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.
So what did we have for talent? After my first practice with the team it was evident we had good size, with 4 players over 200 lbs and only 1 of those players having significant movement problems. Out of the 21 kids I had seen so far there were 7 players over the ball carrier weight of 160 lbs. Those kids would have to be linemen and out of the remaining 15 kids, 10 of them looked like they would be suited to play on the line. We define the line as Center, Guard, Tackle and Tight End. Defensive Ends could come from the linemen or back group.
What was the quality like? All I could compare the kids to was the 4 teams I had seen on the game films from the televised games of the previous year. We had a big 9.0 kid who weighed 226 lbs, with very good feet, but the coaching staff wasn’t real high on him. They had to beg him to come back and play and he had only signed back up at the very last minute. He wasn’t passionate about playing and was there to cut up and be with his friends. We had a 7 who was 220 and slow, a 4 at 220 that was slow and not very aggressive and a 2 who was 240 and totally out of shape, he couldn’t make it through anything without stopping to catch his breath. He was stiff and had a real tough time even getting into a stance. Then we had an 8 at 190 (with lots of potential), 4 at 190, 6 at 160, 3 at 180, 5 at 140, 4 at 110, a rookie non district kid who was a 1 and 81 lbs, 4 at 140, 2 at 110 , a 1 rookie 140 lber and a 1 at 89.
For backs we had a 7 at 140lbs, a second year player who had never played in the backfield before who was because of his inexperience an 8 at 155, 2 at 76 lbs, a 5 at 120 who had started in the backfield last year, a 3 at 100 lbs. and a non district rookie player assigned to our team to play who was cleared to play for the very first time at 66 lbs. Yes you are reading this correctly
The 3 missing kids were 2 brothers who had played on this team several years earlier and were returning due to lack of playing time on the team they had defected to. They were also backs which was good. The other missing player was another rookie out of district kid assigned to us by the league, amazing how all the real small out of district kids are told their local programs are full? I’m happy to take anyone on my teams, but it’s disappointing how the programs in power game the system. These guys weren’t getting any help from the league, in fact it felt like they were standing on our necks. This rookie player ended up being about 90 lbs, the reason I don’t know, he had severe health issues that kept him from practicing about 2/3 of the time and I don’t think he ever weighed in. He was only able to attend 5-6 practices and never suited up for a real game. He was a rookie player in the 8th grade who had been cleared by his doctor to play for the very first time as well.
So it looked like we were in pretty good shape on the line, but very thin in the backfield. The two best backs on this team from last year didn’t return, one defected to the defending league champions, the other had disappeared. That’s par for the course for a youth football team that consistently loses. Very few kids will stick around to get pummeled every season and suffer lots of 50 point beatdowns. The kids either move on to another team in the league (which is against the rules by the way) of move on to another sport. Losing teams especially ones in the upper age group like this one are usually on a downward death spiral that siphons most if not all the talent from the roster. Of the remaining kids who looked to be talented, several of their parents told me of the countless times they had been approached after games by opposing coaches to move their kids over to their teams. Many offered a chance to play for a winner with the promise of better coaching, other offers included paying the $275 player fee and rides to practice and games. As ridiculous as it sounds, this happens more than most people can imagine in many areas of the country.
As I started to lay out my initial depth chart, it was a little scary. Who was going to carry the ball and more importantly who was going to play at Linebacker, Corner, Safety and Defensive End? I was hoping the 2 brothers would be capable backs and that we would have to turn some of our kids who graded out as linemen into backs.
The second practice was going to focus on fleshing out some of those smaller linemen and seeing if they had enough potential body control to move them into the backfield. Note that this league like Pop Warner, AYF and 90% of youth leagues has a minimum play rule (MPR) of 8 plays. Instead of the full complement of the game evaluations we focused on Deer Hunter, Hawaiian Rules football, Pass Catch relay game, Dummy Relays and then some ball drills like Snap Progression Drill, Gauntlet and Pass Catch Progression Drill. As it is every year, when you are coaching youth football well, you are playing musical chairs to maximize the equation.
Another point of emphasis for practice number 2 would be precision and pace. The kids AND coaches weren’t used to being precise about much and they had no sense of urgency when it came to pace. I asked the coaches to meet with me prior to practice to discuss this and I planned on talking to the kids about it as well. To flip this teams culture, we had to try to make it fun while setting a set in stone standard of 100% effort, perfect form, 6 second pace for indy drills and 12-15 second pace for team drills. Getting the kids, parents and some of the coaches to buy in would be a challenge. The next post will be about the first week of practice.
It wasn’t time to panic, there was more talent there than I was expecting, but we were woefully short on athletes who could play in the backfield, linebacker, defensive end and in the defensive backfield. This was going to be a tough one.