Friday Night Tykes Season 2 Episode 2

Written by Dave on January 31st, 2015

FNT show picdaibo
















We continue to comment on the Friday Night Tykes show. If you aren’t familiar with it, it is a reality style show that focuses on the TYFA youth football league in Texas. It isn’t a youth football coaching show, it’s about the drama of youth sports. TYFA is a huge league that bills itself as the biggest and most competitive league in the state, with about 15,000 players. Last year I appeared on the shows wrap up along with Mike Martz.

This week’s drama started with a protest over a chain measurement during the Colts- Steelers game. On a fourth down measurement, it was thought a Colts coach had touched the chains in a manner which made the Steelers come up short. The protest was eventually denied when all the facts came in.

In youth football,  protests rarely If ever end up being upheld, once a game is done it’s done unless there is some type of eligibility issue that can be documented. The Steeler coaches and parents didn’t help their case by going Jerry Springer on the referees and Colts coaches. The net result, the Steelers looked like poor sports and their coaches were suspended for the season. No matter the perceived issue, you never help your team or are the role model kids want to emulate by losing your cool with the referees or opposing coaches.

The Lobos are a new team the show is covering and there is a lot of trouble brewing on this team. In the practice leading up to the Colts game, it appeared they were changing a large part of their offense. The kids looked confused in practice and they were more confused during the game. They aligned in a double tight T formation and couldn’t even execute a base handoff. I see lots of standing around at their practices.

Their offense was all over the place and the Offensive Coordinator, who is from Lincoln, Nebraska looks to be favoring his son Justice. The show features this family and son and they all seem to have a very high opinion of his abilities. I didn’t hear much about the team when they talked, it was all about their son.   Justice is pretty athletic, not dominant and small. The Offensive Coordinator and Head Coach aren’t seeing eye to eye on Justice’s playing time. The OC keeps slipping his son in at Quarterback and when his boy is in at Running Back, he’s getting the ball.

I just don’t know about this OC, when he was demonstrating a tackling technique, he showed it with his head down. I saw little sound fundamental coaching in the clips they showed of the Lobos and the pace was very slow. They just didn’t seem like they even knew their own system. This team has TEN coaches on its coaching staff and according to the Head Coach, they all have a say in things. At halftime of the game, the Head Coach didn’t even know what the score was. My prediction is this team will blow up, disintegrate and not do very well. A head coach who isn’t in charge and can’t manage playing time or starting lineups, isn’t much of a leader.  It’s a shame because I see some talent on this team.

The Colts end up blowing out the Lobos. Marecus, the Colt’s head coach is letting some of the off the field issues affect him. I don’t think he has the team he had last year and Tavion hasn’t gotten any bigger, so he won’t be able to carry the team. Last year Marecus was restricted from coaching in the spring due to his language in front of the players, he continues to struggle with that, as do several of his assistants. That has no place when you are coaching youth football. If you can’t consistently be disciplined about what comes out of your mouth, how can you expect your players to be disciplined?

The Spartans are another featured team that I predict is going to struggle. Their head coach and a number of the assistants are in the military and they are conducting practices like they are preparing kids for a PT test, not a football game. I see lots of time wasted on jumping jacks, pushups, sit ups, burpees and set aside running. I get it, that’s what they know, but that isn’t going to win them championships. They don’t have enough talent to overcome the poor coaching.

The Outlaws, the leagues bully continues to dominate. They blow out what was supposed to be a good Austin Ducks team that featured a very good running back “McCutcheon.” The Duck coach proclaimed him to be the best in the league. I haven’t seen the entire league play, but he wasn’t in the same solar system as Outlaw Quarterback “Daibo” who is easily 6” taller than McCutcheon. Daibo is also about 35 lbs heavier, faster, more physical and has much better body control. The Outlaws also had a more athletic, more physical and more fundamentally sound team.

The Outlaw offense does appear to be a bit one dimensional now. Daibo had a part in all 5 touchdowns they showed on the show. Some very good blocking up front, but on his scores he is breaking 3-4 tackles against kids that all look 9-12 inches shorter than him and 30-50 lbs less than him. He stands nose to nose with all the coaches and is in the above picture.  No wonder Coach Fred drives across town to bring him to practice every day.  I like how the Outlaws rep their base power play live in skeletons and this team plays with a lot of confidence.

While many of the Outlaw staff probably have good intentions, their language and posturing show them off in a very bad light. Their fans aren’t any better, they grandstand and harass their opponents. Yes the Outlaws have a very talented team, they play hard and are physical, but is all the posturing and bravado necessary? You’re the bully, everyone gets that, just play football and let your play do the talking. The rest just makes you look bad. The Outlaw kids and Ducks were great at the end of the game, showing great sportsmanship, it would be great to see the same from their coaching staff and fans.

Can you learn from the show? Absolutely, copy the good and refrain copying the bad examples, just like anything else. For past episode recaps go here:

Game One The Youth Football Coaching Verdict

Written by Dave on January 30th, 2015

carson score board












How did our team play in game one? How would we respond when we got hit in the mouth? 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. We never really found out what it was like to be hit in the mouth. When you are coaching youth football, you can’t pick your opponents, you play who they tell you to. Our team came out fast, aligned perfectly and executed just like we were playing against coaches with shields. We played well, but it wasn’t anything to get ecstatic over. We beat a weak team with subpar coaching going away.

