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:



Opponent Number One- Game One- Preparing for the Mystery Opponent

Written by Dave on January 21st, 2015

Carson City









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.”

Preparing for that oh so important game one with my struggling team would be a tough one. The league schedules came out today and we found out we play Carson City in game one. Unfortunately Carson City wasn’t in the SYFL Youth Football League the previous year and they were not one of the teams I looked at during the Scrimmage Game day for the league. I had only taken a very short peek at the 3 top teams in this 13 team age bracket. I was too worried about how we would play, than taking the time to scout other teams.

So what did we know about Carson City? Very little, they had joined this league in the off-season. They had played in Pop Warner the previous year and done well, but had moved into the unlimited weight SYFL at the urgings of the Carson City High School coach.  Pop Warner does an excellent job with youth football in many areas of the country, I’m a fan of much of what they do. However their weight restrictions keep a lot of bigger kids from playing, the big kids those High School coaches need in their programs.

The good news was, Carson City knew nothing about our team either, so we were on equal footing. This was a good draw. What we didn’t want to do was play any of the league bullys in game 1 and get the kids confidence levels down. That would have been a youth football coaching nightmare for this fragile bunch.

On defense we would just have to prepare for a generic opponent. Offensively it was much easier, I’ve been coaching this offense for 18 seasons, over 180 games. I know where to look for my counts and keys. We would learn some of what we needed to know by watching them in pre-game, that is where I spend 65-70% of my time, watching the other team practice.

The net was the advantage should be with us. I know the system inside and out and know the approaches many teams take to stop the offense and attack the defense. All the if-thens are built into the system. Due to our practice methodology and pace we should be fine. Based on the research I’ve done on how most youth football teams practice- we would have done about 3,700 more quality team reps and about 7,000 more quality individual drill reps than the opponent. In game 1, we would need to be outclassed by quite a bit skill wise to take a loss.

With the low Pop Warner weights, Carson City would probably be a smaller team. If they added some bigger kids to the roster, they would probably be first year players. Athletically I didn’t know how we would match up, but my guess is we would have the size advantage. I decided to put a stake in the ground and NOT add in any additional football plays from my playbook

. We would go with the base 5 we had in Scrimmage Game 1, the off-tackle power, strong side sweep, weak side counter, middle wedge, sweep pass option, weak side play action power pass, inside wham style play, hard count, spinner series power strongside, spinner series middle wedge, spinner series weak side counter and spinner series run-pass option. We also had in 3-4 adjustments on the off-tackle play. I ditched the Counter play action pass for later as we were struggling to complete the 3 pass plays already in.

On defense, we planned to continue to practice our man alignments in about half of our defensive recognition time, but come game time we would align in zone. My base defense, but with the Monster call, which is basically an inverted Cover 2 with a middle Monster player who drops into the hole like Tampa 2 style coverage. Against most teams, Monster made the most sense. We weren’t a team that tackled well in space, Monster gave us another defender closer to the line of scrimmage and allowed everyones eyes to be on the ball.

More on closing out the fourth week of practice in the next post.

Youth Football Coaching Week 4 “Worst to First”

Written by Dave on January 20th, 2015

sparks first upAs we entered week 4 the pressure was beginning to mount. By league rule we were now limited to 3 practices per week. That meant we now had just 6 practices to prepare this team for that all important first game. The coaching staff was pressuring me to install more of the passing game, special teams and defense. Some of them were starting to get a little uptight, now realizing some of their sons who had started last year, were no longer starters, had changed positions or were living on the edge playing time wise. Things were heating up.

The problem at this time of year is always is what should be the right mix of individual drills, group and team? Everyone wants to get to team, the coaches, players AND parents. BUT the foundation for winning youth football is always fundamentals. I focused our group on developing rock solid fundamentals for each position group. That was going pretty well, thanks to our coaches using the detailed practice plans, the cheat cards and pre practice and water break demos. I still had to jump into drills from time to time to wrap up the precision and pace. The 5:30-7:30 practice for Line and 6-8 practice time for Backs was a big help.

Before we added anything in on offense we had to be perfect on 19 of 20 reps for the first team. Perfect means every linemen 2 steps correct angle, direction and pad level, every back attacks at correct angle and speed and all blocks are on correct defender with correct toe, head, hip and head placement on the “freeze” which is a coach holding a bag. The Line struggled in weeks 1-2 with assignments, but with rapid rep 2 step freezes, we had solved the problem and all but 1 starter was to be trusted. We still wouldn’t be adding in anything else in week 4, because our ship had sprung a leak.

As we firmed up the offense, we had a glaring weakness, we had just 1 player who could consistently catch the football. He was our starting QB, so that would be tough. There aren’t many plays where the QB can throw it to himself for positive yards. Even on air with catchable passes, we only had the QB who would catch more than 5 of 10 throws on air with no defenders. I had never seen anything like it, with kids this age. We had 3 pass plays installed and we were awful at all of them.

So we invested in both working on our receiving fundamentals and developing several other Quarterbacks so our starter could play Receiver as well. Running short on time, we started our QBs with some of the Darrin Slack throwing progressions. We concentrated on footwork, grip,  good elbow placement, trunk rotation and follow through. It looked like we were going to be able to develop 1 additional thrower. However our 3rd option was a first year Back who was playing just his second year of football. He was just too stiff to make it work. Our 4th option had been last years starter at Quarterback and he never completed a pass, so it was going to be options 1 or 2, there would be no other options. Musical chairs, that’s how you put together a maxed out youth football roster.

So where did the other thrower come from? He was my starting Blocking Back. So now the domino effect has my starting Fullback moving to Blocking Back and last years starting Quarterback now starting at the Fullback spot. This years starting QB, who is the best Receiver is now the starting Wingback and Jet back when we are in Spread Single Wing, which we hadn’t got to yet. We were still trying to develop other Receivers, we went back to the base atomic level of Receiver fundamentals.

