Short summer hands first-year coaches a multitude of issues to tackle

When practice opens for Indiana high school football next week, every program will be looking to make up for time lost to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But those in the most precarious position are coaches in their first season with a new program. Instead of using the spring and summer months to indoctrinate their team to new philosophies and schemes, these coaches have had to try and connect from a distance.

That ends beginning July 6, making the next month-plus of paramount importance.

“It has been difficult because I can’t be around the guys, which gives me the anxiety of who is with us and who is not,” said Casey Kolkman of Heritage. “During the summer, you’re able to introduce that culture of football and sort out who is going to be committed to the program.”

Sherwood Haydock echoed those sentiments. Coming over from Woodlan to Wayne, Haydock was hoping to use off-season workouts and conditioning sessions to get a read on his team. Even with a few coaches being retained from former coach Derrick Moore’s staff, Haydock does not want to be told specifics about a particular player.

“I don’t want to hear anything about them – good, bad or anything,” Haydock said. “Kids change in a year and kids change for a new coach. I usually get to see what the kids put in before July, but the only thing I have is the 12 or so workouts we had (before school went to eLearning).”

While Kolkman and Haydock are taking over programs unfamiliar to them, new DeKalb head coach Seth Wilcox has the advantage of knowing his team due to being an assistant under Coach Pete Kempf.

Casey Kolkman
Casey Kolkman takes over the Heritage football program after leading the Bishop Dwenger defense over the last few seasons.

The communication between Wilcox and the Barons is easier with that prior knowledge of each other, with Wilcox also able to plan for the season without making wholesale changes schematically.

“In a lot of ways I am in an easier position than some of the other first-year coaches in that I have been at DeKalb the last three years,” Wilcox said. “I know the athletes and coaches and we have lines of communication set up already. I think that would be the hardest part of being a first-year coach at a new school.”

With just five weeks separating the start of practice and scrimmage week, there is a lot to cram into a limited amount of time, especially for first-year coaches. But Haydock has handled this time of schedule before, having been hired a few times in July for coaching jobs.

“It almost feels like the old days a little bit,” said Haydock with a chuckle.

While being able to communicate and do some teaching via Zoom and other digital platforms, nothing replaces actually face-to-face interaction – when teaching both the mental and physical aspects of the game.

Not only will coaches like Haydock, Kolkman and Wilcox be doing that beginning next week, they will also be evaluating every individual member of the team and where they fit in.

“The most frustrating part has been that we had a plan and then everything grounded to a halt,” Kolkman said. “But it has forced me to not be so obsessed about it, because I cannot control what happens.”

Beginning next week, coaches will begin to gain that control back.

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