We won the toss and as always, asked for the ball. I practiced the coin flip with our captains, we went through it three times so there wouldn’t be any issues. After returning a deep kick to the 50, we scored on a three play drive that took less than 60 seconds. Running no-huddle rapid pace when you execute well can be a real bear to defend, especially early in the season.

After a failed onside kick, we held them to three and out on defense. They ran power, speed option and the expected counter on third down and had to punt. We drove the ball to their 20 on a 6 play drive, then our Blocking Back failed to field what looked like a reasonable but not great snap and we lost the ball.

On their second possession, they got in trouble early on the bootleg waggle pass and lost 10 yards. One of the things our style of defense does extremely well is stop counters and reverses. After another three and out, we got the ball at their 40. Right now we were just running our base 6-7 plays with a few adjustments. We scored in two plays and were able to get a very well executed onside kick back. As Carson moved to a 5-2 Monster style look and crowded the line of scrimmage with their Corners and Safety in tight, I called a spinner counter play with an outside tag calling for a log block and we scored in one play.  We had scored two touchdowns in the span of about 20 seconds.

Our sidelines and stands were going nuts. They had never scored points like this and of course they had never mercy ruled anyone. Now as the first quarter came to a close, we were up 20-0. Our kids were on fire, the defense couldn’t wait to get on the field and was playing with a lot of confidence. After another three and out we got the ball back at our own 30 and scored in five plays, which took less than two minutes off the clock. At this point, we are peppering in some of the non-starters on offense and subbing out about half the starters on defense.

Carson gets desperate and runs a double reverse, that ends up on the ground, which we recover. The big 300 lb kid from Carson was now out on defense, we had gassed him. We score in 3 plays off an inside wham play with a nice counter fake behind. There was blood in the water and our kids were acting like hungry sharks. We called timeout and subbed the entire defense out, which allowed Carson to score. We scored on all of the ensuing offensive possessions and were holding our own on defense.  At halftime the score was 42-6 and we had the ball at their 10 as we graciously chose not to run another play with 20 seconds left in the half with our third team Quarterback at the helm.

At halftime the kids were giddy, like a bunch of 9 year old girls at a slumber party. I congratulated them on their effort and talked about what we did right and wrong and our goals for the second half. They were: no penalties, no turnovers and great effort. I talked about gaining momentum for game two, by finishing strong in game one, to not get sloppy. That happens a lot in blowout wins.

The second half was played under a running clock. We started our second team defense and Carson scored to make it 42-14. The first team offense started the second half and promptly scored as we expanded the playbook and threw three passes in the first drive, completing two of them. The second team defense played most of the second half after we got some of the starters reps at their secondary positions. Remember, we were very thin at the skill positions so everyone had a primary and secondary position on both sides of the ball. In the second half, our backups got a lot more playing time than the starters.

The final was 54-20 and it could have been much worse. We had 5 different kids score touchdowns and 11 different kids carry the ball. On the negative side, we had 1 fumble, 3 bobbled snaps and an interception. We never punted, scored on every possession we didn’t turn it over on and the first team defense only gave up 2 first downs. We got 2 turnovers and had 4 penalties against us. While we hadn’t hit all of our goals, it was a good way to start the season.

In the post-game I congratulated them, but didn’t show a lot of emotion. I let them know I was proud of their effort, but that the team we played wasn’t very good. We had a lot of work to do and this was just the first step. How prophetic those words would be in what happened in week two, a youth football coaching nightmare.

Game One The Pregame

Written by Dave on January 30th, 2015

Carson City










How would we do in that all important first game? Would the kids play well or crumble like they had in years past? I had an idea we would play well. The team came together the final two weeks and were feeling pretty good about themselves. But when the bright lights came on and we got punched in the mouth, how would the kids respond? That’s the question of the ages for those of us coaching youth football, sometimes you aren’t sure. 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.

This was a night game under the lights in a beautiful High School stadium with field turf. Nestled in the Sierra Mountains with the sun setting, just a beautiful place for a game.  As is the case with every game I coach, I get there about 90 minutes before kickoff to scout the other team out. We had reviewed our pre-game practice plan with both the coaches and players. There was nothing new about pre-game, so it was up to the assistants to get the kids on track.  We would start our pre-game routine about 45 minutes prior to kickoff.

Now was time to get some intel on our opponent. They were new to the league and had played Pop Warner the previous season. We had no film, but were told they were one of the top teams in Pop Warner the previous season.  Pop Warner is weight restricted and our league was unlimited weight, so I expected they would be small and maybe athletic. I had no clue as to what type of offense or defense they would be running.

Like most other youth football teams, our opponent Carson City, started warming up about 75 minutes prior to kickoff. They were just throwing the ball around with their Quarterbacks and Receivers.  Nothing about those passing warmups bothered me. Both of their Quarterbacks looked to be under 130 lbs and neither was very accurate or strong. The receivers weren’t terribly impressive either, I didn’t see burst or size or consistency that scared me.

