Better Every Day

David Walker, Head Football Coach at Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School, has built a legacy few can match. With an overall coaching record of 266-85, he has led his squad to five 3A state championships over the past decade, including last fall, when Martinsburg outscored opponents 732-106. In January, he was named the nation’s Coach of the Year in football by the NFHS.

But when it comes to his day-to-day work with players, that history of success is rarely mentioned. Instead, the focus is on the here and now.

Walker uses the motto “Get Better Every Day,” and it resonates throughout the program. The phrase is on signs everywhere, from the football offices to the locker room, and it’s on the tip of every coach’s tongue.

“We don’t talk about the past,” Walker says. “We talk about today and tell them, ‘If you have progressed, then you are doing what you need to do.’ If they live up to that motto, the end result will be success.”

And for Walker, success means more than victories on the field. All his strategies are designed to impart life lessons as much as lead to wins. For him, the two go hand in hand. “Our goal is to make our athletes not just better players, but better people,” says Walker, who also serves as Athletic Director at Martinsburg.

A major aspect of the lesson plan is teaching the responsibility—and rewards—of belonging to a team. “We stress the idea of being a part of something bigger than yourself, and that the needs of the group outweigh those of the individual,” Walker explains. “We require them to be in certain places at certain times, and we hold them accountable.

“We also talk to our kids about having high expectations and standards,” he continues. “They understand they have to work hard and put in effort to get better. We tell them that they have to compete against themselves, other guys on the team, and guys across the country. They understand that if they don’t perform well, somebody behind them will take their place.”

How does Walker get buy-in from his athletes? He says it starts with showing them respect and compassion, and he does this by forming individual relationships with his players.

“You have to be open-minded and in tune with their lives,” says Walker. “I talk to my athletes about their families and hobbies as well as their academic goals and what they want to do in the future. Simple conversations can make them aware that you care.”

Walker also stresses his staff’s open-door policy. “Our kids know that if they need to talk to one of us, we are always available to them,” he says. “We tell them, ‘If you have a problem, that is what we are here for.’”

And he makes sure hard work is blended with fun. “Especially in the off-season, we do things like play non-football-related games with added competition between groups,” Walker says. “The kids enjoy these activities, and it brings us together.”

Another bolster to the offseason is rewarding players who come in to lift in the morning. They become members of the breakfast club, and are treated to a free meal after their workout. Walker also hands out T-shirts to athletes who show up a certain amount of days.

“When guys invest their time, I think the sport means more to them, and they become interested and focused,” he says.

The growth of the individual athlete is then furthered through a program called “The Main Thing.” Once a week, the coaching staff invites youth leaders to talk to the group. “We have different people come in so they aren’t always hearing from us,” says Walker. “Sometimes we have youth ministers or other coaches. It is voluntary for our athletes, but most of them stay and listen.”

While Walker’s dedication to helping the young men on his team learn and grow means extra work, he doesn’t mind. “That’s why we are here. I think you have to coach character and the difference between right and wrong just as much as you coach the Xs and Os,” he says. “We stay on them and communicate with them, stressing the importance of each player’s responsibility.”

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