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.When you are coaching youth football, what do you communicate to a team that “won” it’s first scrimmage game big? The team we played was as athletic as us, better at the Quarterback position, threw the ball better and had good size. As 7th graders they hadn’t played our team last year, but they did have a winning record, made the playoffs and were known as being good on defense and mediocre on offense. I thought it would be a battle, turned out it wasn’t.
Our team desperately needed to get off on the right foot and this was a solid first step, but I didn’t want our kids to get too full of themselves. I talked about all the good things we did: ball security, alignment, effort, coming off the ball well, fast pace, reasonable precision and an aggressive and positive attitude. Then I nitpicked a few things like weak fakes, average double teams and very average downfield blocking. The alignments by our Defensive Backs was a little deep on several snaps, we didn’t gang tackle as well as we could have and we didn’t close on Receivers well at all.
I’ve always tried to be very positive at the half or end of a game where we didn’t play well and then nitpick and be more harsh in games we dominate. This would be a bit different, I would play it as a typical positive youth football scrimmage, but what I expected. I would point out a few negatives, but far less than what I normally do. The issues we had were all things that were fixable and I let the kids know those mistakes were 100% my fault and that we would work on that in the following weeks. I asked the coaches to purposely play down any giddiness they had from the win. The coaches were obviously very pleased. The two guys who were the biggest doubters were now starting to believe. One of the coaches told me with a big smile, ” I think we are going to win every game.” Getting a little giddy was understandable, our team had never “mercy ruled” anyone in the last 6 years, or even beat a single team with a winning record. Our big crowd had cheered wildly from the stands with each score, they wanted to see what was going on with this team. There were lots of smiles all around from everyone.
All of the coaches then spoke to the kids for about a minute or so each on how they thought their position groups did. We had a 40 minute break as we watched 2 other teams scrimmage, including our next scrimmage opponent. As the kids got hydrated and went back to sit in the shade, I scouted our next opponent.
The next team we would play had a couple of obvious tells, but they weren’t anything special. They were a weak team who had won just 1-2 games the previous year as 7th graders. The previous year our team had actually beat them by 7 points. While they had plenty of size and had enough athletes to compete, including a very big Running Back and nice tall athletic Quarterback, they just weren’t very good. Their fundamentals were poor, they didn’t pursue or tackle well and their block destruction was poorly taught. We would use this scrimmage game to correct some of the mistakes we made in the first game and get the backups more playing time.
This was a process and we were about to stub our toe a bit, more on the next post. We hope you are able to “steal” a few ideas from these posts to enhance your youth football coaching experience.