For years, we’ve used Google Slides and Docs to keep our playbook materials live and easy to share with players, but now we are moving to an online playbook platform. Either tool gives our kids a chance to distance learn. I’ve used Google Sheets to keep track of our “Pride Points” and kept it on our program’s website so kids can always check in on their current rank and progress. 

Create competition

The last thing we started this year is a fantasy football league. I quickly see it growing next year. I started a free league on ESPN and invited the first 19 kids to show up and have the chance to become champion of my league. The league filled up in about 10 minutes. It takes no effort to run because the app does all the work for you. It has led to more discussions about football.

What’s driving the conversation in your locker room? Email Managing Editor Dan Guttenplan or Tweet us @fnfcoaches. Don’t forget to use that hashtag #FNFCoachesTalk