It's a mindset. I tell my players from day 1 that everything is a competition. Winners get rewarded. Losers don't.
It's also part of your culture. You're either coaching it or allowing it to happen. We go back to all kinds of leadership principals to try and build up that culture.
Just read Above the Line or any other leadership books endorsed by coaches and you should get the info that you need.
If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.
Don’t accept mediocrity, don’t accept less than each kid’s best effort, don’t let any single player feel that their job is safe on any given day. Make them have nightmares of the guy behind them taking that job away.
Honestly, I don’t think in season practice is always the place to foster competition for a smaller HS team, aside from drills like you mentioned that the team enjoyed.
Offseason weight room and workout participation is where HS competition is born. Let the players know that playing time and/or team leadership will be directly connected to offseason participation and improvement. The players won’t want to waste offseason sweat and tears.
Don't coddle your players. Make them all earn their position. Even the sons of the helicopter dads or rich guys. Make them all earn their starting position. One thing that has always angered me are the type of dads and mothers who think their kids are the greatest HS FB player the world has ever seen, when in truth they likely belong on the JV squad. Then you get the drama of said parents threatening to transfer their kid to another school. Making everyone play by the same rules makes the players who really want to play work harder to get that PT. Nothing would make a coach happier than fostering competition to the point where some kid comes out of nowhere and becomes your star like a Malik Hooker.
"I find your lack of kalua disturbing" - Darth Lebowski
This is an excellent point.
Gotta love it.
I think in the HS years a player should be witness to their improvements to keep them engaged fully. I coached 13-15 y/o and each practice time was used each practice to work on strength and their athletic ability for improvements. As a result as the year went they WERE stronger and athletic which improved the team overall. Lineman were timed as if they were a pulling lineman around cones for downfield blocks every practice as well as time spent on their toes and elbows to strengthen those muscles used in blocking a well as time spent crouched for the legs. Of course it meant every practice was discussed ahead of time so the practice is well timed out so there was very little standing around. Also reaction drills (very important)as well as home eye drills slow the game down for them.
1. Sounds like manpower is an issue. Get creative to see if you can get more help. Former players who can swing by for a few practices or students who might be willing to help out (perhaps an off-season volunteer swap. Get a non-football wrestler or baseball player to hold a stopwatch and clipboard in return for the same service in the winter or spring. Parents. Yeah, I know, helicopters and favoritism, but for every annoying helicopter out there there are a handful of quiet, competent parents who would be happy to lend a hand, but they'll need asking. Find the ones who didn't play in high school.
2. Plan your practices. You may already do this, but ask yourself how well you do it. Are you using the time you have to the maximum effect? Some of this goes along with getting help, but I am reminded of little league baseball where one coach hits fly balls to a line of 12 kids. Just adding two semi-competent adults to that drill will triple the effectiveness of the time on that drill. Also, where you can, establish routine. Routine allows the players to learn what's next, and help make a smooth transition. It also allows captains and seniors to use their leadership on those transitions. If you do 8 activities in a two hour practice and you can cut the transition time from 5 minutes to 3, you'll add 14 minutes, which is pretty much an extra activity. Not to mention all the mental benefits and respect you get from appearing to have your shit together.
3. Others have said to make players earn their spots, particularly in the off-season / weight room. That is great in theory, and I'm not against it, but put some serious thought into how you are going to make this work. How do you handle the kid who comes early, stays late, outworks everyone, and still isn't very good? What about the triple sport star you see 4-5 months out of the year. He isn't goofing off or anything, but he also isn't living and breathing football like some of your other players. And then about 10 more questions along these lines. There aren't necessarily right or wrong answers, but if you proclaim a great policy from on high and then wing the implementation, you'll probably fall flat.
4. Possibly along the lines of #3, but if you have stats you believe in, then use them and what they are telling you. That's a big if in a sport like football, but don't put yourself in a situation where your gut is over-riding what your mouth told the team.
Foster leadership from your upperclassman. Give goal sheets and ask players to fill them out. Post them during practice if you can. Have team competitions particularly in the preseason and/or offseason if you can work with them. Create a S&C program in the summer that runs through the fall. Rank players by position and don't be afraid to post younger players or guys further behind on the depth chart that outperform guys ahead of them in certain situations.
Strength equipment is expensive & guarantees you nothing. A strong will is free & will give you everything you need.