Building and managing a high school football program

The following interview is with Coach Bill Bratton, who was my football coach at Cross Keys High School in Atlanta, Georgia for the 1989-1990 school year. I asked him for an interview to share his thoughts on football. He’s been involved in Soccer for over 25 years, so I wanted to pick his brain about it.

Stafford:

Hi Coach, I have been coaching high school football for over 25 years. How did you first get involved in sports?

Coach Bill Bratton:

Hello Stafford and thank you. Well, I started coaching football in 1982 in DeKalb County in my first year as a teacher at Sequoyah High. The previous coach had left and the school needed someone to coach. The director gave me the opportunity to take over the programme.

Stafford:

What was this experience like for you and how did you prepare for this new role as a high school football coach?

Coach Bill Bratton:

I admit that I have never played or coached football before. In the off-season, I spent time preparing and learning by reading books and going to clinics. I will also admit that the players knew more about skills, formations and what it takes to play the game than I did but the foundation was to put a team together to play as a team and that was my strength. I really enjoyed coaching football once I had mastered the knowledge I needed.

Stafford:

How long have you been training at Sequoia and how did you end up at Cross Keys?

Coach Bill Bratton:

I coached the Sequoias for 4 years before DeKalb started the Consolidation Program and moved to Cross Keys in 1986. I had the privilege of coaching the Keys Program for the next 20 years. She has earned a Georgia Class D coaching license as well as a Class C national coaching license from the USSF. The situation in Cross Keys was much like Sequoyah, they needed a new football coach and the AP who would become the manager offered me the position.

Stafford:

What was it like at Cross Keys, and what was required to build the program?

Coach Bill Bratton:

Building the software took hard work and discipline. My job involved rebuilding the program. It was out of order, the discipline was freaking out, and the program wasn’t winning, just two years after finishing third in the state. I had to incorporate discipline into the program and teach the players what it was like to play on a competitive team at school and what was necessary to win. This progress would have taken many years to complete.

The players would say to me, ‘The coach, we just want to play’. Cross Keys was a very trans school. It has been a constant progression of rebuilding each year. They had no understanding of playing as a team, that they had to train, to commit, and to be successful they had to play as a team. When I look back, it took 2-3 years to arrive. Once we got to a point where players were constantly coming back, I started infusing players that we were playing to win. They were playing in a competitive environment. If they just want to play, there are teams, club teams, and other leagues they can go and “just play”.

There were teams we could defeat based solely on talent and skill so we had to start winning those matches. Little by little, the players began to understand, but they had no knowledge of what was meant or meant to play for a state championship. But we started winning games that we should have and it was time to take it to the next level, we won games that were 50-50. Dates to go to the state playoffs. The last step in development was defeating teams that no one expected of us. I was always convinced that we had the ability and skills to play anyone and beat anyone on any given day.

Stafford:

amazing! I see a pattern here and a valuable lesson to be learned. An opportunity has been presented; Instead of dismissing it because you had no previous football experience at the time, you made an effort to learn about the subject by spending some time “preparing and learning by reading books, going to clinics”, etc. You mentioned that it takes work, discipline, and eventually mastered the knowledge needed to coach high school football, which I saw when my old high school merged with Cross Keys and ended up playing with you my senior year. You seem to have a passion for football and knowledge of the game and know-how to get players excited about the game and team unity. But it was all achieved through your hard work and effort. How important is ‘discipline’ to an aspiring footballer and anyone in general?

Coach Bill Bratton:

Let me start by saying that I believe discipline is an important trait for anyone. To achieve individual or group goals, one must have self-discipline. Discipline can have different meanings for each person. It can be a commitment to attend practices, to go beyond what the person is being asked to do to prepare. Discipline comes from having goals and achieving goals comes from discipline. Some say that my teams were disciplined. In a team, there can only be one boss who must lead and lead by setting the discipline of what is expected of others. Others must be willing to accept standards and work together in the interest of the whole, not the individual. If the team has the discipline many other accolades will come their way.

