Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

The Top 10 Things Youth Football Coaches Do to Screw Up Their Teams

The Top 10 Things Youth Football Coaches Do to Screw Up Their Teams

Youth Football Practice
Youth Football Practice







Back in 1999-2001 my youth football program was struggling. We were growing, in fact we had grown from 28 to about 200 kids in 3-4 years, but we had a lot of turnover and our aggregate winning percentage as a program was just in the 30s.

What I saw in our greater Metro area of 900,000+ was that certain programs consistently won and some consistently lost. I took the guy whose program and teams consistently won, Monte Ohara out to lunch one day. He willingly shared how they did things and graciously offered to host me on his sidelines for games and practices. He is an exceptionally successful trucking company owner who believes in research and repeatable systems.

Time was not an issue, after selling our consulting company I was retired and I took a year off of coaching, to help shore up our struggling program. I took in Monte’s practices and games as well as several other very successful programs both locally and out of town. While there were differences in these youth football programs, there were a lot of common threads as well.

A lightbulb came on and I thought, we might as well copy the things we see as common amongst all of these great programs- but why not study the consistently poor programs too? If we found commonality there and committed to NOT doing what the poor youth football programs did, maybe there would be value with that information as well. What I found with the consistently bad teams was eye opening, there was VERY consistent commonality between these terrible programs. And unfortunately we were following on the same failing path as most of the bad teams.

Yes, I did look like an idiot. A stranger sitting in a lawn chair at a youth football practice and games with my stop watch out and taking copious notes, is an odd sight. But I needed the data. While I tried to be discrete, if anyone asked I said I was just doing some research on youth football to help youth football coaches do a better job of coaching.

This is what we found out  in our research to be the 10 Stupid Things Youth Football Coaches Do to Mess up Their Teams:

  1. Scrimmaging too much.

Some of these poor performing teams were scrimmaging for half of the practice and did not do a single fit-and-freeze or bird-dog rep. ALL of the failing programs full team scrimmaged more than 45 minutes per practice. My personal teams do full team scrimmaging 10 minutes per week after the first 3 weeks- just like many of the programs who were winning all the shiny trophies. Why do a lot of failing youth coaches scrimmage a lot? Because it doesn’t take much planning or coaching effort to do full team scrimmaging versus individual or small group drills.

  1. Too much conditioning.

Most of these bad teams were spending 25% or more of their practice time doing non-football related conditioning type drills. These youth football teams would have been great had they been competing in a cross country meet or push up contest, but when it came to playing football, they were getting crushed every week. My personal teams haven’t done any set aside conditioning drill in over 20 years. There are ways to get conditioning done within the context of regular practice without setting time aside to do it. Again it takes little to no planning or coaching effort to set up and run a bunch of mindless conditioning drills.

  1. Poor Defenses.

Most of the poorly coached teams devoted less than 25% of their practice time to defense. These teams used defensive schemes that were designed to stop college football offenses and college or pro football players, not youth football plays or offenses and youth football players. Let’s not even get started about those that have minimum play rules and how their defenses rarely accommodate the playing of these players on defense in situations where they can execute and provide team value on each snap. Not to mention very little attention paid to block destruction, pursuit and read drills. The consistently great teams put defense first or at least gave it equal time with the offense.

  1. Lack of coaching effort.

Lack of spending even minimal amounts of time preparing for the season. Some weren’t interested in putting in any time, others thought they knew it all, but when it came to youth football- they didn’t know squat. The guys that consistently won, many had a small library of materials and went to at least 1 or 2 clinics a year. I’ve spoke at well over 200 coaching clinics, the guys in the first row are guys that are winning the big trophy every year and winning National Championships. Yes guys like Joe Cianflone who has won something like 5 National AYF Titles, Jeff Miret whose Pop Warner teams have been to Disney 4-5 times and won 2 National Titles running our stuff or Jarvis Thomas who has won countless AAU and Independent National Titles running our system. The best coaches know they can learn more, the bad coaches think they know it all or don’t bother. You don’t have to be a guru to consistently win in youth football, a little knowledge goes a really long way.

