Daddy favoritism is one of the most common and deadly team killers in youth football. Almost all of us have seen it, the average player who is put into a no-win situation by a well meaning but selfish or delusional father. The average baseball player who would make a pretty good outfielder is made the starting short stop or ace pitcher by his dad. In football, the average player who would make a real good Tight End, who dad has named as the starting Quarterback. Nothing tears a team apart quicker than this type of favoritism. The parents and kids quickly lose respect for the coach and when there is no respect, there is no trust and without trust, forget about having a team that is “all in.”
How do you make sure this ugly problem doesn’t rear its ugly head in your organization? It starts first in the coaching interview process. Some organizations don’t allow dads to coach on the same teams their sons are on. Others will let them coach Jr’s team, but won’t allow dad to coach the position his son plays. You can often find out where a dads coaching motivation is by asking him a simple question like; “We have a policy against dads coaching their own sons directly, how do you feel about that?” It depends how many quality coaches you have in your organization as to what type of policy you can live with.
No matter which direction you go, you have to set expectations with your coaching staff. Have EXPLICIT written out position descriptions for each and every position on your youth football team, so EVERYONE is on the same page as to what “flavor” of player you are looking for at each position. List the requirements for each position; list the type of speed, quickness, body control, strength, aggressiveness and smarts needed to effectively play it. Then map your requirements into your evaluation drills and games. Next, make sure you accurately grade those evaluations.
If the top requirement for position “A” is that the player be able to run through traffic, if little Johnny wasn’t one of the top three players on the Gauntlet Drill, he shouldn’t be considered for that position. The simplest way to figure some of these positions out is to make the drills competitive and group the players based on results. Let’s say you are evaluating players for Linebacker and the position requirement said the player must be one of the best athletes who plays aggressively and can tackle consistently in space. You could figure out who the best choices would be by running the Three Slot Challenge tackling drill in 3 groups. You line up 3 groups all doing the drill, if a player wins (ball carrier doesn’t cross the line of scrimmage) he goes to the group on the right, if he loses he goes to the group on the left. At the end of 15 minutes all your best in space tacklers are going to be in group 3. If you want to make it very interesting just have the remaining kids in group 3 fight it out. The winners get to stay in, the losers are out. If dads budding little Linebacker is in group 1, forgetaboutit, he isn’t a Linebacker candidate. Look to the Evaluating Players thread in this blog for more ideas.
Make sure to have a coaches clinic and emphasize that the goal is to maximize the team dynamic which means you have to have the kids playing in positions that are appropriate for their skill set. Let all the coaches know that there can not be any favoritism whatsoever towards their own children. It’s best to be stern and upfront so you don’t have to deal with the problem later on.
Just remember when you are faced with this situation that it isn’t the poor kids fault, most of them know where they stand in when it comes to their peers- they know. In fact it’s been my experience that most of these kids would prefer, enjoy and even excel at a position or role that was more in sync with their skills. Too many of these poor kids get turned off of the game because of a few dads that are delusional about their own kids skills.
If you’re lucky like me, you will run into coaches that error on the other side of the equation. I had one head coach who had a son with great hands but he rarely threw to him. I ended up having his boy play for me one season, he caught 11 touchdown passes that year. When I asked the dad why he didn’t throw to his very talented son more often, he replied he didn’t want to appear like he was playing favorites. Doing competitive evaluation drills saves you when your son is a stud player- those drills will show everyone what is what and who is who. As a dad you have to be fair, I’ve coached my own kids a handful of years and there was never any controversy. I made sure they never got issued a new helmet or new pants, put them at the back of every line to the point no one knew I had a kid playing on the team until they saw the roster in print or saw me drive home with the boy in the front seat of my truck.
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