Worst to First – Youth Football Coaching Reality Show- First Practice Results

Written by Dave on December 12th, 2014

This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. I took an 8th grade team that had won about 6 games in the last 6 years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area.

This post is about the first day of practice. Per the previous post, I got to practice early to meet and greet some of the players and parents.  As usual we started with a team meeting of players and parents to set expectations, help everyone understand what our mission was and share our basic approach. Since I had never coached or met any of the kids or parents, this was an important first step.

Every year I give the same speech. Word for word, that speech is in my free book on “How to Start a Youth Football Program Step-by-Step” found here: http://winningyouthfootball.com/startinganewyouthfootballprogram.php

This year’s talk was a little different, we had to talk about the reality TV show “Worst to First”, what that was about, why we were filming it and how the film crew would work around our practices and games. We had 20 of our 23 players in attendance.  After getting to know each other and sharing why youth football is important and what the kids could gain out of the experience, I talked about how to effectively do that. We discussed how we would work together, what would and wouldn’t work, what the boundaries were, what they could expect out of me and my coaching staff and what we expected from them in return. Since they didn’t know me, in order to gain some credibility I talked a little bit about the championships my teams had won in the past, my 161-21 record and what part I had played in over 600 worst to first teams all over the US.

We talked about being able to be successful in Reno, what success would look like and what the process would look like. Additional credibility was gained by sharing with them the National Championship teams I had worked with and cliniced as well as the 180 plus clinics I’ve put on worldwide. I stressed I wasn’t there to make life long friends with parents, but to help a group of kids have a once in a lifetime successful season that they could look back on with fondness and pride. For those that would go on to play Freshman football, they would be prepared and be excited to play again. Like they were when they were in the second or third grade, not as skeptical beaten down eighth graders.

This was officially their second day of practice, I was still back in Nebraska on day 1. This day would be much different than in days past. The goal was to set the bar, the hard core standard for what would be acceptable from an effort and precision standpoint. With such a beat down team, we also wanted to reignite a passion for playing, obviously we couldn’t afford to run anyone off. Right off the bat we had issues, there was zero sense of urgency or precision in even being able to line up for warm ups. We have a “no walk” policy, no walking is ever allowed on the practice field. I guess they thought I was kidding.

We also use what we call the “ready focus” tool for getting kids to pay attention and look into the eyes of any coach who is giving instruction in practice. Unfortunately we had quite a few kids have to run to the cone and back for walking or not paying attention. What is normally a 6-7 minute dynamic warm-up ended taking us over 20 minutes. Our players and coaches weren’t used to the level of precision required to play winning football. Everything they did was pretty sloppy and instead of coaches getting in there and coaching everything up, they were standing around, talking and tolerating it.

While I was trying to manage the entire process, some of the guys started catching on when they saw my precision and pace or after I jumped in and tripled or quadrupled the pace of whatever they were doing. The kids really struggled with NEVER walking, that means running the 2 steps when it’s your turn in a drill or running to the very end of the line after a drill, not halfway back.  Most of the coaches were open minded and trying, I could feel some resentment and pushback from others.  They obviously weren’t used to the consistent use of the players names and the constant positive as well as negative reinforcement that was given on everything the kids were doing.

As we moved into the evaluation drill stations some leaders started to emerge. Every coach was assigned to a group of players who were grouped into 4 groups of 5 players. I’m no fan of the traditional evals like 40’s or pushups etc. We do fun competitive game stuff that exposes players underlying “football skills.” We had demoed all of these earlier in the day at the coaches clinic and they all had cheat cards of the games on their clip boards. Most of the games went off pretty well as I jumped from group to group. Again, I had to remind the kids of the no walk, max effort, ready/focus approach we needed to follow.

As always the kids have a blast playing the games and those games revealed the underlying skills we were testing for. During the water breaks I used the time to let everyone know it was great to have fun, but we needed to be efficient with our time and we all needed to be focused. I also used that time to remind the kids and coaches how some of the games needed to be played, using our most attentive players for very quick examples. Practice was ended at the 2 hour mark with a rousing 15 minute game of Hawaiian Rules football. We were exposing athleticism, ball skills and body control while getting some excellent conditioning in.

After practice the coaches turned in their graded sheets. That night I spent over 3 hours compiling and comparing the different scores each coach gave. While most of the scores from the various coaches were close, almost every score for the coaches kids were inflated by 1-2 from ALL the coaches.  They were all sticking up for each others kids, while the scores for the other players were fairly accurate. Coach G- his numbers were very close to mine.

The rest of that time was spent mapping those scores into the position attributes we have for every position on offense and defense. While 3-4 kids were “tweeners” not fitting tightly into a single position or even position group, most of the kids positions were accurately determined that night after one non-padded practice.  Early on it’s not necessary to be perfect on positions. I might have Jay listed as a 6, PT/RE on offense and DE/DT on defense. His position is going to be better defined on day 2 when we do another set of evals and we move into individual drills in position groups.

