Coaching Considerations for Various Age Groups in Youth Football
In previous posts, I have given numerous tips for working with younger aged youth football players. As mentioned in the book and in these posts, the 6-8 year old kids are very visual and we showed you many tricks on how use that to your advantage.
How do the other youth football age groups vary from each other?
These are generalizations that I have found have held true with my own teams as well as from what I have seen doing clinics and from feedback from other coaches:
Age group strata vary from league to league, these are some I have worked with:
Age 8-10: While our opponents rarely allow the eight year olds to play tackle football, we do. About 80% of our 8 year olds play tackle, the smallest and least mature 8�s play flag football. We have found with the right practice priorities like those detailed in the book and limiting most drills to tiny competitive groups and lasting no more than 10 minutes, even 8 year olds can be trained to be competent youth football players. That�s of course using the books practice methodology and not doing the 40-60 play playbook thing that many poorly coached youth football teams utilize.
This age group is the most fun to coach in my mind. They are eager to please, have few bad habits, they want to learn the game, they are enthusiastic and most of them still respect authority. This group responds real well to praise and rewards. They will test you like any group, but less so than other age groups.
Age 11-12: This group can often perform as much of the playbook or even more than the 13-14s because they still listen pretty well. Most have played at least 1 year and some as many as 3-4 years. This means you may have to break some poor habits or accountability standards that their previous coach did not address properly. They can test you and some of the top athletes may try and perform tasks �their� way instead of yours. It is very important to require absolute adherence to the technique standards you set, otherwise it will be chaos with this group. Reward, praise and punishment are required to make this group perform to their potential. Now you can throw the waggle pass and use more motion.
Age 13-14: The most difficult, rewarding and frustrating group to coach. This age group historically has had the highest drop out rate in youth football. Players this age start to look to other interests like girls, work, other sports, video games and school to name just a few. Some kids this age with little parental support also go through stages of apathy where they don�t do much of anything. As many of these players go through puberty their bodies change, the big dominating kid is done growing and now low and behold, he is one of the smaller kids. The small kid that held his own at the younger age groups doesn�t grow a bit or goes into puberty later and is suddenly dwarfed by much larger and more aggressive players. Some players in this age group grow 5 inches and put on 30 pounds of muscle from one season to the next. They come back with deeper voices, facial hair and muscle tone, hardly recognizable from the previous year. These vast differences in maturity levels often drive slower developing kids from the game. Many weaker players by this time figure out that football is not going to be something they will excel at and stop playing. While passing accuracy is still spotty we have had players this age that can throw the ball 35-40 yards.
For us this group requires the most care, coaches are often coach and social worker to many kids this age. The one year I coached this age group with another friend, it was very rewarding. This was a “B” team where I fired the entire coaching staff 1 week before their first game. This youth football coaching staff had violated our �No “B” stacking� rule as well as �No Wednesday Football Practice� rule. They also failed to even remotely follow our football practice methodology template and going into their first game the base football plays and defense were not even close to being acceptable.
My friend and I were both head coaching other teams, so 2 days a week is all we had to make this group work. In addition, we moved 4 obvious �A� level players off this “B” team and moved them up to their rightful place on the “A” team. We had a myriad of issues, tiny players, weak players, unconfident players but kids that wanted to be there. At the younger levels that is something you do not always see, some players are there because dad wants them to be a football player.
We started with 24 kids, we moved the 4 �A� kids up, one player broke his arm skateboarding, one got taken off the team by mom for grades and one had to quit because he visited his dad in an out state prison on the same days as we played our games. We had just 16-17 kids in a �B� league, to top it off the league decided to scrap the �B� league that year at the last minute and just created another division where they put what they thought were weaker �A� teams in. We were the only organization that had a true �B� team in it, the other Orgs had just one team, so we ended up playing that organizations best team with the weakest 17 kids we had. We couldn�t afford to lose a single player that season, suiting up just 16-17 kids.
How did we do it? Lots of praise, lots of chalk talks, lots of players learning multiple positions, each player with an accountability partner like we talk about in the book in Chapter 4. To this age group, we explained both the hows and the whys of what were were trying to teach. Even with the small number of players, we did hold players accountable to practice attendance and technique standards. Some times we didn�t start the best player. Over time we got our points across and the kids knew we would not budge from the standard. After struggling early as we expected, we won out to take second place in a division we were totally outclassed in.
This age group can do it all, however they often will not be able to perform as well as some 11-12 year old teams. Even though they are physically superior than the younger age kids, this group often has to be broken of many bad habits previous youth coaches allowed to go on. While many of these players have great football intellect and athletic skills, many do have ideas of their own, that they will constantly try to use rather than correct technique. I enjoy talking and reasoning with kids this age group, but if you do not have a strong personality and the kids sense weakness, they will roll right over you.
This age group can tell if you know your stuff or not, if you don�t know it, you will not have their respect. If they don�t respect you, they will not follow you or play hard for you. They respect knowledge and expertise that will help them win games, that�s what they care about. They have to know you know your stuff, be confident and legitimately care about them. This is not the place for a first year coach, it would be a nightmare.
I�ve head coached 14 different youth football teams from age 6-8 to age 13-14. Each year I just took the team that did not have a qualified �dad� head coach available. Over the last 6 years more often than not, this just ended up being an age 8-10 team. Today that age group is my preference, I just stay at the age 8-10 level and get a new team every year more or less. As I mentioned earlier, the kids this age are often eager to please and a blank slate. I prefer being the first one to write on those slates and mold these impressionable young football players. This helps our organization by sending well trained players to the older teams, where those coaches will now not have to break the players of poor habits. Since my teams have very high retention rates we end up �saving� a few players that may have quit due to less aggressive coaching. Lastly I just enjoy coaching kids this age with lots of first year players and second year players coming into their own, it�s fun and rewarding.
The �Winning Youth Football� System has worked at every age level in youth football both here in Nebraska and across the country. Chapter 7 of he book clearly states what play series and defensive schemes should be used based on each specific age group and experience level.
While there are 3 High Schools using my system as well, I do not recommend my System to High Schools. I have never coached at that level and hesitate to recommend anything to anyone that I have not thoroughly �stress tested� in similar and multiple situations similar to theirs. I have coached 7th-8th and lighter 9th graders and our Eagle Teams at this age group have used this system the last 6 seasons, so yes I can recommend it for Junior High teams.
For those that have e-mailed me and asked me why I don�t coach the older players or even High School football; As stated above, I have very good reasons for coaching the younger kids. I have no interest in coaching outside my own youth program. I have been offered (turned it down) a local paid head coaching job at a Junior High with over 900 students. I have had inquiries about assisting at the High School level as well. The time required to do those jobs well is huge and something I would not be able to commit to. My work responsibilities would allow for that easily enough, but the family time I would have to sacrifice would not be the right value proposition for me right now. The nice thing about running my own youth football program is I make the rules and have no interference from anyone, that would not be possible with a School team. I have zero aspirations of coaching anything but youth football, my impact is much wider and deeper in this arena than it could be anywhere else.
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