A coach in San Rafael, Calif., rewarded players with helmet stickers when they showed academic improvement.

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor

A coach in San Rafael, Calif., started rewarding his players with helmet stickers when they showed improved performance in the classroom. The team’s collective attitude about academics changed.

San Rafael High (Calif.) coach Ted Cosgriff wanted his players to make their studies as important as football this season. So, he combined the two by inventing an on-field reward for off-field accomplishments.

Cosgriff started distributing helmet stickers to players who demonstrated success in the classroom. The stickers went to any player who maintained a GPA of 3.0 or above, demonstrated classroom leadership, raised a grade in an AP class, had an outstanding achievement on a difficult exam, or had perfect weekly attendance and completed homework assignments.

“The helmet sticker reinforced the positive of that,” Cosgriff said.

Here are the keys to making the program work.

  1. Schedule study halls before practice.

Cosgriff hosted mandatory team study halls two days a week before practice. This allowed him time to review grades, talk individually with players about their academic struggles, and reach out to teachers on behalf of students who needed additional help.

  1. Acknowledge players who show improvement.

Within the first few minutes of study hall, Cosgriff announced all of the recipients of the helmet stickers for that day.

“Everyone cheered, and it really reinforced the thing they were doing well,” Cosgriff said. “It gave them a sense of pride in their grades.”

  1. Be consistent about rewarding players.

Changing the culture of a team takes time, so coaches should not get frustrated and abandon the plan if it does not produce immediate results.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Cosgriff said. “It’s changing the mindset and the culture, and that’s a long-term process that requires a consistent message.”

  1. Set attainable goals.

Not every student will commit to maintaining a 4.0 GPA in AP classes. Start small, encouraging a student to show small improvements.

“Some players were struggling to get passing credits,” Cosgriff said. “Reward them for improvement the same way you would a stronger student.”

  1. Provide a path to college.

Sixty to 70 percent of Cosgriff’s players are first-generation immigrants to the United States from Latin America.

“College has not always been on the radar for those families – particularly not for multiple generations,” Cosgriff said. “It’s about changing that mindset.”

  1. Show the correlation between academic and athletic success.

Succeeding on the football field requires many of the same skills as succeeding in the classroom – work ethic, determination, perseverance and focus. Point out when your players demonstrate those characteristics on the field so they carry that confidence to the classroom.

Do you have a thought about this article that you would like to share? If you do, email managing editor Dan Guttenplan at dguttenplan@ae-engine.com. Tweet us @fnfcoaches.

About the author

Dan Guttenplan