Pride Points System and Off-Season Ideas
by Jeremy Plaa - Thomas Downey High School, California
Excerpt from 2012 Nike Coach of the Year Clinics Notes by Earl Browning- www.coacheschoice.com
One reason why we started our Pride Point system was because we wanted to get rid of kids who were not committed. We wanted to get rid of the kids who come out for football on August 1, who have decided that day they wanted to play football, or schemed it so they did not participate in what we were doing over the summer. They are the first players who will end up quitting on you if you have a loss in September.
Our coaching staff developed this program in 2001. We are going into our 12th season with our program, in two different schools. What I am going to talk to you about today is the things we are doing now, as we go into the 2012 season. Our program has evolved, and we have changed it a little bit every year. If you like the basis of the program, you can adapt it to whatever you want for your program. We started our system because we were having a real problem getting kids to show up to the off-season workouts. If they did show up, they would come whenever they felt like it. We started very simply by taking attendance in the weight room and giving kids two points if they showed up on time and stayed for the whole program each day. We gave them one point if they showed up at all. If they were two minutes late, they were late.
Our program is very complex. The key is that the kids have bought into it. It is a part of our football program. It works really, really well for us. I get excited about it, and it is hard for me not to get ahead of myself.
Again, Pride Points are a way to measure off-season commitment. We reward them for things like playing other sports, summertime workouts, earning good grades, going to individual camps on their own, doing community service that they would not otherwise do. These are some of the things they can earn points for.
HOW TO EARN POINTS
Winter and Spring
• 25 points: Bonus points for finishing basketball or wrestling
• 5 to 25 points: Points given weekly based on weekly effort grade (1 through 5 rubric), multiplied by days present
Let me give you a good example. We have a teacher on campus who coordinates a blood drive in April. It is really a big deal. He came to me and said he wanted to couple it with a car wash this year. He asked if I thought we would have some football players who would like to contribute with some community service and help work the car wash. He said it would be a three- to four-hour commitment. I told him I would give them five Pride Points per hour. I already have a list of 15 to 20 kids who want to be a part of the car wash. It is extrinsic motivation for these kids to want to be a part of something like that, but in the community's view, it is something the football team is doing f or the community. Hopefully, we are developing and building good habits for the kids. Hopefully, they will develop the attitude that they like to give back to the community.
In December, the coaches take a couple of weeks off. After a couple of weeks, we meet with our kids who are the leaders. We meet as a team senate. Our team senate is made up of four juniors, three sophomores, and two freshmen. These are kids who are going to advance to the next year as seniors, juniors, and sophomores. We let the kids have a say in who they want, but really as coaches, we pick the kids. We meet every week for one or two weeks, depending on the situation.
One of the topics we talk about is Pride Point criteria. We put it on these senators to tell us what they like and dislike about the program. They can make recommendations on things they would like to be added or deleted. By the time we are done adjusting it every year, the kids feel like this is their document. The kids feel like it is their idea. Every year, we will change points here and there to make it customized for that year.
One of the big things we do is we require our varsity kids to play a spring sport. The reason why I do it that way is I am a dad first. In the spring, I spend my time coaching Little League baseball with my own kids. When spring sports are over, I get rolling into football. I am not a year-round football coach. I am going to keep talking to them and stay in touch, but I am not going to force them to do a football workout all spring. This is just my own personal philosophy. What I really want is for them to be coached by other coaches on campus, and I want them to compete. I do not care if they compete in swimming, tennis, or any other spring sport.
Our tennis program has gone through the roof since I said they have to compete in spring sport. Our tennis coach loves me because she gets three or four football players out for tennis during tennis season that she would not normally have. At first, I thought football players and tennis players are not a good combination as far as skills relate. I thought football players could not play tennis.
Two of our freshman football players decided to play tennis as part of the spring sport requirement. They ended up being our two best JV receivers because their footwork got so much quicker and better. They did not even know they were doing it. They were competing and trying to get better as tennis players, and they did not realize they were getting faster. They will now be the first ones to tell you there is a benefit.
They get 150 points if they play a spring sport. I have one kid this spring who is taking a stand and is not participating in a spring sport. He is going to get cut. I have the luxury of having 90 kids signed up for football for next year. I tell my kids we are going to keep 55 players. I know from my past experience that 55 is a good number. One year I had 63 kids on my roster, and it was a nightmare.
