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I'll never forget riding in to Vista High School when I was a junior in high school. I went to Fallbrook High. And the Panthers of Vista were our rival. It was the only time in high school that police had to give us an escort. A couple of deputy sheriffs on motorcycles led us in to the hostile environment. Students and fans were literally banging on our bus as we snaked through the parking lot heading for the locker room.
As a coach, about 10 years later, we were taking our team at Linfield to play our rival, Hamilton High School in Anza, CA. Those folks liked to chuck full beer cans at the bus. Anza is a tiny town in the hills of Southern California. If the rival snuck out a win against those guys, you told your fans to leave town quick, windows up and doors locked!
Three important factors when playing in a hostile environment1. Adjust your pregame schedule
I know, I know. For many of coaches, that might be sacrilege. Coaches and players get fixated on their pregame rituals and routines. "We are on the field every single Friday night at 6:23." But I think it is important if you are going to play in a very hostile environment to keep the players focused on the game for as long as you can.
Plan on getting to the stadium a little later than usual. If you spend time getting ready at the stadium, perhaps you should go dressed for this game instead. Making an adjustment to your pregame schedule will keep the kids off the field for longer, thus minimizing their exposure to the hostile environment. In my experience, it is the time on the field before the game when the kids can get "spooked" and or intimidated. Come on the field later.2. Have a communication plan
Communicating with your players is much more difficult in a hostile environment. Young coaches especially can forget about this in their preparation for the game. For instance, I communicate most of my special teams verbally to my players. We don't usually huddle. I tell a captain of the team what the play is, then he takes it in, and communicates to his teammates. In a loud environment, that becomes much more difficult. You need to think critically about using only hand signals, or wristbands if you are facing a loud environment.3. Plan for your path
Make sure that you have a plan to get on and off the field that will keep your players safe. Regardless of the "usual" path that the school might have you go, is that the BEST path for you at halftime, after the game? Over the years, I've seen the way the opponent wanted to take us, and have said "No, we aren't going that way. I would like to do this instead."
I would put my most trusted assistant in charge of this. As soon as we got to the stadium, I would have them go check this right away. What is the path from the locker room to the field like? Are we going to be safe? Is there an alternate way we should take? Sometimes you can take a look at the school via google maps, and figure things out that way as far as the path you're going to take. The most important thing is that your kids and staff are safe.
Take these three things in to consideration the next time you go play in a hostile environment, and best of luck to you Coach!
Chris Fore is a veteran Head Football Coach and Athletic Director from Southern California. He consults coaches and programs nationwide through his business Eight Laces Consulting.