As they started the team warmups I got a peek at the rest of the team. They had one player who was easily 6’4” and 300 plus pounds and another about 6’1” and 250. Neither of them had bad feet, both moved very well for big men. The rest of the team was fairly small with maybe 2 kids in the 160 range and then the rest from 130 on down. I had little to compare it to, but would find out later that this was the second smallest team in the league.

Offensively they ran the Flexbone. They ran it primarily out of one formation with a wideout split to one side or the other. They wanted to run Power, Counter and Speed Option out of it, that was their bread and butter. They also ran a boot and waggle style pass, but their Quarterback wasn’t a great athlete like so many of the kids we would see later on in the season. They had a couple of play action passes and they had a double slot set they would try and throw out of. While they didn’t look bad, they were able to get aligned well and execute their offense, they just didn’t come off the ball very hard.

Defensively they aligned in a 5-3 with what looked like cover three coverage. On special teams they could only punt about 30 yards and their kickoffs were only about 45 yards. To sum it up, I wasn’t impressed, this would be the kind of first game our team needed. Their pregame wasn’t very tight, they had their helmets on in the 90 degree heat and they were wasting time doing things that no team should be doing prior to game one. Their fundamentals were poor and they didn’t have enough talent to overcome the poor coaching. The coaches were very nice and supportive guys, they just weren’t very good.

At the 30 minute mark I headed back to get my team ready. I had drawn up the 6 plays I felt we had to stop and ran the coaches at the backfield spots as a makeshift scout team. Then it was time for the youth football coaching Jedi mind trick segment of pre-game. As we went to team offense I called out the plays in via code using our no-huddle wrist band system.  I instructed all the backs on how we would respond when we scored.

Our team would be expected to score on every possession of every game. The goals was to score over 400 points that season, so scoring touchdowns shouldn’t be any big deal. It should be a big deal when we don’t score. One of the coaches stood in the endzone and played the part of the referee. I played the part of the 1 back on a 16 power, I took the direct snap and ran into the endzone, gently put the ball in the hands of the referee and jogged directly toward the sidelines to my water bottle. I told the starting backs that every one of them was going to score at least 12 times that season, so don’t make a big deal about it. Then each of the starting backs repped doing the very same thing. Score, gently hand ball to ref, jog directly to water bottle on sidelines and get ready mentally to come out and get the ball back on the ensuing onside kick. Then I put some of the backup Running Backs in for the same drill, I was putting it in their minds we were going to score early and often.

After doing about 7 minutes of 3 level Oklahoma full speed tackling drills to get the juices flowing, it was time for the pre-game talk. It was very focused. I told them they had made as much progress as any team I had ever coached. I was proud of them.  It was time for them to show all their parents and friends what they could do. All I asked them to do was play hard to the whistle on every snap. We talked briefly about our goals for the first half: protect the football- no turnovers, get one turnover on defense, score on every possession, no plays greater than 20 yards on defense.  Lastly, I asked them what is our main goal today? They all responded loudly “To have fun.”

How did we end up? It’s in the next post. To see this story from the start go here:


Building Confidence in Weaker Youth Football Teams- Worst to First

Written by Dave on January 29th, 2015

sparks first upAs we head into regular season game one of this season, it would be very important to help these youth football players believe in themselves. How do you build that confidence when the team has no past history that would make anyone think they were a good football team? That is one of the biggest challenges for any of us coaching youth football. 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.

First let’s talk about how important that confidence is. How many times have you seen a dominant program in your league win games they probably shouldn’t? It happens all the time, even in down years those teams seem to find ways to be competitive. One of the big reasons is those kids think they are going to win, coming into the game. Those programs usually have an identity that kids buy into and believe in. Those programs have teams and kids who never think they are out of the game, deep down in their hearts, they feel their team and coaching staff is eventually going to figure out a way to win. If you are one of those type of programs, the great thing is your opposition is thinking the same thing. They are waiting for the other shoe to drop even if they are the better team.

How did I get this Reno team to get that type of confidence? Normally I would schedule a scrimmage against a weak opponent as part of this process, but the league made us play two scheduled scrimmage games already, so there was no need for that. We first talked about our identity, who we were and how we were going to win those early games. We were a running team that was going to come off the ball fast, play physical and consistently move the chains. Our team would be known for relentless consistent effort from the opening gun until the clock ran down to 0:00. We were going to be the most fundamentally sound and best blocking team in the league. We would impose our will, put defenses in conflict, then get into the most efficient play to attack the defenses weaknesses. We were going to protect the football and win the turnover battle. On defense we were going to limit big plays,  gang tackle and create turnovers.

Talking about what our identity was is one thing, how to get the kids to believe in it is another.  In practice when we were going really fast and nitpicking everything, I would share with the kids that no one was getting more quality reps in than they were. I even shared with them the math of how many more reps we were getting in than the typical youth football team. We constantly stressed that the level of detail and high standards we  imposed were going to pay off in the end. We didn’t just teach the offensive and defensive schemes, we also shared why it would work, typically during water break teaching segments or short breaks in the action.

