4 Keys to Great Program Building
Let's just start by saying you need four things to build a great athletic program. In no particular order: coaching, facilities, schedule and athletes. All are crucial to a program's success.
That said, I had a great conversation about program building today with a co-worker who is keen on a career in film and is a very talented writer. He has begun two popular programs at our school - a Saturday night film series that typically attracts over 100 students to each showing and a comic book club that has over 60 members.
The conversation revolved around building the baseball program here at the school - from scratch - almost 20 years ago. A colleague of mine and I knew that we needed to have the four things mentioned above to create a successful program and, in telling the story of putting the program together, I hope that you as a coach might be able to take away a few ideas to bring to building your program.
First, we were comfortable with our coaching ability, both of us had played at the top level of senior baseball in Ontario and we had both coached a great deal of both baseball and other sports. We did, however, make sure we had some strong coaches to join us. Baseball is a little like football in that you need a number of coaches for teaching different positions as well a running a good practice. We were lucky to find three other coaches in the area that could all contribute to our program and we were much better for having a large coaching staff.
Next, we needed to find a good field to play on (easy one here as the town park is directly behind the school). But the high school baseball season comes VERY early in the spring and we knew that we needed to have an indoor facility. Luckily, we have an ice arena on campus that has no ice in after the hockey season. It is just a solid cement floor. We went about doing some fundraising to purchase a 70' batting cage with a JUGS pitching machine. We added an indoor pitching mound for our pitchers to work out on, so the day after March Break, we were able to have meaningful workouts and not worry about the weather. This meant we had taken care of two important factors.
The next wasn't going to be as easy. When we started on the baseball front there was only one other school in our conference that had a baseball team. And, in needing something to train and practice towards, we scheduled a game against that other school on the final day of sports in the spring term, under the lights, in our ball park. It became the de facto "championship" game for our team and it set us up for something to play for that first year. We also scheduled 10 exhibition games against local high school team and by the end of our fourth season we had talked our way into the closest high school league to us for league play, we were hosting two tournaments in April, we had travelled to Cooperstown, Fenway Park, Tiger Stadium, then Jacobs Field in Cleveland and even found a way to rent the SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre) for an exhibition game.
At the end of the day, we needed to have some top athletes choose to play baseball in the spring rather than rugby or even cricket. The facilities and the schedule were certainly a drawing card and we added a few more things for players - terrific uniforms, team bags, jackets and top of the line hats. All contributed to drawing a number of athletes at the school to choose baseball that year and stick with it.
I use my baseball experience as an example of program building. If you keep in mind the four elements of good program building: coaching, facilities, schedule and athletes, you can apply these principles to any activity - athletic, arts, academic. I always say "If you build it, they will come". If you build a terrific program, young people will want to be part of it.