Washington High School football coach Chad Stadem learned in early March the South Dakota Coaches Clinic was canceled. Action was needed. Stadem served on the South Dakota Coaches Association board for a decade so fellow coaches asked what they should do.
“Hey, let’s do the Zoom thing,” he told his peers.
Stadem had experience with Zoom having worked with other coaches one on one across the country in the past. If he met a guy at a clinic or on Twitter, he used Zoom to stay in contact and connect. The video service—which is now very popular with a reported 200 million users—was the easiest. It allowed coaches to ask real-time questions and get feedback instantly.
That’s how the SoDak Sessions Live Clinics were born. For the first few weeks, the coaches were going five nights a week. They’ve since backed it down to three nights a week. Next, they will go to one night a week in May through the summer. A break will follow before picking things back up in January.
Stadem asked inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud to present to the clinic. Ruud has a verbal commitment from Washington High star Randolph Kpai for the class of 2021. Once Ruud said yes, things just snowballed from there. Iowa special teams coach LeVar Woods was a recent featured speaker.
“With Barrett on there that night we had over 130 coaches on there,” Stadem said. “We’ve been averaging over 100 coaches a night. We’ve got guys from Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa. We’ve got guys that have popped in who coach over in Europe. It’s been a diverse group of guys depending on the topic. When we have one speaker we just hand it over to LeVar or Barrett and they present.
“Barrett when he got on there, he did a bunch of linebacker drills. He was awesome. He had a ton of guys asking questions. We had so many guys on there it bogged the system down. He’s got the street cred though through what type of coach he is and player he was.”
There is a diverse type of coaches participating in the sessions. Coaches from all over the country have given lectures. USF’s offensive coordinator spoke for two hours. South Dakota, South Dakota State, Montana and Virginia Tech have had coaches take part.
Some coaches are better at giving lectures and prefer doing that. Other coaches prefer to walk attendees through film during question and answer sessions. Chadron State did live demonstrations on how to do drills for offensive linemen. There is even a way for the coaches to have breakout sessions for a more personal learning setting.
“When we do the breakouts, that’s interesting because what we will do is assign rooms,” Stadem said. “Guys will come in and want to see a certain speaker. With the breakout rooms, you are in your own room. We’re all on Zoom but we are all in our own space. It’s fun that way because we can all be together in the beginning and then break off. We’ve had the University of Sioux Falls and Augustana here from Sioux Falls.
“Both did four coaches from their staff. We had a lot of people on there and it was fun. We had a lot of coaches asking questions. When we do breakout sessions it’s a little more intimate. You’ll have 40 guys in there that can open their mics up and they can talk.”
The coaches watching these clinics aren’t just looking to pick up tips on scheme either. Not everyone wants to know how other coaches do things but it’s more about how it’s taught. With so many good coaches on every level of football there is a wealth of knowledge out there. Teaching fundamentals is a simple way to allow players to play fast and execute is key.
Even though the clinics started as learning opportunities in South Dakota they have now expanded beyond that. There are similarities between Nebraska high school football and South Dakota, which is why Stadem has connections in the Cornhusker State. That’s how York coach Glen Snodgrass got involved.
Snodgrass’ staff at York spoke at the South Dakota Coaches Association clinic before. Stadem's had players from his school end up with the Huskers. With Snodgrass’ son Garrett just wrapping up his freshman year at Nebraska, the pair bumped into each other a lot at recruiting functions. When Stadem started doing the online clinics, he invited Snodgrass to listen in.
Snodgrass was impressed with the quality of the clinics with speakers from many levels of football. He ended up doing a presentation himself on York's linebackers and how he teaches them. For Snodgrass though, the learning experience is tough to beat.
“I was doing a Zoom clinic this afternoon with some really good coaches around Nebraska,” Snodgrass said. “When I got done I was sitting here thinking how great football coaches are in general. How willing they are to share and help each other out. Just grow the game of football. I’m not sure it’s quite that way in every sport. I was pretty concerned. I was going to miss the Nebraska clinic, the Kansas Jayhawk clinic, too. There were two or three clinics I was going to miss out on. I’m listening to three or four clinics a day right now.
“There are college coaches, high school coaches. Man, there is a lot of stuff going on online. I’m getting way more than I ever have. It’s been one kind of good thing about this whole quarantine situation. Man, there’s so much information out there and people willing to share.”
Not having in-person clinics does mean that you lose some of the networking you’d gain in those settings. At the same time, Stadem believes these Zoom clinics allow things to be more intimate. Coaches often stay to the groups they are comfortable with at the bigger clinics. They are less likely to reach out to others. These virtual meetings give a chance for much more interaction with coaches they may not have spoken to before. Listening is key because many coaches have ideas that can be incorporated into what you are doing.
The benefits of these clinics over Zoom are evident. No one knows what the future will look like or what will stick around once we are on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Snodgrass has a prediction.
“I’m going to go ahead and predict this is going to be something that keeps going," Snodgrass said. "It’s so easy to get 5-10 coaches or 100 coaches together on a Zoom session. I’m used to driving all over the country going to these clinics. Now everyone is realizing, ‘Shoot. I don’t need to leave my living room. [I] can get together with 300 coaches and have a nice clinic.’”
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.