This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. I took an 8th grade team that had won about 6 games in the last 6 years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. Getting there early as usual I had a chance to greet every player with a big smile and by name. Everyone likes to know that they are important and that you know who they are. Prior to practice I had gone through the roster and practiced matching names to faces. The former Head Coach stood next to me and he whispered the kids names as they ran from the parking lot to the field. I struggled a bit with a couple of names, we had a couple of kids from Tonga that had unusual names.
Today would be for evaluating the tweeners, kids who MIGHT be able to transition from the line to the backfield. I would also be evaluating the coaching staff, to see where I would have to invest my time. From the tweeners I was looking to for three things, body control, explosiveness and ball skills. When you care coaching youth football at the non-select level like most of us, you are NEVER going to have a perfect team. The goal is to rob Peter to pay Paul, playing musical chairs until you have an optimum equation. You max out the mix of kids you have. Now you don’t get that all done by the end of day two, but you have to have a starting point on day three when kids start getting assigned to position groups for individual drills.
A lot of youth football coaches will let all of their kids go through every position group station the first few days. I can see that politically that may have some merit, but I don’t see the value in having a heavy striped player who by rule can never carry or catch the ball, go through Backfield, Quarterback or Receiver stations. If the goal is to quickly determine the underlying macro skills every player has to help us understand what position they are best suited for, it can be done much more effectively and efficiently by doing the evaluation games I talked about in my last post.
So how did it go? Pace and Precision were still an issue as was “Ready Focus”, the tool we use to make sure all of our youth football players are paying attention when coaches are doing their initial drill instruction. We made a big point of encouraging those who were going fast and hitting all the coaching points. Something as small as encouraging someone who was second in line in an individual drill, “running” the two steps to be in ready position when it was his turn to be in the front of the line doing his rep. Those that weren’t running those 2 steps, who weren’t in ready position to do the rep or who didn’t sprint to the end of the line, either didn’t get a rep or they got sent running 20 yards to a cone and back.
Does that sound petty? When you are coaching youth football it may be, but if you can’t get kids to run those two steps, pay attention or run to the end of the line, how in the world are you going to get them to use a base technique in the middle of a hard fought game when it might be counterintuitive or to align properly and precisely? It’s never going to happen. It’s good to have fun, but it’s not going to be fun for anyone if the kids don’t understand very quickly the level of precision and reps (pace) required to play consistently winning football. Some of the kids were really buying into this new approach, while some you could see kind of didn’t see the point. They were doing some of the things typical eighth grade kids do, smirking and trying to cut corners.
Some of the coaches were to blame as well. When we do our angle form tackling fits, the goal is 1 rep every 6 seconds. Some of the coaches were at 12-15 seconds and the quality of the rep was still poor. You CAN go fast AND be precise when you are coaching youth football, despite what many of the slow pokes say. The key is in how you teach and when we teach the angle form tackle, we taught it in progressions. Each progression had a word associated with it, the words were: toes, hips, pads, head, hands. So if a player made a mistake, all you needed to do to correct him was use one or two words- not 3-5 sentences. Saying one or two words and showing with your body the correct way, doesn’t take a long time.
On top of that a LOT of the kids when they were doing something wrong, it was never corrected. How did I solve this? We had 4 groups doing angle form tackling so I jumped into each group and took over, so the kids and coaches could see the level of precision and pace we were looking for. Yes it took longer, but early on we HAD to get the standard set. During the second water break I got kind of tough on everyone. I asked them if they were happy with the results from previous years? They said they weren’t. I let them know that this year was going to be different. But for them to get different results, they weren’t going to be able to do the very same things they did the previous years and expect to get different results. Our success wouldn’t come from my offense, defense, special teams and play calling, it would come from the players ability to do the ordinary extraordinarily well and to execute with precision my base techniques and schemes. I told them it took everyone, not 6 out of 11 or even 10 out of 11, football is the ultimate team game. If they didn’t commit to the extreme levels of precision and pace I was trying to implement, they would have the very same results as the previous years.
That little talk got everyones attention and we finished pretty strong and positive. We got to do a ball throwing catch competitive team relay game at the end of practice that the kids really enjoyed doing. I found out we had a couple of good backs. The brother combination was a big help- one was in 7th grade the other was in 8th, but they wanted to play on the same team in this 8th grade league. Both had played on this team in years past, but like many moved on to a better team. The older player hadn’t played the year before, the younger one was a backup on one of the league powers teams. They had come back to this team to get more playing time. The older was 125 lbs and looked to be a 7 or possibly even an 8 depending on how he took contact, good ball skills. The younger was 145 and looked to be a 7, not so great ball skills. As the season progressed, I found out I was a little wrong about each. The other missing kid was still missing, health issues.
So we found out we had a couple of kids who would be probably able to help us in the backfield, but we were still very thing there. Unfortunately none of our smaller linemen were reasonable fits to move into the backfield even as depth builders. I looked at 2 kids who might, both looked to be in the 130-145 range and were either Tight End or Power Tackle type players on offense. Neither looked to be starters, but it would all depend on how things shook out on my line. Again robbing Peter to pay Paul. It looked like we might have enough depth there to give both of these kids a shot in the backfield to start.
The third practice would be in pads, but by rule were not allowed contact until after the 5th practice. The next post will detail how I would spread myself across all position groups, decide who plays were and most importantly how to change the culture of a losing youth football program.