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Bridgeland’s inaugural SAC camp a key opportunity to build culture

July 1, 2017

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

That quote, most often wrongly attributed to Oscar Wilde (the first verifiable use of the expression was the copy from a 1966 ad promoting Botany men’s suits) sums up how Bridgeland Campus Athletic Coordinator David Raffield and his Bears coaching staff are approaching the offseason strength and conditioning program.

Like everything Bridgeland-related, the SAC camp yielded better-than-expected early returns. 429 future Bears signed up for the offseason regimen, held at Salyards Middle School until Bridgeland is open to students.

That’s no small feat considering that other, similar programs around the district – belonging to schools that have existed for significantly longer – are generally happy with a number in the 250-300 range. Those schools also have juniors and seniors to bolster those totals, while Bridgeland will have just two classes, freshmen and sophomores, when it opens in August.

Under the direction of defensive coordinator and strength coach Dale Williams, whom Raffield brought with him from A&M Consolidated, where he held the same titles, the Bridgeland SAC program is like any other in that it seeks to develop skills and attributes like speed, power, agility, coordination and balance in its student-athletes, stressing sound technique and a practical knowledge of sports science, kinesiology and fundamentals.

Unlike the other SAC programs in the district, though, Bridgeland is getting its first and only chance to make a good first impression.

The effects of that impression will reverberate throughout the next decade or more of the school’s existence, and the lessons Raffield & co. are trying to impart run much deeper than proper lifting technique. Not unlike Baloo and Mowgli in the animated 1967 version of The Jungle Book, Raffield, Williams and the rest of the Bridgeland coaches are teaching the young student-athletes what it means to be Bears.

“I believe that it’s not what you do, but how you do it,” Raffield said. “And that’s in all aspects of training. Our strength and conditioning camp is a way for our coaches to teach our kids how to work the way Bridgeland Bears are going to work. We spend a lot of time with both the technique and the attitude.”

SAC camps are a rare opportunity for coaching staffs. For a small fraction of the year, the various, disparate Bridgeland athletics programs are one. Boys and girls, soccer players and football players, varsity and freshman – all share the same space in a rich mélange of eclectic disciplines that affords the coaches an opportunity to instill a top-down sense of a Bridgeland culture.

Raffield believes that a strong culture, with a shared pool of core values and an overarching sense of identity, will eventually transform the dozen or so discrete sports teams into a unified, ecumenical Bridgeland Athletics program.

So far, so good, says Raffield.

“Once you go through it and start to spend time together, and it’s boys and girls, different age brackets, it builds a little bit of camaraderie and school spirit,” Raffield said. “It’s a huge part of developing a complete athletic program.”

With just this lone chance to found and solidify Bridgeland’s identity, Raffield placed Williams in charge of the SAC program, just as he did at A&M Consolidated and at Cy Falls before that. In fact, the current Bridgeland strength and conditioning program is the same program that Raffield and Williams developed together as founding members of the Cy Falls Football coaching staff in 1992.

Like Raffield, Williams has been here before, and he’s learned and grown since then, too. Bridgeland, says the head coach, is fortunate to have Williams’ experienced, steady hand on the tiller during this formative period.

“He’s a phenomenal teacher,” Raffield said. “And I’ve watched him grow as a coach, technically. It’s not just grip-it-and-rip-it. We’re trying to get the kids to actually learn how to clean and hang and so forth properly. Technique is huge in that development.”

Hard work beats talent when…

At Bridgeland, Williams is reprising his role on Raffield’s A&M Consolidated coaching staff. He’s accustomed to heading up Raffield’s strength and conditioning camps, orchestrating the defense, working one on one with his players. But Williams hasn’t always been an assistant coach.

Williams spent six years as the head coach of the Caldwell Hornets, making the playoffs three times and averaging eight wins per season. The team’s record in the two years following his departure was 2-16.

Williams was a difference-maker as a head coach, but chose to sign on as Raffield’s defensive coordinator at A&M Consolidated in 2010. Raffield is fond of pointing out that there are numerous coaches on his staff that jumped from the college ranks to be a part of the building Bridgeland effort.

In a sense, Williams is not much different. While he doesn’t rule out the possibility of returning to a head-coaching role someday, Williams said that his stint at Caldwell served to throw into sharp relief all the facets of his current role he most loves.

“Why do you go from being a head coach to an assistant coach?” Williams asked. “A lot of the demands are different. For myself, I look for support mechanisms: support from the administrators, support from parents. If I find that, I don’t necessarily have to be a head coach. I enjoy teaching. When you become a head coach, sometimes you get away from the teaching moments.”

Bridgeland Football Defensive Coordinator is technically a lateral move for Williams, but like the rest of the soon-to-be Bears, he relishes the chance to put his stamp on a program’s origins.

“Any coach in the state of Texas would be excited about this opportunity,” Williams said. “The draw of the kids that we’re bringing in, developing a school and athletic culture – it’s something anybody in the education business wants to be on the ground floor doing. And in five years or so, you’ll know if you’ve been successful in developing a culture.”

Williams referred to the Bridgeland SAC camp as a ‘unification program,’ an opportunity to lay a strong foundation on which to build the Bridgeland Athletics program. Like Raffield, Williams is fixated on what lies beneath the granular weight-lifting pointers and footwork drills.

Every day, the players and coaches are waking up and asking themselves, ‘what is Bridgeland all about?’ And every day, the players and coaches are answering those questions in the way they handle this valuable offseason time.

“The whole thing we try to develop is the thought process that ‘hard work pays off,’” Williams said. “If we can establish that – that hard work pays off, no one’s entitled to anything, you have to work to get what you get – that’s the purpose of this program, coaches included.”

“A matter of time…”

Asked about the short- and long-term goals of the Bridgeland Athletics program, Williams said that the determiner will not be wins and losses, nor points scored versus points allowed.

True success – which he emphasized will indeed yield wins, but as the byproduct of sound process, not as a goal unto itself – will be measured in how well the Bridgeland Bears respond to what is demanded of them. Williams calls the demands ‘pillars,’ and the installation of said pillars is one of the priorities of SAC camp.

“There’s three things we demand of ourselves: number one is great effort, and number two is being disciplined. If we can handle those two, the last would be learning to be physically and mentally tougher. Those are the three pillars. That’s what you’re looking for.”

Pillars, principles, identity, values – there are a thousand different facets to culture.

In agreeing to undertake the Bridgeland founding, Raffield was embracing the opportunity to construct culture from the ground up, but he was also accepting the challenge of conjuring culture from thin air.

But then again, Raffield has been here before. Cy Falls, which he helped to found in 1992, is one of several shining examples, even just within the district, of the kind of culture and identity he hopes to help craft for Bridgeland. Raffield need not look far for a successful template.

“What’s neat about a few schools – Cy Falls, Cy-Fair with their BFND, Cy Woods and 212, even Cy Ranch – is that the level of commitment and passion at those schools make them successful,” Raffield said. “You feel the energy when you’re in the schools. That’s something that we want to build. We want our kids to want to come to school at Bridgeland.”

In essence, that’s the key to the whole thing, says Raffield. If students want to be a part of what’s being built, then they buy in, they engage and they work.

Raffield’s vision of success is essentially a very simple flowchart. At the flowchart’s start point is culture. Take the time to do it right now, here at the onset, says Raffield, and there are few limits to the fruit it could bear.

“If you’re doing that, and the kids want to be there, they’re going to be successful,” Raffield said. “It’s just a matter of time.”