I was listening to a coach speak at a clinic, and he brought up the point that you can have a jackass on your team and get away with it because he usually isolates himself. As soon as you get two jackasses on your team, pretty soon you have a jackass farm. As soon as I went up to 63 players, I had a jackass farm growing pretty quickly in our locker room. I had about 15 players on that roster who never saw the game field. If I would have put them on the field, they probably would have gotten themselves hurt, so I did not do it. So for me, if I have a solid group of 55 kids, I am a happy coach. I can plan an efficient practice with 55 quality kids. I use the Pride Point system as leverage.
A kid who transferred in last year told me he is not going to participate in a spring sport. All of his buddies are telling him, "Coach Plaa is going to cut you." On May 18th, unless he changes his mind, he is not going to be part of our program. I am not for kicking football players out of my program, but I know if the going gets tough, he will be the first kid who quits.
I know if he does not get the type of playing time he wants during the season, he is going to be the first one causing trouble in the locker room. We put in too many hours of hard work to have an unenjoyable season because one kid ruins it for everybody. I am all about coaching the kids who want to be there. I am going to get rid of the ones who do not, first.
If they finish a winter sport, they get 25 bonus Pride Points. One year, I tried to make wrestling worth more points than basketball. The basketball coach went to the athletic director and complained. He has nothing to do with the football program whatsoever, and I still kind of think it is funny. The reason I did it was because basketball was a cut sport and usually made up of the elite athletes who loved to play basketball.
I was trying to convince my kids to participate in wrestling because it is hard work. Hard work is a hard sell to the video-game generation of kids we have coming through our program today. By the time they get into wrestling, because I have coerced them by telling them how good it is for them, they want to get out of wrestling because of the hard work. So that is the reason I give them bonus Pride Points for finishing.
I want three-sport athletes. We are fortunate at Downey High School. If our athletes play three sports for four years in a row, they get a free lifetime pass to our sporting events. At the end of our freshman season, I meet with those kids and tell them they have an opportunity to do something special. They can get an aluminum lifetime sports pass by participating in three sports for their careers at Downey.
They might be a grandpa 50 years from now and still be coming to our football games, and they are going to get in for free because of the commitment they showed in high school. It is something our school does, and I have not ever heard of it done that way anywhere else. It is a real simple system.
If you like the idea, you go to your athletic director and get it done. We went from one or two kids every year to a junior class now with 12 kids still in the program. They are looking back and saying this is the best thing ever. I think it comes from one of my little regrets that I did not try out for the basketball team my freshman year. I was a spring and a fall sports player, and in the winter I did not do anything. I think having players in three sports is great because you have all sorts of dynamics in their coaching. I think kids need that.
Our benchmark dates are right before football camp and right before the start of practice in August. On the benchmark dates, we rank everyone by Pride Points. We do not just list the varsity. We do not list just the seniors. We list everyone by Pride Points.
On July 5, we start passing out pads for our summer camp, which starts on July 6. We have about 60 helmets in our program. We have 20 of the new Speed helmets. That is what all of the kids want, so I made sure we were able to go out and purchase the Speed helmets. This year, we needed new shoulder pads, so I went out and purchased 24 new sets of shoulder pads. I make sure I tell all of the kids this and make a big deal about it. Our kids are trying their best to get to the top 20 rank of Pride Points so they can get the best helmet and shoulder pads.
On August 6, before the season starts, they get their jersey number assigned. There is no senior guarantee that you will get the same number you have worn the previous three seasons. A few years ago, I had a kid tell another if he did not give up his number, he was going to beat him up. He was kicked off the team. I have to go through with our kids to tell them what extortion is. If you want to make a newspaper headline, extortion is an easy way to do it. I tell our kids, there are no number guarantees.
It does not matter if you have had your number embroidered on your letterman jacket or not. If you are a senior and you work hard, you should know better than anyone else how to get Pride Points. You can earn the number you want. Once they figure out you are sticking with it, they buy in.
In the first year we did this, I was in a small school in California. I was not really familiar with the area, but I found out quickly there was a particular family that was a real athletic family. They had a son who had always been given everything. He made a decision that he was not going to do anything for football during that summer. He decided he was only going to play baseball because he was going to get drafted by the Giants out of high school as a first-round pick.
He thought he was going to play football, but he was not going to do anything with us. I sat down with him and his dad and told them if they were going to be a part of our football team, they had to be committed to our football team. If he was not committed to the football team, he was not going to have a spot on the team.
