One of the things many youth football coaches fail to coach their teams to do is play as a team and how to overcome adversity. Most of us are so busy trying to develop fundamental skills and executing our base schemes to invest any time in making sure the team plays together and can come back from mistakes.
We see these problems in youth football, but it isn’t limited to our sport. Just this week I was at a youth baseball game where I saw a team implode. The team was in the field and playing well. They were much better than their opponent at the basics; throwing, fielding and hitting. There was a pretty wide difference in athleticism, talent and basic skills between the two teams. The team in the field had done really well in the early innings, even batting around their order one inning, they had a big lead.
However when they took the field for the third inning, something changed the whole tenor of the game. The pitcher got four ground balls hit to him, one was a rifle shot, two were hit hard and one was a dribbler. He cleanly fielded all four and threw perfect laser throws to first base. The first baseman fielded two and dropped two. The pitcher got a little frustrated and on the drops he told the first baseman to use both hands and demonstrated how the move should look with his hands and glove. It wasn’t done in a very malicious or sarcastic way, but it was clear he was frustrated and decided to coach the player up himself.
The first baseman was a bit embarrassed and sulked back to his position. The rest of the team imploded that inning, all with 2 outs. They must have had 5-6 errors including an easy out hit right to the pitcher. There was no unity of purpose or support for the team in the field while the other team gained some confidence from seeing their opponent turn on itself. The end result was that a much inferior team beat a better team. It happens in youth football all the time.
How do you make sure this doesn’t happen to you when you are coaching youth football? You have to lead by example and set boundaries for your kids so they understand what is acceptable and what isn’t. Some things we are fine with is a player helping another player out when it comes to alignment. If a player is out of alignment, let the kids know it is ok to help their teammates get into the correct alignment.
Ask that the help be given in a positive, discreet and not demeaning way. Make sure your players know that the help is to be given verbally (nothing physical) and always positive. Don’t let players coach up technique and no one coaches anyone up unless they have a mastery of the subject matter and the other player is in desperate need of help. If a player is unclear on his assignment and asks for help, some players in leadership roles who have mastery of the subject matter can provide that help on the field.
What you don’t want to do Is have kids coach other kids up on technique. That’s the coaches job, you don’t need 6 Chiefs trying to tell 5 Indians how to do things all game long.
So be positive in your own approach and set boundaries for your players. When you see one of your players browbeating or being negative with another player, make sure you nip it in the bud. There’s a zero tolerance policy on players trying to embarrass a player who has made a mistake. Coach your kids up to encourage the player to shake it off and move on to the next play. Help them understand what they can and cannot do to help a teammate and how they should react when a teammate makes a mistake. An effective way is to paint a picture- a scenario and ask them how THEY would feel if someone acted inappropriately towards them.
This competitive youth football thing is new to most of your players and they don’t have a clue what is acceptable and what isn’t. As coach, it’s your job to help them figure that out. Winning championships isn’t all about xs and os or fundamentals. Great teams play together and handle adversity well. Get the kids to play together and support each other is a powerful weapon in making sure you have a great season.