Friday Night Tykes Season Two Episode Five

Written by Dave on February 25th, 2015

FNT spartans





Every week I critique the Friday Night Tykes show to help youth coaches learn from what we saw. This week’s show validated what I predicted was going to happen when I critiqued the first episode.

The Spartans team is totally disintegrating just like I said it would. That was an easy call and I stuck with it even after they started out at 2-0. This coach would be a good drill instructor, but he’s a terrible youth football coach. His team lost its fifth straight game in blowout fashion. Mr Discipline lost his cool in the blowout and even talked trash to one of the other teams showboating players. In this 36-0 game one of his players played just a SINGLE snap. C’mon dude, after the player showed some improvement that week, with just 19 kids in a 36-0 game? After starting with over 30 kids he now has 13-14 kids showing up to practice. He goes on and on about “quitters”, he obsesses over it. Yet his practices prior to game seven still consist of lots of pushups, planks, sit ups and squat thrusts, a TOTAL waste of time.

Scrimmaging and conditioning, the mantra of someone who has no clue, makes up the bulk of his practices. There are no smiles, no fun and very little positive enforcement. He takes no personal responsibility for the meltdown, his answer is to recruit an entirely new “committed” team. Yep, blame the kids, like most guys with those coaching skills do. This is a well intentioned but clueless coach who turns a lot of kids away from the game. It’s guys like him that lead me to write a book, author DVDs and do coaching clinics.

The Broncos are playing out as expected as well. Their head coach does a very nice job of encouraging his players. While they have won just a single game, the practice turnout still seems good and while they lost again, they put up a good fight. His kids are still engaged and still coming to practice. While I see better use of time in his practices, their scheme doesn’t fit the kids and their game management is awful. How can you have just ten kids on the field for defense and not see you are short players? The ultimate youth football coaching sin. They are attempting to run spread and they simply don’t have the athletes to do it. While their skinny little Quarterback throws a nice ball on air in practice with no defenders around, they don’t have the athletes to threaten the entire field.

This coach cares about his players, their safety and the game in general. However he hides under the excuse that he doesn’t care about wins, he just wants to make sure the kids continue to play. That is the excuse of guys who consistently lose, you can win AND retain players, he isn’t doing that. I have no problem with this coach, lots to like about him. It’s got to be difficult coaching in an organization that was on such a downward spiral and had all the bad publicity due to the antics of last years head coach Charles Chavarria. It will be hard to climb out of this deep hole. Several parents commented that they were done with youth football, they weren’t going to stand for the losing and were blaming the coach. That’s a very common problem if you are coaching youth football, losing programs often times lose players.

As much as I like the Broncos coach I dislike the actions of the Ducks coach. This was a classic how NOT to act on the sidelines lesson if you are coaching youth football. There is no need to loudly toot your own horn and talk smack on your sidelines. To come out onto the field and loudly do it is classless, he is a clown. One of his players even mimics the coach’s approach by mouthing off to the Spartans coach. Yes guys, kids take their cues from you and this guy is building a bunch of classless clowns to walk in his footsteps. I don’t get how anyone can get amped up about beating a two win team that has lost about half of their players? No way this team is a championship team, that isn’t how champions behave.

The Colts as I mentioned in previous posts just aren’t the Colts, there is something off. I wasn’t able to put my finger on it, but there was something amiss. Now their trusted assistant, Coach Paul has quit coaching. His son got hurt, so he’s done coaching youth football. Did he quit because like he said he felt bad about his attitude about coaching his son, or because now that his son isn’t playing he doesn’t want to coach the other kids? This happens when you are coaching youth football. The team suffered two injuries this year after being injury free for several years in a row.

In Reno this year shooting the “Worst to First” show, my best assistant coach’s son injured the arch of his foot. The player was sidelined for the season after game five. I gave the coach the option of gracefully resigning, lessening his load to part time or sticking it out. He stuck it out because he loved all the kids and didn’t want to let the kids down. His son and our entire team learned a valuable lesson from Coach Jamie’s example. While the Colts did win their game against the Bronco’s, this season seems to be wearing on head coach Mareques Goodloe’s mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stepped down after this year and just went to work as an assistant in another program. He loves the kids and loves coaching, but I don’t think he’s cut out for managing the parents and being a head coach.

The Outlaws are the Outlaws, they continue to win. Their ultra-physical practices with all the in space tackling may have some coaches drooling, due to the game results. But we see injuries in practice and a team that started the season with 42 players, finished with just 34. How many youth football teams have 42 hand selected recruits from all over a city of over 1,000,000 people on it? Full scale hitting is good, but it needs to be in limited space, done correctly and in very short time periods.

Hopefully the show was able to give you help you reflect on how you coached this last season. Looking in the mirror can be a tough exercise.

FNT spartans 11


Youth Football Coaching Test- Worst to First Game Five Hump Game

Written by Dave on February 24th, 2015


lassen score 1lassen 1














So how would we do against Lassen, a perennial  league bully who had beaten this group the year before as seventh graders by more than 40 points?  This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First”  I took an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. I wasn’t sure myself. Our opponent were kids who had always won, had won a Sierra Youth Football League championship together and expected to win. The team I was coaching had never won, had never even had a winning season, made the playoffs or even stayed under the mercy rule against this team.

