Paying Your Dues

How did you “pay your dues” as a young, new coach to the profession?

I spent three years coaching middle school, learning the system of the high school we fed into, and live scouting games for their upcoming opponents. I remember the first scouting packet I filled out. My partner and I filled it out completely after one game. I remember our lead scout, one of the freshmen coaches at the high school telling us the following week that we didn’t need to do it again. At the time I felt pretty proud, but looking back I’m pretty sure it was probably so bad they didn’t want us to do it again.

Even after three years at the middle school, I still had more to learn. I had the opportunity to move up to the high school as a freshman coach. I still had to go live scout future opponents each week, but now I was the lead scout for my team of middle school coaches. But this also meant that I had to double check my scouting report against the film. This was tedious work in the days of VHS tapes and whatever the platform was before DSV. There was a lot of playing and rewinding, playing and rewinding to watch each and every play to make sure that what we padded live was what actually happened. 

The following year I continued my film breakdown duties and added to them as a junior varsity coach. Our responsibilities were to help input the data and then create all the reports. These were late nights after games, making sure the varsity staff had the reports ready to go once they began watching film of next week’s opponents. 

These early years are when the learning curve of my football knowledge seemed exponential. Watching so much film from so many different opponents and then preparing the reports for our use helped me understand the depth of the systems we ran on offense and defense. It was incredibly mentally stimulating for this young coach. 

It took three more years of paying my dues before I received my opportunity to coach varsity ball. Even then I wasn’t done. I still had to show I could coach and adjust at that level. That I could provide value to the coordinators and head coach through each week, and especially the game. The years of all that film work help you know what to look for and how to approach an opponent when preparing the game plan with your fellow varsity coaches. 

Even now, 22 years in, I still have dues to pay. And really the dues are just duties that help the program. Things like running the clock for sub-varsity games, or driving one of the team buses. Making sure the headsets are charged and working so nobody has to worry about communicating through the game. No matter your experience or position, you never really stop paying your dues.

Not everybody pays the same dues. Every generation of coaches has had the benefit of improved technology, which makes those film exchanges and breakdowns a lot simpler. Young coaches today don’t necessarily have it easier because they aren’t cutting actual film or hand drawing scout cards. If anything, I feel like they have it tougher because technology has taken away their avenue of learning. Now instead of watching tons of films, they have to show their knowledge of the system one night a week. To me, this is a lot tougher and puts a lot of the onus of learning the system and how it operates on them to learn on their own, without the built in duty. Young coaches today may have to work harder to pay their dues before getting their opportunity. 

Paying your dues is more about a maturation process in the profession. Some people mature faster and others take time. Whatever dues you pay over the years, know that what you are doing is for your improvement and to support others in the program. Be patient and use your strengths to do the best job you can for your coaches and players. You will get your shot in due time.

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