Your youth football team is looking great the first few weeks of football, except those two or three players that are afraid to hit. Well, you are not alone. Just about every youth football team that I have coached over the last 15 years always has a few youth players that are afraid to hit at the beginning of the season. Look, padding up in an unfamiliar suit of armor and rushing out against experienced youth football players is a little intimidating. Do you remember your first day of tackle youth football practice?
In my first practice at 8 years old, I went up a kid they nicknamed “Mack Truck”. The team was an experienced never beaten 8U Select team, and we were sponsored by Mac trucks at the time. Shockingly Truck was bigger than me, and I had always been the biggest kid for my age. Uh Oh! Well Truck rung my bell a few times the first week and I found out my helmet was too big because it was spinning around my forehead like the stars spinning in my brain from Truck’s front head lights. Even for big kids, the first few weeks of practice can be difficult understanding all the new vocabulary, drills, people, and also trying to survive the Trucks of the world. I settled in about the third week, once I figured out how to put on my equipment, buckle my helmet and befriend right tackle Truck as his right guard. We became good friends that season.
I’ve been taking the online USA Football certification coaching class and they recommend full contact hitting not until the 6th practice and even then THUD, just wrapping up not to ground, contact on backs. They suggest easing the youth football players into hitting via a progression of air, pads, slow contact, full speed Thud contact and then full contact sparingly in team drills and scrimmaging. Two years ago, I started a similar schedule of full contact, it was 3 to 4 days before full contact but the slow process seems to help your inexperienced players get ready for full contact. The problem is that your more experienced players want to hit after the second practice. They can’t wait to hit someone. You definitely need to separate your experienced players from your newbies during full contact drills for the first 2 to 3 weeks unless you want to scare the rookies off.
We did a little full contact hitting during my third practice and I did not push my rookies and timid players to jump into the full contact drills. I let them do it at their own pace or I put them against other rookies. I could tell the rookies were not ready yet. Last night at my 4th practice we went to back to hitting pads and a little semi contact against bodies. The last 15 minutes we full contact scrimmaged half and half and a few rookies got popped but they were progressing. Tonight at my 5th practice we will move more to semi body contact / THUD and at Saturday my 6th practice we will scrimmage for 30 to minutes in a half/half full contact setting. And the following Saturday a scrimmage against another team. So we will have 9 practices before an opponent.
I know even after all the full contact hitting transitioning period, my rookies and timid players will wake up about the 4th game into the season. After 15 years, it seems like the 3rd or 4th game a light will turn on in the rookie’s brain and they start playing more like veteran players. That’s about 50 hours of games and practicing. It’s all about the reps. Less lines more rep stations will help speed up the full hitting transition.
So based on the 10,000 hour rule (The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance) to become an expert youth football player, your rookies have about 9950 hours left to be the veteran youth football player you and their parents envision them to be in next week’s game. 🙂
Remember they are kids. They want to have fun and learn our beloved game. Try not to scare them off the first week. I know that’s how we were probably coached and taught, but in the end it’s all about the kids and not us coaches. Play for Fun and Winning is Funner. Play for Fun is the #1 rule.
Ft. Worth, TX / Keller, Texas