Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

More Youth Football Coaching Lessons from Bo Pelini

Youth Football Coaching Lessons From Bo
How to Effectively Change a Players Direction

First of all Merry Christmas to all the coaches that frequent this site. May this time of year strengthen your faith and give you the inspiration to reflect upon your blessings and relationships.

What a blessing it has been to get to know many of you over the course of the last year through the clinics, e-mail correspondence and even phone calls. It’s a great feeling we are able to positively affect so many coaches and hence thousands of youth football players nationwide.
We appreciate your support and encouraging correspondence.

Bo Pelini
I have no clue if Bo Pelini is going to do well as the next head coach at the University of Nebraska. His defenses at LSU over the last 2 seasons have consistently ranked in the top 3. Obviously “Bo knows defense”, something very lacking around Nebraska last year where the defense ranked 114th out of 119 teams.

The media coverage of Bo has been overwhelming to say the least around here. Nebraska has had just 4 head coaches over the last 47 years, so this is kind of a big deal here. A plethora of stories have been written about him the last 2 weeks, since NU football fans have no Bowl Game to think about. One story that made me do some thinking was Bo’s approach to criticizing and correcting players, something many youth football coaches struggle with.

Criticizing Players The Right and Wrong Way (Most Often Way) According to Bo:


Criticizing Players

Some quotes from Bo were in Todays paper that may have application to your youth football team or how you coach youth football. The article was trying to pinpoint why Bo’s former NU players loved him so much and played so hard for him. One instance hit a chord with me from Bo’s 2003 season here at Nebraska:
A defender made a mistake in practice and one of the Husker assistant coaches castigated the player. The assistant ranted and raved and even ran from the sidelines into the defensive huddle to get in the players face.
Pelini called the assistant to the sidelines and said “All that stuff you just did: Was that for you or for the player? “Because I heard you yelling at the kid and not one time did you tell him what he did wrong” he then told this coach “So the next time he makes that mistake it’s on you”

Pelini then went on to say he does hold players accountable for 100% effort on every play and grades them on it from practice film and game film. He also holds them accountable for their assignments and will occasionally get after a player, but Pelini is always specific about the mistake and how to avoid doing it again. Pelini then went on to say he always makes sure to put his arm around the player later in practice and let them know “I know you can do better than that.”

Criticizing Youth Football Coaching
Too often when coaching youth football, we see examples of non-instructive criticism. How many of us hear the infamous “hit somebody” during games or “you gotta block.”
While there may be a sliver of truth in both of those phrases, they are not specific or instructive and rarely effective. Just like in college, instruction and even criticism has to be specific and instructive. Too many youth football coaches beat kids down with negative talk, negative tones and even harsh language.

My Own Experiences, Man You Hate to See This
During games I coach, I hear these non instructive phrases all the time and so do you. In many of the games I coach I will start the game off by calling the same play a number of times in a row. This is a football play that I know we run well and one that should be effective versus the specific defense we are facing that day. Invariably we will methodically and with relative ease move down the field, getting our 5-7 yards every play, then predictably, the defense will call a timeout. Quite often the defensive coordinator for the opposing team will be frustrated and just castigate his kids for getting beat by the same play over and over and over again.

During this timeout I won’t say a thing to my kids. I face my kids and the defense and tell my kids to “shhhh, listen, listen” We then get to hear the pain and frustration in the opposing coaches voice, sometimes he’s even yelling so much you can actually see little spittles coming out of his mouth, players dodging the little spitballs as coach implores his defense to “try harder.” He tells them “it’s the same play, it’s coming right here”,  with coach often jamming his finger into the ground to the point you have to wonder how his finger didn’t break. Sometimes it’s hard not to laugh or even smile just a bit. It seems the bigger and better the opposing team is, the more the frustration level of the coach. After hearing this, I smile real big and tell my kids “Listen to those poor kids, I knew you guys would be able to do this to them, let’s finish it off and score.”
In other cases this coach may rearrange his defense into another alignment and sometimes tell them to use alternative techniques. In other cases, they use unsound tactics or “bring the house”, trust me, we’ve seen it all. But 9 times out of 10, the opposing coach just yells for his kids to “try harder”, we run the same play again, move the ball in and score as his frustration level skyrockets. In the last 5 seasons we have scored on 93% of our opening drives, on a number of occasions we ran the same exact play the entire series. We would do that to prove a point to the defense that while their defense may have been designed to take away one part of our offense, it exposed another weakness and we were going to exploit it. On other occaisions we would run the same play even with 10 players “in the box” to prove to our kids we would be able to run our base plays against anything.