To prepare for this classic Wing T team I relied on my trusted friend from Florida Joe Cianflone. Joe was an AYF Coach of the Year and had run the Deleware Wing T for six years. While I knew the basics of defending the Wing T, I brought out the heavy artillery with Joe. I had a single game film on Lassen and they ran the classics: Buck Sweep, Trap, Power, Belly, Criss-Cross Counter, Waggle and Quick Pitch.

They were big, sound and reasonably athletic youth football team. But they didn’t like playing in space, which would be to our advantage. If we protected the football, clicked on special teams and played sound defense we probably had an even money chance of winning this pivotal game. We would need to start strong though, if we got behind early, those voices in the back of our players minds would be telling them “you are SOS” same old Sparks, the team that always loses.

On defense we tried to take away their favorite play, the Buck Sweep. So we cross keyed the backs with our Linebackers. The Strongside Linebacker keyed the away back who was usually the Halfback and the Weakside Linebacker keyed the far back who to him was usually the Fullback. Our Strongside LB was at about 3 ½ yards and the Weakside was at 4 ½ to make sure they didn’t run into each other.

For two of the three days during our one hour defensive indy sessions, I worked exclusively with our Defensive Tackles and Nose Tackles. I’m not going to give away everything, but we did play our Monster Zone alignment and we worked the heck out of our Down Linemen on making sure to get their hands on the Offensive Linemen and stayed square to the line of scrimmage.  We got our hands on the hips of the Offensive Linemen when they down blocked and squeezed down hard. When the Offensive Linemen were running through to the second level to block a Linebacker, we got a hand on him and tried to take him off course and then squeezed hard.  If the Offensive Lineman pulled, we moved right into the pullers hip pocket, moved in that direction and peeked back quickly for the ball. When the Offensive Linemen stepped wide to reach block, our kids got depth and width and looked for the sweep.

Repping the defense using a scout offense in team was all on the backs of our coaches. They did well, augmenting that group was a fast young college student who was the nephew of one of our coaches. Youth football coaching isn’t always an old mans game, it’s always good to get a couple of ringers in to help on scout days. The only way to be able to defend some of the key breaker plays like the quick pitch was to just run a bunch of reps. By game time we had easily run all of their plays at least 30-40 times each.

Our game plan was a bit different than in games past. Instead of coming out at moderate speed to make sure our skill position two-way starter kids wouldn’t get gassed, we would come out fast. On defense, instead of rotating our minimum play players at the two Nose Tackle spots, we played our best eleven on defense. Our goal was to score very quickly, get up early and give our kids some confidence.  Then we would have to hustle to get our MPRs their snaps as the game progressed. We would be in big trouble if we didn’t get that early lead.

The kids came in with a positive but apprehensive attitude. They were very serious and focused during pre-game. This was a make or break game for our season. We started the game with the ball, drove it down to quickly score on a nine play drive that took less than three minutes off the clock. After Lassen made a first down, they gave the ball back to us on downs at our forty. We promptly dove 60 yards in ten plays to make it a two touchdown game.

Lassen had scouted us well. They were packing it in with a 6-2 defense, Corners at Just three yards of depth and a Safety at about eight. After just missing another onside kick Lassen went 55 yards in 13 plays as we had to get some of our MPRs their snaps in the A gaps on D to make it 14-7.

Our kids didn’t blink, we amped up the tempo and quickly scored another touchdown in just seven plays to make it a three touchdown game. An onside kick gave us the ball back at the 45 and we stretched our lead to three scores to make it 28-6. Defensively our approach was working very well. Our kids saw in the game exactly what we had practiced the week before. We tacked on another score with about 90 seconds to go before the half to make it 35-6 at the half. There were lots of smiling faces from our kids in that half-time endzone.

The second half was quite a bit different. We held them on defense to start the game, then went into max slowdown mode. We scored on our opening drive to make it 41-6, then started subbing in generously on offense. I wanted our defensive starters to get some good work as Lassen started going to the air. The final was 41-6 and we had made a lot of progress  that week; no turnovers, only one penalty, no injuries, the first team offense scored on every possession and only a handful of first downs given up on defense.

I was amped and very relieved. What a load off, I slept the entire flight back to Omaha 5:00 am the next morning. But how would we respond next week? Back to our familiar two steps forward, one step back?

Worst to First- The Youth Football Reality Turnaround Game Five Week

Written by Dave on February 23rd, 2015

sparks practice reno



As we headed into game five week with a three and one record, I was concerned.  This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First”  I took an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. This week we would be playing a team that had in the past been a HUGE bully to the youth football team I was coaching this year. Our opponent had beaten our team every year they played by mercy rule and the previous year as seventh graders, they had beaten our kids by over forty points. They were a classic Tubby Raymond Deleware Wing T team that was big, physical, well coached and would be extremely confident they would be able to put yet another beating on our kids. Would our kids lay down for another beat down?

With the playbook frozen on offense, our attendance issues solved, our ball control issues seemingly gone and our base fundamentals coming along well, this week would be more about defense, improving our interior defensive line play, improving our open field tackling and getting our kids to believe they could actually win this game. Our three day a week schedule had been offense on day one, defense on day two and offense, defense and special teams on day three. This week it would be defense on day one, offense and special teams on day two and defense on day three.

