This is the second post of a multi part Youth Football Coaching Clinic presentation that I developed for KYA Football in Keller, TX. You can find the first post here. Part Three
The last post in this series asked, Why you wanted to coach youth football? Hopefully you found your answer and are ready to plan your path to success. If you are not into planning, well, Hall of Fame former Washington Redskins Coach Allen has some wisdom to pass down to you, “Organization is the foundation of all successful football coaching.”
What makes a great coach?
Like Coach Bear Bryant said in my last post, “Have a plan for everything,” Coach Allen believes organization is the basis for football, not just coaching. Organized coaches will have a plan for everything, including sending the team to the bathroom before the game and carrying extra mouth pieces in your sideline bag. All successful coaches will have a plan for success, because having no plan is a plan to fail.
Make sure your plan is flexible enough to adjust if it is not working. I’ve seen many stubborn coaches stick with their plan the whole season and see them lose every game. Just because your plan looks good on paper, make sure the implementation and execution can be accomplished. If your stud passing Quarterback gets hurt mid-season and you do not adjust well it could be a long final few games. Be flexible enough to adjust when needed.
Organization = Coaching Success
I agree with Coach Bryant and Coach Allen. If you want to be a successful Head Football Coach at any level you must be organized, especially in youth football since you are herding cats most of the time. Sure, a knucklehead coach will win a Super Bowl now and then but to be a consistent winner you must be organized and prepared for almost every occurrence. Plus, an organized coach looks great in the parent’s eyes. Even if you are losing but look organized and prepared, parents will give you some rope to breathe. Youth football parents are very quick to hang unorganized coaches that lose.
As the team’s leader and CEO you must have a plan in place to lead your team to a successful season. Your goal might just be a .500 season or the Super Bowl. Whichever you’ve chosen as your goal you are the leader and must act accordingly. A Head Coach must make tough decisions on staff, players, starting positions, play time, schedules and so much more. You must be decisive and not waiver as the team’s leader. Weak leaders will get run over by assertive team moms and assistant coaches. A Head Coach is a leader not a follower. Be prepared to lead especially during a losing streak. Its easy to be a leader when you’re winning.
Passion and Commitment
A good youth football coach must also be passionate about football. If you are not committed to coaching youth football and love the game like many of the coaches across the grid iron, it will be a long season. Sure you can come out and coach a team and help out and have some fun. But if you really want to be a good head coach, your level of passion and commitment must be 110%. Many coaches always complain to me how their players never give them 110% during practice or the games, but what I see is the coaches are only giving the team 75%. Players and parents see this too. Before you ask your team to give 100% make sure you’re giving 110%.
If you are passionate and committed to becoming a successful head football coach then certainly you are willing to become a student of the game. Youth football is different than the football you watch on TV. It is certainly not the NFL. When is the last time you attended a football coaching clinic? When is the last time you watched a YouTube video on proper tackling? Have you read a coaching book lately? I am not saying run out and spend a fortune on coaching books and clinics, but you must be willing to learn the youth football game. There is no excuse not to become a student of the game since your resources are limitless through Google Search. Many many times these resources are free or inexpensive.
I am not a good communicator. I learned to become a good communicator out of professional necessity. To be a successful head football coach you must Communicate. Really, you must learn to repeat yourself many times, at least 3 times. Over Communication is key. Over communication will keep everyone involved even those that are not interested but there for little Johnny.
Remember communication is two ways not just one way. The first way to start great team communications is to learn everyone’s name, especially your player’s names and do not forget their parents too. We start our first practice / parent meeting out with the Name Game to learn everyone’s names.
As a Head Coach, you must communicate with your wife, family, league, players, parents, coaches, fans, league officials a referees. Do not forget anyone. Everyone wants to know and they forgot or missed your first email. Do not assume everyone heard you the first time. They did not. I hold parent meetings, use Facebook and Twitter, create a Shutterfly team website, develop calendar reminders, group text parents almost daily during the season, call coaches to discuss practices and games, hold mini-coach meetings after practice and before, mingle with parents after practices, attend all league meetings, put my wife on all communications, joke with opposing coaches, ask referees questions after the games, always talk the fans and make sure to tell my players I love them. Yes, I tell my players I love them because we are now brothers in this great game of football. I will always be there for them as a mentor.
Screaming and berating youth football players is not communication nor is it a motivation. Parents do not care if you are screaming and yelling at your child, its still looks bad. Plus many parents in the stands do not know that child is your son. Third and fourth graders shut down if you scream at them constantly. Yes, a little old school attention getting is fine, but be careful of crossing the line from screaming to berating your players in front of 200 fans and embarrassing yourself and your team. I’ve coached my two sons and its easy to scream and yell at them a little more than other players, but this behavior is not good for the team as a whole. I know from experience.
The Great Motivator
If you do not truly love your players and care for them, then youth football players will smell your lies and not give you their best. Actions speak louder than words. Third graders are much smarter than many of us at 50 years old because they are still innocent and not jaded by the world yet. They can easily identify a fake.
Before you can motivate your youth football players, you must be a good role model. Smoking and drinking alcohol at practices and games does not bring role models to mind for many parents. Tardiness and absenteeism also looks bad. Not to mention drugs or being high at practice. Screaming and cursing at practice and games does not define a good role model. Many youth sports leagues, including KYA, require you to pass a background check. I coach youth football because of my youth football coach, John Lewis. I use Coach Lewis as my role model. Coach Lewis was a deacon at his Baptist church. He looked like a football coach and acted like one. Coach Lewis was very tough but I knew he loved me and the team. Coach Lewis was very Tom Landry like. That’s my ultimate head coaching role model.
