Now more than ever High School football coaches should care very deeply about youth football in their area. Without good numbers High School football teams just can’t consistently compete in todays football environment. Football isn’t an easy sport to play and with the concussion issue casting a gray cloud on the sport, getting good numbers out is more important than ever.
Many times low numbers problems for High School teams are the fault of the High School and their coaches, sometimes that blame can be shared by local youth coaches. When a High School has a reputation for poor quality football and poor coaching, football players either find a way to attend another school, switch sports or choose not to play anything at all.
Low numbers kill High School football teams. A High School that has poor numbers coaches often times struggle to maintain order and discipline. The kids know that if the coach tries to hold them accountable or suspend them, there may not be a team at all. Low numbers also means less competition and that leads to less quality on the field. Lastly low numbers means more kids are playing both sides or even all three sides of the ball, which is going to lead to more injuries and the downward spiral continues. Simply put, very low numbers will lead to less competitive High School football teams.
The converse is true about good teams who are well coached, they seem to attract numbers. Just a few years ago I was doing some research on High School football in Nebraska. In the State Championships there were several small school teams that had every single male in the school suited up for the game. One game featured a team that had 55 boys in school and all 55 were on the team, they were playing a team that had a male school enrollment of 51 and 48 were suited up to play. In another class, one team had over 100 players suited up and had over 200 kids in grades 9-12 in the program. During the season, these teams often played opponents that fielded teams that were half to a third of their roster size. Obviously this was a huge advantage for the teams with good numbers, that’s one of the reasons why they were in the state finals.
So where do the youth football coaches fit into all of this? Often times they are at the center of the problem. A Michigan State study by the “Institute for Study of Youth Sports” found that about 70% of kids playing youth sports will never play that same sport in High School. The main culprit was poor coaching at the youth level. High School coaches will vouch for this as they roam the halls recruiting nice looking athletic kids to play, only to find out the student doesn’t want to play because they had a terrible youth football experience. In 2014 we see kids specializing in one sport at a very early age. If the youngster gets turned off of football, he moves on to something else.
Another factor is our “reset” , instant gratification video game society. Kids have so many options today that didn’t exist 30, 20, 10 or even 5 years ago. Back in the day fall was for football and that was it. Now kids have options like fall baseball, soccer, lacrosse, skateboarding, martial arts, year round basketball and many other sports. On another level they also now have video games, the internet, facebook, twitter, Instagram and a host of activities. It seems like there is something that appeals to every tiny niche.
In todays world when a kid is doing something and isn’t doing well at it, he simply “resets” the game and starts over. If that doesn’t do it for him, he simply quits and moves on to something else. If he isn’t having success, he finds something where he can succeed. The same is true when it comes to football, if his team isn’t competitive OR if he isn’t adding value on the snaps he is playing, he moves on to something else where he can find success.
There is plenty of blame to go around, let’s not leave the Middle Schools out of this discussion. In many areas of the country there is no Middle School football, in others there is and in others there is both School and Club football. The problem is at many Middle Schools, you have 40-70 kids on one team. Then that team is often times coached by two coaches that have very little experience who often times are just coaching so they can earn the additional stipend. So what we see in quite a few Middle School games is poor quality with lots of kids sitting on the bench. The sad thing is that the combination of poor evaluation techniques, bad coaching and high numbers often times leads to kids dropping out. Worse yet, some of those kids are just going through puberty and often times come out the other side looking much different than they did in the 7th or 8th grade.
So now we know why High School coaches have a beef with a lot of the youth coaches that feed players to them. The youth coaches often times don’t know what they are doing, field non-competitive teams and run kids off, same can be said for some Middle School coaches. As youth coaches we have an obligation to do everything we can to retain players and to do that we have to make sure we are inclusive, run great practices, field competitive teams and find something that every player can do to add value to the team. It’s our job to develop a love and appreciation in the game in our players to the point that they wouldn’t give a second thought to NOT playing. Lots of great information on how to do that in my book “Winning Youth Football a Step-by-Step Plan.” More on what the High School coach can do to get involved with the youth football programs later this month.
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