He probably would have been the best running back in the league. I was afraid I might get fired because of it. I went to the principal and spoke to him about it, and he had our back. The kid did not participate in the summer, and he was kicked off the team. We went 4-6 that year and maybe we would have won two more games had he been on the team. It also probably would have been the most miserable season of my life.
In his world, no coach was going to tell him what to do. Halfway through the baseball season, he got kicked off the baseball team for doing something stupid, and he let down his entire baseball team. We are going to set the parameters and then ask our kids to step up to the challenge.
We always have a few who want to ask, "Why do I have to play a spring sport?" I tell them I want them to be better than just sitting on the couch every day after school. I want them to compete every single day to get themselves better. That is how we win football championships. If everyone will compete every single day, whether it is in swimming, tennis or whatever, we will get better as a football team. It can really be hard to motivate players and ourselves to lift weights in February and March. It is much better to play baseball or track or do something else. We are lucky in that we have a lot of football coaches in our track program.
In addition to the team jerseys, on August 6, we assign team duties. We just added this for this past year. It has made all of the difference in the world. I think we practice better than anybody in California, and I tell our kids that. We went up to Oregon last year to see what Coach Kelly does, and we brought a lot of stuff back with us.
Because our kids believe we practice better than anybody else, they believe they are better prepared to play anybody we play against. It may not be the truth, but I have them believing it is the truth. We do practice hard.
Practice to us is a production. It is the most enjoyable part about coaching football to me. Well, game night might be better, or just as good. You have to enjoy the process as a football coach.
We list our team duties on a board in a box. Each one has its own degree of difficulty. The more difficult the job is, the more kids I assign to the job. I give the quarterbacks a break and assign them the ball bags and tees, because they cannot do much else. Because we ask so much from our quarterbacks, they are usually at the top of the Pride Point ladder anyway.
As an example, we have five spots for the shed. The shed has to be cleaned and organized after every practice. They are responsible for getting things out of the shed so we can get the field set up. We set up jobs for before practice, after practice, and game day. A list of jobs will contain things like the shed, speaker/timer, video equipment, water jugs, garbage cans for run blocking drills, JUGS® machine, landing pad, all the bags and pads, and also cleaning up the field.
Some of these jobs are more desirable than others. Whoever is at the top of the list in Pride Points on August 6, they have the pick of their job. We sprung it on our team last year on August 6. I have already heard our kids talking this year about making sure they finish their spring sport because they want to make sure they are in the top 20, not only to get the best equipment, but so they do not have bag duty again.
These duties last all season long. We used to rotate the duties, but now, this is their job all season. We have 15 kids in charge of bags. I will put one kid in charge of each group and they will set up a rotation. If a bag gets left out, the whole team is going to spin the wheel. If any of the jobs do not get done properly, the whole team is spinning the wheel.
We make a wooden P.I.E. wheel with a spinner. P.I.E. stands for personal improvement exercise. We paint it in our school colors to make it look nice. We make one free space with seven other spaces.
We ask the kids what they want on it. They come up with all kinds of torturous punishments because in their minds, they are never going to have to spin the wheel. They come up with seven exercises like duck walk and bear crawl, which they must complete from sideline to sideline and back.
This is just over 100 yards. Any time we have something we have to deal with as a coach that annoys the crap out of us, it is a spin of the wheel. If you screw up, you need to spin the wheel to do a personal improvement exercise. It is real simple. It is emotionless. I do not get mad about little things anymore.
If a kid loses his mouthpiece, I say, "Okay, you need to spin the wheel, and you owe me a dollar for another mouthpiece." Nobody drops f-bombs in our program anymore. I have had a few coaches accidently drop f-bombs, and they spin the wheel, too.
The kids came up with the exercises, and they owned them. Every year, they get a chance to revisit it. If a kid is tardy to class, they spin the wheel. That is not taking care of your business. In the beginning of the year, we may have a couple of players a day who have to spin the wheel. By the end of the season, we rarely have anyone have to spin the wheel. If they do, it becomes this huge event because everyone wants to see what he lands on. There is always a big eruption when a kid hits a free space, and they love it because it hardly ever happens. As a coach, I tell them I hope they hit the free space, because then I am the good guy.
I could care less what numbers my players have, other than the quarterback being 1-19. I really do not care. But they do. I have 60 jerseys. I list them by size and what numbers are available on our website. If they really want a certain number and it gets them motivated to get more Pride Points, then I look at it as one more tool that we can use as a coach.
