What should your first youth football practice of the year look like? Should it be all about conditioning? Should you break down into positions? Should you start teaching fundamentals or plays? Or maybe you could go based on theory of what a High School or College coach says you should do or a guy who last coached 10 years ago and never won when he did coach.
I’m going to tell you what we actually did in real life. A team that went 9-1, won a Leauge Championship in the toughest classification in a 31 team bracket and a 17 team division and from a coach who has won 177 of his last 202 games in 5 different leagues.
The goal of the first youth football practice of the year should be about:
Setting a Standard
Getting Kids Excited About Playing Football- Having Fun
Starting the Teaching of Very Basic Fundamentals- Stance, Form Running, Cadence, Base Tackle Fit
As the kids were arriving we had several stations set up for each age group, greeting them with a big smile and putting a piece of tape on the front of their shirt with their name on it. Team Moms were doing this as us coaches were reviewing which coaches had which stations. This was a non-padded practice.
Start off with a mandatory parent meeting as a requirement for Junior to participate. The exact words to that meeting is in the “Winning Youth Football Book” as well as the free Book on “How to Start a Football Program” found on this site. Without that meeting you will consistently have parents and players causing problems because they won’t understand what your mission statement is, what boundaries are in place, why the boundaries exist, how you are going to coach their kids, how positions and playing time is earned and how discipline is handled.
You can choose to do death by a thousand cuts and explain yourself over and over and over again. Or you can tear the bandaid off all at once and be done with it. Personally, I don’t like the hundreds of phone calls, e-mails and coach what about this, what about that stuff. Most of us don’t have enough time in the day to go the thousand cuts route, but many do so anyways and end up hating coaching.
After that 20 minute meeting we broke down with all 95 of my kids facing face to face, standing next to kids in their same age bracket. For us, that was 4 teams, kids in 3-4 grade, 2 teams of 5-6 graders and a 7-8 grade team. Each team had 2 kids in the middle, doing the demo. We demoed every movement first with the 2 center kids.
We started with 5 jumping jacks, then got right into stance, cadence and ball get offs. Each coach was assigned 5 players and the stance was broken down into 4 progressions, each perfected before the next progression was added. Then we worked ball get offs- making sure the stance and cadence were perfect. Still in the 2 lines facing each other and everyone going at the same time, we did ball get offs with high knees, then the same with butt kickers.
The next step are 1 step tackle fits and 2 step tackle fits, again everyone at once, with 2 lines facing each other. The last progression are angle form tackle fits, with each coach working with 5 players. After 2 weeks this entire warm up will be done in 7 minutes. Day 1, it is going to take about 15 minutes as we had about 20 rookie players. For the first day only- we moved the angle form tackle to it’s own station so our best coaches could teach it and so we wouldn’t waste so much time.
These are all described in the book and on the Practice Organization DVD. What we are combining is a dynamic warm up with FOOTBALL FUNDAMENTALS. You don’t have time to waste. The guys who consistently win youth football games are the guys who are the most effective and EFFICIENT teachers.
Next step are the evaluations. Today we had 6 stations each measuring a bit of a different macro football skill. Football is about football speed, strength, explosiveness, body control, smarts, aggressiveness and attitude. I don’t care who can run a lap the fastest or even a 40 yard dash. What I care about is who can accelerate, decelerate, accelerate again and change direction in 5 and 10 yard bursts.
We had 8 stations set up with an experienced coach at each station. That the 8 groups of kids were in their own age groups. Each coach at each station had a clip board and a roster by age and last name. Each group were arranged alphabetically and by age. So all the 3rd graders in one group of 10, the 13 4th graders were together and the 20 5th graders were divided up into first group of the alphabet first, the rest in the second group. The rest of the teams were divided up the same.
The players would be rated on a scale of 1-9 with 1 being in the lowest 10th percentile, 9 being of the 90th percentile in that age grouping. So your least athletic kids are 1s, 5 is the middle and 9 is the top. As you might guess you may have to make a few adjustments as you get to see the entire age group. Make sure to go back to back, so all the 5th graders follow each other in groups.
These were the 8 stations we had set up. Each movement lasted 10 minutes.
Hawaiian Rules Football
Pro Agility Run
Pass Catching Relay Game
Pass Throwing Eval Station
Snap Progression Ball Carry
Practice ended with a very spirited game of Sharks and Minnows. So as you can see, what we do day 1 is very different than what most do. You DON’T want to waste an entire week of doing evaluations. If you measure the right things, the right way, they map right to the macro skills you need at every position on your youth football team.
For more info on these drills, teaching methods and daily practice plans- see the “Winning Youth Football” book or Practice Organization DVD.