What do you do during bye weeks when you are coaching youth football? What made sense to me was to take a day off. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First” I took an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. Unlike most seasons where we practiced just 3 days a week until game one, then went 2 days a week thereafter, I couldn’t do this with this team. The kids were just so far behind fundamentally and I was spread so thin, we had practiced the full 5 days per week until school started, then went 3 rather than the allowed 4 practices per week thereafter.
The bye week allowed our kids to get a well-deserved day off and got me an extra day in Nebraska with my family. Commuting back and forth was tough, with 5 days in Reno, then 2 days in Nebraska. When I got home I was scrambling to get everything I could done to reconnect and care for my family, it was always a whirlwind of activity.
When we got back to it in Reno on Wednesday our goal was to have fun, take a step back and bond as a team. Much of what we worked on was building team unity, via things like tire flip relays, pass catching relays, dummy tackling relays, dummy carry relays and Hawaiian Rules football. We worked about 60 minutes of individual, group and team, then spent 60 minutes on fun stuff and getting to know and trust one another better. Every night for the last 2 weeks we were doing the 20 things I like about player X exercise. By the end of the season we would cover every player. We also did a birthday thing with cakes and mini roast for one of our players, the one I had problems with earlier in the season. Celebrating players birthdays is a good thing as long as the player is someone that is efforting and adding value. Often times that helps keep things fun and will help with the bonding process.
It was also time to improve our coaching. For most of the season our coaches had watched games, not coached them. It didn’t matter much that every coach had a wrist band and knew the plays, they still weren’t coaching much. They were watching more than they were coaching and when they did coach, often times it was shouting things at kids that weren’t even in their position groups.
I had tried to solve the problem, but it wasn’t getting much better. These guys continued to yap at referees and be more fan than coach. I put my foot down harder than ever. I let the coaches know that they could either coach their position group and be silent with the referees or to stand up in the stands on game days. Youth football coaching and being a fan are two different things. The film showed major alignment and technique problems that were never addressed. In the Reed game, our Monster never made a single tackle. He wasn’t playing downhill and was too concerned about dropping into the hole, rather than aggressively responding to his reads, like we had practiced all week long. Our Linebackers coach was watching the game, not coaching it. There were situations like that going on with nearly every position group.
Unfortunately I had been forced to call both the Offense, Defense and Special Teams, something I hadn’t had to do in over a decade. I had to look at the big picture, manage the game and of course watch the Offensive Play keys. I was very blunt on our Hudl film about the mistakes we were making and put it back on the coaches. When the kids make a mistake it’s OUR fault. If the player is in your position group it’s YOUR fault. You get what you coach and what you accept, you tolerate and deserve. The encouraging atta boys now included a heavy dose of frowns, hard looks and “that isn’t acceptables”, directed at the coaching staff. Had they made progress? Yes, but it wasn’t good enough and it wasn’t enough to make a championship run.
As a head coach, you can’t do it all. You need input, good intel, good data from your assistant coaches and players in order to optimize your opportunities on game days. I wasn’t getting that. So now I turned my focus on pressing the coaches and players for that intel. This made them think, it forced them to look at what I wanted them to look at and it forced them to coach. When the film didn’t add up to the intel or in some cases guesses they provided, I called them out on it. Is shame a good way to get adults to do things? No, but I had run out of options and I was tired of walking on egg shells or having to frame words to make sure no ones feelings were going to be hurt. This is the intel we needed, this is why it’s important and we aren’t going to be successful if you choose not to do the work to provide it.
In this down week I devised a set of signals several trusted players would use to get me some of the intel I needed on offense. I won’t share all of them with you, but one included the alignment/first move of the Defensive Tackle over the Power Tackle, another was the alignment of the Linebacker closest to the Center.
This week was also full of film study and scouting. Our upcoming opponent would be playing what was most likely the 3 seed out of 13 teams. If we won our next game, there would be a very high probability we would face that 3 seed in the first round of the playoffs. As luck would have it I could see both teams play at the same time in the weeks just leading up to our game. Yes the schedule had been very kind to us.
We were able to do a couple of film trades to get film on both teams. By the end of the week I had play cards and scouting reports prepared on both teams and stayed the weekend to take in their game, instead of flying back to Nebraska a little early.
By the end of the week I could feel we were a closer youth football team. The coaches had started to come around. We weren’t clicking on all cylinders, but we still had some time and we had an even money chance to win that next game and make a first ever playoff appearance.