What did we have for kids? That will be in the next post.

Worst to First Coaching Youth Football- The First Practice

Written by Dave on December 9th, 2014

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This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” experience in Reno, Nevada this year. I took an 8th grade team that had won about 6 games in the last 6 years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. The first day of any youth football coaches season is a bit like Christmas Day. You wake up with great anticipation to see what type of presents you will get. You hope that whatever you had on your wish list is waiting for you under the tree. For those of us coaching youth football, that first day of practice we hope “Santa” has given us some reasonably talented players and enough of them to be able to compete. For me this was a nearly blind experience, filled with some trepidation. I had never met any of these players or even seen them on film.

The day started out with a 6:00 am CST flight to Denver out of Omaha. For me that meant a 90 minute drive and 3:00 am wake up call. The entire flight I was reviewing and amending my attack plan for the day. After changing planes in Denver and arriving in Reno a little after 9:00 am PST, I met Coach G at the airport. Quickly we got to the hotel, got settled, got a late breakfast and laid out the plan for the day. Coach G and I are in the picture here at the hotel, you can see the Sierra Mountain foothills in the background. This is right outside my front door a place I would call home for the next 16 weeks.  Coach G is a very smart businessman with excellent insights on team dynamics and people in general.

At 1:00 we had a coaches clinic at the hotel with all the coaching staff. Instead of focusing on all the X’s and O’s I focused on the building blocks: where we would invest our practice time (Priorities), the methodology of teaching and reaching kids (Progressions), the standards of excellence required in everything we do (Precision) and the importance of maximizing the number of quality repetitions we would do in indys, group and team (Pace).

The next step focused on how important doing fair and accurate player evaluations were to the success of the team. This included all of the base drills and games we would use to accurately flesh out the baseline skills needed for every position. Then we discussed what exactly we were looking for in every position on both offense and defense.

As we talked about positions several of the dad coaches started jockeying for positions for their sons. It wasn’t grotesquely overt, but it was readily evident. I made it very clear that the best players for each position who made all the practices would start, it wouldn’t be fair to the other kids if we did it any other way.  Kids know when some player are being given special treatment and it’s a team killer. We were there to put the best possible team on the field and help develop young men, there isn’t any room for favoritism. We talked about how each player would be graded and how there would be no patience for daddy ball favoritism.

As I showed film and demoed the evaluation drills, I was feeling out the skill levels of each coach. Each coach was given an evaluation drill to do, I gave the easy ones to the weaker coaches and the harder ones to the guys who seemed to be “getting it.” Each coach was given a clip board with that days practice plan and “cheat cards” of the drills they would be responsible for that day. The cheat cards are laminated 3×5” cards with a picture or diagram of the drill or play on the front and a written description of how to do it step by step on the back.

Next we talked about the talk we would have with the team and parents prior to practice. I said word for word what I planned on saying to the kids and parents, sharing our mission, our goals, how we were going to get there, expectations we needed met and what they could expect from me and our coaching staff. That included a 1 minute bio on who I was, since none of them had ever met me and most had no idea who I was. It’s hard to trust someone until you know a little bit about them.

We talked about how to work with each other as a team. I let them know that sometimes their feelings might get hurt a bit, that I would lead by example. That would mean me jumping into their drills and coaching all position players when needed. They needed to understand that the only thing that mattered was the team, not protecting the egos of any of our coaches.  The scheme, player placements, playing time and approach weren’t up for debate. If we disagreed about something important, it had to be behind closed doors, not in front of the players or parents. My word would be final, but coaches could input if they felt their thoughts were significant. All I asked is that it be very quick, factual, accurate and to the point.

Lastly we talked about how IMPORTANT it was to set the tone early on. We wouldn’t accept anything less than exceptional effort and attention to detail. While making mistakes is expected, there would be no compromise on paying attention and effort. There isn’t any athleticism required to pay close attention to what the coaches are saying, staying focused and giving your absolute all during every second of every rep. Once the Genie is out of the bottle and focused effort isn’t the standard, it’s impossible to put Genie back in the bottle.

While explaining it is one thing, actually doing it is another. Most failing youth football teams THINK they are working hard, practicing fast and being precise. In reality they aren’t even scratching the surface, they don’t know what is really possible with a team, when the kids are coached well.

We worked right up to practice time and had some food brought in late. As we got to the practice field, I was very happy to see we had the equivalent of 4 football fields of room to practice on. One practice field was marked, the others were open. The fields were adjacent to the High School stadium which we had total access to and we used it to practice our kicking game.

As players and parents started to arrive I introduced myself to each with a big smile, repeating the player and parents names several times in conversation trying to commit them to memory. I took that time to lay out all the cones our ONE football and the dummys in the right spots for the various drills for the day. I assigned a coach to each area and made sure they understood their drills for the day.

