Usually when a coach takes over a program, one of the first things they set out to do is either change the culture, or if the team was previously successful, build upon what their predecessor had accomplished. For Andre Dobson, this simply wasn’t an option. He was tasked with building the Faith Christian program from scratch.
Leading up to 2013, Faith Christian never had a football program. However, they were preparing to move to a new 98-acre campus and with this transition, they set out to create a football program for the first time. Coach Dobson was recommended to Faith Christian by numerous Athletic Directors in the area and was hired as Faith’s first head coach in 2013.
After only five years, Faith Christian achieved a perfect regular season record and made it to their first state Quarterfinal. Coach Dobson’s approach to building a successful program from nothing is a blueprint that can be utilized by any coach, of any sport. This blueprint is built on four key principles.
Set Clear Expectations and Establish the Tone
Coach Dobson created a team motto of “We are 11”. As you might guess, this encapsulates the concept of putting the team first, being accountable to your teammates, and doing your part no matter how small. However, it is one thing to create a motto. Many teams do this. The difference at Faith Christian is that Andre and his staff embedded this into the culture. Every practice jersey is #11. The slogan is written on every piece of gear they give the kids. It is constantly reinforced and that is what allows it to take root and leads to kids buying in.
Build a Strong Foundation
For Faith Christian to be consistently successful, Andre knew that they would have to create a strong pipeline of disciplined football players. He took an active role in developing a youth program in the area. He admits that this involved a ton of work, but he has helped grow it to the largest youth program in central Florida. Their “We are 11” motto is used in the youth program, along with much of the terminology they use for offense and defense. This early start means that when kids get to Faith Christian, they are predisposed to the culture, they understand the expectations, and have a head start in understanding the playbook.
Now, not every school can set up a youth program that feeds into their high school, but the principle still applies. Starting as early as possible and teaching foundational movements in the weight room, teaching kids the terminology of your offense and defense from varsity down to the lowest possible level, and ensuring they know the head coach at the Varsity level cares about their success will enable a stable foundation from which you can build off.
Focus on Academics
One of the goals of any coach should be to not only develop better athletes, but develop better people. For the coaches at Faith Christian, this starts with a focus on excellence in the classroom. Not only does this ensure that kids are eligible to participate on the team, but it instills discipline, requiring kids to manage their time and balance both athletics and academics. Demonstrating this is more than just talk, the Faith Christian football team achieved the 2nd highest team GPA in the state.
Win in the Weight Room
In high school athletics, you don’t get to choose your athletes — you have to develop them. A large part of this happens in the weight room. Coach Dobson put considerable effort into revamping the weight room to make it more functional by purchasing 6 Racks, a handful of barbells, and a dumbbell set. He understood that in the weight room, it is better to have more of less.
However, they face a challenge that many schools do not. The weight room is at the old campus, 20 minutes away. So, after each school day, the team hops on a bus and takes the 20 minute drive to get their lift done. Coach Dobson calculated that they spend 400 hours each year on the bus, shuttling back and forth.
Last off-season, the staff started looking for a tool to better organize their strength program, streamline their data tracking, and take their culture to the next level. This search led Coach Dobson to PLT4M.
“The biggest draw of PLT4M was all of the demo videos. The high level of instruction delivered right to my kids phones has increased safety and efficiency within the weight room, and meant less work for me.”
The other big perk was the data management. Rather than spending hours each week updating excel, copying new results to leaderboards, and updating maxes, Coach Dobson now lets PLT4M’s system handle that. “Everything is automatically updated, even the leaderboard. It’s like having an additional coach on staff. Kids are constantly checking the app to see where they stack up on leaderboards and looking at their progress charts.”
Whether you are taking over a program or looking to change the culture where you are at, Faith Christian provides a perfect illustration of how a program can achieve excellence in only a short matter of time if they have the right principles and framework in place.