Beginning The Season

The clock is already counting down for the opening of the new football season - the freshman recruits are here, the veterans are back, two-a-day practices have ended, regular practices have begun and classes have started. This time spent in preparation for the opening game is a special time of the year and one of great anticipation for coaches, players and fans.

The coaching staff, having spent hours meeting and preparing, are anxious to see their teaching plans implemented during pre-season practices. In each of my 42 years of coaching, I never lost that sense of excitement as well as that surge of adrenalin in anticipation of preparing a new team to face the new season ahead.

As a coach, you look forward to getting to work with the new freshmen that you spent months recruiting and getting to know. I loved seeing the new recruits arriving with their families who came to help them get set up in the dorm. I made it a point to let the family know we would take good care of their son and emphasized that we wanted to be their family here at MSU. I always added that, like them, we wanted to see their son do the right things in life, work hard and make wise decisions.

A new season never started without my wife reminding me that those families were sending us their son and there was nothing in life more valuable to them. She said they might be great athletes, but they were still somebody's baby.

As a coach, you want to honor that tremendous amount of faith parents place in you when they agree for their son to play at MSU. You know that you are getting ready to put these recruits through the hardest work in their lives up to this point. And you have to assure their parents and the recruit that you have their best interest at heart because it takes this pre-season hard work to prepare them for what they will be facing in the future.

In some ways, you almost have to de-recruit them. That is not always an easy thing to do. This highly recruited player will have to go from "big man on campus" to someone who is constantly being corrected and yelled at, while trying to hold his own against tough veteran players. It is difficult for a young recruit to come to grips with discovering in college that he is not the only "big man on campus". It is important to help these young players fit in with your returning players.

Of course, you are also excited about working with your returning veterans. You are anxious to see what improvements they have made over the summer. For them, the new season is quite literally a new beginning. If the team is coming off a good season, you want to continue it. But if you are coming off a not so good season, you are confident that you can turn it around.

Each team is different and it is interesting to see how your older, more experienced players have matured and how your freshmen will fit in. I always liked to see my older players emerge as leaders and this is something, as a coach, you encourage. I wanted to see my older players set the right example for the freshmen on and off the field. I wanted my younger players to be able to learn from the veterans and to copy them in drills, as well as other things.

Working with freshmen is a little different than working with your returning players. It is important to teach freshmen what you expect of them from the get-go. I emphasized their day-to-day attitude about everything from doing their best, to being on time, to going all out, to not being overly concerned about where they are on the depth chart or of being redshirted.

These freshmen will have to learn new terminology, how to perform drills correctly, new schemes, and plays. It is a lot to learn. I always tried to prepare my recruits in advance for the big changes they would experience from high school to college.

With classes, tutoring sessions, weightlifting, training room treatment and practice it is more like a job. I tried to prepare them for the time restraints and the hard work that is involved. I also tried to prepare them for the tough pre-season schedule.

However, two-a-days are not the same grueling two weeks of practices of the past due to the required restrictions regarding number of practices by the NCAA. The NCAA allows only three active two-a-day practices. The trend now-a-days is to have more walkthroughs than in the past. Also schools today have larger indoor facilities where you can conduct practices out of the direct sun. It is more conducive for teaching and concentration when players are not dealing with the extreme heat and humidity, especially in the South.

This change of scheduling of practices was prompted by heat-related incidents around the country. The size of athletes today and the speed of the game have had an impact on these changes as well. While the practice schedule has changed, it is still a very tough one. For many of the young players, it is the first time they will be away from home and they will be tired and maybe a little homesick. I always reminded them that they would be playing in the toughest conference in the country and there would be a lot of pressure to excel. I always let them know that this was not for everybody. But if they liked to compete, they would absolutely love playing in the SEC.

While I was coaching, I tried to maintain consistency and continuity in my philosophy as well as in my coaching methods. I really enjoyed seeing my older players helping the younger players. I was always pleased to hear them use motivational terms they had picked up in the meetings, at practices, or games the previous season. My players always knew I wanted them to look people in the eye, to go all out all the time, to be tough, to work hard in every drill, to lead by example, to be unselfish, to excel in the classroom, and to do the right thing on and off the field.

I always felt I could coach my players tough and love them at the same time. I believed each one of them was important whether they were highly recruited or a walk-on. No matter how bad a player had performed in a drill, I tried to find something positive to say even while correcting him. I never wanted him to lose hope. I wanted each player to know I was pulling for him and fighting for him.

One of my favorite things about college coaching is bringing in players from different backgrounds and meshing them together as a team. You bring together highly recruited players and walk-ons. You have players from small schools, from large schools, from academies, from the inner city, from different parts of the country, and from junior colleges and they are all competing. Your challenge as a coach is to mesh them all together as one. It is a beautiful sight when you finally see them come together as a team.

The beginning of a new season is a wonderful time for players, families, coaches and fans. Everybody starts off with the anticipation of a successful year and you can hardly wait for the first game. That sense of excitement of a new beginning and a new season is definitely in the air.

Click here to learn more about Jim Tompkins

Coach Jim Tompkins, a former Mississippi State football coach, is a Mississippi State football columnist for

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