Sounds like just a bunch of big talk and propaganda right? Part of it was, but the propaganda also had some weight to it. I showed the kids a USA Today Top 20 article about Apopka, Floridas High School football team. The Blue Darters head coach Rick Darlington and I are good friends. We run very similar offenses and have even traded a few football plays back and forth. Rick’s teams have won 3 of the last 4 8A State Championships in Florida’s largest class using what is virtually our offense. One of the interesting things about Apopka is they usually do it without a wealth of talent. Rick’s teams often times play teams with 7-8 DI recruits, while having just 1-2 of his own. The year they beat Miami Northwest in the infamous fog game, Northwest had over 20 eventual DI recruits on that team, while rick had just one.  I shared with our team my past teams successes and championships and the fact we’ve never lost a non-conference or out of state tournament game- ever. I even talked about the 1,000 plus testimonials on my web site and the 400 plus worst to first stories on it.

That week at every moment possible, I was the cheerleader, the encourager. Lots of smiles, lots of loud encouraging words and fist pumps were in order. A player carrying the ball high and tight, I was right there yelling and pointing, “THAT’S why we are going to win the turnover battle this week, GREAT job!” This wasn’t the time to nitpick and be critical.

In the huddle of the two scrimmage game wins, I talked about why a certain play was going to be successful. On one play I made a call with a small adjustment.  I I looked our Fullback in the eye, smiled as I said, “this one’s going to score as long as you don’t fall down.” He came back to the huddle after a 20 yard TD run with a huge smile on his face. I couldn’t resist telling him “I told you.” Same for on our Hudl film, I would text box and telestrate to show kids why plays worked or why the defense created a big play. The kids needed to believe in the system and the coaching staff

I could see the kids starting to believe. Was it enough or were our kids just whistling through the graveyard? We would find out shortly.

Why Everyone Needs a “Mayor” on Your Youth Football Coaching Staff

Written by Dave on January 27th, 2015


Coaching youth football means you will have to deal with parents. They can make life miserable for you if you don’t handle the situation well. Don’t get me wrong, lots of youth sports parents are great people with the best of intentions, but there are others who are there to cause drama or try to manipulate you to give their son preferential treatment.

Why not have a point of contact that deals with these issues for you? I like to call this person the Mayor. The Mayor is an outgoing person that communicates well and enjoys working with parents. He may be someone who enjoys the personal interactions and relationships with the parents or maybe someone who enjoys the challenge of solving problems.

He can be your spokesperson and communication arm of your program. He communicates all the logistical issues to the team and parents. Things like equipment, uniforms, fund raising, game times and practice times are all on him. He is also is a coach, that is important. Give him the title of assistant head coach or something similar. Parents have to view him as an extension of you, someone with power.  He may do very little in practice, but parents have to see him as a coach who has your ear. He is also your second voice.

The mayor mingles with the parents in pre-practice and even through warm-ups. Parents need to know that is their time to open up to him about any issues they are having. The mayor is your liaison to the parent, the biggest part of his job is to just listen. Listening can help parents let a little steam off and make sure small problems don’t become large ones.

Most youth football parent problems can be solved by just listening. These conversations don’t involve making a decision or even offering advice, many parents just want to vent or be listened to. There are conversations that involve the minutia of logistics, these are easy ones for your mayor. Then there are small issues like playing time, positions, upcoming missed practices or even some motivational issues that the Mayor can solve without bringing them to you your attention.

I’ve found about 90% of what parents bring up to the Mayor, he can solve with zero input from the head coach. Some of you are saying, this is what I have the team mom for. Yes, she often times does fill this role, but when this person is on the coaching staff, he has more power to resolve many of these issues without ever bringing them to your attention. Many parents view the team mom as an extension of themselves, not the coaching staff.

Anything real serious the Mayor can easily defer and let the parent know he has to confer with you first. In those cases you strategize with the Mayor and come up with a solution that can in most cases be communicated by him to the parent. If the situation requires your involvement, make sure the Mayor is at your side for help, potential verification and possible follow up. The whole goal of the Mayor is to take this burden off your plate and put it in the lap of someone that is skilled at solving these type of issues.

Dealing with unreasonable parents can rob coaches of the joy they get from seeing kids develop. You’re coaching youth football do you really have the time to be that person? Look for a Mayor and make him part of your staff.

The Big Game- The Week Leading Up to Game 1

Written by Dave on January 27th, 2015

sparks game 1 practice





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 was filmed for an upcoming reality television show “Worst to First.” This is the week of practice leading up to that all important first game.

This team was big and pretty physical on the offensive line, the position group I spent about 80% of my individual practice time segment with.  We were very thin at the skill positions and one of our two way starters was having wind issues. Even though he was a very accomplished soccer player who had played all spring and summer on a select soccer team, he got winded very easily. While all of our team had made significant progress in their conditioning, this player would be visibly gassed after just a few snaps. He would be good to go after a couple of minutes out, but after he went back in, we would need to sub him out after 3-4 plays or suffer the consequences of him lead footing it.  It wasn’t an effort thing, it was something else. His brother, a seventh grader who was playing up, didn’t have that issue.

