School of the Month: AHS football players tackle leadership

Published 6:54 am Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Austin High School head football coach Tim Hermann saw the potential in his players, but knew there was more that could be done to bring out their leadership abilities.

“We felt like we had the skeleton, but maybe not the real insides of a leadership program,” he said.

Ten football players have become the guinea pigs for a pilot project coaches hope will be transferred to their other activities, and eventually be used by other athletic teams as well.

Email newsletter signup

“Our thought as football coaches is, we tend to ask kids who have the quality of leadership to step up as captains,” Hermann said. “In reality, they are usually short on those skills. They are not lacking in the wanting to participate.”

Enter the Leadership Academy. The participants began leadership training last spring — with nine sessions over the summer — that taught them what it takes to tackle conflict, made decisions and lead their teammates to success.

Tyler Bentzin, grade 12, defensive lineman

Anthony Condit, grade 10, linebacker

Joe Diggins, grade 12, offensive lineman

Blas Estrada, grade 10, linebacker

Zach Fadness, grade 11, defensive back

TJ Fritz, grade 12, quarterback

Jamaal Gibson, grade 12, wide receiver

Brady Klingfus, grade 12, offensive lineman

Jerrad Ryks, grade 11, wide receiver

Andrew Wangen, grade 11, linebacker

“Our coaches got together and looked at the list of players we knew were coming out,” Hermann said.

The 10 participants come from different backgrounds, grades and team positions. The coaches pinpointed students who are “coachable and teachable,” Hermann said. Although they selected more team captains than usual, academy participants are not necessarily captains.

“The immediate goal of this was to have this group of team leaders start to formulate a plan for the season,” Hermann said. “That plan becomes the goals for the team. The long range version of this is that almost all of these individuals are either in other sports or other clubs or organizations. We want them to use those skills they have started to grow and obtain through the Leadership Academy in other areas.”

During the academy, led mostly by assistant coach Kris Fadness, players focused on theories from “Pyramid of Success,” “The Winners Manual” and the bestselling “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni.

“One of those things is fear of conflict,” Hermann said. “Sometimes conflict needs to happen in order for a strong bond to be built. What do you do to work through the conflict in order to be stronger?”

Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel also created a program based on six pillars he calls “Block ‘O’ of Life.”

Absence of Trust

Fear of Conflict

Lack of Commitment

Avoidance of Accountability

Inattention to Results

Source: “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni

“We kind of modeled our team goals after that ‘Block O,’” Hermann said. “We have a ‘Block A’ that we’ve used. The players created the different goals around that A that was held together.”

Quarterback TJ Fritz said the Leadership Academy is important to establish a “family” relationship among team members.

“We felt it was really important, especially us seniors,” Fritz said. “Off the field, we’re more together.”

Fritz said the team reflected on remarks made by football greats, like former NFL player and coach Tony Dungy and the legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.

The academy came into fruition after Hermann spoke last year at a football clinic in Wisconsin, where he learned about leadership training. AHS started with an introductory dinner for parents, students and coaches at the Austin Country Club.

The academy also falls in the line with their dedication to “Pursuing Victory with Honor,” a motto incorporated in the district’s Character Counts education.

“One thing about pursuing victory with honor and this Leadership Academy, that it makes you as a coach take a look at things,” said Hermann, who also serves as the activities director. “It looks like it is taking hold on our team. The young men that we have worked with, I see them more confident in their approach to the team, more willing to get involved in different situations. Occasionally, I see our younger players look to those leadership guys as a resource when there’s a concern.”

The Leadership Academy will continue throughout the year, with a graduation during their annual awards night.

“These guys will also form the core of a player council that helps us with different decisions we make,” Hermann added.

Hermann believes the academy is “a work in progress.”

“We need to do more follow-up as a coaching group, but we talk about it almost daily,” he said. “Our thought is, if it works here, why not expand it in all our teams?

“We always talk to our athletes about playing with confidence,” he explained.” In order to play with confidence, you have to know what’s you’re doing. Surely, there’s guys or girls who are blessed with great leadership qualities, but in a lot of cases, that is the exception rather than the rule.”

Fritz said that “so far,” the training has made the AHS Packers a better team on and off the field.

“That is just game one,” he said. “We’ll find out on Friday.”