Thoughts on creating a position manual
I give you an example of how to build a position manual, using my 2019 Midlothian DB manual as a reference.
Position manuals are a critical piece in the overall planning of instruction for a unit. Regardless if they ever get handed out to players, a coach needs to create one. Doing so forces the coach to think critically about the process and planning for his unit.
At Midlothian, I was gifted two freshmen, a sophomore, and one junior as my starting unit when I showed up in the Summer of ‘17. At the time, it felt like a daunting task each week to get the young players ready to face teams with multiple FBS and FCS offered players. But, unfortunately, that is just the cards you are dealt when you play in South Dallas—everyone has dudes!
When I arrived on campus, the Midlothian football program sought a rebrand. The defensive staff was new, and the school district had just split into two high schools. Our depth was in the youth, and I was tasked with designing and implementing a system that could get us respectable in the secondary.
2017 was rough, but there were bright spots, as we beat Mansfield Timberview and Lancaster in the season's closing weeks. We also knew we would drop down a division and get a new schedule the following year (Texas re-districts every two years). Once we saw our new opponents, we knew we would be able to start building for the future. Our core on defense was already very young.
2018 was a successful building year. We went two rounds deep in the playoffs with mostly juniors and sophomores. The success forced me to rethink how we approached the secondary, and I didn’t want my young players (or myself) to get comfortable. Complacency breeds rot. Instead, I wanted to challenge the players to get more nuanced in how we played so they could be extensions of myself on the field.
The DBs in ‘18 started calling themselves the “Island Boys,” as we were always on an island as DBs. It was a badge of honor, and I marketed the hell out of it. Soon, everyone wanted to be a DB. We were the “cool” kids on the team, and it was “fun” to play defense. I even made shirts, and only full-time DBs could get them. You have to make something special for the kids if you need buy-in, but it also has to have follow-through. For us, not everyone made the Island Boys; it had to be earned.
I think it is essential for each unit to have their own identity. Our D-line eventually settled on the “Gravediggers.” It was a whole “thing” on defense, and it brought our kids closer and set the tone going forward. For a fledgling program, and one that needed to develop leadership and togetherness, we needed to manufacture a sense of pride and purpose. We weren’t going back, and this wasn’t the same Midlothian.
Heading into 2019, I knew I needed to match the enthusiasm of my players and start developing the next crop of athletes. We needed to settle on standards, mantras, and concepts reflecting our culture. To do that, I developed my DB manual. Part culture, part playbook, it held everything an Island Boy would need to know. It included:
Goals & Standards
Glossary of terms and “need to know” Football 101 information
Basic alignments and assignments
Install and drills
I wanted this to be a comprehensive, but not too dense, manual that could keep me on track with scheduling practices and be a resource for the kids and lower-level coaches. The installation and drills were easy to follow for my Junior High and freshman coaches.
As a varsity coach, you must build a routine with your subordinate coaches so they aren’t reinventing the wheel daily. You have to give them something to work with. The last thing you want to do is show up to a Junior High game and the kids look nothing like what you are teaching at the high school. Vertical alignment is key to a successful program.
Building a playbook is easy, but teams can win or lose games by how they implement the scheme. Pedagogy is one of those things that can be overlooked when designing a defense. Often, coaches follow the same schedule they learned as a young coach or player and never change it or stop thinking about accelerating the learning curve by pairing things together or reshuffling the order. A good install creates excellent practices because coaches know what they are teaching each day.
So, how do you build a manual? First, create an inventory of everything your kids will need to know. Then, make a list and sort them by families. This is important because it will highlight if you have too much or too little scheme and redundancy.
Once you list schemes, create a glossary of techniques within each scheme. Again, you are doing this to see if there is any crossover or redundancy and take inventory of the mental load you are applying to your players. Once you have completed your inventories and glossaries, you can move on to developing images or examples for your visual learners. If you are interested in how this works, my latest book goes through the whole process.
Related Content: A Complete Guide to the Hybrid 4-2-5
When I got to LifeSchool in ‘21, I was in charge of the whole defense and needed a way to get information to all my coaches. One thing I added was Situational Philosophy pages that described our thought process on each down (above). In my opinion, situational football is one of the most under-taught areas of the game, especially at the high school level. It just isn’t talked about as a staff or with the players. I even included a field dimension chart (and had one hung in and outside our locker room).
Most coaches “steal” the front of their playbooks from other coaches. We all do this, and there is nothing wrong with it. I just encourage you to be intentional about what you put in your manuals. If it is all fluff, no one will use them.
Remember, I sign in the locker room is just decoration unless you refer to it often. I wanted to create something that was a foundational tool for professional and player growth. Be intentional about the information in your manuals and the imagery you put up in your locker rooms.
Finally, use the manual as a tool and guidebook, not only for your sub-varsity coaches but for your players as well. I usually take the most important information and put it on a PowerPoint slide, then upload it into Hudl (save the slides as a PDF to keep the formatting). That way, the kids have digital access. In ‘19, our Midlothian secondary had a historic year, holding opponents to 91 yards a game, and we had 17 interceptions. By the way, only one of those DBs went on to play college ‘ball.
I am proud of those kids for pushing me to be a better coach and allowing me to develop them. This group was the genesis of my Match Quarters guidebook. Because of those core players, I totally revamped my teaching process and explored new and better ways of doing things. My three years at Midlothian are still some of the most fun I have had with my players.
Related Content: Match Quarters - A Modern Guide to Split-Field Coverage
» Below is a downloadable Midlothian DB Manual for paying subscribers.
A powerful platform used on Microsoft® Visio & PowerPoint to allow football coaches to organize, format, and export Playbooks, Scout Cards, and Presentations efficiently.