A successful youth football coach must learn how to communicate and motivate young football players more interested in kicking dirt and playing XBox games. Many young players are there for mom and dad and would rather be eating ice cream watching Sponge Bob. Good youth football coaches learn how to grab the attention of these young players. I use competition drills, games, ice cream Fridays, helmet stickers, love, and jokes. They also see my passion and commitment to them when I am the first to arrive and last to leave practices and games. Many coaches are “rah rah”coaches and this also works great. That is not my style but many coaches use this “rah rah chanting” technique to great effect. The key is to find your motivational style and make it work for your team and staff. Many times, you will need to find what motivates individual players not just the team. Each player has a different hot button. Learn to find these motivational hot buttons and you will turn on many of your just average players and light fires under your top players.
Strive for Perfection
No one is Perfect. I am far from perfect but I strive for perfection especially when I am coaching. Winning is in the small details like blocking assignments and defensive gap protections. Striving for perfection is not relying on your stud to run sweeps every other play for touchdowns. Perfection is in consistent practice and learning techniques. Do not just move on from a drill or play because its hard and then use it in a game expecting a positive outcome. If you want to use something in the game then you must strive for perfection in this action during practice. You must expect and strive for perfection all the time.
I know you’re saying to yourself they are only 8 years old. Those young football players are very smart. Their brain is in high gear right now and can learn just about anything you teach, if done properly and with proper motivation. Don’t let your own age bias fool you. Those 8 year old’s are smarter than you think. Just look at some of the XBOX games they play.
As a head coach your must strive for perfection from all your players so they can reach their full potential. Your team is only as good as your weakest player. Good opposing coaches will find this weak player and exploit that weakness in big games. Make sure your practices include all your players in drills. So the team and you can reach full potential. If you focus on a few players and leave half the team out of practices then its really a losing season for everyone.
Football is a game of inches, find perfection in the details. Many rookie coaches do not practice Special Teams. Special Teams is one small detail that is a huge advantage to coaches striving for perfection. Ignore special teams and expect to lose.
Experience Playing Football
Many coaches ask me about being a youth football Head Coach and never playing football other than street ball when they were younger. Since I played for 10 years as a youth player and in HS, I am biased. I believe to be a really good youth football coach you must have on field experience playing football so you can relate to your players. Because I played for so long and many positions, I can demonstrate techniques and talk to players about what worked for me in the trenches. But, like I said I am biased.
I read a book about Vince Lombardi and I guess he never played basketball and took a HS Basketball team to State his first season coaching them. But, hey that’s Vince Lombardi.
I think if you are organized and passionate about coaching youth football and become a student of the game you can probably become a good youth football coach. But, just like anything, experience and time are the best teachers.
Choosing Your Staff
As the Head Coach you must choose your coaching staff and team parent. Some HC will have the luxury of knowing their assistant coaches before the season starts and others will choose coaches from the parent pool. Whatever you do choose WISELY.
I’ve had a few bad choices and it was not pretty. Choosing the right assistant coaches in the short amount of time usually required is really about luck. But try to minimize your luck by interviewing and not naming assistants for two weeks or so while you try them out during your practices. I went through this try out process last season and it worked out really well. I let the dads that wanted to be assistant coaches help me for three weeks and then added the few that I needed to the staff right before the first game. The other dads became sideline chain gang and practice helpers.
Make sure to choose a very social team mom / parent. They must know how to use email, text, Facebook and learn Shutterfly. They need to be your cheerleader and biggest fan. I usually pick a team mom that I know and that knows me very well. A good team mom can be your eyes and ears in the stands and let you know the pulse of the team. Do not choose your wife as your team mom / parent. This just upsets the other parents that think your not a team player by letting others participate, plus many parents will not speak to your wife if they have an issue.
Just as an FYI, you may need to remind your volunteer parents that their service does not have any effect on playtime for their child on the team. I have had issues in the past where a Team Parent’s child did not start and the volunteer parent’s attitude turned bad. It was a nightmare.
Remember at the end of the day, you are the Head Coach. Your decisions effect the entire team. If you are a weak leader then the team suffers. If one of your assistant coaches is not a good role model or a good fit for your staff then you must ask them to leave your staff. So once again, Choose Wisely!
First to Arrive Last to Leave
First to Arrive and Last to Leave is such a small thing to do as a head coach but means a great deal to your players and parents. Parents notice these small things and appreciate your dedication to their child and team. This simple philosophy is a huge start to a successful season if you execute this consistently.
I use “Lombardi Time” which means on time is 15 minutes early, so I usually arrive at practice about 30 minutes early and start setting up drill stations. Parents start to understand “Lombardi Time” and show up early which allows us to start right on time.
By using these two simple philosophies your parents will clearly see by your actions that you are a organized, prepared, and motivated head coach. You’ve just won half the battle with the parents, now just win a few on the grid iron.
Do you have what it takes to be a great head coach in youth football?
Update – New Video 7/24/16
KYA Football is a recreational youth football league in Keller, Texas, just 20 minutes North of downtown Ft Worth in the DFW Metroplex. We are just 20 minutes South of Denton, TX off I35. KYA Football has a Spring and Fall youth football tackle seasons for ages 5 to 13 up to 6th grade. KYA Football practices 2 days a week within the Keller ISD boundaries. KYA Football is part of KYA Sports.