Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Motivating Youth Football Players

Many of you get players that seem not to want to be involved in youth football. Many times these problem situations can be turned around:

Youth Football isn’t right for everyone, but we all have seen this problem turned around many times with a few simple steps. Quite often the kid is afraid of contact or has no friends on the team or just doesn�t have a genuine interest in the game. Pair the kids up with a partner before they ever start their first practice. Every day ask the kids the “question of the day” which they must ask their partner and know the answer. Every day there is a comprehensive test and if you don’t know the answer about your parther, you run.

Questions start with the players: name, school, number of brothers and sisters, favorite football team, food they hate the most, pets, phone number etc etc. If a player has a contact, a friend he can talk to, he will often come back. Don�t let a kid get set apart due to little “social clicks” in your team.

The next thing to try is; overt praise, pick out something the kid does half way right, like a descent stance or even something that he does, like shares his water with a friend. Praise the heck out of it in front of the team, make him the model for that activity. We like to put kids like that out front during warm-ups and see how they respond. If the kid is having a real bad day we may even do our �bad day� drill. We bring the team in and let them know we are going to run sprints but if the team can come up with 10 things they like about player X, no sprints. Start it out with something like ” The reason I like player X is because he gets into a nice stance and isn’t toooooooo ugly”. Then let player X do the end of practice “break”.

If it is a contact issue, we rarely have this problem. With our form teaching methods and emphasis on drills like the “splatter drill” where we do not take the player to the ground eases players into contact. With very little live scrimmaging and being careful about matchups in live one on one drills, this shouldn�t be an issue.

If the problem persists, talk with the parents to see what the issue is. Talk with the player at this point if there is still a problem and let him know he will run anytime you see him loafing or not paying attention. Let him know it isn�t fair to his teammates or even to himself if he doesn�t straighten up.

To be quite frank, we rarely ever have to go beyond step one, that usually works. Make sure that if he is leaving the team it is not for the competitive benefit of the team, but for the sake of the player. I’ve often seen the light bulb go on for no apparent reason in a player half way through the season and the kid turns out loving the game.

But if you have gone through the other steps and still get no response, look at asking mom and dad to take him off the team. If it’s late in the season, consider just riding it out. In fifteen years of coaching hundreds of kids that has happened to me just once, it should be a very rare occurrence. If you do everything you can to help this player, 10 years from now you will still be able to look back on that season in a very positive way.

In 2002 I was an assistant coach in our Orgs short handed 13-14 B team. We had a set of twins on the team Richard and Ronald, they weighed just 76 pounds and had never played football or any organized sport. They were very timid, would not engage at all and were slow on top of it, they did however come to every practice. Several of the coaches suggested we ask grandma and grandpa (they didn�t live with mom and dad) to take them off the team for their own safety. I stood my ground and said no and we even found a way to get them into every game for a few plays.

To make a very long story short, by seasons end they started to make some progress. In the runner up “championship” game we were short handed due to injuries and we had to put Richard in at safety. We had a tiny lead and the other team was gouging us with its 150 pound stud fullback. On 4th and 15 at our 34 with less than a minute left in the game, the fullback breaks into the open into our secondary. We all closed our eyes, expecting a sure TD, but Richard to our surprise made a perfect form tackle at the knees to save the game for us, one of my very proudest coaching moments.

Just last week I saw Richard, now a Senior in High School diligently working the drive in window at McDonalds. I didn’t recognize him but boy did he recognize me, all smiles and full of information. We held up the drive-in line jabbering away until the cars started honking. Those are the great moments, when you can look back and know you did something right, that made my day.

Don’t give up on a kid because he doesn’t seem to want to be there or he doesn’t look like a football player.

This has been another post into Dave Cisar’s Winning Youth Football Site
Copyright 2007 Cisar Mangement Services

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  1. bob mullis

    Great article and just in time. It gave me inspiration in a desperate time.

    My 7 year old is crying at every practice which last 1.5 hours. He is ok the first hour, but then melts down and makes a scene. He has had enough before the practice is over. Any suggestions?

    Thanks so much!!
    Bob Mullis

    1. davecisar

      First find out why he’s crying. If he can make it through the first 60 minutes, he should be able to make it through the last 30.
      Make a game out of it, the goal next practice is 70 minutes. With the goal at the end of the week the full 90 minutes. He needs to understand it’s unfair for him to be able to participate if he can’t make it through 90 minutes when all the other boys do.

  2. Will Healy

    Dave, my son is playing 5-6th grade foot ball for the first time. His “coach” screams and yells at the 5th graders any time they make a mistake. The 6th graders have played together the year before and they get the “coaching” and the new players get to be the tackling dumbies and dont recieve the same attention. What can I do to help my son who has been moved to four or five positions and is losing interest. I help him with the drills he doesnt understand and he makes great improvement then off to another position and we start again….. any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Thanks Will Healy.

    1. davecisar

      We all want the best for our children, but sometimes that means we do so with rose colored glasses. Every coach has his own style and way of doing things, not all of them are going to coach like Tom Osborne. It’s also natural that the older kids are doing better than the younger ones. You should be encouraged, not discouraged about the coach moving your son around. To me, that means he is trying to find a place on the field for him to play.

      On the other hand, not all coaches run efficient practices. Practices should allow everyone to get about the same number of quality reps. I’m not a big fan of scrimmaging a lot and wasting the time of 11 players, sharpening execution can be done so much more efficiently with rapid fit and freeze reps and defensive recognition reps. If you feel this team or program isn’t a good fit, watch other teams practice THIS year and make a comparison. If another program is a better fit, play there instead.

      As to your son, I would encourage you to encourage him. Set achievable goals for every single practice. Have him concentrate on his effort. A goal could be: being first in every line of every drill, sprint back to the line at the end of every drill, play to the whistle on EVERY drill and every snap, be at the front of the line in group and team meetings- with eyes focused on the coaches, stuff like that. If he does those things he will get noticed by the coaches and get more playing time. If he does those things, meets the goals set for each practice and gets positive reinforcement from you, he is going to get satisfaction from playing. If you decide to stick it out also let your son know that it will be his turn to get more attention the following year. Note that I’m not condoning how this coach coaches, I don’t coach that way, but this is reality, not some meaningless exercise.

  3. Jeff Scott

    Dave, This is my 4th year coaching and the first year on a team with absolutely no heart or desire. This is a new league for our town (there are 3 now) and we have a small team-17 players half of which are first timers. It’s juniors so these guys are between 10-12 y/o. We don’t have any “studs” or guys with blinding speed, but we do have a good core of solid players. Here’s my issue, the team is not motivated and scared. We have linemen who get knocked down on both sides, running backs that stop mid run and go into a standing fetal position and worst of all we have about 10-12 “injury” time-outs per game. My head hurts, I cant breathe, my foot hurts, the sun got in my eyes, etc… I have tried to motivate and praise them as a whole. We tackle dummies and I am careful with my match-ups for live tackling. What else can I do? It’s week three now and we’ve lost every game about 34-0, 31-0 and 36-0. Any thoughts or suggestions on how to get them past their fear? I’m at my wits end. Thanks.

    1. davecisar


      It starts from day one with 1 and 2 step fit drills. The best way to get kids over their fear of contact is our splatter drills onto the landing mat. So a search here on the blog for that drill. Let the kids know there are now 15 seconds of fame injury timeouts for boo boos. If they cant walk, have a broken bone or are dizzy, yes you will stop play, nothing else. Once you stop play for someone- they will need to come out for at least 2 full series. That usually helps.
      Best of luck.


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