Varsity Jersey Numbers Available by Size
Varsity Jersey Number Notes
• All varsity jersey numbers are earned by Pride Point rank, as of August 6.
Let me speak about our website. We make it open so every kid can go on and look at everything we have to do with Pride Points and how they rank. We use Google Docs, which is free. Whenever we update our Google Docs website, it updates our link. We do not have to go in and publish it to our website, which is a little bit more complicated and time-consuming. All of our kids know about Pride Points because I make them sign off on getting a Pride Points packet. You can go to our website and see everything: http://tdfootball.conn/Pride_Points.html
When I got the job, we started with a website right away to brand our program. We wanted a Windows® type of storefront, so if a kid was interested in our program, he could see what it would look like. It was a luxury five years ago. Today, a website is a necessity. If you do not already have one, you have to get one. There are ways to get free sites. If you have 5 to 15 coaches on your staff, I bet one of them knows how to start up and organize a website.
We cannot go out and recruit kids for our program. But if an eighth grader is shopping around for where he will attend school, maybe this is one thing that will get him interested in our program.
In designing our website, we wanted to accomplish a couple of things. First, we wanted to make it fairly simple. I did not want to have 50 things on the front page that people had to click on because it becomes visually distracting. For us, one of the most exciting times of the football season is when we run out onto the field before a football game.
There is nothing that can replicate that one moment for a football team. We put a picture of that on our front page. It represents excitement. Kids want to be a part of that. We put pictures of some of our best players on the front page, doing things we like to do, like being aggressive or throwing the football. These are some of the things our program stands for. One of our coaches is good with graphics and put together a three-minute YouTube® highlight video that will give you chills. We put that on our web page. We won a community service award this year. That is important, and we put that on our front page. We also have a link to Facebook® and Twitter®.
We make this a public website so anyone can view it. I can make it so I am the only one that can change anything on our Google Docs spreadsheet or our website.
I do give my two coordinators and my freshmen and JV head coaches access to change the spreadsheet, but not the whole world. We have it posted, and we keep it current. We organize our fundraiser through our website. We send out notes about uniforms when we pass out shirts and shorts to our kids. We post information about community service and workouts on our site.
We started our freshman football season with just 20 players. I started to panic a little bit because we normally have 40 to 45. I got our varsity and JV teams together and asked them if they knew of any ninth grader sitting at home playing video games they thought could play freshman football. I gave them Pride Points for bringing out any new freshmen. We got six or seven new freshmen just by doing that.
We have a combine at the end of our summer. We measure the kids in everything, just like the NFL does. We also measured their power cleans last year. We have another combine in the middle of May just before we leave for the summer to have a baseline. We gave a point for each pound of improvement in their power clean from May to summer. If they improved 40 pounds, they got 40 points. We will change the lifts up this year so they cannot play games with their baseline lifts. You can adapt this to your program based on where you think you need to see improvement.
At the end of each benchmark period, we hit a button and sort by Pride Points from most to least. For the past two years, my starting varsity quarterback has been the leader of Pride Points. It does not get any better. That is what you want.
When he was a sophomore—and we had a senior quarterback coming back, the senior quarterback was right at the 50th percentile of Pride Points, and my sophomore was at the top of the list—I should have known then he was going to end up beating out the senior. We ended up splitting time between the sophomore and the senior throughout the season. The senior ended up quitting on me with two games left in the season because I made a commitment in going to the sophomore.
The sophomore was doing everything asked him to do. He was just a little green behind the ears. I learned a lesson as a head coach. I should have known in the summer, he was the leader of our football team, even though he was a sophomore. The senior let us down when it came down to it.
I tell our team we have 55 slots on the varsity roster. I have about 60 sets of uniforms, so I have a little wiggle room. I have not had to cut a kid for anything other than attitude in my past 11 years. This past year, we were more successful and made it to the playoffs for the first time in about 12 years.
There are higher expectations that this year we are going to be even better. So this year, we have 90 kids signed up for varsity football. About 70 of those kids have played at least one year of football. I am going to have to make some cuts this year. I know my school is not going to go out and buy any more helmets or uniforms. I have never had to do it before.
We tell our kids they have to have 300 points to be considered to make the team. If they do not play a spring sport, they are never going to get to 300 points by August 6. Four hundred points is the only guarantee you will be on the team, which is pretty tough to get. We had 19 kids reach 400 or more points last year. I will take those 19 kids any day.