We had another two way skill position starter that seemed to get nicked up and come up limping after nearly every short open field tackling drill. We had another probable two way skill position starter that was missing about a third of practices due to feeling “nauseous” or because he had a temperature of 99.5 degrees. He had also missed a week of practice due to a family vacation. If everyone showed up and everyone stayed healthy we were probably OK, but that was a huge if. But what did I know? This was a new league to me, I didn’t have any game film of our team from last year and the team we were playing was new to the league. It made me feel blind and vulnerable. We were making progress, but would it be enough?

We were really behind and doing poorly with our passing game. The time we had invested in it, was showing very little fruit. It was so bad, the kids would put out a big cheer when we would finally complete a pass on air with no defenders. Even though we had invested in our Darrin Slack Quarterback drills and set aside time to work hard with our Receivers, we were still completing less than 30% of our passes on air. Our best Tight End would often times drop 4-5 in a row right on his hands. Meanwhile our only semi capable Receiver was only catching 6 or 7 out of 10 and he was also our starting Quarterback who got winded easily.

While we would continue to pour valuable practice time into developing our passing game as the season progressed at this point the investment had yielded very meager returns. This week we were going to concentrate what we could do and go all in to get this all important first game win. That meant we continued to cross train our skill position and in-space players to develop depth and install a handful of formation and blocking adjustments to use on offense and put in our zone scheme on defense. Special teams needed a lot of work too, we still didn’t have anyone who could field a punt and our PAT was terrible. Time was running out, I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in that scene where the wicked witch had Dorothy on an hour glass and the sand was gushing out from the top to the bottom.

So practice this week would be a bit different. Instead of at least 60 minutes of individual work and another 20 in group, we would work more in team. The first practice of the week would be about 30 minutes of individual drills, 10 minutes of group and the rest, over an hour in team.

Another problem facing this team was making sure every player got his 8 minimum plays. Go back to post 1 about this team.  We had been assigned 5 new players by the league, 4 of which were out of district kids that had been turned away to play from playing on the team in their district because they were “full” yeah right. Of the 4 out of district kids, one was a 66 lb rookie player cleared to play for the first time. Another player was an 81 lb rookie player who was in the bottom 25% for speed. They added an 89 lb rookie to us after week 1 who had some type of autoimmune issues that made him miss over 2/3 of the practices and drop out prior to game one. Another 130 lb rookie player couldn’t run 40 yards without stopping, athletically he was in the bottom 1% in the league. Kids who start playing football in the eighth grade against kids who have been playing for 6 years do so for a reason. You get the picture.

Then add in the fact that this team had won about 6 games in the previous 6 years and it created some issues. Yes we had some kids who could play, but the coaching staff had always played everyone. When you’re getting blown out by 50 points a lot of the time, everyone plays a lot. The coaches were nice, likeable guys who cared about the kids. So most of the very good athletes who could play, left the team for teams that were winning and a lot of the kids that would struggle for playing time on other teams and weren’t recruited away, stayed on the team.

We didn’t lose a single healthy player, we didn’t run anyone off, everyone was sticking it out even those tiny struggling first year rookies. Yes we had a logjam of kids that when they got into the game, they were going to struggle. This week we would do our best to prepare those weaker players to add value on the snaps they were in and to game plan in such a way to minimize any negative impact they might have on the team’s success. More on that this week.

Coaching Youth Football- Special Teams Install Before Game One

Written by Dave on January 26th, 2015

sparks camera






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 was filmed for an upcoming reality television show “Worst to First.”

Parent revolts can be real, other times they are nothing, just people with too much time on their hands creating drama for the sake of meeting the desired needs of conflict generation of those involved. For those of us coaching youth football, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.  What flavor was this revolt?

I didn’t have a feel for it as the “mayor” was the one who had the pulse of the parents. I was neck deep in developing our team, our coaches and our players, I had no time to be distracted or spend time with parents. Pre-practice was spent developing relationships with players and coaching up the coaches on the tasks of the day. After practice was spent reviewing with coaches the progress we were making, getting input from coaches and again getting some atta-boys in with some of the players.

How did this one shake out? I changed nothing, but for that day by sheer coincidence we had a very easy practice scheduled. This was going to be almost all a special teams practice. With the exception of our warm-ups everything that day was going to be special teams evaluations, team scheme implementation and then team game conditioning. Since we were now just 4 practices away from that all important first game, we were running out of time. We weren’t going to coach all 23 players to play special teams, like we do on offense and defense. The 11 man squads would be those getting the majority of the reps with maybe 3-4 reserves getting a handful of reps.

Like many leagues, this league has a minimum play rule “mpr”. The requirement is 8 snaps per player and all snaps count. Some youth football coaches make a big mistake and will put a bunch of their mprs on the special teams. The problem is on most special teams plays, you play in a lot of space. Space is the enemy of less athletic players and teams lose games when they don’t put their best players on Special Teams.

On the punt team, it was just our first team offense with our starting Wing at punter. He was athletic and clearly won our punting competition. He could consistently kick 40 yards, but wasn’t very accurate. We installed a fake punt play.

For punt return we were very basic for that first game. We had our first team defense out there. Their main goal was to stop the fake punt, take advantage of any poor snaps, NOT rough the punter (our rule was tackle the punter, not block the kick), block the gunners and just cleanly field the punt with our best hands player. Unfortunately, our best hands player was only cleanly catching about 2/3 of the punts that hit his hands. More on how we worked around that in future posts.

