Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Lessons In Winning in Youth Football

Lessons in Winning when Coaching Youth Football:

Winning in youth football isn’t that much different than winning in other sports. In fact there may be value in looking at teams and coaches in other sports and see if you can learn something to take to your youth football team.

Learning From John Wooden

I’m in the process or reading a book about John Woodens “Pyramid of Success”. While I’m not a huge basketball fan, I thought I could learn a thing or two from this UCLA basketball legend that won 7 Consecutive NCAA National Championships, 88 straight games along with 38 consecutive NCAA Tournament wins.

Many of you may not know that when John Wooden took over UCLA, the program was a joke. Coach Wooden’s main source of income was as a Dairy Manager, UCLA rarely drew over 2,000 fans and for his first 17 years they had no on-campus place to play or practice. The facilities were the absolute worst in the conference and maybe the country, yet his teams not only succeeded, they dominated year in and year out.

What surprised me most about coach Wooden’s approach to the game was his absolute disinterest in the opposition. While he did study some film, he studied far less of it than any of his peers. Coach Wooden was of the strong opinion that his teams would do what they did best and spend their valuable practice time preparing to execute Coach Wooden’s philosophy.

Don’t Frett the Opposition, Worry About Yourself

In this book, player after player reiterated what Coach Wooden had said about the opposition. His players were very consistent in the notion they cared little about who they played or even the style they played against. In some of the games the UCLA players didn’t know the names of the opposing players or even what conference the opposing team was from. This wasn’t because UCLA didn’t respect the opposition, it was because they truly felt, it really didn’t matter who they were playing against, they were going to execute. UCLA players were PLAYING AGAINST THEMSELVES, they were playing against their potential, not against an opposing team. UCLA was prepared against any philosophy, system or contingency.

These UCLA players were very confident, not in their personal abilities but in the team, the coach and the system. These UCLA teams and players had a calm aura of confidence and invincibility about themselves that served them well in close games and intimidated the heck out of most of the teams that played them.

I see so many youth football coaches scouting and worrying about the opposition when their own team is struggling with it’s own execution. I watched one Louisiana youth coaches game films last season. While he claimed to play in a “tough league” where all the coaches scouted each other, I found little to scout. The execution and alignment of all the teams in this league were atrocious, something I had not even seen in rookie in-house rec level leagues here locally. All of these coaches would have been best served teaching their kids their systems and fundamentals, and not worried one iota about their opposition.  The scouting time was time poorly spent.

Nebraska National Championship Example

My friend Jerry Tagge said the very same thing about the University of Nebraska football teams of 1970 and 1971. They went a combined 24-0-1 and won back to back National Championships. Jerry was the starting quarterback on both of those teams and the team leader on and off the field. When asked what was the most enduring memory of that 1971 Season which saw NU outscore its opposition 507-104 and win the National Title Game over #2 Alabama 38-6 Jerry didn’t hesitate for a moment he said “ We knew we were going to win every game before we stepped on the field”.

Jerry said they had so much confidence in themselves, their team, their coach and their system, the only question in their mind was how much were they going to win by. While many of their games were huge blowouts, they did trail #2

Oklahoma a number of times in that game, still referred by most as the “Game of the Century”. Jerry said at no time did they ever panic, they knew somehow, someway they were going to win, they stayed very upbeat and confident throughout the entire game. He said; “We just knew we were going to win”, in his mind and the teams mind, the game was a foregone conclusion.

As a young kid, I was at every one of Jerry’s home games in 1970 and 1971. We would get to the games very early we would go down near the field and watch the players warm up. That seems so long ago and those players all seemed so huge back then to a 10 year old boy. We would go down under the stadium and watch the players come out from the locker room for the kickoff from behind ropes. Many of the players would give you a quick hand slap if you leaned over far enough and smiled real big. What I remembered most is how calm these guys were and that none of them did any jumping up and down or hollering, like you see so much of today on TV and even in youth and High School football games.  The NU players were always so eerily quiet, some would crack a smile or two, but there was zero rah rah stuff  going on. It always seemed like in those days the team that was playing Nebraska often played in an inverse relationship to how much emotion they displayed. Oklahoma was one of the rare teams back in that day that could consistently compete with Nebraska and they weren’t rah rah either, they were equally calm and confident.

