For those of you that have been following along on my 2014 “Worst to First” youth football coaching odyssey, we had an amazing season. I took an eighth grade youth football team that had won about 6 games in 6 years and took them to a first ever winning season, first ever playoff win in a 13 team bracket, first ever semi-final berth, increased scoring from 104 to 413 points, beat several teams that had mercy ruled this team every season, several 30-40 and even 50 point turnarounds and 5 kids scored their first touchdowns ever.
But the season wasn’t without its challenges. We all need to look back at our seasons after the dust has settled to see what we might have done differently, in hindsight. This was a tough assignment and we did a lot of things really well, but there were things I could have done differently that would have improved the end result.
Arrive two weeks earlier to build numbers.
I should have gotten to Reno 2 weeks earlier than the start date in order to recruit players. The first step would have been going through past years rosters and contacting all the Running Back or Receiver types that had dropped out in the past. Step 2 would have been meeting with our players and parents to get their help in recruiting additional players from their family and friend network.If we were still short kids, there were plenty of apartment complexes and playgrounds in just a 1 mile radius to our practice field, we could have went door to door with fliers. This team was short on skill position players that had been recruited away by other teams over the last 6 years.Had we been able to fill our roster with athletic local players, our team may not have had all of the small non district rookie MPR players assigned to our team by the league. While I was glad to have them and they all made it to seasons end, 66 and 81 lb rookie eight grade players didn’t help our competitiveness. In my defense, the final team selection didn’t happen until July and I had a lot of loose ends to tie together before I could leave Nebraska.
Take the time to proactively develop personal relationships with all the coaches.
We had a coaching staff of 6 including me. I had very good relationships with “the Mayor” who was instrumental in bringing me to Reno and my Offensive Line and Nose Tackle assistant. The Mayor also coached Defensive Ends. The 2 coaches I worked with the most and spent the most time with away from the field were my most trusted and loyal coaches.Why was that? Because we knew each other. One coach I had breakfast with and worked out with 5 days a week, the other would often times give me rides to practice. I took an interest in his new career path and his family. Both coaches could confide in me and express their concerns in a reasonable and positive way. Both coaches desperately wanted to win and were totally open minded about how to get there. They were 100% committed and had bought in.The relationships with the other coaches was not close. It wasn’t that I was standoffish, we just didn’t develop a bond on a personal level. I made several gestures, but it wasn’t consistent and the relationships didn’t progress past the “tolerant” level until the last few weeks. It was on me for not making those relationships happen, instead I went to where my comfort level was, my 2 strong supporters.
Should have invested more time on the defensive side of the ball.
In the past I’ve always been about a 50/50 guy when it comes to practice time on offense and defense. Defense is just as important as offense and deserves half the practice time.That is what we did in Reno. But we averaged 41 points a game on offense, while on defense our first team defense gave up almost 20 points a game. While our team was woefully behind fundamentally on both sides of the ball, the offensive side was much easier to fix than the defensive side. Because of our lack of depth with skill players we defended poorly in space, we needed to devote more time to defense. While the scores may not have showed it, we did get better defensively the last 2 games, thanks to devoting 2/3 of that practice time to defense.
Should have spread myself thinner in position groups.
I always coach the Offensive and Defensive Lines and take great pride in helping to develop those players to their full positional. That is where I invested the majority of my time. We were struggling a bit at Defensive End, we just didn’t have 2 kids who could play that position well and had no other alternatives personnel wise, so I spent more time there than I usually do.
This was the Mayors position group and often times he was off doing his peacemaking thing, which had to be done. On the other hand my trusted Offensive Line assistant picked things up quickly and I totally trusted him, he was also coaching the Nose Tackles. I could have left him alone more and invested those minutes elsewhere.
My Linemen were on-board and we had little to no issues with their motivation, effort and buy in. I had good relationships with the line and with several kids very strong trust bonds. Those relationships were not as strong with the skill position kids. There was less trust, there because I hadn’t spent the time there.
In an attempt to let the coaches with the most experience, coach their position groups, I kind of took a back seat when it came to Linebacker and Defensive Back individual training on defense and Running Back and Receiver training on offense. Yes, I did coach them some in Indys and obviously in team, it was far less than the linemen group.
I should have come into camp in much better shape.
When it came to the 30 minutes of time I had with the Backs by themselves at the end of our practice, I had already been on the field coaching extremely hard for 120 minutes. I was worn out from coaching my position groups hard and bouncing all over the field trying to keep an ultra high tempo pace up for everyone. Over the course of my nearly 4 months in Reno I got into excellent shape, working with a personal trainer and dropping 18 lbs, I needed that energy early on.
Should have been harder on the coaches for coaching their positions on game day.
Since my personal relationships weren’t strong with several of our coaches and politically I needed them, I had a difficult time holding coaches accountable for game day coaching. Many of them were watching the game, not coaching the game. Unfortunately they would often times get chippy with the officials.The officiating was done by High School refs and they did a good job, we got the benefit of the doubt, more than we didn’t. While the behavior did improve some, it should have been much better.Since I was coaching the offense, defense and special teams, calling out the offensive formation/defensive alignment, calling plays and managing a pretty tough MPR playing time equation, I couldn’t coach all the position groups on game days. This hurt us, especially in the first Reed game loss.
Should have recruited a kicker and kicker coach.
While the local High School was in the middle of a 30 game losing streak, their soccer team was tops in the state and they practiced right next to us. Our PAT kick was worth 2 points in this league and we weren’t very good at it. I should have approached our team and that soccer coach with our need for a kicking specialist and asked for his help.
Looking back there were some other things here and there I would have done differently. There were some things we added in halfway through the season when it came to snaps and ball security, that I should have went to on the first day.
I should have started a kid “D” at Left End on offense instead of favoring a kid who was showing a lot of improvement, efforting well and being obedient. “D” didn’t respond well early on to my coaching and had missed a couple of practices, but improved. The starter was already starting at Defensive End, I didn’t rectify this until the last game.
I shouldn’t have made a negative comment aloud about how the High School team was practicing. That was uncalled for and hurt the feelings of one of our coaches. The High School bent over backwards to help us and later in the season even let us use the lighted field at night and sent over their cheerleaders to cheer for us in our big game against Reed.
At the end of the day, it’s all on us as coaches. You get what you coach and while we did well, I felt I left some meat on the bone. We lost 2 kids during the season, we didn’t retain them all. We won 7 games and scored 413 points, we mercy ruled a team 41-6 that they had lost to be over 40 the previous year, we won a playoff game against a team that had mercy ruled these kids every season that they had met, but the top 2 teams we couldn’t quite get over something that looked like a high jump bar, rather than an attainable high hurdle. .