The next post will detail day 1 of practice and the talk we had with the parents and players. I didn’t mince any words, everyone would either be on board with the mission or not and could move on. It would be an interesting day to say the least.

Getting Ready for Your Youth Football Season in TWO WEEKS

Written by Dave on December 1st, 2014

This is the third post in my ongoing narrative of how I turned around the worst youth football team in the US that I could find. This is an 8th grade team in Reno, Nevada that had won about 6 games in 6 years.  Reno is about 1400 miles from my home in Lincoln, Nebraska and I commuted weekly.  We played in the largest and most competitive league in Reno and Northern Nevada. These posts should help many of you out there who are coaching struggling teams.

 

This post is what I did in the 2 week lead time I had from the point we decided to take this gig to when I was able to arrive in Reno. As I stated from the previous post, I started evaluating the coaching staff right away during our face to face meeting and follow up correspondence. As to the team, we were getting 5 kids who were new to this team, that left 18 returning players. I asked for and got a roster with player weights and approximate height. That was sent to the coaches and they were asked to independently tell me what position the player played the previous year and to rank him against his peers playing that same position on the teams they played against last year. A rating of 8 meant that player was in the 80th percentile for that position, he would have been better than 8 of 10 kids in the league starting at that position. Each player was rated on both offense and defense and I ranked the kids by the aggregate.

 

Of course I used this as just a starting point. During our evaluation process, all of our eval drills and games map into identifying underlying macro skills of athleticism/explosiveness, body control, football speed, strength/power, heart and ball skills. Being dependent on past evaluation results with a coaching staff that hadn’t had a lot of success, wouldn’t have been prudent. The slate would be 100% clean.

 

The next step was understanding the quality and style of play for the league and the best teams in it. Unfortunately, this team didn’t film their games, so one avenue wasn’t open. However, every week one of the games from this league is televised on a local channel. Recordings of these games were available for purchase and fortunately 2 of the games, with 4 of the best teams playing in the league were available for purchase. These were 7th grade teams who would now move up to play in this year’s 8th grade division. According to our coaching staff, these same kids with the same numbers had starred for these teams for years. The only difference is the better teams would have a sprinkling of very talented newcomers to fill in any weak spots. This handful of players came from defectors from losing teams or very athletic kids new to the area who somehow found an opening in these “full” teams.  See my previous posts on how new players were assigned to our team, we got out of district kids who weighed 66 an 81 lbs.  I will save my film observations for my next post.  We would need to make a few slight adjustments to scheme based on this film.

 

The next step was preparing the topics for a coaching clinic for the existing staff. The clinic would be on the day my flight arrived. The teams second practice, my first would be that same evening. The clinic was not heavy scheme based, it was more about HOW and WHAT to teach. It focused on the methodology of teaching, how we taught, progressions, precision and pace. The clinic talked about priorities, how we would work together and a coaching staff and covered our critical success factors and how we would attack coaching them. It was all about doing the ordinary extraordinarily well and doing it efficiently. The coaches were shown how we would do evals and the drills each would be coaching along with how each drill was graded and how it mapped back to determining what positions each player would play.

 

Then I went to prepping and packing. I got cheat card decks packed for every coach- this year would be the year of the cheat- card. As head coach you can only do so much hands on, coaching the coaches, coaching them up and holding them accountable is a must do. The cheat cards are a life saver, if a coach can’t coach a drill effectively that has a picture on front, the details on the back and you demo them all before practice or during breaks, Houston the guy can’t coach.

 

Then I went to practice planning which was easy. The practice plans I followed were almost verbatim from the “Winning Youth Football” book. I did spend 2 days doing evals instead of just 1 because in this league you have 5 weeks of practice before the first official league game. I also wanted to do most of the evals with my own eyes as well as eval my coaching staff along the way. Note that in following posts I had to make a number of adjustments in the way we practice due to the given equation.

 

Then it came down to the packing. This meant a computer, a file box of written materials, stacks of cheat cards and DVDs, my coaching gear, some clothes, my projector and some family pictures. It turned out to be a longer engagement than planned. One game was postponed due to California wildfires, which moved the season back a week, then making it to the semi-finals made the season go to the week before Thanksgiving.

 

The next post will talk about day 1, arriving in Reno, the coaches clinic, parent meeting and the first day of practice. Hopefully many of you coaching youth football will find a number of things from this that you can apply to your teams upcoming season.

“Worst to First” Television Show The Pre-Season Meeting

Written by Dave on November 27th, 2014

The Pre-Season Meeting

After sorting through the various coaching opportunities we had for the inaugural season of the “Worst to First” show, I narrowed it down to three teams. I was most interested in Reno for several reasons, reason number one, I TRUSTED the guy driving for me to coach his team. Mr G was an extremely successful businessman who had come from nothing. He was very intelligent, open, passionate about competitive team sports, was honest to a fault and he ALWAYS did what he said he would do. The tiniest of details he said were true, were true. The smallest of tasks he said he would do, he did. Unfortunately, those traits are uncommon in todays world.

