Nov 17, 2017
Building Bonds

At Stockbridge (Ga.) High School, Head Football Coach Kevin Whitley hosts an activity that has nothing to do with football and everything to do with strengthening team bonds. He organizes a sleepover in the school gymnasium for all players, held in conjunction with the team’s summer contact camps.

“Those nights when we’re all together is what it’s all about,” Whitley says. “Those are the nights the players will remember.”

The main objective is to help teammates get to know each other. The evening typically begins with a dinner, and is followed by a speaker — one of the players’ fathers, a community leader, a teacher, or a coach. Every player then has the opportunity to stand up and share something about himself that his teammates don’t know. “Of course, that leads to other topics and discussions,” Whitley says.

The coach also hosts another sleepover just for seniors at his home. There, discussion topics include leadership, college options, and scholarship opportunities, along with personal, family, and spiritual goals.

“My wife is a counselor, so she helps with it,” Whitley says. “Each senior talks to the group about what he wants out of the season and what it means to play with this group of players and coaches. They don’t normally go to sleep, so it’s an all-night affair.”

Steve Trivisonno is another leader who believes in the importance of preseason bonding, and his 172-65 won-loss record as Head Coach at Mentor (Ohio) High School is proof of its effectiveness. “My biggest challenge is making every kid feel part of this,” he says. “That gives them a sense of belonging, and that’s half the battle won right there.”

Trivisonno especially emphasizes older players getting along with younger teammates, and one way he does this is through a program-wide trip every summer to Mentor Headlands Beach. There, the team runs drills in the sand, giving muscles a different type of workout than on turf. The uniqueness of the training day also opens the squad up to a special feeling of camaraderie.

“Lake Erie is only five minutes from the school,” Trivisonno says. “But when we go down there in the early morning, it’s something different. The players enjoy it, and it breaks up the monotony of things.”

Most importantly, the day at the beach lays the groundwork for team relations over the entire season. While on the shores of Lake Erie, the massive football team breaks into eight smaller groups of 12 or 13 players each. These squads — overseen by position coaches and chosen by player captains who pick teammates from other positions and grade levels — stay together all year and compete with each other in everything from tug-of-war battles to grade point average contests. Each coach also organizes excursions to trampoline parks, bowling alleys, or water parks for their groups. The trips allow players and coaches to view one another in a different light.

“We’re seeing younger kids getting to know the older kids better,” Trivisonno says. “The more that occurs, the better. We need these young kids, and they help keep our numbers high. We’re always trying to find ways to improve, and this is one of those ways.”

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