Assistant Head Coach Ben Rudolph addressing our Goons

Welcome back to The Culture Factory and part four of a five-part series on program systems for success.  In this edition of the TCF, I will explain the system we use at North Forney to define what an excused and unexcused absence is and how we hold them accountable.

Last spring when I arrived at North Forney I immediately put a system in place where we began each offseason period by checking attendance and seeing who was present and who wasn’t.  I know this seems elementary, but each day we were missing A LOT of athletes.  “I think Bob is at the dentist today coach”, is what I would be told about multiple athletes each day until I could get my feet under me and get a handle on the situation.  This is not the first time I have taken over a program and had to deal with too many athletes missing workouts.   Any program that does not have a system in place to define absences, consequences for absences and requirement to communicate when an athlete is absent will have a big problem with all of it.

One of my favorite phrases is ‘Success leaves clues‘.  I talk to a lot of successful coaches and pick their brain so I can learn from the best.  Rick Jones, head football coach at Greenwood H.S. in Greenwood, Ark., is who taught me the ‘priorities’ system below.  It is the best way I have come across to define to athletes and parents what is an excused and unexcused absence in our program.

“80% of success is just showing up.”  Woody Allen

“Action expresses priorities.”  Gandhi


NORTH FORNEY FOOTBALL PRIORITIES                                                                                          

  1. GOD





      5.  EVERYTHING ELSE (Unexcused absences)

What is everything else?  Everything else.  Missing time with us to visit a doctor or dentist is not ok (unless it is a follow up from an athletic injury).   Missing practice to babysit a sibling, finish a homework project that should have already been done, whatever you can think of (a great blog would be all the great excuses we have heard for athletes missing practice).  Using the PRIORITIES system has been a great way to communicate at parent meetings what we consider “ok and not ok” when their son is not present.  Our parents, like all parents, love knowing what is ok and not ok so they can plan accordingly.



When an athlete misses for a funeral or a legitimate excused absence we understand, but we still make sure he makes up the conditioning he missed.  Our make-up is 250 yards of plate pushes.  We used to have them run 1 mile but feel like plate pushes are more beneficial in athletic development.

Every now and then we have a circumstance where an athlete has a tragedy and we use our discretion.  If one of our guys misses three days because he was dealing with the death of a parent we do not worry about him making up anything when he joins the team again.   Although we have been in contact with him throughout we focus on ‘loving him up’ when he gets back and not missed conditioning.



If our program is going to be elite we must make sure our guys (and parents) understand they have to be at all our training sessions whenever possible.  When an “everything else” absence occurs they make up the conditioning plus additional yards of ‘pushes’.

Last spring we had to run deal with issues of excused / unexcused absences every day.  If we would not have been intentional with holding them accountable for being at workout every day we would have lost any chance of changing the culture.  We talked constantly about EVERYTHING MATTERS and it has to start with showing up.  It was a daily fist-fight we had to win.



When an athlete shows up late he immediately goes to the ‘Pit of Misery’.  This is a 5-minute reminder to be on time.  Our coaches rotate on this job and each one is free to come up with their own measure of accountability.  Examples of exercises I have seen are: lunges w/ a 45 lb. plate over their head, ‘air chairs’ along a wall and burpees to name a few.  We also had a pit of misery during the first couple of months of our offseason training sessions to send guys who needed ‘reminding’ of our standard of effort and/or discipline.  While we gave up a coach who could have been helping in the weight room or an agility station the ‘pit’ was instant accountability.



It is not enough for our athletes to let us know when they arrive why they were absent.  They must tell us the day before, text their unit coach the night before or the morning of the absence.  Failure to communicate an absence that is a priority #1-3 will now make it fall into the unexcused category.  We tell them if they are not here we worry and they have to pay for making us worry.

I have also had our position coaches call parents before a workout begins to check on an athlete when we have the occasional “repeat offender”.   We will call the parent to make sure our athlete is not skipping or had an accident on the way to school.  For the most part, our parents have appreciated the care and concern for their child.


I hope our system of priorities and accountability of attendance helps give you a couple of ideas to help your program with consistency in this never-ending struggle.   ELITE programs “fight the fight” of accountability every day!

Many people talk about culture, but few people have built and sustained a culture like Coach Jackson. He is living and implementing culture on a daily basis. If you want strategies and examples of how to build your teams culture, then I recommend you learn from Coach Jackson’s down to earth, real-life approach to culture!
Steve Millsaps
Joliet West Athletic Director




Tony Robbins uses the acronym ‘NET’  No Extra Time to emphasize the need for continual growth.  A young coach asked me in Portland a few months ago this question, “what is the one piece of advice you would give a 22-year old just starting out on how to become the best coach possible?”   My answer was and will always be, “work on yourself as much as you work on your craft, focus on your health, read books, listen to podcast, network and ask questions.”

Sleep – set an alarm of when to go to bed each night so you get at least 7 hours.  Olympic athletes average 9 hours and 15 minutes!

Morning Routine – one of the #1 characteristics of the ‘uber’ successful is they have an a.m. routine that starts early and is intentional.

Sweat Each Day – studies show if we sweat at least 30 minutes each day our body will release endorphins that will give us energy for the next twelve hours.  Most of us must make this part of our morning routine before the day gets in the way.

Auto ‘U’ – listen to a podcast instead of music when you are in traveling to and from work.  There are several great ones of various lengths.  Audiobooks are also tremendous.

Read – ‘we are paid to read’!  Even if it is just 30 minutes before you go to bed each night make it a habit to read.  Watching reruns of ‘King of Queens’ is not growing you into a leader (although it is greatness).

Ask Questions – There are two ways to become an expert; spend the next decade or more researching and learning as you go or interview the experts.   Dr. Rob Gilert, the servant genius who does the Success Hotline each day, told me a story of a tennis pro who wanted to become the free throw expert of the entire U.S.  Dr. Gilbert encouraged him to call John Wooden and he did.  After speaking with Coach Wooden he became energized and began to call other basketball coaches.  Within five years he was the free throw coach of the Miami Heat.  The greatest part of the story is he had NEVER PLAYED BASKETBALL before!  Interview the experts.

I am a proud 28-year veteran coach and educator and am the head football coach and campus coordinator at North Forney High School in Forney, TX.  NF is a 5A school with 1,600 students that was opened in 2009.  This past season we finished 10-3, the best record in the history of the school. We achieved a few milestones; defeating three teams they had never beaten, avg. 53 points a game (top 10 in 5A Texas history), won first 5A playoff game and advanced to the third round for the first time.  None of this would have happened w/o great players, coaches, and administration support.  But, it also would not have happened if we would not have changed the culture, a holistic approach and a commitment to the mental game.
I will share some of the things we did this season but am also excited to learn from you out there who are also on this journey.  The bottom line for me is I love coaches and believe in our great profession.  I want to contribute and writing CDS has allowed me to do in a small way.  This newsletter will also, but I hope will connect like-minded leaders.  I plan to learn as much as I give by doing this.


  1. Coach,
    I coach high school softball in NC. Our state does not allow us to make practices mandatory during the off-season. How have you found the most success in getting players to show up for off-season workouts? Do you still track attendance during your off-season workouts if you can’t make it mandatory?

    Thanks for all you do. I really get a lot out of reading your posts.

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