The consistent losers ALWAYS blamed their losses on lack of talent or numbers. The coaches blamed the kids lack of “effort” or lack of talent for the teams lack of success. Many of these coaches were “the grass in greener” guys. Any lack of success was attributed to being a ‘Jimmies and Joes” situation where their team got “out athleted”. Rarely did any of these coaches take personal responsibility for the teams lack of success, it’s always the kids, the refs, the weather, the breaks, player sick, the other team, cheating, the dog ate the homework. They never got that COACHING MATTERS in youth football.

  1. Too Big and Ridiculous Playbooks.

So many of these guys were scoring less than 10 points a game, yet had playbooks with 40-50 plays in them. These coaches playbooks often looked like the best 25 plays (or more) that the coach had seen on TV on Saturdays and Sundays. There was no complementary series basis to these offenses, most plays stood on their own and often were paired with a single odd duck formation that any good coach could spot. Other offenses included those that had no chance of succeeding unless their team had a monopoly on the best talent in their respective league. These offenses didn’t fit the talent or the age group of these respective teams. The best teams rarely had playbooks beyond 20 plays and no matter the system their core base was 10-12 complementary plays.

  1. Blocking Not Emphasized or Poorly Taught

Most of the time the head coach was coaching the Running Backs, Receivers or Quarterbacks. The teams that consistently lost did not value Offensive Line play, it was often relegated to the least experienced coach. “Block the guy across from you” seemed to be the basic approach, but of course that is not a blocking scheme or rule. None of these teams would pull, down block, double team, trap or even cross block. Most had either rules that were too difficult for the kids to understand or no rules at all- block the guy in front of you. Very little blocking done during indys or group, most was done during team.

4a. Poor Quality Control

The lack of quality control and precision was abhorrent in the bad teams. Mistakes were rarely pointed out because most of the time was spent in team and when a mistake was caught it was ignored or practice would come to a grinding halt thanks to a 2-4 minute mini lecture by one of the coaches. Meanwhile 24 kids stand tapping their toes and grinding their teeth waiting to do SOMETHING.

  1. Poor Teaching Methods

Coaching youth football is teaching, whoever teaches the most effectively and efficiently will consistently win. Many of these coaches had played football, but they had no idea how to transfer their knowledge to their players. In the end it doesn’t matter what the coaches know, it matters what the players know. These coaches had no idea how to teach in a progression and often were trying to teach players techniques with 6-7 coaching points all at the same time. You could see the little puffs of smoke coming out of the ears of these kids during their instruction time. No wonder they couldn’t retain what the coaches said. Teaching in progressions with 3-4 coaching points- all with 1 word cues is the way to go. The failing coaches were long winded TELLERS, often times using white boards to “teach” glossy eyed nodding players- while the successful coaches were SHOWERS. Breaking movements down, teaching and perfecting the movements step by step using demos they either did themselves or with players that “got it”.

  1. Teaching age inappropriate techniques.

Again we aren’t coaching High School, College or NFL players. Heck most of us aren’t even coaching select teams. Many youth football coaches are clueless as to what average kids in certain age groups can and cannot do. Many coaches get frustrated because the average youth player can’t do what coach did in High School at age 18 with 9 years of playing experience under his belt, not to mention the body maturity and year round practice schedule.  In youth ball most Offensive Tackles can’t reach block an 8 or even a 9 technique Defensive End. At the High School or College level you won’t ever see an 8 technique Defensive End. But in the sweep conscious youth game we see 8 techniques all the time- it’s a different game in many ways.  Others underestimate what can be done, yes age 8-10 kids can pull, trap, throw short passes on the run and play zone defense, but no they can’t throw 20 yard outs or reach block 8 or 9 technique defensive ends in many cases. There is a “sweet spot” for what youth players can and can’t do.

