Coaches Corner- How To Survive Your First Game As A Head Coach

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You’ve gotten that coveted head coaching position, hired your staff, and spent countless summer hours working out your team in the weight room. Not to mention conducting 7/7’s, community service projects, and fund raising when time allowed.

Now for the fun part: the season! Fall camp has just ended and your first game week as a head coach is upon you. Have you thought of everything that needs to be taken care of, not just with X’s and O’s, but with all the other “stuff” that a head coach needs to get done? They say “proper preparation prevents poor performance”, but it also helps prevent additional stress.

Every coach will leave no stone unturned in preparing for an opponent, that goes without saying, but making sure all the other “stuff” is taken care of will help tremendously in surviving your first game as a head coach.Every head coaching position is different depending on where you are at but there are a few intangibles that you want to make sure you have taken care of. Let’s take a look at a first time head coach checklist heading into game one.

Before Game

Delegate: Don’t be afraid to delegate to your assistants, give them tasks to take care of. There are a lot of first time head coaches that are micro-managers. You can’t do everything yourself!

Meet with Administration: Make sure you understand everything they will want you to take care of.

Field Timing: Make aware to all involved what your timing will be before and during half time regarding use of the field. There is nothing worse than having your band out on the field too early when in pre-game or too late when starting the 2nd half.

Photo via Tony Venegas,

Pre-Game Scheduling: Rehearse what your pre-game will look like so as not to cause any undue stress or confusion an hour before kickoff.

Advertisements: Have you sold banners to display in your stadium? If so make sure they are all out and hung. Nothing like having an unhappy community supporter after your first game.

Player Uniform Check: Make sure to check all players before heading out for pre-game or getting on the bus (for away game) to make sure they are properly equipped.

Equipment: Meet with your equipment people to create a game day checklist of all items needed for either a home game or an away game.

Game Day Locker Room: Discuss with your team leaders and team what the locker room and/or bus expectations are well beforehand your first game day.

Visiting Team: It’s usually a good idea to know beforehand and communicate with the opposing coach where they will park, dress, warm-up, and be allowed to go in the press box.

Locker Room Security: Make sure someone is assigned to be the last one out of the locker room so as to properly secure it.

Pre-Game Music: It’s probably a good idea to make sure you have screened and given the ok for any music played in the locker room and also in the stadium during pre-game because let’s face it, you may not be in charge of music in stadium, but if a song came on that wasn’t appropriate everyone will let you know about it.

Special Teams: Often overlooked during game preparation is having a coach in charge of Special Teams meet with medical personnel to make sure that any injuries are communicated as quickly as possible to him so as to make the proper adjustments. Medical personnel often alert the head coach but forget to let the Special Teams Coordinator know of injuries.

Special Teams II: Prepare through the week for as many scenarios as you can think of because many early season games come down to special teams. Ex.) Punting from own end zone, kick off after safety, etc.

Offensive and Defensive Coordinators: The situations that are sometimes overlooked and not practiced for these coaches are; Hail Mary, scramble rules, victory formation, 2-minute offense, 4-minute offense, “killing the ball”, 2-point plays, etc.

Depth Chart: have your depth chart set and make all players aware of where they are on all phases of game.

Video: Meet with your video people and make sure they are all set on where and when they will set up to film game. Also give video expectations for who and how much is in film.

Sideline Staff Expectations: Give your staff your expectations on addressing officials during game.

During Game

Photo via Joseph Nguyen,

Special Teams Coordinator: Always be a down ahead, if its 3rd and long, be calling for “punt alert”. As a head coach you will also want to be a play ahead and communicate with your staff what you are thinking in terms of what you are going to want to do. Ex.) Go for it on 4th or punt.

Time Outs: Always know how many you have at all times. Remember, you can’t take them with you into the locker room or after game. Don’t be afraid to use them if necessary.

Fans: Learn to ignore what fans are saying, good or bad. We all know some are very loud when standing at your fence behind your sideline.

X’s and O’s: Trust in your Coordinators to make the right calls, that why you hired them.

Positivity: No matter what’s happening during the game, you always have to display a positive attitude. You’re the head coach and everyone is looking at you to see how to respond.

After Game

Photo via John Glaser,

Media: Whether you win or lose always remember, the media has a job to do as well. If you win, give players and assistant coaches all the credit. If you lose, take all the blame. It’s not easy to give an answer to the media right after a game. Give yourself time to think and breathe before answering a question from the media. Once you say it, it’s out there forever.

I’m sure there are a lot more items that can be added to this list. These are just some of the things that I’ve found over the years to be important and sometimes easily overlooked as you are dealing with all that goes into being a head coach, especially for the first time.

Good luck this season to all coaches!


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