West Van gridiron goals
The mood in the locker room was decidedly downcast after the 52-22 loss to WJ Mouat. It was the biggest game of the season, the quarter-finals of the AAA high school playoffs. Now the season was over.
But after giving his players a few short minutes of reflection, the young head coach of the West Vancouver Highlanders broke the silence.
Sure, his team had lost the game against the No.1-ranked squad in the province. But they’d played hard. And they’d prepared hard.
“They were a better team that day,” says coach Shawn Anderson, 33.
And it was still a season to be proud of. Extremely proud. The Highlanders had achieved both goals they’d written on the white board in their dressing room at the start of the season:
1) Win two league games and 2) Be competitive in every game they played (which meant always avoiding ‘running time’ which occurs when a team is losing by more than 30 points).
“We did [win two league games, against Notre Dame and New Westminster]. Very tight games, very competitive games — that’s what we wanted,” explains Anderson.
That advanced the team to the playoffs, where they beat Rutland 31-11 in the opening round before facing Abbotsford’s WJ Mouat.
“It was a very successful year for us,” says Anderson, a business teacher whose email signature has this famous quote attached: “Success is not a goal, it’s a by-product of hard work and commitment.”
And since taking over the senior football program at West Vancouver Secondary in 2010, the high-energy coach has lived by those words.
Of course, his first season was particularly difficult. Interest in playing football at the school had waned over the years and many of his senior players had yet to win a game in a Highlanders uniform.
That meant he had a small squad and when the team was hit with a spate of injuries early in the season, Anderson, with only 15 players left, was forced to fold the squad because of safety concerns.
It was especially gut-wrenching when he had to deliver the news to the team’s two Grade 12 players who’d never play high school ball again. “A very difficult day,” recalls Anderson.
But Anderson had a strong nucleus of Grade 11 players and planned to field a team the next season — no matter what.
That’s when he began goal-setting with his players and coaching staff.
That year, even though they wouldn’t be facing any on-field opponents they could commit to certain goals: working out in the weight room, improving their conditioning and recruiting new players.
“[We] made it an emphasis for us,” says Anderson, who met up with several rival coaches in the off-season to discuss how they had structured their programs.
At the start of the 2011 season, Highlander players and coaches collaboratively brainstormed about their goals. One was to be competitive. And they were. The other was to make the playoffs, which they didn’t.
That influenced the way Anderson set goals with his players for the 2012 season. He wanted clearly defined stepping stones for success.
“Realistic goals but not easy,” says the coach.
The goal-setting translates off the gridiron as well, says the coach.
In the final week of the season against St. Thomas Moore, for instance, the Highlanders had a poor week of practice and lost the game.
The previous week, they’d prepared well for their opponent and got a victory.
“[It] sunk in with the kids. [They] prepared so well for New West and saw the payoff. [They] realized preparation is so important.”
Whether it’s for a job interview or for the game or for an exam, “you can’t expect to be successful without being properly prepared,” he says.
And you can expect the Highlanders to be well prepared for success for next season.
Although the team will be without some graduating Grade 12s — including dynamic quarterback Johnny Franklin and receiver Blake Whiteley — they have many talented returnees.
“[We] have a solid core that buy into what we are doing,” he says.
And for next season, the coach plans on working with the team on creating goals even earlier — during spring ball in May — so they can add some off-season goal-setting to the white board.