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Building and Managing a High School Soccer Program
The following interview is with Coach Bill Bratton, who was my Football Coach at Cross Keys High School in Atlanta, Georgia for the 1989-1990 school year. I asked him for an interview to share his thoughts on Football. He has been involved in Football for over 25 years so I wanted to pick his brain on the subject.
Hi Coach, you have been coaching high school football for over 25 years. How did you first get involved in the sport?
Coach Bill Bratton:
Hi Stafford and thank you. Well, I started coaching football in 1982 in DeKalb County during my first year teaching at Sequoyah High. The previous coach left and the school needed someone to coach. The principal offered me the opportunity to take over the program.
How was that experience for you and how did you prepare for this new role as a High School Football Coach?
Coach Bill Bratton:
I will admit that I have never played or coached football before. In the off season I spent time preparing and learning by reading books and going to clinics. I will also admit that the players knew more about the skills, the formations and what it takes to play the game than I did, but it was the coaching organization of putting a team together to play as a team that was my strength. I really enjoyed coaching soccer once I mastered the knowledge I needed.
How long did you train at Sequoyah and how did you end up at Cross Keys?
Coach Bill Bratton:
I coached Sequoyah for 4 years before DeKalb started a consolidation program and I moved to Cross Keys in 1986. I had the privilege of coaching the Keys program for the next 20 years. I earned my Georgia class D coaching license as well as a Class C level National Coaching License from the USSF. The situation at Cross Keys was much like Sequoyah, they needed a new football coach and the AP who would become the principal offered me the position.
How was the situation at Cross Keys, and what did it take to build the program?
Coach Bill Bratton:
It took hard work and discipline to build the program. My job involved rebuilding a program. It lost its organization, discipline was amuck, and the program was not winning, just 2 years after finishing 3rd in the state. I had to instill discipline into the program and teach players what it meant to play on a school competitive team and what it took to win. This progress took many years to complete.
Players would tell me “Coach we just want to play”. Cross Keys was a very transient school. It was a constant rebuilding progress every year. They had no understanding of playing as a team, that they had to come to practice, to do, and to be successful they had to play as a team. As I look back, that took 2-3 years to transition. Once we got to the point of players coming back consistently, I started instilling in the players that we played to win. They played in a competitive environment. If they just wanted to play, there were rec teams, club teams, and other leagues they could go and “just play”.
There were teams we could beat just based on talent and skill alone so we had to start winning those games. Slowly players began to understand, but they had no knowledge of what “playing for a State Championship” was or meant. But we began to win games that we should and it was time to go to the next level, winning games that were 50-50. . Again this level took 3-4 years to develop. I constantly had to preach to the teams what we were there to accomplish. We wanted to win games and develop. Once we got to the point of winning 50-50 games, we needed to. win games that we didn’t expect to win. Our goal was to make the regional finals to go to the state finals. The final step in the development was to beat teams that no one expected us to. It was always my belief that we had the ability, the skills to play with anybody anything and beat anyone on any day. In my last 5 years at the Keys we have had two teams reach the 2nd round (sweet 16) level of the state playoffs.
Cool! I see a pattern here and a valuable lesson to be learned. An opportunity presented itself; Rather than rejecting it because you had no previous experience in soccer at the time, you made the effort to learn about the subject by spending time “preparing and learning by reading books and going to clinics,” etc. You mentioned that it took work and discipline and eventually you mastered the knowledge needed to coach high school football which I saw when my old high school merged with Cross Keys and I ended up playing for you my senior year. You seemed to have a passion for soccer and a knowledge of the game and the know-how to get players excited for the game and team unity. But all of that was accomplished through your own hard work and effort. How important is “discipline” to the aspiring footballer and anyone in general?
Coach Bill Bratton:
Let me start by saying that I believe discipline is an important quality for anyone to have. To achieve individual or team goals one must have self-discipline. Discipline can have many different meanings for each person. It can be a commitment to attend practices, to go beyond what you are asked to do to prepare. Discipline comes from having goals and achieving goals comes from being disciplined. Some say my teams were disciplined. In a team there can be only one leader who must lead and lead by setting the discipline of what is expected of others. The others must be ready to accept the standards and work together to achieve the benefit of the whole and not of the individual. If the team has discipline many other honors will come their way.
