While we do plenty of technique and X and O work on this blog, coaching youth football well goes so much further than that. The most successful coaches seem to always be able to get the most out of their teams. Little of that success seems to be based on superior technique, talent or even schemes. How do they do that?
How The Best Coaches Do It
While there are many theories as to what the secret to this kind of success is, it seems that a consistent component is these coaches seem to legitimately care about their players and in turn the players seem to care for their coaches. You don’t need to look very far to see the bonds many of the great coaches have with former players 30-40 years after the player played their last game for their beloved coach.
It’s been said many times that a player doesn’t care how much the coach knows until he knows how much the coach cares. In youth football, I think that old saying is definitely true. The youth football player looks up to his coach and is looking for approval, like it or not.
While most of us have a passion for developing youth using this great game, many of us don’t know how to show our affection to players in an appropriate fashion. In todays world you don’t want to go too far, but you don’t want to ignore doing it either.
Here are some things you can do:
Always learn the players first names on the first day and call them by it, often. Nothing is as impersonal and shows your lack of interest in a player than not knowing his name. I test myself on the kids names after the first day of practice and use good old word/picture associations to help me remember. I don’t allow my coaches to put tape/names on the kids helmets, it’s just 25 names, it takes some effort. It’s called coaching, coaching effort and caring.
Use direct eye contact with your players as often as you can, even if it is just for a moment or two.
Use appropriate physical touch. A low ten hand slap or high five seems to be about right. I remember back 39 years ago to my second youth coach, Ron Schmidt. On game days Ron would come around and “give ten” , “get ten” hand slap all the players as we congregated around before warm ups. I can still see Rons face with that huge smile and bushy moustache, saying “Gimmie some skin”. It was such a small gesture, but we all loved it and the kids couldn’t wait until Ron came over in your direction so it would be “your turn” to get some skin fron Ron. I’m smiling now writing this, probably as wide as I did 39 years ago when Ron did this little ritual in every Pre-game. It used to raise the hair on my neck and get me going when he did it and from the smiles on the faces of the other kids on my team, I think it had the same effect on them too.
While I’ve used this technique in pre-game in the past, we are going to do it before or during warm ups of every practice this upcoming season, partly on the advice from my friend Wade Salem of CFL.
Kids crave this type of affirmation, it confirms that you care about them. Want to see committed kids and kids that have “bought in” to a coach and I will show you kids that know their coach cares about them as people, not just as football players.
These are some simple and easy steps you can take to let your players know you care. But word to the wise, if all you care about is how much value each player can add to your win column, the kids will sniff that out in a second.
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