This is the third post in my ongoing narrative of how I turned around the worst youth football team in the US that I could find. This is an 8th grade team in Reno, Nevada that had won about 6 games in 6 years. Reno is about 1400 miles from my home in Lincoln, Nebraska and I commuted weekly. We played in the largest and most competitive league in Reno and Northern Nevada. These posts should help many of you out there who are coaching struggling teams.
This post is what I did in the 2 week lead time I had from the point we decided to take this gig to when I was able to arrive in Reno. As I stated from the previous post, I started evaluating the coaching staff right away during our face to face meeting and follow up correspondence. As to the team, we were getting 5 kids who were new to this team, that left 18 returning players. I asked for and got a roster with player weights and approximate height. That was sent to the coaches and they were asked to independently tell me what position the player played the previous year and to rank him against his peers playing that same position on the teams they played against last year. A rating of 8 meant that player was in the 80th percentile for that position, he would have been better than 8 of 10 kids in the league starting at that position. Each player was rated on both offense and defense and I ranked the kids by the aggregate.
Of course I used this as just a starting point. During our evaluation process, all of our eval drills and games map into identifying underlying macro skills of athleticism/explosiveness, body control, football speed, strength/power, heart and ball skills. Being dependent on past evaluation results with a coaching staff that hadn’t had a lot of success, wouldn’t have been prudent. The slate would be 100% clean.
The next step was understanding the quality and style of play for the league and the best teams in it. Unfortunately, this team didn’t film their games, so one avenue wasn’t open. However, every week one of the games from this league is televised on a local channel. Recordings of these games were available for purchase and fortunately 2 of the games, with 4 of the best teams playing in the league were available for purchase. These were 7th grade teams who would now move up to play in this year’s 8th grade division. According to our coaching staff, these same kids with the same numbers had starred for these teams for years. The only difference is the better teams would have a sprinkling of very talented newcomers to fill in any weak spots. This handful of players came from defectors from losing teams or very athletic kids new to the area who somehow found an opening in these “full” teams. See my previous posts on how new players were assigned to our team, we got out of district kids who weighed 66 an 81 lbs. I will save my film observations for my next post. We would need to make a few slight adjustments to scheme based on this film.
The next step was preparing the topics for a coaching clinic for the existing staff. The clinic would be on the day my flight arrived. The teams second practice, my first would be that same evening. The clinic was not heavy scheme based, it was more about HOW and WHAT to teach. It focused on the methodology of teaching, how we taught, progressions, precision and pace. The clinic talked about priorities, how we would work together and a coaching staff and covered our critical success factors and how we would attack coaching them. It was all about doing the ordinary extraordinarily well and doing it efficiently. The coaches were shown how we would do evals and the drills each would be coaching along with how each drill was graded and how it mapped back to determining what positions each player would play.
Then I went to prepping and packing. I got cheat card decks packed for every coach- this year would be the year of the cheat- card. As head coach you can only do so much hands on, coaching the coaches, coaching them up and holding them accountable is a must do. The cheat cards are a life saver, if a coach can’t coach a drill effectively that has a picture on front, the details on the back and you demo them all before practice or during breaks, Houston the guy can’t coach.
Then I went to practice planning which was easy. The practice plans I followed were almost verbatim from the “Winning Youth Football” book. I did spend 2 days doing evals instead of just 1 because in this league you have 5 weeks of practice before the first official league game. I also wanted to do most of the evals with my own eyes as well as eval my coaching staff along the way. Note that in following posts I had to make a number of adjustments in the way we practice due to the given equation.
Then it came down to the packing. This meant a computer, a file box of written materials, stacks of cheat cards and DVDs, my coaching gear, some clothes, my projector and some family pictures. It turned out to be a longer engagement than planned. One game was postponed due to California wildfires, which moved the season back a week, then making it to the semi-finals made the season go to the week before Thanksgiving.
The next post will talk about day 1, arriving in Reno, the coaches clinic, parent meeting and the first day of practice. Hopefully many of you coaching youth football will find a number of things from this that you can apply to your teams upcoming season.