Friday Night Lights

The Art of Normalizing

Earlier this summer I enrolled in an online leadership program led by Jeremy Boone, performance coach, speaker, best-selling author, researcher, and consultant. Jeremy is the founder of LeaderKit, the online leadership group that I have been learning a great deal from and applying to not only my professional, but personal life as well. One module in particular really hit home to me on both fronts and has been a guiding principle of how I am moving forward in the midst of a major shift in our lives.

The Next Normal

As we began the module, one of the first things that was discussed was how do we proceed to lead others in the midst of a pandemic? Right now in education there is a philosophy floating around comparing teaching in a pandemic to airplane pilots building the plane on the runway. It has a lot of merit. Teachers and coaches are literally building online learning platforms and recording lessons days before students will log in and begin their learning for the year. What used to be the norm is no longer, and there has been a major shift to what we had all become accustomed to. This applies to several facets of life, but certainly to education and coaching as well. Jeremy illustrated to the group that what we need to do is incrementally achieve successful steps that will lead us to the “Next Normal.” We use the term next normal versus new normal because life is changing so frequently. Studies and policies change all the time, in some cases daily. If we set our minds to a certain level as the “New Normal,” that creates a fixed state that could change. By thinking of what is the next normal, we can then “Normalize” our present situation for that particular time.


I was lucky enough to train athletes over the summer. I focused on our mission for the summer – which was to successfully show our administration that we could train and interact and have fall sports. We pulled it off. Half our sports were successful and the other half got pushed to an October start. This wasn’t because the kids did anything wrong, it was because the state high school league ruled it to be that way. Even though we didn’t get all of our sports right away, we established the protocols that would give us the best possible opportunity to play. In this example it is imperative to communicate that our next normal is to do what is said and, even then, understand that sometimes that isn’t going to be enough to get what we want. We have to be okay with the fact that society is in a very fluid state, shifting and adjusting. A closer look at this is that we have cleaning supplies at every workout station in our facility. In all reality these are probably never going to go away. This is an example of the next normal for us in the high school setting.


Rather than set very high expectations, set minimum expectations. By doing this our evolving state resembles an ascending staircase. Each step higher is establishing a next normal and allows us to normalize our present situation. By systematically climbing the stairs we avoid massive drop-offs or huge declines in progress. Step by step, brick by brick. I am contemplating how our return to school in mid-September has gone. I think prior to enrolling in Boone’s class I would have said my goal was to teach kids all year in person. Now, I have shifted. I want to be teaching kids in person in October, and if we get to October my goal will be to be teaching them in person in November…

Stacking Wins

The concept of stacking wins greatly adheres to and assists us as we work to normalize each day and situation as we return to our next normal. Stacking wins is all of the little victories and a way to manufacture momentum as we climb the staircase. Stacking wins is radical acceptance of our current situation fully. This is not the easiest thing for me to do as I contemplate another possible situation of distance learning as a high school strength and conditioning teacher. But, it is what it is. I am starting the year out teaching kids in a “Hybrid Model.” I have half of my class two days a week and the other half on two different days. Everyone is distance learning on Fridays. The fact that I get to work with kids in my facility as a part of their school day is a huge win for me. If we move forward and can allow more students in I will continue to stack these wins. However, if we reach a point in the coming months that we are not able to continue and go back to full distance learning, I will respect that as our Next Normal and begin climbing the staircase again.

Let’s Play Football

Recently the MSHSL reversed their decision on fall sports and football is back. I will consider this another huge win, hopefully until the six game regular season plays out. But, I have accepted the fact that this has come with a few caveats. Fans, playoffs, and several other factors are still uncertain – but football is back. These kids get to play, and compared to last year’s spring athletes, this is a huge win and another ascending step on the staircase. As parents, fans, and mentors we should celebrate their participation. I will be doing my part as a coach and a parent to ensure that the bottom will not fall out on the lives of these athletes as we start play. If we limit fans to parents, have to wear a mask – shoot – if I have to stand on my head I will probably do it to make sure that this game goes on and these kids get to keep playing it no matter what. Even if they don’t have state playoffs, they get to play football, and that is a win in 2020. As parents, coaches, and leaders we have to be thankful for what we have. We must also be ready to accept whatever may happen with the upcoming season and prepare our kids for any possible situation. But for right now, all across Minnesota, from the small towns to the big schools, there are Friday Night Lights!

Ryan Johnson – “RJ” played football for Normandale Community College and Augsburg University. He now teaches physical education at Wayzata High School and is the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for Wayzata Public Schools, a position he began in 2000. Wayzata Athletics have captured 64 team state titles in his tenure and Johnson works directly with the three-time state champion football program as Director of Operations and Player Development. Johnson was named the NSCA 2017 National High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year. He is the Regional Director / Secretary for the National High School Strength Coaches Association (NHSSCA).