To finalize the decision on taking the team on, as in any case it has to be a win-win for both parties. Understanding each other’s needs and setting expectations and clear cut boundaries, then seeing if the situation is still acceptable for both parties had to be done face to face. What we talked about was just what all coaches need to talk about prior to every season.

We started with a meeting agenda that was sent 1 week prior to the meeting and a list of questions I needed answered as well as some questions I wanted them to ask me.

This included:

Organizational Structure breakdown

Mission Statement of team

Coaching Philosophy

Coaching commitment- time, consistency

Coaching strengths- weaknesses

League breakdown

Parent breakdown

Reasons for failure

Strengths

Weaknesses

Facilities

Equipment

Defining success- My definition

Barriers to success, the coaches opinion

The meeting started off a bit clunky, with all of us trying to get to know each other. While I wanted to be polite, it was important to flesh out all the hard core real life details without any posturing or embellishment. I laid out what the team, players and coaches would gain from the experience and what I would gain.  The kids would benefit from my coaching ability, helping them develop a love for the game so they would continue to play. A successful team, usually has much higher retention than consistently losing teams which in turn usually yields much higher retention rates. The kids that went on to play High School football would motivated and be ready to play Freshman football, much better prepared than had I not coached them.

The most important thing in my eyes was to give these kids a winning season, a chance to compete and for them to see that hard work, commitment and following directions can lead to success both on and off the field. They needed to understand that they weren’t losers, that they could come together in a powerful way and be successful as a team and individually as well. While it wouldn’t be all fun and games, we would have some fun along the way along with the “fun” it would be to see your efforts turn into team and personal success on the field.  I would gain a pilot episode for a reality television show called “Worst to First” which would show coaches, parents and players how quality coaching can help a downtrodden youth football team come together and be winners.

While the meeting was going on, I was assessing the entire time. How smart are these guys? How honest and honorable are they? How much football do they know? How much football do they think they know? How open were they to change? Were they serious about wanting to win? I asked them all to tell me a little about themselves what they did for a living, what positions they coached and what they could bring to the table.

It was important to lay all the cards out on the table. Every team or coach can have a “perfect storm” season, but consistent losing is a coaching issue, I shared that. I let the coaches know my way of doing things is much different than how most guys coach and definitely much different than how they coach. The scheme, approach and decision making wouldn’t be up for debate. If I didn’t have total control over every aspect of the team, it just wouldn’t be a good fit. It was important to let the guys know if we couldn’t come together, it was no big deal.  I wasn’t there to convince them to let me coach their team. If we didn’t come to an agreement, it didn’t mean that either party were wrong or “bad” people.

The back and forth included the coaches laying out several scenarios where the team continued to lose and I walked out on the process and the team. I let them know I felt the team would improve significantly, we would be a lot more competitive, we would win a lot more games, score a lot more points and the kids would come together in a very obvious and powerful way. It was obvious they didn’t feel this team could consistently win. I shared with them how I had helped other consistently losing programs and teams turn around and where MANY of the typical problems were at. We also talked about some of the approach I would use to assess where we were at and how we would move forward. I also shared where I thought we would have the most problems with the process and working with me and each other.

In turn I laid out several scenarios as well, including coaches kids changing positions, no longer starting or even being demoted to minimum play players. I shared the following my:

Mission Statement

Football Philosophy

Coaching Philosophy

Team Goals

Team Management

Roster Management

Parent Management

Staff Breakdown

Assistant Coach Responsibilities

Typical Practice

Priorities

Progressions

Pace

Game Management

Minimum Play Requirement Player Philosophy

My Personal Strengths and Weaknesses

Offense/Defense/Special Teams Framework

After about an hour of back and forth we more or less agreed to move forward with the process. I told the group that the decision was final on my end, I had discussed it in depth with my wife and family. I fully trusted Mr G and the coaching staff understood what the terms and conditions were and seemed willing to accept me leading the team on my terms. There was a good bit of humility from most of the coaches mixed in with some excuse making as well.  I found out later that some of the excuses were legit, many weren’t, but I could tell they legitimately cared about the kids and they wanted the players to experience a winning season that last year together. Yes there was plenty of skepticism on their end, but they were willing to take a chance on doing something entirely different this last season together. I told them to sleep on it and then the next day get together as a group and either confirm their yes or change their minds to a no.

Logistically, the conditions were very good. Reno is a beautiful area nestled in the Sierra Mountains adjacent to Lake Tahoe. They set me up with a personal trainer and gym, a nice hotel in a good area with beautiful view of the mountains and with an excellent restaurant attached. Reno has amazing hiking trails all around and is a couple of hours away from Yosemite and the Bay Area. After the first 3 weeks, I was able to fly home for 2 days to spend time with my family. After that I was able to go home for 2 days every week, leaving on Sunday morning and then returning every Tuesday for that nights practice.

