Coaching Youth Football- Preparing Yourself Mentally For Next Years Season
While the majority of the posts on this blog have to do with x’s and o’s and developing players and teams, that isn’t where many youth football coaches are going to fail next season. They are going to fail because they don’t have the proper expectations or skills to manage their parents and stakeholders. Fewer than 20% of youth coaches coach for more than 3 years, the main reason they stop coaching? Parents and stakeholders, those people can make your life absolutely miserable and drain the joy of coaching impressionable young men. Talk to a youth football coach who has been around the block and most will tell you their dream job is coaching in an orphanage, with no parents breathing down their neck.
Parents, when managed well can be your biggest allies and supporters, when managed poorly they can become your biggest nightmares. I’m not joking here, I’ve had very successful, professional people tell me they’ve actually woken up at 4:00 am and the first thing that comes into their head is that problem parent. A problem parent can make your season a living hell.
There are several ways to combat this, the first is to use the parent speech, parent contracts and parent management techniques featured in my book, “Winning Youth Football a Step-by-Step Plan.” The second step is to prepare yourself mentally for the challenge, you need to understand these people. They are like any group of people, there are the well meaning,the nice, the pleasant, the ambivalent and of course the crazies. Understand that there is a very tiny subset that you will not be able to please regardless of your actions. Nothing will suit them, short of you playing their son every snap at Quarterback and you committing suicide.
About 50% of the parents are going to be won over by your outward showing of sincere interest in the welfare and caring of the boys on your team. The parents are also going to want to see some competence in the practice field, that you are running well organized and seemingly to the naked eye, “fundamentally sound” practices. They are going to judge you by what appears on the outside. Another 30% are going to be won over due to you building up what Covey refers to as an “emotional bank account.” When you start and end practices on time, you add money to the account with the parents. When you have things like Hudl and a Team Chemistry and Character program in place, you add money to the account. When you communicate effectively and accurately logistics you add money to the account. When you have fair competitions for positions, you add money to the account. When you effectively help players to self motivate, you add money to the account. When you know all the players names and can make them smile, you add money to the account. When you have well organized and executed substitution patterns, you add money to the account. When your teams come off and on the field and you always have 11 players out there, you add money to the account. When your team is able to get into great stances and align well on all three sides of the ball you add money to the account. Get the picture?
But there is a little more to the equation than meets the eye. There are a number of parents that either have an inaccurate view of their sons capabilities or they do know and they would prefer that their son receive an unfair advantage. There are others that just refuse to see the obvious or they are oblivious to what the needs of your team or each position actually are.
While some parents may know a few buzz words and can sound like they know quite a lot about the game, how much do they really know? How many times have you heard someone yell out “there’s 9 in the box, you gotta throw”, when in actuality there are only 7 players in the “box” and the parent has no clue that your very best receiver drops 8 of 10 balls thrown to him on “air.” You have to realize, many of these so called experts are just parroting what they hear on television from announcers that in most cases (yes even the ex NFL players) are getting it wrong. Look here on the blog for an article showing the ineptness of most television announcers, they are embarrassingly bad.
Just this Saturday I was at the Nebraska Cornhuskers Spring Scrimmage Game. Nebraska football fans have been given the title “Greatest Fans in College Football” by the likes of Keith Jackson, Lee Corso and a host of other talking heads. While NU fans aren’t perfect, they are pretty knowledgeable, sportsmanlike and loyal. NU has sold out 313 straight games dating back to the early 1960s, that is 85,000 sold seats in a state with only 1,700,000 people. They do not boo the opposition when the teams enter and they give the opponent a standing ovation and pats on the back as they leave, yes even when the Big Red loses. You see 80 year old grandmothers lamenting about the lack of offensive production and their distaste for the stretch play, while 9 year old boys can recite the names of the all of the starting offensive line. The fans keep silent when NU has the ball and they cheer for a well executed fullback trap play that only goes for 5 yards. In a nutshell, they seem pretty football savvy to most.
I was with these people at the Spring Scrimmage, I was there with 66,000 other people, which was down from last years attendance of 77,000 due to weather. The teams were divided up evenly, neither team was stacked. The previous two years the NU offense has been very poor to put it kindly, while the defense has been outstanding. The offense has struggled due to a number of factors including poor offensive line play, massive turnovers and poor Quarterback decision making to name just a few. Hopefully the new OC can make it work. Back to the game, in one series our starting Quarterback is stripped of the ball behind the line of scrimmage and the defense scoops and scores. What are these “greatest fans in college football” doing around me? Cheering and giving each other high fives. Despite the FACT that a huge point of emphasis has been holding onto the football. We ranked in the bottom 10 in the nation last season for turnovers for crying out loud. On the next series one of the Quarterbacks throws a Smash concept pattern. The outside receiver does an 8 yard comeback route, while the inside receiver runs a corner route. The Quarterback is supposed to read the Corner and throw opposite of him. On this play the Corner comes off the short route and runs with the receiver running the corner pattern. The Safety joined the Corner on this Receiver, he was TIGHTLY covered, but the Quarterback threaded the needle between both defenders. The crowd went wild, meanwhile the player on the comeback was wide open, no one within 7-8 yards of him. Was this a good football play we should be cheering for? Really? Last season, many of those forced passes ended up being intercepted and a point of emphasis was having our Quarterbacks make better decisions. Last year during a game several people in our section swore that the defender is allowed 2 seconds to hit the Quarterback without being penalized after the ball has left the Quarterbacks hands. Thankfully my loving wife bought me the very largest set of radio head phones known to man so I won’t have to listen to such inaccurate drivel next year.
The net is, most people know very little about the game, even if they have been around it a long time and know all the buzzwords. Heck they may have even played before and even been a star player, that doesn’t mean they understand the youth football dynamic, your mission and your team. In order for you to keep your sanity as a youth coach, know that there are unreasonable people out there that know VERY little about the game. There are others that are selfishly motivated by their love and devotion to their child and they have little regard for the needs of the team or others. Do your best to set the table, set expectations, manage well and do the right thing when you are coaching, where the byproduct will be emotional bank account dollars. But know that no matter how well you coach youth football and how strong your management skills are, there will still be a handful of people out there that will never “get it.” Stay the course, believe in yourself, your coaching skills and your system, don’t let the armchair quarterbacks bully you into doing something you don’t believe in.
While I rarely have parental issues, about 7 years ago even I had one. We moved from Omaha to where we are now and I started another program from scratch. We went on to win all 11 of our games that first season and in the second season we won all 12, won our league and a State Title, mercy ruling the winners of the 2 largest leagues in Omaha. That first year here there was a very irate mom who insisted our league leading offense with our short shotgun snap “made no sense” because everyone we played was under center. Mind you we were beating all of these teams AND the incumbent youth program in the area had not ever won a league title and had a number of seasons where they either won a single game or no games. Yes, that is a true story and one I unfortunately hear from a number of guys. One coach comes to mind, he took over a team that hadn’t won a game in 2 years, where one of the seasons this team failed to score a single touchdown. In fact there were a number of games where the team didn’t get a single first down. First year with this coach and my system, they go 9-1, losing the championship game by 2 points. You would think that 100% of the parents would be overjoyed with the turnaround and building a statue of this guy in the town square. Guess again, there were 2 parents that were lambasting this coach and the offense, never mind the fact they had lead the league in scoring. Don’t laugh, prepare for this nonsense, it could be you, it happens in the whacky world of youth football.
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