Youth football teams that win championships can’t be grouped by what type of offense or defense they run, they do all run x or don’t run y etc. Championship teams are usually teams that play great fundamental football, win the turnover battle and play well together. The kids and coaches have developed a team chemistry of selflessness and cooperation. In the last ten seasons I have used a program that systematically and proactively makes that happen. It consists of a weekly theme and awards based on that theme as well as a short discussion about a real world story and short youtube video that reinforces and helps teach the theme. In most years it has been a very powerful tool to help bring the kids together in a powerful way. More info on that here:

The problem was our kids weren’t participating with it like the teams I’ve had in years past. The short lesson was always e-mailed out on Monday and we would talk about it very briefly on Tuesday. Unfortunately four of our kids didn’t have internet access and about a third of our kids weren’t opening up the e-mails. They weren’t buying into that part of the process. Talking about the importance of the themes didn’t improve participation, so we used a different accountability approach. On Tuesday if you couldn’t whisper in my ear that weeks theme, you would run the first ten minutes of practice. While that wasn’t the way one would hope you would have to use, the participation begrudgingly improved.

To get our kids to come together in a different way, at the end of every practice we started doing our “twenty things I like about” process.  It started with everyone lining up on the goal line in a line ready to do jump up twenty sprints. But instead of doing sprints I would gather the kids around and take one player who had exemplified that weeks character theme and have the whole team focus on him. If we had twenty different people say one thing they liked about player X, we wouldn’t have to run those twenty sprints. We always started with the coaching staff and then asked for a show of hands for kids that wanted to talk. This was a positive and inclusive way to recongnize and reinforce the themes we felt we needed to embrace in order to come together as a team. The kids loved it, we got to know each other better and it helped us come together.

To get the kids to believe, we also stayed as positive as we could that week. I’m a believer in positive reinforcement, but always coaching hard and pointing out both the positives and the mistakes. Kids can’t improve if they don’t understand when they’ve made a mistake. So we corrected the mistakes that week as always, but we became cheerleaders on ANYTHING our kids did well.

This would be the tipping point of our season. We were now 3-1 in league play, were we going to be one of the leagues elite teams or just be a middle of the road team? We weren’t going to be a bottom dweller, but would our kids be satisfied with that? That was the issue we were looking right square in the eye.

Game Four- The Hike- Worst to First Youth Football Coaching Reality Show

Written by Dave on February 19th, 2015

sparks reno game



Most youth football seasons usually have that one game where you know if you don’t stub your toe badly, you’re probably going to win it and win big. This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First”  I took an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. That team was our game four opponent. Although this team had beaten the opponent just 14-7 the previous year, after the changes implemented, we were a much better team this year.

This was a rain soaked day in the Reno desert and we had to travel about an hour to play the game. I’m not sure why we played at a neutral site, but we told the kids to come early just in case they got lost on the way.  I got there about an hour and 15 minutes prior to game time and our opponent was already warming up. I asked one of my coaches who had gotten there before I did, how they looked. He replied that he got there 15 minutes earlier and they were already practicing. That means they were going to “warm up” as an organized team for at LEAST 90 minutes prior to game time.

They were very small, not terribly athletic and they weren’t using their practice time very well. They were hitting a lot and the drills and plays they were attempting to run were poorly executed. After watching them for five minutes I knew there was no need to scout their pre-game and uncharacteristically went to work with my team.

It was still raining when the game before us finished up, so with 15 minutes until our game was supposed to start, the officials asked me if we were ok with starting a little early. Even though we had only warmed up for 30 minutes, I said no problem. It was a little chilly, late in the day and we didn’t want to get rained out The opposing team wouldn’t agree. While they had been practicing for a minimum of 75 minutes so far, they wanted the full 90 minutes. I took our team to the sidelines and had the kids stay loose while watching Reno squander their last 15 minutes of “warm up” time. The game was in the bag before we even kicked off.

This youth football game was over an hour away from where all the other teams in the league were playing. With our teams history of failure and Reno’s 0-3 record, no one was coming to scout this game. Most likely no one would even want to bother trading for this game film. This was the perfect week to open up the playbook.

We could have scored on every possession, but this week was about working on personnel groupings, expanding the playbook and getting all the backups plenty of playing time. Every athletic player on our team had multiple positions on both sides of the ball. Each had a primary and secondary position. Today would be the day we would work every possible combination. We only ran a handful of the base plays, working instead on the adjustments, formations, Jet Series and passing game. At halftime the score was 36-6 as we had subbed in all the backups on defense to allow them to score and stay under the 32 point mercy rule threshold.

The final score was 54-12 and literally it could have been twice that. We never fielded a punt and downed all the kickoff returns. We scored on two touchdown passes but had also thrown two interceptions. Subbing liberally, 11 different players carried the football and 6 different kids scored touchdowns including two players who had never scored a touchdown in their lives. Our biggest failure: the 66 pound rookie player had carried the ball five times inside the three yard line and still couldn’t get into the end zone.

We weren’t at our best, but we didn’t have any injuries, the backups played about as much as the starters and our kids were getting to the point they were thinking they SHOULD win instead of they COULD win.  The next game would be a different story. The next game would be a big hump, we would be facing a team that had beaten us by over 50 points the previous year. A youth football team that had mercy ruled our kids in nearly each of the previous six seasons.

Friday Night Tykes Season Two Episode Four

Written by Dave on February 18th, 2015



FNT bad drill








Can you learn from this youth football coaching reality show? Of course, we can learn what not to do and even a few cases of what to do by being the proverbial fly on the wall at these youth football practices.