The next post on my journey is how we spent the next 2 weeks preparing in warp speed how to attack this huge opportunity of turning around this youth football team. This was a team that most kids in Reno had avoided like the plague, the league dormat. Think of how you can apply this to your coaching situation. When it comes to your personal situation of volunteering to coach and deciding where you want to coach, you have to be honest with yourself and others. Does this situation a good fit for all parties? Can I live with the constraints? What are your “deal breakers”? Are you willing to walk away if the situation isn’t a win-win? Coaching youth football well, starts well before you ever step on the field to coach anyone.

“Worst to First” my Amazing 2014 Season

Written by Dave on November 25th, 2014

I’ve gotten hundreds of phone calls and e-mails asking me what happened to me this season. I’ve not made any posts to my blog and there have been no monthly newsletters coming out. The answer is I was shooting a television pilot called “Worst to First.” It’s a show about how to take a failing youth football team and turn them into winners.

We chose an 8th grade team in Reno, Nevada for the show. A little background will help frame where we are coming from on the show. We had a number of options for the show, but we chose a team in Reno that had everything going against it. This team had been together since the kids were in the second grade, they had won about 6 games over the last 6 years. They played in the largest and most competitive youth football league in the Reno/Sparks area of Northern Nevada, a metro of about 450,000 people.

The Sierra Youth Football league consists of about 82 teams, in single grade classifications. The Sparks 8th grade team, which I head coached, was the ONLY team from the Sparks organization. All of the other programs had multiple teams, a team in each age group. The Sparks team had just one team, mine. All the other Sparks teams had folded over the years due to lack of success and lack of interest. Sparks High School is where we practiced and where most of our kids went to school. The High School varsity won a single game this year, their last game, breaking a 30 game losing streak. They were outscored 330—80 for the year and were outscored 411-59 in 2013.. The Sparks JV didn’t win a game this year and were outscored 298-35.

The Sparks area is low income and has a very high concentration of Latino- Americans. Soccer is the sport of choice and Sparks High School has a very successful soccer program. The Reno- Sparks area is big on football, with both Reed High School and McQueen High being nationally ranked in the USA Today Top 20 several times over the years.

The youth leagues in the area are the unlimited weight SYFL, with 82 teams. The organizations in the league are attached to the local High Schools and the attendance boundaries for the High Schools are the same for the youth league. All of the top High Schools have SYFL teams only.  Pop Warner is much smaller and much less competitive league made up in many cases of programs that had little success in the SYFL. This isn’t a criticism of Pop Warner, there is need and value in all football leagues. Pop Warner is the tops in many areas of the country, but it isn’t in Northern Nevada.

Back to our team. They were a group of kids who had stuck together for the most part, despite the consistent losses and blow outs. All but one of the coaches had been on board for 3+ years, 2 had been with this team for all 6 seasons. As is the case with many perennial losing teams, this team lost players. Every year their best players were illegally recruited by other teams and jumped ship. Our best Running Back from the previous year, ended up switching to the eventual league champion. The fastest kid on the team from the previous year, didn’t come out. Of the 5 new players that were assigned to our team, one weighed just 66 lbs at weigh-ins. I will show you all a picture of him in future posts. He was a first year player that wasn’t in our attendance district, but the other teams were “full” and he was assigned to us. Same for an 81 lb first year player who was in the attendance district of the undefeated regular season champion. We had the same or fewer number of players than most teams in the league, we started with 23 kids. We played teams that had between 22-32 kids.

I chose to take this team about 2 weeks before the season started, meeting the coaching staff in person for a quick 60 minute question and answer session in mid-July. I arrived on Tuesday, July 29th, the second day of practice and got the ball rolling. My following posts are going to detail, how I was able to take this team who scored just 63 points the previous year (minus one game) to a team that scored over 400 points, made a first ever playoff appearance, went to the semi-finals, put a scare in all the league bullies and won 9 games overall. There were games where we had over 72 point turnarounds from the previous years games, games where we were mercy-ruled the previous year, where we won by mercy-rule.

The net is, turnarounds can be engineered almost anywhere. We did it using the Winning Youth Football system by the book. This wasn’t a group of poorly coached 9 year olds who had one bad season under their belts. It was a group of 8th graders who had experienced 6 seasons of beatdowns. I knew no one in the area. I didn’t recruit a single player or even speak to any players until the season was already under way. I had no experienced coaches or “ringers” helping me, all were dads, all but one had been with the program for a number of years. The organization was in shambles, no feeder program at all, this team was an orphan child.  Football wasn’t popular in this area, soccer is king, we had pretty much every strike against us. Add in the downward spiral of the better athletes kids quitting and even worse, going to play for the competition and the equation looks pretty dismal.

