Game Day Language Use Tricks for Youth Football Coaches
While many of your youth football players may appear to not be paying close attention to the words you use on game day, they do pick up on your language, tone, demeanor and your level of confidence. The worst thing a youth football coach can do before games is appear flustered or down because of the apparent size or athleticism of the opponent. All this will do is trickle down to your assistants, players and parents.
Comments like “they are huge look how big #99 is, look how fast #23 is, man #12 can throw it a mile”, serve no useful purpose, unless you are looking for excuses for your team before the game even starts. These are some of the reasons why we don’t want our kids on the game field until 30 minutes before game time. Everyone in the planet is there 60-75-90 minutes before the game; we get er done in 30 minutes and have plenty of time to spare. It also usually freaks the other team out, they are not sure we are going to show at all, then when we do show up, we are doing all our pregame stuff with our helmets off and in a much different fashion than anything they�ve ever seen. On home games I’ve actually had opposing coaches call me at home (I live 3 miles from our home field) and ask me if they are at the right field and have the right time for the game, because no one from our team is at the field. All of our championship banners are hung on the gate that everyone must pass through to enter the stadium, but they enter a deserted field at a deserted High School in the middle of nowhere surrounded by gravel roads and cornfields. I let the coach know they are in the right spot and we will show for the game. Let them bake in the sun and have one more thing to worry about. All our Game Day progressions, strategies and adjustments are detailed in Chapter 13 of the book and in the Game Day Management DVD.
Face away from the competition during pre-game, don’t give your kids any reason or time to fret before the game, worry is a motivation and energy killer. We are always positive before the game, all smiles, but everything is very quick paced, done with precision, businesslike and identical week to week. We are always very calm and confident, but not cocky. As coaches, we speak in past tense of what we are going to accomplish that day and are always positive, positive, positive.
Our pre-game goals are all quantified and communicated to the team in past tense terms. We start off with our standard brief warm-ups and angle form tackling. We make sure and practice lots of extra points and kickoffs, because we expect to be doing a lot of those. Unlike what we do in football practice, we limit our kick returns because we don’t expect to have many of those that day. We practice subbing in lots of backups as you would expect to do in any game you win by a lot of points. What do your kids think if you don�t practice extra point kicks or subbing? They think the coaches don’t think they will score many touchdowns that day.
In one game in 2004, we played an Omaha team that was much bigger, faster and older than our rural all rookie team. They had a huge 200 lb tackle that could really move, we had just one player above 100 lbs and started
4 eight year olds in the backfield on this age 8-10 team. The other team got up on us by 2 TDs very early. At halftime, we calmly told our kids how happy we were with how they were playing and where we needed to make a few improvements. We talked about what we were going to do on offense and defense, no fire and brimstone stuff. We just talked about what football plays, adjustments and stunts we were going to use, why they were going to work and that the other team was going to be very disappointed at the loss on their home field to a bunch of rural rookies.
We made sure to let our kids know at the end of the game when we won, not to celebrate too much so as not to embarrass this team on their own field. I reminded our running backs to run the ball over to the white hat official after every touchdown, not to leave the ball in the endzone. I also reminded our defensive players not to celebrate after sacks or turnovers. Mind you at the time the other team was still up by a TD and had been controlling the football game. We ended up tying the game up real late, running our basic football plays and defense. During the OT we held the other team on defense and had a chance to win it on our offensive possession. We took a timeout during the first possession, in the huddle I reminded our kids that when we scored to not act like this was the first time they had scored a TD, hand the ball to the official and get over to the sidelines as fast as they could to line up for the handshake. I let them know we would celebrate the win a little in a huddle after the game and after the teams were separated. Everything I calmly talked about was with a smile and in past tense langauge, after we score, when we win, no fire it up rah rah stuff. We ended up 4th goal from about 1 1/2 yards out, the other team took a timeout. I just walked over to our kids smiling, said I knew everyone would do their job, Keaton would score and we would win the game, reminded Keaton to run the ball over to the ref and for the players to not mob Keaton but hightail it over to me as I would be waiting for them on the 50 yard line for the handshake line up. I was not going to be on the 25 yard line watching the last play as we are allowed to do in our league. I walked over to the 50, we scored on 4th down and the kids did just as we had instructed.
The key before and during a youth football game is calm confidence; the kids will pick it up from you. You have to appear to have all the answers, if you are flustered and concerned, they will be too. I’ve had a number of coaches tell me they could sense a level of calm confidence our kids have before the games. The kids are confident because they know their assignments and know if they follow those simple assignments and use the techniques they have been taught, the team is going to be successful.
That�s what we have drilled into their minds from the first day of football practice. The kids figure somehow, some way that if they keep playing hard and doing their jobs, they will end up on top. My teams have not been behind often in the 62-2 Fall Football run we have had using this system, but we have had a few memorable come from behind wins. I don’t think there has been a single game where any of these 5 different teams felt they were going to lose, even when facing much bigger and better �Select� competition and even when behind by several scores.
The game we lost 46-6 in 2002 is a great example. Our kids still felt like they were going to win this game even when we were down by 40 points. Our kids were hurrying to the line to run plays as fast as they could. I didn’t have the heart to tell them to slow down once it was apparent we had no chance to win the game. They were playing their hearts out, gang tackling and blocking to the whistle. One of our strongest players asked me “Is the scoreboard really right? It can’t be”. This kid was really convinced in his heart that we were not losing by 40 points and that the scoreboard was wrong.
He asked me what happenned in the case of a ties, he wanted to know if we would play an overtime game. He had added up in his mind that we needed 5 TDs with the double extra points to tie it up, I guess 6 TDs in one quarter was unrealistic ha ha. He was dead serious, Josh A, with a smile on my face I can still hear him asking that question. As he tells me this I’m trying not to giggle at the absurdity of the statement, while appreciating his confidence and competitiveness. With a big grin on my face all I could do was give him a quick hug and tell him to play hard and have fun while I smiled and committed that moment to long term memory. Needless to say we didn’t make a 40 point comeback in 10 minutes that Sunday, but I was amazed at the mindset of our kids, they were coolaid drinking believers. At games end our kids were great sports, but they still felt like they were the better team and wanted to play the same team again the following week. I had to let them know the other team was better that day and deserved all the credit for a great win and effort.
Be very careful what words and expressions you use on game day, words can be subtle weapons your players will pick up on. Coaching Youth Football well involves using those weapons (words) to your advantage. Managing your game day well, using language and actions to instill confidence into your youth football team is good football coaching.
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