This week was all about the Outlaws and Colts, the leagues big rivals. It was great to see that the two head coaches Fred and Mareqous are friends off the field. They met over barbeque and were talking through some of the issues both were facing. Youth football coaching is youth football coaching, we all have the same problems, no matter the team. Being cordial or even developing friendships with opposing coaches can help your team, your league and even your state of mind. It’s a lot more fun playing against someone you like and have a good relationship with than someone you don’t know or dislike. I’ve never bought into the “you must hate your rivals” mantra. You can have healthy and competitive rivalries with teams you like and admire. The games are a lot more fun for everyone too.










The Colts Coach Mareqous Goodloe is someone I could really like, but I hate some of the things he does. He loves and cares about his players, they love him, that can’t be disputed. When he sees some rookie coaches running a physical tackling drill with the kids too far apart, he ends the drill. I want this guy to do well, I’m rooting for him. He wants to beat the Outlaws so badly, but I can tell this season is really weighing in on him. My guess is there are some internal coaching or parenting issues that are stealing the joy he usually gets from coaching. That happens to most of us.

If Mareqous could just stop cursing in front of the kids, he would probably be someone I could endorse. He doesn’t seem to do it maliciously, but those words that 10-11 year old kids shouldn’t be hearing consistently tumble out of his mouth.  No one on his coaching staff is holding him accountable and that’s a shame.

The Outlaws continue to be the league bully, winning the big matchup by a score of 25-14. Their physical play and dominating defense are going to take them to another league title is my bet. The biggest problem with the Outlaws is they practice so dangerously. They do an old fashioned wrap around tackling drill where both runner and tackler get a 7-8 yard running start around a barrier then slingshot that speed another 7-8 yards in open field to the contact point. There is no veering or moves allowed to either side. That is just too much open space and acceleration for a straight line one on one collision. Of course in the drill we see several kids come out with injuries, one who was visibly wobbly kneed. If you saw that drill and are salivating at how physical the Outlaws play, PLEASE don’t do this drill. It’s dangerous and counterproductive.

On offense the Outlaws spread it around a little and they should. This team has the most talent in the league and someone other than man child Daiboo Johnson scores this week. They dominate with the outside running game. They probably won’t need more than that. Last year they ran more inside and mixed it up with some timely play action passes. This year it seems like they just want the Johnson kid to carry the team. Yes he is hands down bigger and better than anyone, but with that many weapons, it seems silly to ride a stallion to the championship when you have a team of six superior horses able to carry the wagon faster and longer to the finish line.

The Spartans continue to struggle. After a beatdown in game three and with lots of kids not attending practice the head Coach Mirza takes time to consult with program owner Coach Roy. Mirza explains his kids aren’t attending practices and aren’t motivated. Coach Roy counsels Mirza to listen to his players and get to know them so he can find the right triggers to motivate them. Roy rightfully thinks Mirza has been too negative and militaristic. The kids on this team aren’t having any fun, they aren’t getting any better and they aren’t interested in coming to any more of his boot camp style practices. We see signs Mirza is taking some of Roy’s advice to heart. I’m still doubtful this well-intentioned but obviously less experienced coach will end up doing very well. When they were 2-0 I was saying they would struggle to be a .500 team, I’m sticking with that.

Have you seem yourself in any of these coaches? This year they shot my reality television pilot called “Worst to First” and I got to see myself on camera close up for the very first time. While I was pleased with about 90% of what they shot, I saw some things I’m probably going to emphasize more and some less. While I didn’t curse or hassle any referees, there will definitely be a few tweeks come next season. An honest look in the mirror needs to happen at the end of every season and game.

Coaching Youth Football “Worst to First” Game Four Prep

Written by Dave on February 18th, 2015

sparks practice reno



This weeks opponent were the  Reno Miners and  I was told it was one of our teams rare wins last year, a 14-7 triumph. Reno was 0-3 so far and had lost all three games by big scores. This meant I wasn’t going to scout them or bother to trade game film on them. This weeks practice was all about fundamentals, expanding the playbook on both offense and defense and developing the passing game.

This weeks starting lineup would still reflect my concern about playing kids who would finish against the best competition. I wasn’t going to start anyone who was just going to beat up on the weaker competition and not come through for the team when we played the best. This caused some friction with some of the better kids that I wasn’t starting and their parents. Those kids were still working hard in practice, but there was visible resentment.

One assistant coach, whose son was part of this group was upset. He didn’t feel I was being fair and that I should always just play the best player. It was a difficult conversation to have with him, but I couldn’t hide it any longer. The previous week I said I sat those kids for “safety” reasons to make sure they didn’t get any further “injuries” but those injuries were always magically perfectly healed come the next day or the practice before game day. I was going to start the kids and get reps to the kids I felt we would have to have on the field to the last snap in the championship game. I wasn’t there to coach a 5-5 team, these kids deserved a legit chance to win it all.  The cat was out of the bag now and there was no way I was going to budge an inch. After threats to quit were smoothed over by the Mayor, we continued tenuously.

This was the second coach the Mayor had to reel in, the other had wanted to quit in the second week. From one of these coaches I had to endure some very harsh texts, some nasty looks and cold silent treatment. In his defense, he didn’t try to undermine me or the team, did an OUTSTANDING job helping me with the defense in our first round playoff win and by the last game we became trusted friends.

I wasn’t at the top of anyone’s Christmas card list as I had demoted several of the coaches’ sons from starting positions and the son of another was on the brink of being demoted. But I had made it VERY clear before I ever took the job that the kids who gave us the best chance of winning a championship would start and that I would have to have 100% control over all playing time and position assignments. All of the coaches were good guys who wanted the team to do well, but they were great dads too who loved their sons.