Hopefully as I share how we turned this program on its head coaches can pick up a few things that can help their team have some of the same results.

Outsmarting Yourself In Youth Football

Written by Dave on September 16th, 2014

Outsmarting Yourself in Youth Football

Every week in youth football we see coaches outsmarting themselves by giving too much credit to their coaching adversaries. One of the most common ways coaches outsmart themselves is going to a “flavor of the week” approach to offensive and defensive schemes. These guys will literally change offenses or defenses every week in an attempt to “give the other team a different look.”

Last week I got a call from a very frustrated youth coach. This coach had won a Pop Warner National Championship using my Winning Youth Football System. He wasn’t coaching this year but went back to watch his former team play. Two weeks previous that team had scrimmaged a team in a jamboree. They were now playing that same team in a real game. During the interim week, the team they were now playing had been to their week 1 game and had scouted them extensively.

So our friends team went from running a very successful Single Wing offense, to installing the Pistol Offense in one weeks time. Needless to say, they failed to score in with their flavor of the week offense in the first half and fell behind by 4 touchdowns. In the second half they went back to their Single Wing and made the game close, however it was too little too late.

Instead of trying to outsmart the opposition and put in something different, perfect what you do now. There is no way you are going to be good at something completely different with just a weeks worth of practice. In addition to that, the kids are going to lose faith in themselves. What you are telling them is, hey I don’t thing our regular stuff and fundamental skills are going to be enough to compete. You are saying, I’m desperate, I don’t believe in you or what we do.

The youth football x and o “geniuses” who think they are going to outscheme teams every week by changing schemes, are rarely successful. In most cases they are league bottom dwellers. In the above example, the coach went from Single Wing to Pistol in week 2. Lets assume his next weeks opponent was scouting the week 2 game. What does he do in week 3, change to the Flexbone? Week 4 is what Spread? What in week 5 and 6?

In the better youth football leagues EVERYONE scouts, everyone films, get used to it. Think about my situation, nearly everyone we play scouts, films AND has my books and DVDs. In fact some of the coaches I’ve faced actually have attended my clinics. It hasn’t mattered, look here my record is 161-21 and our scoring average is very consistent at 35+ points per game in a huge league. http://winningyouthfootball.com/resources.php

The net is, play great fundamental football. Get great at what you do, have adjustments and key breakers and worry about YOUR team, not the opposition.

Youth Football Practice Plans and the Value in Being Flexible

Written by Dave on July 7th, 2014

Being flexible and having a plan when you are coaching youth football seem a bit incompatible. Good youth coaches have written down plans to add rigor and to methodically develop  teams based on a schedule for that day. That schedule should have blocks of time allotted and accounted for in 10 minute increments for individual positions, small groups and team. Every drill and concept covered in that segment needs to be written down and shared with the coaching staff prior to practice. The Winning Youth Football book: http://winningyouthfootball.com/youthfootballcoachingbook.php has daily minute by minute practice plans in it for a 14 week season. Your schedule is there for a reason, to make sure your teams develop the skills necessary to effectively compete, but sometimes it does make sense to modify the schedule a bit during practice.

When should you come off your schedule? This may sound a bit counterintuitive, but if you are really struggling in say a 10 minute skill development segment, where your kids are having a very tough time of it. Sometimes those segments are like lasagna, they are much better the next day. If the kids are getting overly frustrated with a segment or drill, if you just keep going with it, often times that frustration just gets worse. Most guys want to take that 10 minute segment and make it a 20 minute segment. The problem is kids get overly frustrated with something they may even develop a long term mental block, that they CAN’T do something. You don’t want that, so move on to something else, even though you may be feeling like you left your shoes untied. You can come back to it later maybe repackaged as a slightly different drill.

There are other times where it may make sense to cut a practice segment off early. If the kids are doing a great job at something and you are confident in the level of skill they have developed for the depth you are at in the season- move onto something else. If you’ve just got that PERFECT rep with everyone and it would be nearly impossible to improve upon it, end on that high note. Leave the kids with that positive picture in their memory banks for that drill. Always try to end on a positive, that means a 10 minute segment may be 6 minutes or 12 minutes. The segment time is a guideline, you adapt a bit as the practice plays itself out. Charlie Francis, the innovative and infamous Olympic track coach is a huge advocate for using this approach.

So what do you do with the extra time if you cut a segment short? Always have a drill or activity written down or ready in the back of your mind. If things are going really well, then reward the kids with something they enjoy doing. If that’s a specific drill then go for it, every group of kids has a drill they love doing, their faces light up whenever they hear you are going to do it.  Another thing I like to do is to play one of the Winning Youth Football games that is specific for their position group. Whatever it is you decide on doing, let the kids know that you are doing this because they did something extremely well, so they know that they will be rewarded for doing so in the future.