Either way, of course I�m not going to call our offensive play until we get to the line of scrimmage and we see the defense lined up, using our no-huddle play calling system. If coach has been sane in his antics, we will just continue on with our normal playcalling method, exploiting weaknesses and running plays our “Easy Count” system tells us to run. On the other hand, if the guy has been abusive and overadjusted his defense to stop what we had ran the previous 6-7 plays in a row, I will call the complementary play and get a big gainer out of it or score a touchdown. Sometimes if I can hear him setting his defense from the huddle, I go ahead and call the play from the huddle, smile at the kids and tell them we are going to score on this play and to make sure and come out for the extra point kick. Once you do that a time or two, the kids believe anything you say to them. I can’t tell you the number of times we have scored immediately following the defense calling a timeout, I bet it is in the 25-30% range. It often shuts those kind of guys up and quite fankly sometimes I feel bad for the poor kids on the other team that have to suffer with the frustrated “try harder” coach.

I always tell a funny story or two about these type of experiences during the clinics. So many of you that have run my system have done the same exact thing and had the same exact results. I get e-mails during the season all the time from coaches that say “I thought your stories were funny but I had to smile because the same exact thing happened to me last Sunday. I had to laugh, you are some kind of prophet.” I assure you, I’m no prophet, but it happens so often it’s easy to predict it will happen to many of you as well.

Far too often most of these “try harder” guys have no clue what is going wrong to begin with, so they just blame it on “lack of effort” to make themselves feel better about the situation. Of course it couldn’t be the coaching. Quite often their kids just “shut down” when they are given just this type of “instruction” when the very next play is a big success or touchdown. You can often visibly see the spring come out of these browbeaten and confused kids steps, while your kids confidence grows. Had this coach taken some simple steps like using our Game Day Scouting Report on page 246 of the book, he would know what�s going on and make some reasonable adjustments.

We Have Always Beleived in the “Bo” Way
If you’ve read this blog, read my book or seen the DVDs, you know we hold the kids accountable to “perfect effort” and doing what they are supposed to do on every play. But when the kids make mistakes, criticism has to be specific, instructive and constructive. I always give that kid a chance to make it up later in practice and publicly praise him for SOMETHING he did right, no matter how inconsequential it may have been. Try and get your arm around him before the end of practice to offer some encouragement and let him know you care about him. The “I know you can do better than that” critique is one of the most powerful phrases a youth football coach can use and low and behold one of the rising stars in College football coaching seems to feel the same way. If one of your kids is having a real bad day, use the “Bad Day Drill” in the book to help get your youth football player back on track and salvage some of his confidence. If you’ve read this blog and the book, you know we also believe in doing the things coach Pelini spelled out, and we’ve been doing it that way for the last 8 seasons. Our kids are better for it and our retention rates back up this contention. Coaching youth football well is much more than just teaching X’s and O’s or blocking and tackling techniques, you have to be a bit of a psychologist as well.

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1 Comment

  1. PAT

    DAVE….GREAT POST….THE PHRASE I CRINGE THE MOST WHEN I HEAR HAS TO BE “GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME”…….I COACH 9-10 YEAR OLDS. I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY SOME/MANY COACHES DON’T LOOK AT A MISTAKE BY A KID AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO TEACH THEM SOMETHING, BUT THEN AGAIN, LIKE YOU PREACH IN YOUR BOOK, MOST DON’T KNOW HOW AND AREN’T WILLING TO LEARN

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