Coaching youth football well means sometimes you aren’t going to be very popular. You can’t start kids because of politics, friendships or popularity. In the end those people may not like you, but they will usually respect you in the end. I didn’t hold it against the kids and continued to encourage great effort and courage. My hope was that by playoff time we could count on and be able to trust AND start our very best lineup.

My “compromise” position was just like I always do; sub in strategically, score a bunch of points early and get everyone playing time. Those kids who weren’t dependable would be limited in their carries. I paid special attention to making sure those coaches kids got in as soon as was humanly possible. Our 11 in 11 out approach on repping team offense and defense helped too, we didn’t have a bunch of kids standing around every practice.

On defense we added several adjustments to our coverage and worked a lot on defending the option. While we hadn’t scouted this team, they were traditionally a Pistol team. The Pistol offense had been invented right there in Reno by University of Reno coaching legend Chris Ault. That meant over half of the teams in this youth football league were either based out of the Pistol or they had Pistol packages. Most Pistol teams base out of a Double Slot with a single Tailback. What most youth Pistol teams run: speed option, veer option, jet sweeps, toss sweeps, bubble screens, smoke screens, rocket screens, slants, slant/arrow, slant/wheel, shallow and smash type concepts.

This was the right type of youth football team to play at the right time. We needed to work our passing game on offense and defense and I needed to get everyone playing time early and often. This weeks game would be right from the “Winning Youth Football” book textbook, a by the numbers classic, more on that in the next post.

Expanding Your Youth Football Playbook- Worst to First Game Week Four

Written by Dave on February 17th, 2015

sparks after game handshake














After two blowout wins with a loss sandwiched in-between, we headed into week nine.  This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First”  I took an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. After going basic and working ONLY on what we had the ability to do in week eight and winning 46-6, we were going to attempt to work on some things we weren’t very good at this week. Our execution and fundamentals were almost flawless in game three, we were making progress. While we had defeated most of the attendance and lateness issues, we still had some lingering playing time issues that were causing some abrasions under the surface with players and the coaching staff.  We were on the right path, but we just had so much left on the plate to get to.

This youth football coaching experience was nothing like I had ever been a part of before. The routine was we would play the games on Saturday night in Reno. We would get done anywhere from 6:00-10:00 pm.  I would get the game film at about 11:00 Saturday night at the hotel, put it into my computer and watch it until about 1:00 am. Then I would fly back to Nebraska leaving the hotel at 5:00 am on Sunday, putting me in my house at about 2:30 in the afternoon. The flight would consist of me watching film, planning for the next weeks practice and juggling lineups.

Once home I would do some intense family time until about 9:00 pm, then upload the film to Hudl. On Monday I would get up at 5:00-6:00 am and get caught up on all the household chores that had been building up for me all week. Then make a couple of meals for the family for the upcoming week and work on my Hudl film, putting in my comments and telestrations.  When the kids got home from school I would take one of them on their own for some one on one dad time, then back home for some compressed family time with the wife and kids. At 5:00 am the next morning I was out the door on the way to the airport, bound for Reno. Once in Reno it was back to the Hudl film and game film on the next opponent, a quick lunch and consultation with “the mayor” then off to practice at 5:00. It was a whirlwind, but thank goodness I have no problem sleeping on planes.

The attendance and lateness issues at practice had been pretty well nipped in the bud. This team wasn’t used to consistently attending practice or showing up on time. It had been a very long time since I’ve had to deal with that. In my own program if you missed two practices without an excuse I found valid, we would just pick up your gear. Here I wasn’t allowed to do that. Instead if you were late or missed, you were instantly demoted from your starting position for that day. You would get minimal team reps and when it was your turn, sometimes I would just send the player back out. If you missed practice or were late, you were required to make up ALL of what I considered to be the aggregate amount of running you missed out on. You had to make up the running before you were allowed to be part of the team. While I HATE having kids do non-football stuff or use running as punishment, it worked. Our attendance issues nearly disappeared. Some kids don’t like being demoted, some kids don’t like running and some don’t like being separated from their teammates, we had something for everyone.

This week, as always we worked on our fundamentals in position groups for 60 minutes. But instead of working heavy on ball control, blocking and Running Back type drills, the One Backs and I went beyond their base Darrin Slack passing progressions and worked on the passing game. I also spent more one on one time with the Receivers in the 7:30- 8:00 time frame after the Linemen had left. Progress was slow.

Receiver wise we still had just one player who could consistently catch more than 7 of 10 passes on air, and that was now our recently promoted first team Quarterback. Problem was he couldn’t throw and catch on the same play. Our second best Receiver was just working his way back into good graces after missing a bunch of practice time, but he was no better than 5-6 out of 10 on air. The next best player was at about 4-5 out of 10. The next was a 76 pound player that couldn’t block very well due mainly to his size, and he was about 4-5 out of 10. We just had a group of kids who had bad hands even after going through all the pass catching progressions that have always worked for me in the past. It was still a big event that would elicit cheers every time we would actually complete a pass in practice.  The years of teams pilfering all of this teams best skill players had taken its toll. We also had two players in the backfield who had never played in the backfield before, they were always Linemen. One of these players was now starting at Wingback and the other at Blocking Back. You work the hand that is dealt you and this was a tough one.