For kick off we worked on on-side kicks. Our best kicker could only get the ball to the 25 on a deep kick, sometimes he would get it to the 20. At that age group a cleanly fielded deep kick to the other teams best player in space COULD go for a touchdown. A best case scenario was a return to the 35-40. On the other hand in over 20 years of coaching youth ball I’ve never had an onside kick returned for a touchdown, we had a 15-25% chance of getting a recovery and if we didn’t recover, the other team had the ball on their own 45.  The 5-10 yard delta was definitely worth the risk. Kicking onside also allowed me to sit half of my starting athletic players, so they could get a drink and catch their breath. The athletes we did have in only had to run 15 yards instead of 30-40 yards.  Those kids were starting both ways as we were just short athletes.  Those athletic kids would definitely all have had to be in if we kicked deep and decided we wanted to play in space.  We were going to on-side kick every time until we got up by 3 touchdowns. I had more confidence in our offense scoring than our defense making stops, so we wanted the ball as often as we could.

The PAT team struggled as our designated kicker, who was a star soccer player struggled to make kicks on air with no rush. Some rudimentary kicking fundamental coaching points only seemed to make the matters worse. This is an area we needed a lot of work. Like many youth football leagues a PAT kick was worth 2 points, so getting our PAT kicks down was important. Another problem with this kicker was his parents couldn’t get him to practice early even though he was a back and started with the later group. So we had no time to work with him on his kicks in pre-practice.

For kick return we worked most of that 30 minute segment on safe ball recovery. That meant onside kicks, second level kicks, squibbers, knuckle balls and in-between player kicks. We reviewed the rules of ball engagement for first level, second level and third level players. Then we did lots and lots of reps on air. The last 5 minutes of each of these segments were with an opposing “team” in place. Some of that time was spent against static scout teamers, other times it was just fits and yes we even did a couple of live reps each at the end. Again, at this juncture only 3-4 of the key backups are getting special teams reps. We were just running out of time.

To keep the backups interest level up, instead of having them stand around a coach took those kids to the side to spent about a third of the time doing tackling drills and the rest on fun conditioning games like Hawaiian Rules Football, Pass Catch Relay, Deer Hunter, Firemans Carry, Dummy Flips and Dummy Relays. Practice was ended on a fun note as we did 10 minutes of rabbit chases. A fun and competitive sprinting and conditioning game where a “rabbit” is placed 3-6 yards ahead of a position group. Any player who could then catch- touch the rabbit before he got to a cone 20 yards away, won the game and would be able to sit out until we called “all in” and started over.

So we had a designed easy day of practice scheduled for that Friday. I let the kids and coaches know, we wouldn’t be changing anything about how we practiced. Special teams install day typically is like the practice we just had. They needed to come to practice on Monday rested, focused and ready. The next week would be like any other opening game week, you focus on the positives, build the confidence of the team up, rep the heck out of what you have in mind for the game plan and work on subbing.

Trouble In Paradise- Parent Revolts in Youth Football

Written by Dave on January 23rd, 2015

sparks practice line








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 segment is about the first parent revolt in the program. Youth sports is filled with parent issues and parent revolts, so how can you handle them?

Every youth football teams needs that “Mayor” guy. If you’ve been coaching youth football for any length of time you know what I’m talking about. He’s the one that gets along with about anyone. He’s friendly, smart, positive and just knows how to get along with people. Sometimes that is the head coach, but does a head coach have the time to be the lead diplomat and run the team too? More on what that role is and why you need one in the next post. Coach B, the person responsible for bringing me in was our man in that role.

Coach B is a very successful businessman who can get along with anyone, he solved problems for a living. The parents like and respect him and they feel comfortable opening up with him. While Coach B is a position coach, there are times at practice where he had time to visit with parents. Several were unhappy with the amount of running and negative reinforcement their sons were getting in practice.

After practice, Coach B and I sat down at the hotel and talked about the issues facing us. While I had set the boundaries up at that first practice which included a short parent meeting, I guess they must have thought I was just using a bunch of coach speak. While not all the parents had attended, I had clearly laid out that I was there to make sure that the kids had the best and most successful season in their young football careers. I was crystal clear on what I expected from an attendance, attitude and effort standpoint. I talked about while the community expectations of this team were very low, that I didn’t share those expectations. We talked about high standards, precision and fast paced practices. My experience is people will live up to what ever standard, high or low that is set.

The next day right after warm ups, I brought everyone in for a short clearing of the air. That included players, parents and coaches. I started off reminding them why I was there- to make sure they had the very best football experience of their young careers, to prepare them for High School football, to help them be better prepared in life, to get them to believe in themselves and to help them understand that hard work, selflessness and teamwork pay off in the long run. I told them it didn’t matter what other people thought of them, that they had the potential to be a championship level team.

