You Get What You’re Coaching in Youth Football
When I attend coaches clinics where college coaches speak, I often come away with little I can apply to my youth teams. I don’t have world class athletes and the ability to practice nearly year round. But I was able to take away several things I could use from spending the last three days with the Nebraska Cornhuskers staff and players. One of the CONSISTENT themes was “you get what you coach.”
We were watching Mike Eckler the Nebraska linebackers coach break down game film. He was breaking down his own teams game and the Washington- Oregon State game. His goal was to teach us how to break down film with our kids. Since we do this via Hudl, rather than face to face, his expertise in this area was well worth the time spent. However what I really took to heart was when coach Eckler saw one of his players lets say #21, make a mistake, his response was, “Number 21 should have done X, is in need of better coaching.” When a player makes a mistake, coach Pelini usually talks to the position coach first, the NU staff smilingly refer to this as “being mentored.” Every time I saw a player make a mistake on film in every film session I was in, the coach responded “player in need of better coaching.”
You rarely see Coach Pelini blame his players for mistakes in technique, alignment or assignment. He and his coaching staff feel it is the job of the coaching staff to make sure the players are executing all of these things to the coaches’ expectations. If a player isn’t meeting those expectations, these coaches feel it is their responsibility to reach the player in a different way. These coaches realize not all kids are the same, some do not learn in the same way as others and it is the coaches job to figure out how to teach each player in a way that reaches him. This coaching staff owns its mistakes, they haven’t blamed the players, a lack of talent or the previous coaching staff. This coaching staff also feels it is their job to help a player self motivate. They accept responsibility for their coaching and I like it.
Coach Pelini said that Nebraska will never have a top recruiting class and he is perfectly fine with that. He wants good hard working character kids that are coachable, that is the profile he is looking for. He prefers to get kids from winning programs, kids that expect to and are used to winning. He then expects his coaches to be the very best in the nation at coaching the small stuff, the minute atomic level of detail of every base fundamental.
In youth football often times we get frustrated with the lack of talent, size, skill and commitment of our players. Do you seriously think your opponent doesn’t deal with the exact same issues? Do you think his kids drink some kind of magic water and become obedient well disciplined drones while a spiteful God drops all the misbehaving short attention misfits in your lap every year? If your players consistently fail to execute base fundamentals and the assignments within your scheme, guys that is a “you” problem. That might be hard for some of us to hear, but it’s the truth. Just because we know the game, doesn’t mean we know how to teach the game. I know how to drive and change my own oil, but I don’t know how to design or build a car. If I was in the car designing and car building business, I would make darn sure I did some research and got educated on how to design and build cars.
Championship level youth football teams are led by coaches that know how to and what to teach youth football players. The great ones have a great base process and know how to tweak their methods to reach those that aren’t getting it. They know how to communicate and change their approach so all their players “get it.” Things like progression teaching, fit and freeze and getting players to self motivate are concepts all youth football coaches should be proficient at.
My coaching staff takes ownership of the players and positions they coach. As a head coach, I’m consistently observing my coaches and holding them accountable. When our team is on defense, our defensive ends coach is watching just two things, his two defensive ends. On every play whether it is a sack or a touchdown, he is making sure his defensive ends are aligned properly, in a perfect stance, efforting 100%, using the correct base technique, using the correct read and performing his assignment. The entire game he is encouraging and coaching up both players on each and every play. As a head coach, I observe him during the game and continuously MAKE SURE he is coaching up and holding his 2 kids accountable and doing nothing else. I see too many youth coaches that watch games rather than coach games. I’ve actually seen teams with 9 coaches on the sidelines with a team in simply awful alignments, stances and base techniques who acted more like cheerleaders and fans than they did coaches. They would have had a much better view of the game and done their team more good by being up in the stands than wearing the coaching “costume” and clogging up the sidelines.
As a head coach, make sure your coaches are coaching, not watching the game. If they are a position coach the only kids they should be talking to and the only comments that should come out of their mouth are coaching points to the kids they are supposed to be coaching. Often times our assistant coaches get sidetracked, as head coaches, our job is to coach up our coaches, making sure they are coaching up their position kids and not watching the game. Even at the highest levels I’ve seen some of this. This year at the Pop Warner National Championships, I bet 70% of the assistant coaches were more fan or cheerleader than coach. I watched several intently who never gave out a single technical coaching point or alignment pointer other than the blather; “gotta want it, hit someone.”
Your job as a youth football head coach is to be the CEO of the team it isn’t just about coming up with a playbook or calling football plays. Even if you coach a position or two and are a coordinator, you are still the CEO. CEO’s coach up their management team, head coaches coach up their assistant coaches. When it’s all said and done, if your team is a disaster the parents aren’t going to blame the assistant coaches for the fiasco, they are going to come torches and pitchforks in hand for the head coach. That’s one of the reasons why you train your assistant coaches well, hold them accountable AND coach them up as well.
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