Building and Managing a High School Soccer Program

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Building and Managing a High School Soccer 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 has been involved in football for over 25 years, so I wanted to pick his brain on the subject.

Stafford:

Hello Coach, you have been coaching high school football for over 25 years. How did you first get involved in the sport?

Coach Bill Bratton:

Hi Stafford and thanks. Well, I started coaching football in 1982 in DeKalb County in my first year teaching at Sequoyah High. The former coach was gone and the school needed someone to coach. The director gave me the opportunity to take over the program.

Stafford:

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

Coach Bill Bratton:

I will admit that I had 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 the skills, the formations and what it takes to play the game than I did, but it was the coaching organization of putting a team together to play as a team that was my strength. I really enjoyed coaching soccer once I mastered the knowledge I needed.

Stafford:

How long have you coached at Sequoyah and how did you end up at Cross Keys?

Coach Bill Bratton:

I coached Sequoyah for 4 years before DeKalb started a consolidation program and I transferred to Cross Keys in 1986. I had the privilege of coaching the Keys program for the next 20 years. I earned my Georgia class D coaching license as well as a Class C level National Coaching license from the USSF. The situation at Cross Keys was much like Sequoyah, they needed a new football coach and the AP who was going to be the principal offered me the position.

Stafford:

What was the situation like at Cross Keys, and how long did it take to build the program?

Coach Bill Bratton:

It takes hard work and discipline to build the program. My work involved rebuilding a program. It had lost its organization, the discipline ran amok, and the program didn’t win, just 2 years after finishing 3rd in the state. I had to instill discipline in the program and teach players what playing on a competitive school team meant and was necessary to win. This progress would take many years to complete.

Players would tell me “Coach we just want to play”. Cross Keys was a very transient school. It was a constant rebuilding progress every year. They had no understanding of playing as a team, that they had to come to practice, commit, and to be successful they had to play as a team. Looking back, that took 2-3 years to get over. Once we reached the point of players coming back consistently, I started betting the players that we were playing to win. They played in a competitive environment. If they just wanted to play, there were rec teams, club teams and other leagues they could “just play”.

There were teams we could beat based on talent and skill alone, so we had to start winning those games. Slowly, players started to understand, but they had no knowledge of what “playing for a state championship” was or meant. But we started to win games that we should and it was time to go to the next level, win games that It was 50-50. Again this level took 3-4 years to develop. I had to constantly preach to the teams what we were out there to achieve. We wanted to win games and develop. After getting to the point of winning of 50-50 games, to win games we weren’t expected to win. Our goal was to make the region playoffs to go to the state playoffs. The final step in development was to beat teams which none of us expected. It was always my belief that we had the ability, the skills to play with anyone and beat anyone on any given day. In my last 5 years at the Keys we had two teams reach the 2nd round (sweet 16) level of the state playoffs.

Stafford:

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

Coach Bill Bratton:

Let me start by saying that I believe discipline is an important attribute for anyone to have. To achieve individual or team goals one must have self-discipline. Discipline can mean many different things to each person. It can be a commitment to attending practices, to go beyond what one is asked to do to prepare. Discipline comes from having goals and achieving goals comes from discipline. Some say my teams were disciplined. On a team, there can only be one leader who must lead and lead by setting the discipline of what is expected of others. The others must be willing to accept the standards and work together to achieve for the benefit of the whole and not the individual. If the team has discipline, many other honors will follow.

For many years as a coach, I would tell the teams our goals, the goal of what we are going to try to achieve, and that in order to achieve these ideals, we all have to be on the same page. Some years I would have players who as the season progressed would disagree with the discipline and feel that certain things were unfair. They would question the goal, the lineup, and the style of play or other team discipline. Of course I would try to talk to them, explain what was done and why, listen to their side of the picture. I always had an open door if a player wanted to talk or discuss matters but not in public or at practice or during a match. I remember one instance where 5 players I had taken out of a game and disagreed with my decision left the team bench and sat in the stands. These players were removed from the team immediately after the match. On another team years later, the players felt the formation we played and the players in those positions was wrong. This time I gave that team the opportunity to play the players and the formation they felt we should play. I said you have half to show me that I’m wrong and if it doesn’t work it will be done my way and there will be no more discussion and if you can’t agree with my decisions you have a decision that only you can take Well, the team’s way didn’t work, so at halftime I told the team that I gave you your chance, now it will be done my way.

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

Stafford:

Thank you Coach. Do you have experience with Club Soccer (soccer outside the school system)? What are your thoughts on Club Soccer and its impact on High School Soccer? For example, some players who play high school soccer in the spring may have Club teams they play for that train summer, fall, and even winter!

Coach Bill Bratton:

My Club coaching experience is limited as I trained for one year with a U-14 boys team with Roswell Santos club league. We won the fall and spring championship. A few years later I worked with Concorde Soccer coaching a U-12 boys team for a year.

If a player is looking to get noticed and has the 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 they can go on to reach a higher level of play if they have the talent. First, they must be selected on a top team, to try out for the state selected teams, to achieve Regional recognition, etc. In the summer, they must attend a quality football camp to improve their skills and be seen by college coaches. In high school, some club coaches look down on high school programs and encourage players not to play on their school teams for a lack of quality coaching, injuries, lack of talent, and low level of play from many schools.

I encourage my players to find a club team to play on in the off seasons because it can only help make them better. If they are not playing on a club team in the fall, I encourage players to practice Cross Country to start developing their conditioning and if possible go out for wrestling in the winter. Some club players come to the high school level and will tell me that they can only play a midfield or an outside wing position. I try to teach my players that even though they played midfield in their club team, they are a great fit in the defense of the school team. Players must keep an open mind and be ready to play the position that will give the team that they have the chance 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 at the high school program and encourage players not to play on their school teams due to a lack of quality coaching, getting injured, lack of talent, level of play from many schools.” Not that I ever made that statement. However, this statement may have had some validity in the past, but do you see this changing as the new generation of teachers currently coaching middle school or high school are actually former football players who are also teachers, but the high school experience as a career path for some form of college/professional coaching? This may be the case for some private schools.

Coach Bill Bratton:

Yes, I see that this is getting better. The coaching at the higher secondary level has shown great improvement in the knowledge of the game of the coaches. High school teams, like club teams, can now hire community coaches to help teams now and pay a stipend. These individuals must take state-mandated courses to become a community coach and follow school, county, and state rules when coaching. So high school coaches who may be lacking in the skills and able to find someone who is willing to coach to teach the players/work on the skills or to work on the strategies and tactical aspects of the game. Many club teams do that now. They have a person to run the rink, but pay hundreds of dollars a month for a named/quality person who was a former player, etc. to actually do the coaching.

Stafford:

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

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