But then is when it got sticky, I asked all of the kids and coaches to raise their hands if they had coached or played on a championship level team. Of course none of them could raise their hands, they never had a winning season and were losing games by 50 points. After looking around slowly and deliberately, I raised my hand. I shared with them all my youth football coaching resume and all my championship seasons and records. Then I shared them what Albert Einstein defined insanity as: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I reviewed with them some of the scores they had been beaten by last year 57-6, 51-0 and asked players if they wanted to have another season like that? They all responded with a resounding NO! I let them know that I didn’t think they had the talent of a bad youth football team and that I could see some heart and competitiveness in many of them that was what championship teams were made of. I was willing to work my tail off to make sure that they had a great year and that they played to their full potential. Sure we were going to have fun along the way, but not all of anything we do in life is fun. Anything worth having, a degree, a good job, good relationships and a good marriage require work and doing things that require us to get out of our comfort zones and yes, things that can be a bit unpleasant and not fun. The fun stuff was a reward for putting in work and practicing to potential. Fun also is seeing that commitment and hard work resulting in your team having success on the field.

They had a choice, do things the way they had done in the past and have the same results OR try my proven approach which was different.  I let them know the way we do things; the precision, the high standards, the pace, the discipline and accountability were how great players were developed and how championship level teams were built. They could go back to how they did things before, but that I wouldn’t be a part of it and GLADLY return back to my family in Nebraska. If the parents and coaches wanted to get rid of me, not a problem at all. There was a team back in Nebraska that had my name on it and my wife and children would be ecstatic to know I was heading home for good. That caught a few of the parents off guard, they weren’t in the drivers seat, I was. It also ruffled the feathers of some of the coaches. The coaches didn’t like the fact I had basically called them out for poor coaching and low standards of previous seasons.

While I didn’t want anyone to quit and I shared that with the group, I also said I would be happy to continue with whoever was committed to the process, my process,. Then we talked about the progress we had made and the ruts we kept falling into and why I was trying to keep us out of those ruts. We had the potential to be very good, why settle for mediocre? Sure we looked great in blowing out two teams in those scrimmage games, but so what. THAT was an issue, since mediocre was a huge improvement on what they were used to. Many of the parents and players seemed to be satisfied with that, but I wasn’t going to let them settle. That would be the battle.

How did it turn out? Some of the supportive parents who “got it” talked to some of the problem parents. The mayor talked to some of the more aggressive parents and “bought” more time. He also spoke to the kids whose parents had been vocal and encouraged them to stick around for what would be a huge turnaround season. How much of the problem was parents who didn’t get it? How much of a danger were we in losing kids? I couldn’t say, I just kept the course. Without the mayor’s support, counsel and help, this team could have fallen apart.

Trouble In Paradise- Parent Revolt in Worst to First Show

Written by Dave on January 22nd, 2015

sparks practice dummys







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 was filmed for an upcoming reality television show “Worst to First.”Week 4 was a Jekyll and Hyde week. At the beginning of the week, our youth football team looked very sharp. At times we looked like world beaters. The execution of our drills, offensive plays and defensive schemes looked sharp. We were reeling off runs of 12-13 perfect plays in a row under 15 seconds per play and getting near perfect with our defensive alignments during defensive recognition. There were lots of smiles and some confidence building in the hearts of our players and even in the eyes of our coaches and parents. Almost everyone seemed to be excited about the progress they were seeing.

But there was some dissatisfaction with a few. Those who have been coaching youth football for any length of time can relate to these very common issues. This is the time of year where youth football teams kind of shake out, it becomes evident who some of the starters are and what positions kids will most likely be playing for most of the season.  A very popular starting Fullback was now playing Tight End, he just didn’t have the quickness to play Fullback and it didn’t look like he would start at Tight End either. The starting Center and coaches son was struggling a bit on his consistency and was being pushed by another player for playing time there.

Another coaches son who had started on both sides of the ball the previous year was now a third team player on offense and emergency player on defense. He weighed less than 80 lbs and his above average speed couldn’t make up for his lack of physicality. A Lineman with ok get off, a great attitude, but poor body control was moved into the backfield to shore up our lack of depth there. Another former Lineman was pushing the starting Quarterback for playing time. Add in that last years staring Quarterback was now a backup Fullback. Some of these moves raised eyebrows amongst both the coaches and parents.

With those problems simmering just below the surface, Hyde reared his ugly head at midweek. Buoyed by the success we had earlier in the week, the kids started letting off the gas. Instead of running all the way to the end of the line, they stopped a couple of steps short. Players became less vigilant about the finer coaching points, a 6 inch step now became a 9 inch or 3 inch step. Instead of trying to excel it looked like a number of kids were now trying to get by with just doing the minimum.

Week 4 was also the week we had started to dial up conditioning. Since we lacked so much depth at our skill position players, who would have to play both ways, conditioning was going to be critical to our success.  While we had run fast paced practices and conditioned with our Deer Hunter, Hawaiian Rules Football and Team Catch Relays, this week I was enforcing the practice pace of 6 seconds per rep in Individual drills and 15 seconds per team rep. We had 17 practices under our belt, if we weren’t going fast now it was because of a lack of attentiveness or laziness.

