Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Youth Football Lessons From Nick Saban

Youth Football Lessons From Nick Saban 100_0238

One of the great benefits of traveling and speaking at over 160 coaches clinics is I get to listen and learn from other coaches. This past weekend I spoke at the Nike Coach of the Year clinic in Orlando. Nick Saban was the headliner and while most of the College Coaches content doesn’t apply coaching youth football, some of Saban’s did.

Like him or not, Nick Saban is a very successful coach. After resurrecting  down Michigan State and Toledo programs, Saban did the same thing at LSU and won a National Championship.  He took over a floundering Alabama program and won National Championships there in the 2009, 2011 and 2012 seasons. It really can’t be debated that this guy has “it” and he’s the hottest coach in college football today.

Unlike a lot of college coaches I’ve worked with and heard speak, he is a very accomplished, effective and entertaining speaker. While coach Saban did speak about some coverage x’s and O’s, I’m going to share with you some of his thoughts on how to manage and motivate your team and your players.

The Process

At Alabama under Saban the mantra is personal and relentless, what can YOU do to make yourself and your team better today. The emphasis is on the here and now, not the past or future. If you concentrate on the fact you were good in the past, you get complacent. If you think about being bad in the past, you get depressed. If you worry about the future, you can get mired in anxiety. Players should be grounded in the importance of what they are doing today.

The Alabama focus is to dominate the player across from you every play for 60 minutes of game time. They don’t talk much about National Championships or SEC Championships, they talk about dominating for 60 minutes. Players aren’t allowed to focus on circumstances they are in, but the vision that Saban has for his team. That vision is to respect winning and the hard work it takes to get there. He coaches the players to respect and trust in each other and the process, not the present circumstances, the past or the future.


Saban believes players have fun by doing something extremely well. Players who play with confidence have fun. Confidence that they know they can do something well and almost as important, that they are doing something so well, that it’s nearly impossible for them to so something wrong. The process is to be able to earn the ability to dominate, which will earn you the “fun” of having that sense of confidence and success in the future. Saban isn’t about creating happy, joking around players, he’s all about developing that confidence and ability to dominate.


How do you get there? Saban feels that leadership comes from him, his coaching staff and from players on the team. His definition of leadership is the ability to influence others for THEIR benefit, anything else is manipulation. His goal is to get everyone to buy in to his vision and process. He has found that High Achievers don’t like mediocrity, they embrace high standards and mediocrity HATES high standards. He feels that to be a leader you have to be someone players want to emulate. Players have to know you have their best interests at heart, that what you are doing for them will affect them in a very positive and personal way. He gets rid of “energy vampires” which he defined as negative or drama loving types, he doesn’t have the time for them.


Saban feels that communication, relationships and trust are key, but in todays world of e-mail, twitter, facebook and video games, that people don’t communicate well with each other. He creates situations where his kids have to communicate with each other and the staff. That means no cell phones video games or electronics at team functions and meals. He has his coaches and players share who they are in front of the group, he feels you can’t trust people you don’t know. He brings in 3 players every day to meet with him, players who he feels are doing the right thing. He lets them know how much he appreciates them and asks them how they are connecting with other teammates on the team. He wants them to communicate and develop trust and relationships with each other.


Alabama teams are known for their disciplined play. Saban believes in discipline. He says that undisciplined players make mistakes. He tells his players that disciplined players don’t make mistakes and then asks his players, which are you? He is always making things personal.

Bits and Bites

He spoke very briefly about youth football. As you may have guessed he isn’t a fan of the everybody gets a trophy thing even if you finished in last place. He said that it contributed to a no consequence mentality and he felt leads to weaker minded kids who have a real problem overcoming adversity when things get tough.

He doesn’t allow his players to show weakness, no negative body language allowed. Saban related this to a boxing match where a boxer he loved Cyclone Freeman won a match. The other boxer basically quit after winning the first few rounds even though he was winning because he had thrown his best punches and the Cyclone wouldn’t go down, he wasn’t fazed. Cyclone said that had the other boxer thrown just one more body shot in the 4th round, he would have quit. The moral of story, you never know when that next shot will put you over the top and if you are faltering, never let your opponent know it.

Alabama uses technology to help their players succeed. That includes helping their kids understand the value of coaching. He used things those players can relate to, again MAKING it personal. Saban related how they used a video of an Allen Iverson interview that focused on all the talent he squandered by not listening to his coaches and how he was going to make sure the daughter sitting on his lap wouldn’t make the very same mistakes.

He tied things up by imploring coaches to be confident, confidence in the next play having a positive outcome rather than dwelling on the negative. He wrapped things up with a couple of well timed jokes he probably tells at every clinic to the roar of the crowd.

While Saban is a college coach, a lot of what he said could be applied to any team in any sport, even for those guys coachihng youth football. It was time well spent.

Copyright 2014 Cisar Management and //winningyouthfootball.com all rights reserved.




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1 Comment

  1. Jodi Murphy

    Having fun doesn’t mean players are slacking off or joking around. It’s certainly more fun to win than lose, right? And if you want to win you have to play with purpose. But actually enjoying being on the field makes it a lot easier to play hard and stay focused.


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