Interjecting Fun in Youth Football Practices
Having Fun and Being Competitive Are NOT Mutually Exclusive
First let’s start off by establishing, you can have fun, play all your kids, teach great fundamentals and play well (win), these aren’t somehow mutually exclusive goals like some soccer moms or perennial losing coaches would like you to believe. But I’ve also been challenged by some of the win-at-all costs guys or the skeptical negative naybobs of negativism that you can’t interject fun into everything you do in youth football. One of these cheerful guys once challenged me to make an angle form fit and freeze tackling drill fun.
How To Interject Fun Into the Most Mundane Drill
While this very important drill is probably one of the few drills we do every day in practice, it can be a very vanilla and bland drill. These are the EXACT type of drills you HAVE to make fun, otherwise the kids end up just going through the motions on the drill instead of getting the full benefit of it.
First, let’s describe the Angle Form Fit Tackling Drill: 2 players facing the same direction (towards the coach) about 10-12 yards apart. The coach is about 7 -10 yards in front of the players, he is standing in-between the 2 players 10 yard spacing. The “defender” is in his defensive position stance, whatever that may be. The “offensive” player is standing in a 2 point stance. On “go” each player jogs at about 1/3 speed toward the coach, so each player is running at about a 45 degree angle. The players converge just in front of the coach, with the ‘defender” executing a “fit” form tackle on the offensive player. The coaching points we are looking for are: defenders feet nearly on top of the feet of the “offensive” player, knees bent, feet just wider than shoulder length apart, head up and in front of the offensive player, backside shoulder making contact with the offensive players midsection, and arms wrapped completely around the offensive players midsection. Upon contact each player freezes and the coach corrects any mistakes, once the coach taps the players on the head or says “go” they can come off the “freeze” and go to the end of the line.
Pace is Key
You can do this at a pace of 4-5 per minute; I do mine at a pace of 6-10 per minute. Do this in very small groups of 6 or 8, get several groups going and remember to alternate which line is offense and defense so the kids get used to tackling from both angles. This drill is part of our dynamic warm up, where our goal is to get blood flow to the muscles as well as teach a very important football skill. You can’t accomplish this goal if the pace is not quick and the lines are too long. The pace should be such that the kids are breathing a bit heavier than normal, but not winded.
To interject some “fun” into this very important but monotonous drill is fairly simple. Divide the group into 2 teams of 3-4 players each. Team A is in line 1, team B is line 2. Alternate each rep the line that is the designated tackler. See which team can get to 5 perfect “fits” first. A perfect “fit” is a repetition where every coaching point is met perfectly by the tackler. As the kids get better, move the number to 10 perfect fits. The losing team has to do 5 pushups. Another way to do this is to see how many perfect “fits” in a row each team can do. Once a team makes a mistake they have to start back at zero. The first team to 10 perfect fits in a row, wins, with the losing team doing 5 pushups. Another way to do this drill is to have a team record. Keep the teams the same every practice and see which team can set the record of the most perfect “fits” in row.
Why it Works
Youth football players love competition, setting records and making their counterparts do pushups, so adding this into a drill will make them more focused and motivated to do the drill correctly. It also exerts some peer pressure on the players in their respective groups to stay focused, as no one wants to be the player that breaks the streak.
Fun is Your Friend
Remember that fun is your friend. Competition is just one component of many that you can use to make your football practices more fun. The book covers many more. Making your practices fun without giving up anything is just good coaching, Not only will your players be more attentive, your attendance and retention numbers will be off the charts.
I’m always perplexed by coaches that e-mail me about attendance issues or retention problems. While much of it can be solved through the expectation setting process and player contracts detailed in the book, a lot of the problem is solved by having great practice plans and interjecting a fun component to each drill.
Since moving to this practice methodology we have consistently had about 80% of the kids with perfect practice attendance. Our drops are almost non-existent and our retention numbers (kids who sign up again the following year) range from 90-95%. This season we have 97.5% of the kids back from two teams I coached last year.
Building the Emotional Bank Account
Another thing interjecting fun into your drills and practice does for your youth football team is it builds up your “emotional bank account” with your parents. Steven Covey talks about an imaginary bank account we all have with each other, where we are always making deposits and taking withdrawals. By having interjecting fun and the enthusiasm it generates into your football practices, you are making deposits into that emotional bank account of your parents. When it comes time to do something they don’t like, like moving Junior from tailback to tight end, (making a withdrawal) the parents are more apt to be accepting if you have made a bunch of deposits along the way.
Fun is your friend; use it to make your youth football team better.
Please comment on what you did to add fun into your youth football practices and what the long term results were.
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