A good number of the kids were struggling to keep up, especially in team when we would run plays against coaches with bags at the point of attack. We would run 11 new players in on every snap from about 20 yards away. Some of our coaches weren’t coaching hard and weren’t holding the kids accountable to perfection. I had to jump in several times to coach kids up who were fitted on a coach with a shield. Something they should have been doing. It was aggravating to see kids being allowed to do things wrong. I also had to call the cadence myself to make sure we got a play off every 15 seconds, it was a tug of war I wasn’t willing to lose.  A little pep talk during water break one hadn’t done the trick so I  had to raise my voice to reign everyone back in a number of times. I was a very frustrating and disappointing practice to put it mildly. That would be a lonely night for me back in my Reno hotel room, racking my brain for answers as to how we had come off track and having to deal with dissatisfied parents.

That week we had purposely quit adding in techniques and worked at perfecting what was already in. On defense that was 1-2 block destruction techniques, pursuit, one positioning read and a base tackling approach. The same for offense our linemen knew base block, down, double team, crab, wedge and pass blocking. Our pullers knew how to pull for power and sweep, we held off on G and Trap. We also held off on teaching Reach blocks and downfield blocks as well. The Running Backs had worked on just 2 ways to run through contact and 2 stiff arming techniques. We hadn’t bothered with jump cuts or even basic blocking reads as 2 of the Backs were kids who had never played in the backfield before and 2 kids had never played organized football before. Most of our time there was focused on blocking, protecting the football, ball get offs and accelerating into contact.

Since we weren’t adding in anything new and we knew almost all of the kids could do what we already had taught them, there wasn’t much wiggle room for making mistakes. Maybe the kids got bored, maybe they got complacent, maybe they got overconfident, they may even have gotten lazy. In any event there was a lot of running going on that day. We had passed the point where “I didn’t know” was a valid excuse. A handful of players didn’t understand when I said we run something out to a cone 20 yards down the field, that doesn’t mean 18 yards. Of when a fake is supposed to be carried out full speed for 10 yards a 5 yard jog doesn’t suffice.

Midweek practice was abysmal, no progress was made and I saw a bunch of the football moms talking amongst themselves. Some coaches were frustrated too, I had called them out just like I had the players. There was trouble in paradise. The next day there would be talks of quitting, defections and mutiny.

Friday Night Tykes Season Two

Written by Dave on January 21st, 2015

FNT show picMany youth football coaching enthusiasts tuned in for the first season of Friday Night Tykes a youth football reality television show.  If you aren’t familiar with the show it is program shot in San Antonio, Texas in the TYFA youth football league. The first season was sensationalized due to some very inappropriate behavior displayed by several of the featured coaches and some fans. The second season’s kickoff show was shown yesterday. Some of you may remember I sat in  with Mike Martz and Clinton Portis on the review panel show “Tackling on Tykes”, which aired a week after their season concluded.

Many felt the show was a slam set up job meant to harm the game. Others said it was representative of what many have seen or experienced. Personally I’ve never seen much of the controversial happenings live. But I’ve heard a few stories from credible sources that inappropriate things like those shown on the show happen in youth football.  So bad stuff happens that shouldn’t and this show captured some of it and put it out for the entire world to see.  As the season progressed there were some very positive moments as well. The net is, there is good and bad in youth sports, many times from the very same coach.

What can we as youth football coaches learn from the experience? Maybe we can recognize some of the negative things happening on our team or even within ourselves. When faced with that notion and having to look ourselves in the mirror, maybe that becomes a catalyst for change. No one wants to be “that guy” maybe it encourages some to take steps to avoid poor behavior. On the other hand when we see a coach getting results on the show, solving problems, the kids are gaining and growing from the experience and he’s doing the right things the right way.  maybe we can learn from that as well.

This season’s first show centered on last years problem team, the Broncos. They terminated problem Coach Charles Chavarria. The new sheriff in town has vowed to keep it clean, positive and teach tackling without using the head. The practice and game footage seems to show progress there.

marecusThe Colts and Coach Marecus Goodloe are also back for season two. Deep down you can see that Coach M loves and cares about his players. Unfortunately his language is R rated. It’s not a once in a while thing or meant to be malicious, it’s just part of his normal vocabulary. It slips out all the time and you just can’t do that around kids. He has a pretty good team, but this year he can’t rely on the one skilled little running back to keep him in games. Like many kids, it looks like that little player hasn’t grown and others have caught up to him a bit. It happens all the time in youth football.

A new team, the Spartans are being featured this year. The Spartans are moving up from Division II to Division I. With the exception of maybe one player, they don’t seem to have the athleticism of the Outlaws, Colts, Steelers or even Broncos.  Their coach is a very passionate rah rah type. Big hat, no cattle, I’m doubting this team does very well this season. From the small bit of practice footage shown, this team is not very well coached. Their precision and pace is poor to put it mildly. Their team’s big story is they have an 11 year old girl on the team that looks to be about 5’9” tall and about 170 lbs. She dwarfs many of the kids she is playing against and is playing youth football to lose weight. She is a first year player whose mom is very pushy.

The big bully on the block back for season two is the Outlaws. True to their name the Outlaws are very big, intimidating, very athletic, very confident and extremely physical. This team pursues to the ball and tackles with leverage and speed. They have multiple weapons and run the ball the best. Without a doubt they are the best of the teams shown in this first episode.

How will this season hash out? See if you can predict how the teams will do just based on the tiny bit of footage shown. For my take on last seasons Friday Night Tykes shows, here it is for every episode: