The number one thing you should look for going into a new season is leadership. Over the past 35 years, the Bouncing Bulldogs program has had excellent leaders, and it all starts in the summer. During what many call the off-season–June through September for the Bulldogs–you should focus on the athletes who show up on a high level. You do this to discover who the high school leaders will be during the new season. Then, for the next 30 days, I search for captains; captains should be two strong, senior leaders who consistently reflect the program’s mission statement and 10 core values. Once your leadership and captains are in place, you should focus on team chemistry for around 90 days. Ultimately, your team’s chemistry is dependent on the strength of your leadership. During this process, I also like to plan at least one show per week. Doing this gives us time to get away from the gym and truly see the growth of individual athletes. Traveling any distance gives you time to see how your team members interact with each other during bus rides, sharing meals, and performing. All of these situations allow you to observe people’s personalities as well as the growth of your team’s chemistry.
Many coaches are challenged at the start of a new season because their athletes change drastically over the off-season. After watching teenagers change over numerous summers, I have learned to keep the mission statement and core values of the program close during the beginning of the season. I continually remind the jumpers that the program is designed to improve their physical, emotional, social, and academic well-being…not just their jump rope skills. Then again, I have to reinforce the core values early on to get the whole team on the same page. For me, everything starts with discipline. I learned the importance of discipline from many of my mentors, but I love how the great Dean Smith said, “Your freedom in life comes from discipline.” Once you’ve weaved in your core principles and made sure those in leadership roles hold the same standards as you, then you will have a solid foundation to make a great year. Finally, as integral as those first months of your season are, it’s important to use the winter break to evaluate your team’s progress in all of the above aspects as you head into January.