For many years as a coach, I have been telling teams about our goals, the purpose of what we are going to try to achieve, and that in order to reach these ideals we must all be on the same page. Some years I’ve had players disagree with discipline as the season progresses and feel certain things are unfair. They were wondering about the goal, the line-up, the style of play or any team discipline. Of course I will try to talk to them, explain what was done and why, and hear their side of the picture. I always had an open door if a player wanted to talk or discuss issues but not in public or in training or during a game. I remember one case when 5 players walked out of a game and disagreed with my decision that they left the team benches and put in the stands. These players were removed from the team immediately after the match. In another team years later, the players felt the formation we were playing and the players in those positions was wrong. This time I gave this team the opportunity to play with the players and formation they felt we needed to play. I said you have a half to show me I’m wrong and if it doesn’t work it will be my way and there will be no further discussion and if you can’t agree with my decisions then you have a decision that only you can make. Well the team method didn’t work so I told the team I gave you a chance now in the first half.

In my 26 years of coaching I have always told every team that I coach (you may remember this)… I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how good you are (even if you’re the best player), or who you know… If you have to be disciplined, you’ll be disciplined. No matter how bad it may be to the team, you know the rules and you will know if you break the rules, you will be disciplined and I will discipline you.

Stafford:

Thank you coach. Do you have any experience with Club Soccer (soccer outside the school system)? What do you think of Club Soccer and its impact on High School Soccer? For example, some guys who play high school soccer in the spring may have club teams that they play on those trains in the summer, fall, and even winter!

Coach Bill Bratton:

My club coaching experience was limited as I trained for one year with the U-14 boys’ team in the Roswell Santos Clubs League. We won the fall and spring championships. A few years later, I worked with Concord Soccer to coach the U-12 boys’ team for a year.

If a player is looking to break out and has a dream of playing at the college level, the club system is the way to go. But keep in mind that this is for elite level players. If they are good enough, there is a program where they can get to a higher level of play if they have the talent. The first is to be selected into a senior team, to try out with selected country teams, to reach regional recognition, and so on. In the summer, they must attend a quality soccer camp to improve their skills and to be seen by the college coaches. In high school, some club coaches look at high school programs and encourage players not to play on their school’s teams due to lack of quality coaching, injury, lack of talent, and low level of play from many schools.

I encourage my players to find a team to play in in the off-seasons because it will only help their improvement. In the fall, if they are not playing on a club team, I encourage the guys to practice cross country to start developing their stamina and go out to wrestle in the winter if possible. Some club players get to high school level and they’ll tell me they can only play central midfield or the outside wing position. I try to teach my players that even though they played central midfield on their club team, they are pretty fit in defense on the school team. Players need to be open minded and willing to play the position that will give the team they are on the opportunity to be competitive and a chance to win.

Stafford:

Thank you coach! Having been a club coach for several years, I can relate to the statement “Some club coaches look down on the high school program and encourage players not to play on their school’s teams due to lack of quality coaching, injury, lack of talent, and the standard of play from many schools.” Not that I have made this statement before. However, this statement may have had some validity in the past, but do you see this changing because the new generation of teachers who may currently coach high school or middle school are actually ex-football players who are also teachers, but who may want to use the high school experience as a career path to some form of college/professional coaching? This may be the case for some private schools.

Coach Bill Bratton:

Yes I see this is getting better. Coaching at the high school level has shown to greatly improve the coaches’ knowledge of the game. High school teams can now, like club teams, hire coaches from the community to assist the teams now and pay a salary. These individuals must take required state courses to become a community coach and follow school, county, and state rules as coaches. So high school coaches who may lack skills and be able to find someone who is willing to coach/train players on skills or work on strategies and tactical aspects of the game. This is what many club teams are doing now. They have someone running the race but they pay hundreds of dollars a month to a named/high quality person who is an ex runner, etc to do the actual training.

Stafford:

**** Coach Bratton retired in 2006, but after 7 years he wanted to get back into coaching and took a boys’ high school position in Fulton County (Georgia) as a community coach. It was great to talk to him again after so many years. ****

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