For many years as the coach I would tell the teams our goals, the goal of what we are trying to achieve, and that in order to achieve these ideals we all need to be on the same page. Some years I would have players who as the season progressed would disagree with the discipline and feel that certain things were unfair. They would question the goal, the lineup, and the style of play or other team discipline. Of course I would try to talk to them, explain what was done and why, listen to their side of the picture. I always had an open door if a player wanted to talk or discuss things but not publicly either at practice or during a game. I remember one occasion where 5 players I took out of a game disagreed with my decision that they left the team bench and put in the stands. Those players were removed from the team immediately after the game. On another team years later the players felt the formation we played and the players in those positions were wrong. This time I gave that team the opportunity to play the players and the formation they felt we needed to play. I said you have half to show me I’m wrong and if it doesn’t work it will be done my way and there will be no further discussion and if you can’t agree with my decisions you have a decision only you can make to do . Well, the team’s way wasn’t working so at half time I told the team I’ve given you your chance now, it’s going to be done my way.
I have always in my 26 years of coaching told every team I coach (you may remember this)… I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how good you are (even if you are the best player). ), or who you know… If you have to be disciplined, you will be disciplined. As much as it might hurt the team, you know the rules and you know if you break the rules, you will be disciplined and I will discipline you.
Thank you Coach. Have you had experience of Club Soccer (soccer outside the school system)? What is your opinion on Club Soccer and its impact on High School Soccer? For example, some players who play high school soccer in the Spring may have Club teams they play for that train Summer, Fall and even Winter!
Coach Bill Bratton:
My Club coaching experience was limited as I coached one year with a U-14 boys team with Roswell Santos club league. We won the fall and spring season championship. A few years later I worked with Concorde Soccer coaching an U-12 boys team for a year.
If a player is looking to get noticed and has the dream of playing at the college level, then the club system is the way to go. But remember this is for elite level players. If they are good enough, there is a program they can go through to get to a higher level of play if they have the talent. First is to be selected in a top level team, try out for the State selected teams, achieve Regional recognition, etc. In the summer they should attend a quality soccer camp to improve their skills and be seen by college coaches. In high school some club coaches look down on the high school programs and encourage players not to play on their school teams due to lack of quality coaching, injuries, lack of talent and low level of play from many schools.
I encourage my players to find a club team to play on in the off-seasons because it can only help improve them. In the Fall if they are not playing on a club team, I encourage players to practice Cross Country to start developing their endurance and if possible get out for wrestling in the Winter. Some club players come into the High School level and will tell me they can only play midfield or an outside wing position. I try to teach my players that even though they played central midfield in their club team, they are a great fit for the defense of the school team. Players must keep an open mind and want to play the position that will give the team they have the opportunity to be competitive and a chance to win.
Thanks Coach! Having been a club coach for several years, I can relate to the statement “some club coaches look down on the high school program and encourage players not to play on their school teams due to lack of quality coaching, injury, lack of talent, level of play from many schools.” Not that I ever made that statement. However, that statement may have had some validity in the past, but do you see that changing as a new generation of teachers who may be coaching middle school or high school these days are actually former football players who are also teachers but may want to use the high school experience as a career for some form of College/Vocational training? This may be the case for some private schools.
Coach Bill Bratton:
Yes, I see this is getting better. The training at the high school level showed a significant improvement in the coaches’ knowledge of the game. High school teams now, like club teams can hire community coaches to help coach teams now and pay a scholarship. These individuals must take the state required courses to become a community trainer and follow the rules of the school, the district and the state while they are training. So high school coaches who might lack the skills and able to find someone willing to coach to teach/work to train the players the skills or work on the strategies and tactical aspects of the game. That’s what many club teams are doing now. They have a person to run but pay hundreds of dollars a month for a named/qualified individual who was a former player, etc to actually do the training.
****Coach Bratton retired in 2006, but after 7 years he wanted to get back into coaching and took over the varsity boys position at High School in Fulton County (Georgia) as a community coach. It was great to talk to him again after so many years. ****
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