So have a schedule, but be smart about being flexible. Don’t get into the trap where every 10 minute segment is now 15 minutes though. Keep to the practice methodology in the Winning Youth Football book- show don’t tell, use building block progressions, use the one word coaching points and have a sense of urgency when it comes to time.  But also be smart about your use of time, go shorter in segments when the kids are getting it and always try to end on a high note.

Copyright 2014 Cisar Management, all rights reserved. This article may be republished but only if this paragraph and link are included. http://winningyouthfootball.com

Coaching Youth Football Players to Play as a Team- Handle Adversity

Written by Dave on June 26th, 2014

One of the things many youth football coaches fail to coach their teams to do is play as a team and how to overcome adversity. Most of us are so busy trying to develop fundamental skills and executing our base schemes to invest any time in making sure the team plays together and can come back from mistakes.

We see these problems in youth football, but it isn’t limited to our sport. Just this week I was at a youth baseball game where I saw a team implode. The team was in the field and playing well. They were much better than their opponent at the basics; throwing, fielding and hitting. There was a pretty wide difference in athleticism, talent and basic skills between the two teams. The team in the field had done really well in the early innings, even batting around their order one inning, they had a big lead.

However when they took the field for the third inning, something changed the whole tenor of the game. The pitcher got four ground balls hit to him, one was a rifle shot, two were hit hard and one was a dribbler. He cleanly fielded all four and threw perfect laser throws to first base. The first baseman fielded two and dropped two. The pitcher got a little frustrated and on the drops he told the first baseman to use both hands and demonstrated how the move should look with his hands and glove. It wasn’t done in a very malicious or sarcastic way, but it was clear he was frustrated and decided to coach the player up himself.

The first baseman was a bit embarrassed and sulked back to his position. The rest of the team imploded that inning, all with 2 outs. They must have had 5-6 errors including an easy out hit right to the pitcher. There was no unity of purpose or support for the team in the field while the other team gained some confidence from seeing their opponent turn on itself. The end result was that a much inferior team beat a better team.  It happens in youth football all the time.

How do you make sure this doesn’t happen to you when you are coaching youth football? You have to lead by example and set boundaries for your kids so they understand what is acceptable and what isn’t. Some things we are fine with is a player helping another player out when it comes to alignment. If a player is out of alignment, let the kids know it is ok to help their teammates get into the correct alignment.

Ask that the help be given in a positive, discreet and not demeaning way. Make sure your players know that the help is to be given verbally (nothing physical) and always positive. Don’t let players coach up technique and no one coaches anyone up unless they have a mastery of the subject matter and the other player is in desperate need of help. If a player is unclear on his assignment and asks for help, some players in leadership roles who have mastery of the subject matter can provide that help on the field.

What you don’t want to do Is have kids coach other kids up on technique. That’s the coaches job, you don’t need 6 Chiefs trying to tell 5 Indians how to do things all game long.

So be positive in your own approach and set boundaries for your players. When you see one of your players browbeating or being negative with another player, make sure you nip it in the bud. There’s a zero tolerance policy on players trying to embarrass a player who has made a mistake. Coach your kids up to encourage the player to shake it off and move on to the next play. Help them understand what they can and cannot do to help a teammate and how they should react when a teammate makes a mistake. An effective way is to paint a picture- a scenario and ask them how THEY would feel if someone acted inappropriately towards them.

This competitive youth football thing is new to most of your players and they don’t have a clue what is acceptable and what isn’t. As coach, it’s your job to help them figure that out. Winning championships isn’t all about xs and os or fundamentals. Great teams play together and handle adversity well.  Get the kids to play together and support each other is a powerful weapon in making sure you have a great season.

Why You Need a Trap Play in Youth Football

Written by Dave on June 3rd, 2014

Why You Need a Trap Play When Coaching Youth Football

A lot of youth football coaches don’t have a trap play in their playbook. It is a play that has fallen out of favor for a variety of reasons. Lots of guys watch College or NFL games on TV and get enamored with the latest fad. You don’t see a lot of teams on TV running trap anymore. But you will find some of the very best youth teams running trap. Every year when I go to the big tournaments including the Pop Warner and AYF National Championships, I see the top youth teams running successful trap plays.

What is a trap play? Most of you know this, but for this discussion a trap play is a football play where an interior defense lineman is purposely allowed to penetrate and be blocked by a pulling lineman from the other side of the formation. The lineman allowing the interior defensive lineman to penetrate are usually going to the second level to block linebackers. The Running Back or Quarterback then runs to the inside of the pulling players trap block.

When run well, the interior defensive player will penetrate quickly and be hit from the side by the pulling linemen. This allows the blocker to block from the side with momentum, while not having to take the defender on face to face. Often times the block will catch the defender off-guard, especially if the offensive play has backfield action to the perimeter of the side the defender is on. We run trap off of split flow/belly, power, sweep, jet, spinner and half spin backfield action.  Heck even a simple wing counter can easily be blocked using a trap approach.