Since we were having a tough time stretching the field vertically, we worked hard at stretching the field horizontally. The Spread Single Wing with the Jet series was going to have to be our thing. The Jet sweeps took some time to get the timing down and our perimeter blocking timing and angles took some time to get right. The complementary plays looked really good, the powers, traps and wedges off jet. All of those plays were SIMPLE to add in, since the kids knew all of them from both our base Power and Spin Series. We  had a pretty good weapon at the four spot, as a first year back he was very green, didn’t have any wiggle, but was fast. The Jet Counter, our Rocket 43 was going to be a winner. To make it all work, when we went Spread Single Wing, our first team Quarterback was now the Two Back, the weakside Flanker. Our best Quarterback, the demoted second teamer was now the starter at QB and our starting Two Back, either came out for a rest or moved over to the Three Back spot, he was a much better player than our third team Three who was now the starter there.

Coaching youth football well, means you make the best out of whatever equation you have. That means playing musical chairs, making adjustments to how you normally do things and looking at the long term goals at the expense of short term goals. Hopefully following along on this journey you can pick up a few ideas that may help your youth football team next season.

Friday Night Tykes Season Two Episode Three

Written by Dave on February 11th, 2015

friday night tykes Daibo








This season is folding out exactly how I predicted it would. The Spartans are a paper tiger and the kids were going to lose interest just as I said in the previous post. The coaching staff wastes so much time in practice making sure everyone is in the right line at the right spacing and doing so many mindless calisthenics and running. When you don’t know how to coach, just do cals, run and scrimmage. This is what the Spartans are doing. They have talent, but not enough to cover for their bad coaching. So after a 2-0 start, I’m still predicting a less than .500 season. They lost and lost big in game three.

The Spartans had just 17 kids at practice, who could blame the kids? After their first loss it looks like about a third or more kids aren’t showing up for practice.  Discipline is good, but this military boot camp mindset makes little sense for 10-11 year old kids. I see more trouble on the horizon for this team.

The Lobos have problems of their own. Due to some issues in the stands during the last game, Coach Hurt’s wife was suspended for three games.  The program also suspended Coach Hurt and his family so they withdrew their son, the “star” player from the team. The Lobos program lacks decisive leadership from the top. While he may be a very nice person, he isn’t respected, he’s a peacemaker with weak coaching and communication skills. This team will continue to struggle.

The Colts lose a close one on a special teams snafu, as their punter kicking from his own end zone, kicked the ball right to the Ducks best player, who runs it in for the score. Coach Goodloe stays positive and encouraging, but he doesn’t go a good job of managing his parents either. His coaches consistently are mobbing the field after every good play. So of course one of his parents does the very same thing and runs into an official and is penalized, wiping out a big gain. The parent is the dad of their star Running Back, so nothing is said to him.

The problem is on the head coach for not controlling his coaches on the sideline, which set a low bar. Then of course you don’t want to upset the dad of your star player, so he continues to prowl the sidelines. Parents don’t belong on the sidelines and this parent should have been sent to the parking lot after this incident.

I know there are no recruiting boundaries in TYFA and the coaches recruit and chauffer star players from other teams to their practices. When you recruit like that, the parents have all the leverage and can get away with murder. Not a wise practice when coaching youth football. It’s a big can of worms.

The Outlaws continue to implode as a coaching staff. They have too many cooks in the kitchen and again have very poorly defined roles. It’s a leadership issue, that probably isn’t going to matter. The Outlaws are loaded with talent from teams all over San Antonio and surrounding areas. Yes, they are athletic, hit and pursue well, but their offense is one dimensional. But they do a lot of things fundamentally wrong. Daibo Johnson carries the ball way outside his frame ALL the time and it cost him in this game, he fumbled.

Daibo  is carrying the team with junkyard QB sweeps and Kick Returns. I thought their offense was much more effective and balanced last year. I’m not sure why they don’t have the Coley kid at QB and Johnson in the backfield. Johnson looks to be a head taller and 40 plus pounds heavier than any skill player on the field, it’s a stacked deck that isn’t even being optimized. Johnson could create some matchup nightmares if he was in the slot or wideout. Space is his friend and playing Quarterback makes little sense to me. My prediction is they win it all, but not by the margins they did last year and they have even MORE talent this year.

If you are coaching youth football this year, take the time to learn as you watch the show. There are plenty of examples of what not to do along with a few things you might consider using.

Game Three Worst to First Youth Football Coaching Reality Show

Written by Dave on February 11th, 2015

sparks new valleys








Game three was a crapshoot, which team was going to show up? The youth football team that steamrolled to a 54-20 win in game one or the mistake filled team that stumbled in a loss in game two? We had a good week of practice as we compressed our already small playbook and a lineup that took two of our best athletes off the field. The starting lineup all week were kids we could depend on being there to the last snap. I didn’t make a big deal about it, it wasn’t even mentioned. This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First”  I took an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area

Our opponent was a team our team had tied the previous year. Based on that, they couldn’t be very good right? They had won their first game by over 30 points and they had a bye in week two. We had no film because again in this league you aren’t allowed to film your opponents and the team they played in week one wasn’t going to give us the film, because we played them later in the season.

This opponent was the same team with the same coaching staff from last year so I was told to expect a very physical game. New Valleys would run some standard “I” Formation power football with a good dose of play action out of a variety of “I” sets. Defensively you just never know what a team will come out in against our offense. They had a bye the previous week so I rightfully assumed they had attended our second game loss and got an eyeful. I didn’t spend a lot of time watching New Valleys warm up. They appeared to be big, with reasonable slashing speed, but no real big play open field take it the distance type threats.

