Being flexible and having a plan when you are coaching youth football seem a bit incompatible. Good youth coaches have written down plans to add rigor and to methodically develop teams based on a schedule for that day. That schedule should have blocks of time allotted and accounted for in 10 minute increments for individual positions, small groups and team. Every drill and concept covered in that segment needs to be written down and shared with the coaching staff prior to practice. The Winning Youth Football book: http://winningyouthfootball.com/youthfootballcoachingbook.php has daily minute by minute practice plans in it for a 14 week season. Your schedule is there for a reason, to make sure your teams develop the skills necessary to effectively compete, but sometimes it does make sense to modify the schedule a bit during practice.
When should you come off your schedule? This may sound a bit counterintuitive, but if you are really struggling in say a 10 minute skill development segment, where your kids are having a very tough time of it. Sometimes those segments are like lasagna, they are much better the next day. If the kids are getting overly frustrated with a segment or drill, if you just keep going with it, often times that frustration just gets worse. Most guys want to take that 10 minute segment and make it a 20 minute segment. The problem is kids get overly frustrated with something they may even develop a long term mental block, that they CAN’T do something. You don’t want that, so move on to something else, even though you may be feeling like you left your shoes untied. You can come back to it later maybe repackaged as a slightly different drill.
There are other times where it may make sense to cut a practice segment off early. If the kids are doing a great job at something and you are confident in the level of skill they have developed for the depth you are at in the season- move onto something else. If you’ve just got that PERFECT rep with everyone and it would be nearly impossible to improve upon it, end on that high note. Leave the kids with that positive picture in their memory banks for that drill. Always try to end on a positive, that means a 10 minute segment may be 6 minutes or 12 minutes. The segment time is a guideline, you adapt a bit as the practice plays itself out. Charlie Francis, the innovative and infamous Olympic track coach is a huge advocate for using this approach.
So what do you do with the extra time if you cut a segment short? Always have a drill or activity written down or ready in the back of your mind. If things are going really well, then reward the kids with something they enjoy doing. If that’s a specific drill then go for it, every group of kids has a drill they love doing, their faces light up whenever they hear you are going to do it. Another thing I like to do is to play one of the Winning Youth Football games that is specific for their position group. Whatever it is you decide on doing, let the kids know that you are doing this because they did something extremely well, so they know that they will be rewarded for doing so in the future.
So have a schedule, but be smart about being flexible. Don’t get into the trap where every 10 minute segment is now 15 minutes though. Keep to the practice methodology in the Winning Youth Football book- show don’t tell, use building block progressions, use the one word coaching points and have a sense of urgency when it comes to time. But also be smart about your use of time, go shorter in segments when the kids are getting it and always try to end on a high note.
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