Youth Football- Coaching In an Extreme Youth Football League
One of the great things about doing youth football clinics all around the county is you get to hear some great stories from some very interesting youth football coaches. Recently after a youth clinic I did, I met privately with one coach from Alabama. He went into great detail describing the league and program he would be coaching in.
Starting 11 Both Ways
In his teams league, it is very common that when the ball changes hands NO PLAYERS COME OFF THE FIELD. Yes even with team sizes of 24 plus, when the ball changes hands quite often not a single player comes off the field. This is age 10-11 non-select youth football.
This coach is coaching in this league for the first time, but has had a son play in the past season and he knows several of the coaches and many of the parents. Not only do the teams in this league play their 11 best both ways, but some even try and get the non-starters to quit before the season even starts. One of parents of this coaches newly assigned players was told by his coach from last season that he “wouldn't see the field", before the practices even started. This was told to the boys father flat out and this boy is very well behaved and has wrestled for 2 years. Most of the non-starters on these teams play just 2 plays per game and those plays are mostly special teams plays.
Why Do They DO This?
While I'm a firm believer in playing competitive football, (we have gone 78-5 the last 8 seasons) with a winner and a loser and playing some kids more than others due to merit, I find this absolutely appalling. While I've coached in both select and non-select programs and in many different youth football leagues and tournaments, thankfully I've only seen this type of behavior a handful of times. What is common in the coaches that I've seen do this, is they have always been extremely weak coaches that are desperate to win games.
They are almost always the “Jimmies and Joes" coaches who feel the only way they can compete or win is to have the very best players. They don't have a scheme or are able to teach techniques that will allow anyone but a stud player to have any success whatsoever. These are usually coaches who can't “coach up" a weaker player or make a stud out of an average player. These kinds of coaches put a huge premium on recruiting players and are almost always “grass is greener coaches", they are always looking to coach a team that has the most talent. These type of coaches are only successful when they have the best players in the league.
Who Wants to Play for This Kind of Coach?
In my mind it takes little to no coaching ability to take a group of extremely talented kids and do well, the question is what can you do when you don't have that kind of group? To start 11 kids both ways says a lot about these coaches abilities to develop players. It certainly isn't where I would want my kids playing, especially if the kids were talented. If this coach can't coach up the average or weaker kids, how in the world is he going to make the decent players better? A good youth football coach can “coach up" someone that starts off as weak player to be a competent player, he can coach up the player that starts out as a competent player to be an average player, he can coach up the average player to be a “stud" player and his stud players can reach new heights when coached properly.
A Better Plan
My new friend from Alabama had a different vision for his team than his peers. He is a very successful dad, husband, businessman and youth baseball and lacrosse coach. His vision is to take the group of castoffs that he has been assigned and not only have them be successful on the field but to coach everyone up and get everyone some reasonable playing time. He has no intentions of starting 11 both ways. Out of his 25 kids he is hoping to start 16-17 kids, but has intentions of having the other 9 non-starters play well more than 2 plays each. I have all the confidence in the world he will realize his vision for this team.
If you put in a scheme that allows average players to be successful, use techniques that average kids can execute, teach them properly and have the correct priorities, nearly any team can be competitive AND get kids playing time. These are not mutually exclusive goals for well coached youth football teams. What a shame so many kids in this league have gotten turned off from the game by such poor coaches.
You Can Do It In Real Life, Not a Pipe Dream
A very short example of how my teams have been able to overcome these kinds of obstacles. In 2004 I moved to a rural area just outside Lincoln Nebraska. The local youth team to that point in time had done quite poorly, if I remember correctly, winning something like 4-5 games total in the previous 5 seasons combined. I was told this was a “cross country and basketball area" and that it didn't matter what I had done in previous years in other areas. Well to make a long story short, we went 11-0 that first season and the second season we went 12-0. Not only did we win our own league (won the championship game by mercy rule) we defeated the two best “select" teams in the state from 2 different leagues.
Our group of 24 average kids who just showed up, no cuts, no recruiting not only beat, but blew out a select Omaha Inner-City team that was 3 time defending champions of their league and had chosen from over 150 players. Imagine the best of 150 vs 24 who just showed up. The “select" team has ZERO weaker, competent or even average kids, they are all studs. They had us severely outsized and with much more speed as well, but we had them 24-0 at the half. The other select team was a perennial power, a suburban Omaha team coached by a good friend of mine and former quarterback at ASU.
We were up 30-0 in that game at the half. I assure you in both games we started 17 different kids and all of our backups got reasonable playing time in the first half, we literally subbed from the opening gun.
The moral of this story is you don't have to have the best players to be competitive in youth football. You can get everyone into the game AND compete if you are a good coach, have a good youth football scheme and have a great plan.
How Are YOU Going to Be Remembered?
Just think ahead 20 years from now. What are you going to think of your season and how are your players going to view this season when they are 30-40 years old? I would hope the guy starting 11 kids both ways would be 100% embarrassed by this memory. I wonder what the kids he played just 2 plays or ran off will be thinking 20 years from now about their coach and their season? Think of all the life lessons those kids that dropped out will never got to learn from our great game.
Dave has a passion for developing youth coaches so they can in turn develop teams that are competitive and well organized. He is a Nike “Coach of the Year" Designate and speaks nationwide at Coaches Clinics.
For 325 of his Free Youth Football Coaching Tips : Coaching Youth Football
For a free video clip of his team in action: Football Plays