In pregame our opponent did us a huge favor, the poked the bear in the cage. New Valleys walked past our team from the practice area to the stadium all in a nice two abreast line with their fancy gear bags tossed over their shoulders. As they approached our squad along a curved paved pathway, they confidently stared down our team in silence. As they passed by, they went into some team choreographed chants about how they would dominate us, an attempt to intimidate a long suffering team. If you are coaching youth football, don’t do that, it’s unsportsmanlike and usually just makes your opponent more focused.

What a stroke of luck, the moment they started chanting, I halted everything we were doing. I told the kids to take off their helmets watch and remain silent. As a group we turned around to face them and just stared back in silence. This all took about 60 seconds as New Valleys had to line up to get through the gate to the stadium. After they had stopped chanting, I stood silent for another 10-15 seconds for effect.  This was just the spark our Sparks Railroader team needed.

While I’m NOT the rah-rah type who makes the big pre-game speeches, this week I would. With a red face and probably neck veins expanded to full capacity, I told the kids the team they were playing had probably seen last weeks game on film and was confident they were going to do what they usually do to a Sparks team, blow us out. Then I talked about how hard we had worked and how far we had come as a team. No one had worked harder than us and we deserved respect. However no one was going to give us respect, we had to earn it, I used the word take it. They had the choice, they could keep being that team that got bullied every season or they could be the bully themselves. It was going to be their choice and that choice was going to be made in about five minutes.

It was apparent our kids were determined and fired up to play this game. This wasn’t any false bravado or rah-rah stuff, just a look of purpose and even some quiet anger in their faces. After we entered the field late and got through the coin toss my last minute instructions were: be physical, play fast and play to the whistle. Those kids couldn’t WAIT to get on the field, everyone was bursting at the seams, even the backups.

We kicked off and just missed getting the onside kick. New Valleys recovered and tried to bully us with the inside running game. On a fourth and two from the 50, they just missed converting.  We put together a 12 play drive and scored. Our onside kick failed and they took over near midfield but again failed on a fourth and one, this time trying to hit the home run on a play action pass, they just missed hitting the Fullback on an arrow route. Our kids were playing hard and gang tackling with vengeance.

As we drive the ball on our second possession, New Valleys was in all-blitz mode. They were in a 4-4 stack and sending four linebackers from different angles every time. We had obviously frustrated them in that first 12 play scoring drive. This time we speeded up the pace a bit and with nothing fancy scored on a five play drive. As our starting offense came off the field, the kids were saying how chippy the other team was. New Valleys was clearly getting very frustrated by a team they thought they would dominate.

The floodgates were now about to open in biblical proportions like the cloudburst of the Noah flood. We missed our onside kick, but again were able to stop them on a fourth and short at midfield. They arrogantly kept going for it on fourth down, assuming we were just getting lucky early.  On our third drive New Valleys now had everyone up, they were clearly agitated. Their kids were being chippy, mouthy and hitting late.  Not only were they sending all four Linebackers on every snap, now they had their Corners and even their Safety within four yards of the line of scrimmage. Play action time right? Or Screen?

Our kids were playing confident and physical so instead of optimizing the play to the defense, we just ran the same power off-tackle play with a handful of adjustment tags. The goal was to score quickly and completely demoralize New Valleys. We scored in four plays, this time with our former starting Quarterback who was in to give our now starter (starting both ways and the kicker) a quick breather.  Our offense was going very fast now, lining up and running a play within five seconds of when the referee spotted the ball ready to play. It was a full blitzkrieg the likes no one in Reno had seen before.

It gets better, we executed a near perfect onside kick and get the ball. On the first play from scrimmage with everyone from the defense within four yards of the line of scrimmage and crashing down, we run a weakside counter play with an outside tag. We logged the Defensive End with our Blocking Back, sealed the Outside Linebacker to the inside with our Fullback and got enough of the Corner with our pulling Guard to make the play a winner. The perfect play call, we scored in one play. We are now up 26-0 and our opponent I could feel was in full time desperation mode. On defense I immediately moved into a Cover Three mode as we were shutting down their run game without needing the help of our Monster in the inverted Cover Two approach we had been using as our base. On first down, New Valleys throws a play action pass to their tall wideout right into the teeth of our coverage. We intercept and promptly take the ball back for a score with several bone crushing oh my goodness blocks leading the way.

The score was now 32-0 with just over 2 minutes left to go in the first quarter. We had just scored 20 points in the span of 28 seconds. A touchdown, onside kick, touchdown and now interception return for a score in successive plays. It was like some type of medieval slaughter of a village where no living thing was spared. Our kids had played that first quarter in a focused frenzy of physicality.

We started filtering in some of the nonstarters in and scored again to make it a surprising 40-0 with over 9:00 left to go before halftime. Now we went into full backup mode and got all of our nonstarters plenty of playing time. The wild thing is the backups were feeding on the confidence and physicality of our starters, they couldn’t wait to get into the feeding frenzy.  The final would be a very merciful 46-6 over a team that would end up just missing the playoffs.

The positives were; we didn’t have any turnovers, we created two turnovers, we were physical, we had just a single penalty and everyone finished. There were lots of smiles after this one from our players, but we still had a few problems brewing under the surface. Our former starting Quarterback had been moved to Safety on defense and had only carried the ball three times, he scored on two of them. Our backup Fullback who would normally have carried the ball four-five times in a game like this got just a single carry. They were both starting on defense but weren’t happy, neither were their parents. Our passing game was nonexistent.