Why am I a HUGE fan of the trap play? Because it puts defenders in conflict. You try and block those defenders forward on nearly every play, sometimes even with double teams. So the defender will often times get into a mindset of putting his foot back and putting everything he has into getting into the backfield as quickly as he possibly can. When you let that defender through and trap him, it will often times slow him down. He will play more hesitantly, making him much easier to power, wedge or iso block.

Note that trap plays WON’T work well against passive teams, so don’t fret if you run a trap play and it doesn’t work against a weaker team. However I’ve always found trap works extremely well against aggressive teams. When you are coaching youth football, you have to know the difference.

Add in a trap play to every series you run to keep the defense honest and so they can’t tee off on your team. When your trap play initially looks just like other plays in the series where you are base, power, wedge or iso blocking, it can be a killer play in youth football.

Roster Number Issues for Struggling Youth Football Teams

Written by Dave on May 9th, 2014

Many struggling youth football programs have a tough time with roster sizes. Last week I got a call from the President of a youth football program that was agonizing over this very issue.

The program him and his buddies were trying to turn around had done a flyer handout at the local school. In the flyer they shared their new vision for the struggling program, shared some about their approach and talked at length about being “under new management.” They got 30 responses back from parents that said they wanted to play on this age 8-9 team.

What the President of this Org was having a tough time with was should he try and form an additional team at that age group or not. The first thing I asked him about was how many youth football coaches did he have and how many of them were competent coaches. He had just 6 coaches, all with a positive attitude, all had played High School football. some with management backgrounds, but few if any had been coaching youth football.

Based on that answer alone, I counseled the President to only field a single team at that age group. You can only expand your reach based on your coaching ability. With 6 inexperienced guys, it’s the blind leading the blind.  The key is to build a quality coaching staff and then let the PROVEN best, teach and mentor the others which include the new coaches you add in subsequent years.

As it turned out, he also didn’t have a single payment in on the 30 that had “committed” to play. In youth football commitments don’t mean anything until payment is in. Parents are fickle and interest in playing youth football can turn on a dime.

If I was in a situation like that, I would have communicated to the parents of those who were interested that there would be a signup that started immediately. If the cost of playing is say $200, tell the parents that the first 25 players who have paid $195 in the next 10 days were guaranteed a spot on the team. This would be a first come, first served event with the time stamped on the check or credit card receipt of each payment received. At the end of 10 days if there were still spots open, the price for playing would be $235.

The reason you want to be at 25 players instead of 30 is with 25 all the kids get coached up hard and they can all develop and get reasonable amounts of playing time. By using this approach, you see who is really committed and who isn’t. It also gives parents an incentive to pay early, which helps you with your equipment purchasing process. Going this route also gives parents who didn’t get under the 25 player wire to be able to sign up for a different team. This President was from an area where the kids could play for other teams, there were choices. No players were going to be shut out from playing the game.

Another very important dynamic is in play here, the appearance of scarcity. If this program had to go out and personally recruit aka beg individual players to come play for their team, the balance of power is 100% in the parents hands. If a parent feels like they are being “recruited” because their son has some type of special athletic ability, that can cause a lot of problems. Often times that sets an expectation of a position played or even playing time. That’s why I don’t personally selectively recruit kids to play, my mantra is we are going to be successful no matter who signs up to play for us. Everyone who has a pulse  is welcome, as long as you buy into our approach and can live up to the code of conduct.

Back to our friends, dilemma, let’s say now you are aggressively recruit and get to say 35 kids on 2 teams of 17 and 18 kids with 3 inexperienced coaches each. That would most likely melt into a situation where you had 2 struggling teams. Then let’s say you had an injury and another player who was being held out due to grades. When you are down to 15 kids, kids and parents know you are probably going to have to play their kids a bunch regardless of whether or not that player is attending practice or efforting.  Now you are in a situation where you are being held hostage by the parents, they hold all the cards. Your only choices are to fold the team, play the kids who don’t show up or fall on your sword by playing only the remnant who shows and efforts and hope that you have 11 to finish the year out. In any event the final result will be what the previous guys had, lots of problems, lots of drama, lots of losses and poor retention numbers. Don’t get me wrong, at the youngest age groups with the right coaching staffs teams with small roster sizes with the right support and in the right Organizations can be successful, but that isn’t the case with this struggling program.

Struggling youth football programs are very fragile, anytime anything goes wrong, it’s expected, it’s part of the “culture.” To turn things around, you need success and success won’t come by reaching for a bridge too far. Build excellence from a committed core and then build from that. This approach works, I’ve used it myself to turn around two programs and helped hundreds of others to do the same.

For more tips on how to effectively build and manage a youth football program, download my free 170 page book on how to build and manage a program from scratch:

 http://winningyouthfootball.com/startinganewyouthfootballprogram.php