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An Interview with Coach Ray Seals

Coach Ray Seals, the former Head Football Coach and Athletic Coordinator at James Madison High School from 1988-2011, coached high school football for over 46 years, accumulating a 212-102-1 record.  Coach Seals saw over 252 of his players receive college scholarships, with 9 of his former student-athletes eventually being drafted into the National Football League.

On developing talent and recognizing intangibles….

When I am working with new or young players, I assess where they are when they come into the program and I develop a plan to move them to a level they have indicated they want to be.  This assessment helps players to understand what they need to do to be successful and productive in achieving their goals. The assessment process involves testing their strengths and weaknesses.  Then I talk to them individually to find out what their aspirations are for the future and what type of commitment they are willing to make to achieve their dreams.  The next step in this assessment process is to assess a player’s home life, academic potential, the type of friends he associates with, his support staff and his inner strength and determination.  Once all this information is examined, then a program is designed for him that will include character development and life skills. This program must be strictly adhered to.  I need to know that I can depend on him to do what he says he will do and do it when he says he will do it.

On the characteristics of a successful high school football student-athlete….

A high school athlete will not be considered successful if he does not leave my program a better player and more importantly, a better person than he was when he started with me.  One major aspect of success to me means that he can walk out into society and make a positive contribution to his community and be a role model for future generations. Hopefully his academic success and social skills along with his athletic abilities will get him into college and prepare him for a career in life. He should be fully aware of his role as a son, father, and citizen.  He should have leadership skills, be an independent thinker, and be dependable.  His success will actually depend on him doing the best that he can with the tools that he has been given to work with. The coach who strives to educate his players in life skills on and off the field and does not accept any excuses, for failure can play a major role in getting players to realize their full potential.

On developing leadership skills in student-athletes…

Leadership skills are not developed overnight. Some players acquire leadership skills early in life through their parents teaching and establishing confidence in them. Ideally, these are the kinds of players every coach would like to have come into their program.  But the reality is, most don’t; a good coach has to help develop those skills through education and example. Those that can lead vocally, and through their work habit, usually have a positive attitude. Sometimes you find a player that has all of these qualities and is afraid to use them.  So a coach must be able to recognize those skills and tap into those resources to help a somewhat shy player develop those skills.  I try to find those that are willing to accept the responsibility of a leader.  Then I usually send these players to leadership camp and meet with them at the beginning of the week to let them know what I need from them to rally their team to success.   I also encourage team meetings without the coaches being present.   Once I feel comfortable with the leaders I let them know that they have a say in what the team does.  These players become our assistant coaches on and off the field; with solid leadership from the players a coach generally has fewer unnecessary problems with their team.

On advice for parents/guardians during their child’s college search process….

The ideal game plan for a coach is to get their players involved with the program from the start of freshman year and keep them in the program through senior year.  In the first meeting of the year, the outline of the program should be given to parents in writing and explained to them thoroughly.  This lets them know what will be expected from them and their sons and what they can expect from me and my coaches.  Early on I stress the need to work together to monitor their son’s academic progress on a regular basis and to stay in touch with their counselors and coaches on NCAA rules, regulations, and required tests.  During their junior year I give them a list of questions to prepare them on how to deal with college coaches when they start calling and making visitations.  I want them to know about things such as:  questions about academics, preparing for college, rules and regulations, staying on or being dismissed from the team.   It is important that they know regular attendance at scheduled meetings is the best way to stay up to date.

On what every incoming freshman should know as they transition into high school athletics….

After welcoming the freshmen, I begin with the importance of having good study habits and turning in class work and assignments on time.  I re-emphasize the value of being at school and attending classes on time; these academic issues seem to be the most difficult problem for them to adjust to.  I also encourage my players to get to know their teacher’s expectations and find out tutorial times and to attend them when needed.  As a coach, my focus is to make sure that my players understand that tutorials come before practice and failing a class will take them out of the week’s game. They must attend a session on respect and how to relate to teachers, staff, and their peers.   I make it perfectly clear that all coaches on my staff are to be addressed as either “coach” or “mister.” Also I believe it is important for them to know the history of the school and their sports teams.   This helps to build school spirit and team pride.  Finally, my expectations for them as a team and the importance of attending practice regularly in order to be successful are discussed.  I have an open-door policy to assist my players should they have problems at home, school, or off-campus.  Whatever I can’t assist them with, I will direct them to those who can help.

On how to create a healthy locker room culture….

Players are to make sure they keep the locker room clean, neat, and private. Each player must respect each team member and their goods. Each player must monitor their area and encourage other players to do the same. It greatly improves morale to have some successful history on the walls and locker, as this instills school pride.  Players are to treat the locker room as they would their home and be proud. One of the responsibilities of the captains is to monitor locker rooms for adherence to rules and if necessary to assess punishment when needed.

On how the student-athlete experience has evolved over the years….

There has been a major shift in the athlete over the years.  Today, athletes are better trained with all the modern and up-to-date equipment available. The available resources: more training camps, 7 on 7, Big Company (NIKI) allow more players to get involved.  This allows them to have more exposure and improve their skills and techniques. Where we are losing ground is in many of the inner cities where harsh economic issues have become prevalent.   One area of concern has been many programs have been cut and underfunded.  Parental support has dwindled and team’s numbers have nose-dived to the point that most teams cannot put three teams on the field.  Many of the middle schools do not play enough games to adequately develop their players for high school play. The lack of fathers in the inner city schools has caused a great deal of problems in terms of discipline, respect, character building, and integrity.   Coaching salaries are not up to par to attract and keep experienced coaches and that’s hurting the programs. A great deal of the athletes are leaving the public schools for private schools and academies.  These parents and players are in search of a more rigorous curriculum and better equipment, facilities and more opportunities for scholarships.

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