Meanwhile all the backup Backs saw the ball and even some of the non-striped Linemen got carries. The message was clear, we were going to reward those we could trust no matter the outcome. The outcome had been great, without those kids and I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Solving Center Issues In Youth Football

Written by Dave on February 9th, 2015


Everything in a youth football offense, starts with the Center. It doesn’t matter if you are under center, in a deep shotgun or in a short shotgun formation, if your Center Quarterback exchange isn’t consistently great, your offense is going to sputter. Turnovers are a youth football teams kryptonite. In the last 18 seasons the teams I’ve head coached have lost 24 games and in 21 of those games we had more turnovers than our opponent, in 18 of those games we had two or more turnovers than our opponent.

We are all in agreement, turnovers can kill a team and botched Center- Quarterback exchanges are nails in your coffin. It’s aggravating, so how do you solve that problem if it has reared it’s ugly head on your youth football team?

We attack the problem four different ways with: personnel, technique, practice reps and creating pressure. A lot of youth football coaches get it wrong right off the bat because they don’t choose the right player.  Day one of practice you are always looking for two Center candidates. I’m looking for that average or above sized kids who are calm, coachable and processes information well.

That excitable kid who always has all the questions and has a hard time picking up even some of the basic drills in the first day of practice, he isn’t your guy. Some guys think they have to have their best Lineman at Center. The position is very important, but most of us coaching youth football in non-select leagues need good Linemen at the Guard or Tackle spots, depending on the offense. Very few of us have the numbers or talent where we can “waste” an athletic player at the Center position.

Selecting the right player is important and you have to select at least two kids. You don’t want to be the guy whose team failed because he put all of his team’s eggs into a single basket and then that basket, your Center gets sick, injured or just flat our craps his pants. You always need a qualified back up who gets plenty of reps. That reserve player can always be a starter from another position, where of course you play the musical chairs game  with other positions to optimize your new equation when you make the switch.

As to technique, I’m not going into great depth on that one, all of our coaching points and progressions are in the Offensive Line DVD and it’s 90 page e-book. Technique is important, but so is who you have at Center and how you are practicing him.

If your Center gets to practice early, he should always be getting pre-practice reps snapping to kickers, punters or Quarterbacks throwing warm up reps. During individual time which should make up about half of your practices, it’s always wise to move the Center over with the Quarterbacks or Running Backs.

After the first two weeks your Center should spend about half of his practice time with the Back groups, getting quality and high quantity snap reps. Our practice methodology requires our indy groups to practice at a pace of one rep every six seconds. So in a single ten minute drill segment the Centers should be getting about 100 reps. Those reps can be split between two Centers or if you have a separate Quarterback and Receiver group, the other Center can work with them. Another way is alternate the amount of time each Center works with the group, number one gets the first fifteen minutes, number two gets the last fifteen minutes.

On every one of those indy group snaps with the backs, a coach, dad or brother should be over the top of the Center with a shield of tall bag and make contact with the Center. Make sure to contact the Center at various angles and speeds. Then move over to either “A” gap and try to penetrate.

The Center has to get comfortable at snapping and stepping and get used to constant contact. We train our Centers to shoulder block, double team block and crab block. Crab blocking can be very effective against big aggressive Nose Tackles or for filling in a gap for a pulling player. Make sure your Centers are using a variety of the techniques when they make that block on the bag in indys.

You can also help the Center improve their snapping during Offensive Lineman indys or group. In every drill you do, make sure the Center has a ball and is snapping before he uses his technique. Add the ball AFTER you have introduced the technique and he feels good about the technique progressions. I like to do lots of first and second step drills in group. We added a “QB” behind the Center on these group drills as well as someone with a shield over the Center. The Center had to snap on every rep before he was allowed to go through the progressions. As players rotate into the group, rotate at the QB spot as well.

We like to do a lot of Fits to practice our ball gets offs, blocking technique and blocking assignments (who to block). Put a “defense” in just standing up in their positions and have the Offensive Line take their steps and fit on the defender. Both players freeze in place until a coach releases them with a tap on the shoulder pad after doing a quality control check on angle of attack, hip level, pad level, head placement hand placement and of course making sure they are blocking the correct player on that called play. We always do a handful of live reps in group at the end of Fits.

With the Reno group, the Fit drill with a QB was probably the one that helped our Center out the most. We rotated one of our Linemen at “Quarterback” and put someone with a shield over the Center providing constant contact. We also did this during our Wedge fit segments. By adding the snap to the individual and group drills, you can get your Center an ADDITIONAL 250 plus contested snap reps every offensive practice.

If you are following our “Worst to First” story from Reno, we went to the above approach after game two. I’ve been coaching this offense for 18 seasons now and rarely had any significant problems with QB Center exchanges. We’ve gone entire seasons with just two or three.   But after suffering from three botched exchanges in game one and five turnovers in game two, we went this route. I’m happy to say we didn’t have a single problem in game three.

Having another Center waiting in the wings who had gotten as many reps as the starter, helped our Reno Center to focus. The starter was a great kid who had started at Center for this team for five years and he desperately wanted to do well. He was smart and worked his tail off. He just had a problem with speed and elevation of snaps when under pressure, this approach helped him a lot. I know in future seasons I’m not going to wait until my Center is struggling to use this approach. It’s very simple and is going to be standard operating procedure from this point forward.