60-3 in the 90’s

There was an era in Nebraska football from 1993-1997 that the team went an amazing 60-3, winning 3 National Titles along the way and barely missing another. In those days teams would often lie down for Nebraska. What I remember most about those teams is there was zero fanfare, no players had their faces painted up, no one was jumping up and down, no one yelled, it was just Darth Vader walking down the tunnel. Someone was going to get the heck kicked out of them that day and it certainly wasn’t going to be Nebraska. Quite often the other team looked like little wide eyed lambs being led to slaughter, you could feel it in the air. Sometimes an opposing team would show a bit of false nervous bravado, but back in those days most of them had those bambie eyes that said “ I’m not sure whats going to happen next, but I doubt if it’s going to be good for me personally”. By the end of the second quarter they were looking for a “soft spot” to land to use a boxing term. If you know anyone that was in the stadium back then, just ask them. No offense to the opposition, they were always given a standing ovation by the NU fans after the game, win lose or draw. Maybe it was our way of showing our appreciation for the opposition enduring the carnage and surviving.

 Were the Nebraska players cocky, arrogant or disrespectful? Not at all, they were just keenly confident in their preparation, scheme, coaches and team. They had no reason to act like clowns, they were just going to do what they knew they could do, game over, move on to the next goal. Now of course we are in a different day, the man has been seen behind the curtain, the aura is gone, Mike Tyson has been knocked out and the giant has been found to have feet of clay. But in those days, that is what it was and those same monsters exist in youth football today.

Applied to Youth Football

What can we as youth football coaches do to inspire such confidence in our youth football kids?

I can say with a great deal of confidence that it can be done. I’ve done it in the most ridiculous of circumstances. I have taken teams into situations where we faced enormous odds: in 2003 My Age 8-10 Team played and convincingly beat two age 11-12 League Championship teams, one at a 10,000 seat College Stadium down 7-0 and severely undersized and outmanned. In 2004 I took an all rookie rural team to an 11-0 season and beat the League Champions of a much bigger league where more than half their kids were veteran players. In 2005 I took the same team of age 8-10 non-select kids ( took all comers) and beat (30-6) a huge Inner-City Select Team that chose from over 150 kids and had not lost in 3 years. They started at least 5 kids who weighed over 150 pounds and had one monster at over 210, we on the other hand had just 2 players over 100 pounds. That same year we beat a team (mercy ruled) that had not lost in 5 years ( started our 4th team quarterback in that game)  and beat another Omaha select team (36-6) that were champions of their league. In 2006 I took an age 8-10 team to a tournament in

Kansas City and we blew out a team that started 5-6 kids in excess of 150 pounds including 2 huge defensive tackles over 190, mind you our starting center weighed just 71 pounds at the time (usual starter was out). In 2007 my age 10-11 team played a Malcom team that during the National Anthem size up had 8 “striped” players to our 1. Striped means the player weighs over 128 pounds and must wear a stripe on his helmet. Not only did this team have us outnumbered 8-1 on striped players, but their stripers were huge, with at least 3 of the starters weighing over 180. Our lone striped player weighed 148 then our next biggest players were 115 and 105. In every one of these games we were outmanned but the kids were very confident.

How did we do it? I promise you it had nothing to do with paying much attention to our opposition. Had we done that I’m not sure we would have had the same amount of success. In practice we waste no time on frivolous non football activities and execute a core offense and defense to perfection against most known contingencies. We know how to aling our defesne on every offense and how to respond to the typical tactics used to stop our offense. Our kids are confident in the scheme, their assignments, their technique, the execution and the coaches. We expect them to do well and they expect it as well. For those of you that have the game films you know our kids don’t get very excited on touchdowns or big plays, they expect them to happen, same for the coaching staff, You don’t see any jumping up and down or fists in the air, it is expected, quiet calm confidence. We always talk to the kids in past terms “After we score our 4th touchdown remember to XYZ”, “After the game is over remember the other team drove a long way to be here and will be very disappointed, don’t jump up and down and make a big deal out of the win and make them feel bad, we exepect to play well, it shouldn’t be any kind of surprise” etc. I’ve been told our kids act a lot more confident than their outward appearance should justify.

Before games we face away from the competition and even arrive very late, we do just a 30 minute pre-game while our opposition do 60-90 minutes. Our kids seem to be a bit oblivious to who we play, rural, suburban inner-city, big, out of town etc, by ignoring the opposition  and worrying about ourselves, we have created that environment.We are always in competition with ourselves, our potential, not the opposing team.  Match that up with our “easy count” play mapping system, adjustments and key identifiers and the need to scout every opponent is negated. Do we scout our opposition? Very little, maybe one game a year, but they scout the heck out of us and it hasn;t seemed to help too much even with the film, book and trading information between themselves.

Once you have it rolling, the aura feeds upon itself and can include things like Championship Banners, Trophy Displays and other examples that reinforce the inevitability of your teams success in your players minds and the minds of their opponents.


Copyright 2008 Cisar Managment all rights reserved. Article may be republished with links included.


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