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  • Rick Jones

Non-Negotiables

One of the biggest questions for head coaches to deal with is this: “What do you do when your players make mistakes”? One of the primary ideas Coach Drinkwitz has emphasized here at Mizzou is being 100% consistent in dealing with our players in all aspects of our program. In many ways, head coaches at all levels have to deal with the same basic problems. How we handle these problems goes a long way to determine the success or failure of our team.


Culture has become such an over used term these days, but without a great culture, it is almost impossible to have a program that can withstand the slings and arrows that a football season will inevitably bring. If we are inconsistent in the handling of our players when they “mess up”, we are doomed to almost certain failure to reach our potential.


At Mizzou, we try to increase the use of standards and decrease the use of rules. We try to establish a standard of behavior instead of enforcing a set a rules. At the beginning of every football season, I would give each player what we called the Team Policy. If we couldn’t get the Team Policy on one page, it was too long. (if you are interested, I’d be happy to send you the team policy we used at Greenwood) The player and his parents would sign the policy. Just to be redundant, we would send out what we called, “Off-Season Expectations” in January that would basically repeat the main points of the Team Policy. I wanted there to be no doubt as to what we expected and what would happen if the policy was broken.


We have to decide what are our non-negotiables. I’ll discuss a few of what we considered to be our non-negotiables.


1. ATTENDANCE: all absences must be called in ahead of time and approved by the head coach. All absences, both excused and unexcused will be made up. Our make-up work was what we called “sleds”. It was pushing weight sleds over and back, over and back, across the width of the football field, after the completion of practice for one day. While it was not horrific, it was just bad enough for them to want to avoid “the sleds”. If they were unexcused, they got three days in a row of “sleds”. If any player refused to do the sleds, they were not on the football team any longer. That is why it is important to have the players and parents sign twice a year so that there will be no misunderstandings. All practices must be made up, but only unexcused practices required what we considered to be “punishment”.

2. BEING ON TIME: You have to be specific about time. If we had a practice that ended at 4:57, I would show the players my watch at the end of every practice. My watch matched the time for the end of practice, 100% of the time. Time is precious and we need our players to understand the importance of time. One second to fifty-nine minutes was considered late. Over 59 minutes was considered absent. If a player called in before the start of practice to tell us he was going to be late, we would adjust the penalty as we saw fit. As much as anything, we are trying to teach them to be more responsible and accountable. By the way, their parents could NOT call in for them regarding being late or absent. They had to do it themselves. They couldn’t text, or email. They had to call me on my school phone or cell phone. If I didn’t pick up the call, they could leave a voicemail because all the calls were time stamped so we could make sure they called before the start of practice. Every player in our program knew the rules and every parent knew the rules. Over a period of time, when the players and parents saw that we were going to be brutally consistent in enforcing the rules, we had very few problems in this area. One year, on the first day of 6:30am in-season weights, our starting quarterback overslept. After practice that afternoon, he grabbed a sled and started pushing it across the field. We didn’t have to tell him and he knew if would do no good to plead his case. Since he didn’t call in (like I said, he was sleeping), he got to do three days of sleds. Rules have to be the same for everyone and they have to be enforced on a consistent basis.


3. TREAT EVERYONE WITH RESPECT: We believe that our players must treat everyone with respect. This included coaches, teachers, administrators, teammates, fellow students, basically everyone with whom they came into contact. The policy we had with teachers was if any teacher or administrator called, emailed, texted, or stopped me in the hall to tell about one of our players being disrespectful, we would discipline the player first, and then visit with the player to see if we needed to “punish” him. After teachers realized any comment made to me about a player being disrespectful would result in immediate consequences, they tended to be very supportive of the things we were trying to accomplish in the football program.

4. DRUGS AND ALCOHOL: I’m sure I’ve ever seen a perfect program to handle the issue of drugs and alcohol. I do not believe in the adage that “boys will be boys” and that drug and alcohol abuse is just a part of the journey to adulthood. I have attended at minimum 4 funerals of my deceased teenage football players as a direct result of drug and alcohol abuse. Just because it is prevalent doesn’t make it right. Here is the policy that we used at Greenwood High School.


If you are caught using drugs or alcohol:

  • 1st offense: 30 days of red sleds; and as many counseling sessions as our Life Coach deems necessary. If you miss a day of sleds or counseling, you will be suspended indefinitely from the team.

  • 2nd offense: 50 days of red sleds and miss the next 2 games.

  • 3rd offense: Suspended a minimum of one calendar year. Reinstatement will be determined by the head coach.

The policy is 24/7/365. It is also cumulative. We begin coaching our players in the 7th grade. Every football player from 7th-12th is under the same policy.


Next week, I’ll cover a couple more issues we considered to be non-negotiables. When you have been a head coach for over 30 years, you have a pretty good idea of all the aspects of the football program you have to make sure you have covered. The “school of hard knocks” is a great teacher. As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out. Go Tigers!


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