They did everything I asked them to do, and that is what you want. I do not care if they are recruitable for college or they just like being out there. If they are that committed, I am going to take them on the team and do something with them.
I do not have a minimum at this time for my sophomore and freshmen kids. I do tell my JV kids they need to have 200 points to not get cut, but I do not want to cut a sophomore because they can surprise you still. You still do not know what you really have with sophomores. I will never cut a freshman.
We do keep track of their points along with the varsity because it publically shows their commitment. Sometimes, they get the best equipment over a senior, but the seniors should know by now what it takes. The sophomores love it because they feel as important as the varsity kids do. I do not think there is anything wrong with that. We are a single program until the season starts, and then we become three teams within a program. In the off-season, we are one team and one coaching staff.
Our librarian comes to me every year and asks if I want anything. I order some type of motivational book I think the kids can get something out of. She buys 20 paperback books for the library that our kids can check out and read. They get bonus points by coming to me and passing a verbal quiz I give them about the book. I can tell within two or three questions whether they have read the book or not, especially if you ask, "What did you get out of the book?" Sometimes, that blows their mind. If they read the book, they get 20 Pride Points. This is a great leadership tool. We give five points for every A and 0 (outstanding) for the citizenship grade he gets in the school year.
We build fundraising into our program. We ask our kids to fundraise $150 for everything they need. Our varsity kids get to keep one jersey every year from this. If they play varsity for three years, they get to keep a jersey from each year. That is a big thing for our kids. That way, I do not have to fight the battle of where their jersey went after the last game of the season, and we get a set of jerseys every couple of years. We try to give them the best we can because they are going to have that for the rest of their lives.
Building the fundraiser into our Pride Points program has worked really well. We sell discount cards in May. We previously were using a company to handle it, but we were paying 50 percent commission to that company. We now do it on our own. We have a plastic company print the cards for 25 cents apiece. The advertising companies are local and want to participate or national and usually have a standard type of discount they will offer. We give each kid 15 cards to sell for $10 each, and then he is done. We give them one Pride Point for every five dollars that they raise. They get two points for each card they sell. They can sell more if they want, and we reward them for it.
In the summer workouts, we give one Pride Point for every day they show up. We multiply that daily point times an effort rubric. We started the multiplier because kids who were busting their tail in workouts were getting the same as someone that just showed up. We are big on pushing effort, and that is all we coach on. They get rewarded for having a sweaty shirt, for having positive talk, for helping spot someone else, and whatever we need to show effort. This rubric can go up to five.
If a player was there for all five days and he earned a five on the rubric, he gets 25 points for that week. If we have someone messing around during workouts, we send him home. We do not get visibly upset or vocal about it; we just send him home. We tell him he made a mistake today, and we will see him tomorrow. It might happen early in the summer, but it usually does not happen again.
I am careful when it comes to Pride Points for camps because not every parent can send their kids to two or three different camps. My quarterback went to three camps last year. I sat down with him and his dad, and we agreed on a fair amount of Pride Points. I had another kid who scraped and scraped to pay for one football camp. It was the first one he had ever gone to. It was the best thing this kid had ever done in his life. I gave him 50 Pride Points. It is on an as-needed basis and is between me and the player.
One of my kids came up with the idea of rewarding returning players, especially four-year seniors. He made a good argument. On August 6, if they are a four-year football senior, we give them 40 Pride Points. We give 10 points for each continuous year they have been in our program. It is more or less a small thank you for being committed to our football program over the years. The kids requested it. We granted it. Now, the kids own it.
We have a Champions Club for reaching certain higher milestones. For 400 points, they are guaranteed a spot on the varsity roster. For 450 points, we give them an official-looking VIP first-in-line pass. They can use it to be first in line to anything related to football. One day a coach brought in doughnuts for the team for breakfast. One of our kids flashed his first-in-line card to get to the front of the doughnut line.
One of our kids would show up later than most of his teammates to catch the bus to our away games and use his first-in-line card to board the bus first and pick his seat. It is a big deal to them. They use it for team meals on Friday. For 500 points, they get a mini-replica Thomas Downey football helmet.
I think we are to the point where we can reload every year and have a successful season. We may not win a championship every year, but we can be successful because we have a great coaching staff and a great program in place. We do some other things with our program that you can go to our website and check out.
Thank you for your attention.