Have you been following the Esquire Network youth football reality show called Friday Night Tykes? A lot of youth football coaches have been asking me my opinion about it. This is my take on Episode 5.
Let’s be as fair as we can about this. My comments may seem a bit unfair or harsh, I can only comment on what we see. There are a lot of things we can’t see, we can only comment on what the producers decide to show. Make sure to read my more comprehensive opinion on the show and its production in earlier blog posts. The easiest way to do this is take it team by team.
The Northeast Colts are this week’s featured team. This is an interesting team, their head coach runs practices where he jokes and cracks on the kids, but they get a lot done. His kids play good fundamental football, execute well and play loose. His practices are filled with good natured ribbing, practical jokes like wedgies with plenty of hugs and love going around. They tackle well and run about the tightest jet sweep I’ve ever seen at the 8-9 year old age level. They are one of the two best teams at this age group.
The highlight of this episode fell onto the shoulders of an autistic player for the Colts, his name is Grayson. Grayson has a fairly severe case of autism, he can’t wear shoulder pads and he has no interest in “wrestling of getting smushed”, but he is part of the team and everyone supports him. As the game comes to the end, the two teams set up a scenario where Grayson scores a touchdown, untouched. It was youth football at its best, impacting and uplifting a player, giving him an experience that can be a catalyst for significant growth. All of his teammates were behind him and celebrating with him. The head coach got emotional when he spoke about why he set up the score, it was a heartwarming scene.
That is all good stuff, football can be an excellent tool in the development of young men. I loved seeing the show featuring some positives. On the other hand I still have a big problem with this team taunting and showboating. I still can’t get over the Colts leading their kids in an expletive filled chant in the week before their game with the Rockets, that was a deal breaker for me. But he obviously has his positives as well.
The Outlaws also come off pretty well in this show. They consistently have 4-7 kids in every drill and their practice pace isn’t bad. Almost all of their kids have explosive first steps and start off coming out with low athletic pad levels. Their backs protect the football and they are very physical.
On another level, the Outlaw coaches seem to be doing some positive things. They pray for safety for both teams prior to each game and their head coach runs a youth mentoring program that isn’t run by the team. They hold kids accountable, but when a player with a poor attitude struggles, one of the coaches talks to him to the side one on one. Coach Coley talked and worked it out with the player instead of just raising his voice and ordering him to continue. He did a nice job of presenting a life lesson about rules and consequences. I also liked seeing opposing coaches being helpful and respectful with one another like Tony was with the Predators coach.
The Broncos as expected continue to struggle. When they are drilling, unlike the Outlaws that have 4-7 kids working in every drill, the Broncos have 2 kids working and 22 kids standing around most of the time. I still don’t get the 20 yard shoulder bump drills or all the distance he puts between his players in tackling drills. This teams execution and fundamentals are poor and it’s no surprise after you’ve watched just portions of their practices. It doesn’t help when he decides to punt to the other teams very best player in space instead of either going for it or kicking out of bounds. Of course, the kid they kick it to runs the ball back for an easy touchdown and that turns the game into a rout.
As is the case with most youth football teams with losing records, this coach is feeling some heat from the parents and doubting himself. The coach’s home life is suffering. It’s a shame to see it all coming apart on him, his team and his homelife, even though he only has himself to blame.
Another program that seems to be taking it on the chin is the Rockets. The program director Keith has decided to step in and take the offense because the team just can’t move the ball. His reasoning is the offense was too complicated for the team to execute. In just 4 practices, he implemented a new offense, but had the same meager results as the coach he replaced.
There are many problems with this team, but one of the most glaring is the offensive line. They are so slow off the ball and their pad level is extremely high, their fundamentals are just awful. I can tell they haven’t worked any first step drills. Their kids false step and are beaten off the ball by everyone they play. They replace an offense that is too complicated with another that has 19 plays in it and they also made up a play in the huddle during the game.
The problems don’t stop there. Since they are investing all their practice time on offense, their special teams suffer. They get beaten badly on an opening onside kick and give their opponent momentum to start the game. They also choose to punt late in the half instead of going for it or kicking out of bounds and of course the punt is returned for an easy score as time runs out in the half. They consistently fumble the Center to Quarterback exchanges and their backs don’t protect the ball well at all. While I like these coaches and they seem to have the very best of intentions, they just don’t coach youth football well.
This episode didn’t include the Predators and was a lot easier to watch than the previous shows. It showed more of the positives of what coaching youth football can do for kids. I’m hopeful we see more of this type of activity in the coming weeks. If you are coaching youth football, take the time to watch this show and learn. Hopefully you see yourself in some of the good and can avoid making the mistakes some of these youth football coaches are making.
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