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What High School Coaches Want When Coaching Youth Football

What High School Coaches Want

What do High School coaches want from youth football coaches? A better question to ask would be, what do very successfull High School head coaches want freshman football players to know when they show up at the first day of football practice?

What One State Champion Coach Says

I’ve kind of answered that question a time or two in this blog, but let’s get it straight from the horses mouth. Last week I went in and visited with Mark King, head football coach of Lincoln Southwest High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. This is a school with about 2,000 students and competes in the largest class (Class A) in the state of Nebraska. Marks teams have been the dominant team in the area for the last 5 years, Mark has been head coach at Southwest for 6 years. His team won a Class A State Title in 2006. Mark has 6 former players playing on the Nebraska Cornhuskers this season. It’s safe to say Mark has a track record of success in coaching teams and developing players.

Successful coaches have information I want, information that can help me be a better coach, and in turn make the football experience a better one for the kids under my care. We all want the kids we coach to go on and play High School football. As a coach I want to know what do High School coaches want to see in that player when he shows up? I “interviewed” two of the best High School coaches in the state to ask them what they thought.

Mark was very kind in giving me just over an hour to talk about this very subject as well as help me with a few X’s and O’s issues we are mulling over in the off-season. Mark and I had played against each other in High School, then played on the same team for a year in college. Mark, like many High School coaches has love-hate thoughts when it comes to youth football coaches. On one hand he does get kids into his program with playing experience, on the other hand he sees a lot of big good looking athletes walking the halls that never go out for football. Invariably when a coach asks these kids why they aren’t playing football, they answer “I tried it when I was a kid and didn’t like it”. How does this happen? According to a Michigan State study over 70% of kids that play youth football today will never play High School football. The top reasons why kids quit playing? Poor Coaching, Lack of Playing Time and Playing on Non-Competitive Teams. Sounds like any teams in your youth football league or worse yet, in your organization?

What Some Misguided (But Well Meaning) Youth Football Coaches Do

Unfortunately many youth football coaches mistakenly think that they are best preparing their kids for High School football by running the systems the High School runs. If the High School runs a Spread Air Raid and 3-5-3 defense, these coaches think , yeah I’ll line them up just like the High School and then the kids will  be well prepared for the first day of practice, I’ll be the hero. Never mind that very few High Schools are running the same offense or defense that they ran 5 years ago, in fact many High Schools have an entirely different coaching staff in place than when little Johnny started playing youth football at age 8. Never mind the offense or defense doesn’t fit what an 8 year old body and mind can physically or mentally do with 3 days a week practice.

When asked how important it was that the kids entering the 9th grade knew Mark’s offense or defense, Mark replied, “Not an Iota”. Mark said he just wants “Football players, kids that love to play football and can accelerate through contact” he also said “If they are coachable and work hard, that is a big plus”. Notice there wasn’t a single thing in there about being able to run some of the Wing T type concepts Mark likes in his offense or knowing how to play Cover 3 on defense. Mark feels he and his staff are pretty competent guys who can teach what the kids need to know to compete on Friday nights.

Building a Love for the Game

What Mark and most very successful High School coaches want is for us to do no harm, to not run kids off, They want us to help develop what we call: a love and appreciation of the game in the kids. To do that, you have to teach the kids schemes and techniques where the player can show progress and be able to have both team and some individual success. If little first year average player Johnny is playing tight end and is asked to reach block a 9 technique defensive end, most likely he isn’t going to have much success and neither is the play. The end result is little Johnny thinks he isn’t much of a football player, never mind that his team is losing nearly every game and they aren’t scoring many points. Add in a practice schedule that wastes 30 minutes on set aside conditioning and an hour a day on live scrimmaging and you have a recipe for little Johnny not playing past age 8.

Despite what many will tell you, you can and should have fun in football practice. You can have fun, teach great fundamentals, play everyone and field competitive football teams, these are NOT mutually exclusive terms. You can have it all, and when you do, you will have kids that end up having a blast playing football, learn the life lessons the game teaches us all and kids that go on to play High School football. Unfortunately, if you choose to run a scheme or use techniques that average youth players can’t execute well or insist on using an archaic practice methodology, your kids are going to be part of that 70% dropout number. Your kids will end up being one of those good looking kids these High School coaches see walking the halls that got “ruined” by his youth football coach.

What Another State Champion Coach Says

I had this same conversation with Jay Ball in 2007, Jay coaches at Omaha Central. Central, with over 2,500 students was the Class A State Champions in Nebraska in 2007. Several of the kids I coached when I was back in Omaha played for Jay on that team. When I asked Jay the same question I had asked Mark, his answer was nearly identical. He used the term “football player” that’s all he wanted. He couldn’t care less if the kid knew what a belly play or inside veer was, he just wanted “football players”.

While my team does have a list that states what we want our kids to be able to do when they leave us in the 8th grade to play High School football, we never waiver from priority #1 which is to develop a love and appreciation of he game in each. The rest according to these fine High School coaches, is gravy.

From Single Wing to Division I Scholarship

I might add my program has helped produce many fine High School and College football players. Omaha is an “open enrollment” city, so when I look at the names in the papers on Saturday, we see former players playing on many local teams. This last season was especially fulfilling as Omaha North moved on to the quarterfinals of the Class A State Championships, Three of the Four captains were kids I had coached. Three weeks ago 3 of my former players were named to the Class “A” All State First Team. While I never had all three on the same team of any of the teams I coached, they were all kids that more than anything else, just loved to play football. Two of these kids signed Division I Scholarships to play football for Frank Solich at Ohio University. Jon Lechner and James Davis were both great kids, great character guys. They went off to play for different High Schools but will be reunited at Ohio, as they had stayed close friends throughout High School even though they lived in different areas of town.  See the article on them though this link:


As you may have guessed, Jon and James didn’t play for High School teams that ran the Single Wing offense or our defense, but it didn’t seem to hurt their progress one bit, in fact it may have had the opposite effect. Both played on very successful teams, both were very successful within the context of the scheme and techniques we were asking them to do and more importantly, our practice methodology fosters building up that love for the game, practices can be fun. But don’t think we don’t work when we need to, Jon and James both were part of our off-season Strength Development program, they never missed a day.

James First Day of Youth Football

Time passes so quickly is seems like just yesterday when I first saw James at the Al Veys Baseball Complex. He was observing a youth baseball game at a park I was recruiting players at. As I passed a flyer out to every warm body I could find, this big kid passes me by on his way to the restroom, On the way back I hand him a flyer and ask him how old he was, he said ten. Well at about 140 pounds or so, he was awfully big for a 10 year old. When he said he had never played football before, he said “No one ever asked me”. Needless to say, I’m glad I asked on that fateful June day.

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