  1. Pace

The bad teams should have PHDs on wasting time. Most didn’t have their practice plans in place- they usually talked after cals about what they should do for the day, most were winging it. Wasting time setting up the drills was consistent. In my program the written practice plans are handed out to all the coaches prior to practice and all the drills are set up on the field with cones, balls, bags etc before practice even starts.

These failing guys would typically take about 24 seconds for each indy rep. That was timed by taking the number of reps during an individual segment drill and dividing it by the amount of time in that segment. Too much jogging, walking, too much time to get kids to the front of the drill line, kids not paying attention and coaches taking an inordinate amount of time going into LONG discussions or how to improve. The good teams coaches, everyone is on the run. There is a sense of purpose and URGENCY, time is RESPECTED. One or two word quality control coaching points are what the good guys use. The well coached teams were at about 12 seconds per Indy rep, my own personal teams are about 7 seconds.

When these teams would go into the rare group work, the average rep was about 30 seconds. The better coached teams spent almost a quarter of their practice time in group and their average group rep was in the 20 second area.

Full Team time was where we say the biggest discrepancy in pace. The poorly coached teams were in full team a LOT,  usually more than half of every practice and their average full team scrimmage rep was 1 rep every 2-3 minutes. On the other hand the well coached teams didn’t do a lot of full team scrimmage reps, they did more fit and freeze, bird dog and recognition drills which were averaging in the 25-30 second area. My own teams are at about 15 seconds and that is with 11 in and 11 out on every rep.

1a. Not Being Extraordinary at the Ordinary

The losing teams consistently beat themselves. They wouldn’t be able to consistently control the snap. They would have untimely unforced controllable errors like jumping offsides on critical downs or have a player out of position. They would consistently lose the ball on fumbles, interceptions and onside kicks. They would miss tackles with players in position. None of the consistently poor teams were any good at ball control, blocking or tackling. Yep the “boring” foundation of all great teams.

The interesting thing is these losing programs had the same amount of practice time as the winning programs. But when the winning programs were doing every day ball protection drills, the losing guys were either doing some exotic drill they found on the internet or doing full team scrimmaging or conditioning.

  1. Poor Priorities.

And in David Letterman fashion what is the number one reason youth football coaches mess up their teams?: The recurring theme here is, the poorly performing coaches consistently had their priorities in the wrong area. They don’t understand the youth equation. They invested practice time in areas where their Return on Investment would be very low, while ignoring where their ROI would be very high. The weak teams spent most of their practice time in team while the consistently great programs spent at least half or more of each practice in individual or group position drills. These losing coaches didn’t teach the right things and if they did teach something that needed to be taught, they didn’t know how to teach it to their struggling youth players.

At the end of the day, these are all correctable mistakes that many of us, including me, made many moons ago. To put a wrapper on this story, the year after we did this study and put together an approach template we used for all of our teams, our aggregate winning percentage went from about 30%, to just over 60% and our drop rate was 50% less than the previous year. My last year in that program I had built it to serving just under 400 kids and we were the dominant program in the state with NO team with a losing record and retention rates over 90%.

Practice Organization DVD
Practice Organization DVD

Our aggregate winning percentage was upwards of 80% and we won the age 9-10 A, 11-12 A and 13-14 A age divisions in then the largest and most competitive league in the state of Nebraska. Something that had never been done before or since. Over time your results either validate that what you’re doing is working or they don’t. We made a repeatable template for all of our 90 youth football coaches to follow and that template morphed into this book and our youth football coaching clinics morphed into the DVDs we now sell to the public. Winning Youth Football Coaching Book  Youth Football Coaching DVDs

Winning Youth Football Book
Winning Youth Football Book

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  1. Shawn Murray


    Do you still use your angle form tackling drill considering all the emphasis on keeping the head out of the tackle? If you still use the drill where do you teach head placement?

  2. Chris Jackson

    Thanks, Coach. This is sound advice. I am still new in my coaching career and to get this type of guidance is great.



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