Unfortunately it was almost comical how awful we were at catching the football. It was as if our kids had some type of ball repellant  or anti football force field applied very liberally to their hands. Literally I expected Alan Fundt to jump out and tell me I was the blunt of some kind of Candid Camera practical joke.  Some of the kids, I understood, 2 had never played in the backfield before. But the others, it was like some kind of grand conspiracy, they just couldn’t catch the football. My second best Receiver was my 221 lb starting Pulling Guard, who by rule wasn’t allowed to touch the ball.

Defensively we were very poor at tackling in the open field. While not as bad as the Receiver conspiracy, we just weren’t very good open field tacklers. Many of our back 7 defenders just didn’t have good body control. We worked pursuit, breakdown and tackling fundamentals, but every time we went live, we would end up with the limping, the all dreaded injury bug to the group of players where we had zero wiggle room for attrition.

How to solve that quandary- more this week. I was starting to have my doubts. There were some very sleepless nights ahead in that lonely Reno hotel room.

Week 3- Coaching a Worst to First Team

Written by Dave on January 18th, 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 was filmed for an upcoming reality television show “Worst to First.”

Week 3 in this league means 5 days a week of practice. This was an 8th grade team who was so far behind everyone else in the league that instead of the usual 3 days a week practice plans I normally worked off of, this was 5 days a week. We continued to have the Line come in from 5:30 and leave at 7:30 and the Backs work from 6-8, which allowed me more time with each. This week would see us work Offense on Monday and Wednesday, Defense on Tuesday and Thursday and both on Friday along with some initial Special Teams player evals.

With 5 plays in along with the hard count play, we added in the strong side inside power wham style play we now call 14 Blast, a weak side play action pass off of a power fake and our Spinner Series. The Spinner is an integrated mesh style series that threatens 4 different points of attack on every play. It includes a strong side power, weakside counter, play action sweep pass, middle wedge, inside wham and a weakside trap we would install in week 6. While this may seem like a lot, it really isn’t. The linemen already knew the blocking schemes from what they learned in the 5 play series we already had in. The backs were in the same boat, the blocking schemes were the same for this series of plays, power is power, counter is counter, wedge is wedge it was just a change in the backfield action.

Want to fail miserably with your youth football offense and have your kids not believe in a play? Install it before you have the base skills down you need to run the play. This week, that meant teaching the Right End and Power Tackle how to block in space for the Blast play. We also got more complex in simulating defenses. In group offensive line fit and freeze reps, now the “defenders” weren’t just hitting gaps, they were stemming, stunting and slanting. We also added simulated blitzing Linebackers. These are all rapid fit reps used to help the offensive linemen develop confidence in who they were supposed to block along with making sure their technique is strong as well.

The backfield was another story. We were razor thin depth wise. This became painfully evident when one of our starting backs had to miss due to a family issue. That same day another starter was limping around on a bum knee after a full speed tackling drill and another player morphed in and out with an ankle sprain. He would be cured when we did a non-contact drill, but quickly go back to limping when we got back into contact.

The immediate fix was every Back was taught 2 positions right from the start. We also moved a Power Tackle to Blocking Back, he was even or a step behind the probable starter there.  The rest of the Offensive Line was shaping up nicely, we were strong at 3 spots, average at 2 others and serviceable at 2 more. We also simply had to limit contact. Like any youth football coaching job- you have to play musical chairs to maximize the equation.

The goal for this team was to win the 11th game of the season, the League Championship game. To get there with this equation, limiting injuries and being able to reasonably execute when we had players out, was going to be key. More on how we did that this week.

Defensively we had defended the off-tackle, Iso, base sweep, counter and boot well in the scrimmage. We struggled a bit against the orbit rocket sweep, the wide screen game and basic passing game. Again, with a shortage of in-space players, we cross trained Defensive Ends, Linebackers and Defensive Backs. Progress was slow and for one player it was simply too much. He was confused and frustrated, because he couldn’t pick up both positions. We relegated him to one spot and saw a huge turnaround in comprehension and attitude

We added in adjustments for motion and worked the defense against bubble screens, rubs, slant wheel and orbit sweep along with the usual powers, split flow bucks, Isos and sweeps. Practice was still about 60 minutes of individual drills, 20 minutes of group and about 40 minutes of team. As much as we were tempted to forge on in team and install as much as fast as we could, we held back. At the end of this week we would be 2 short weeks away from the first official game, one that would test the fragile ego of this team. We just couldn’t short change fundamentals just so we could have x number of plays in and all of the defense installed.

This team had potential, but the margin for error against the average of better teams was going to be razor thin. That first game would either give them some confidence that what they were doing was producing results or that we were “Same Old Sparks” the team most everyone blew out.

Week 3 Youth Football Practice- Worst to First- The Turnaround Show

Written by Dave on January 18th, 2015

sparks practice field





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.”

In games where you win, but don’t play to potential, how do you communicate that to your team? Smile, tell them about the good things they did and let them enjoy the win. Also hint that there are some things they will need to improve upon in practice the coming week. Short and sweet is probably the best way to go.

After watching the film of the two scrimmage games and posting it on Hudl, it was obvious we had a lot of things to work on fundamentally and scheme wise. Hudl is a great teaching and accountability tool, that is a must for anyone taking this even half seriously. For more info on Hudl, go here:


hudl xs and os








This team had never filmed and posted their game film. So when Monday rolled around and I logged into Hudl- the account told me that only 4-5 of our players had even bothered to watch the film. A coach can tell a player how they played, but seeing it for yourself is so much more powerful. Unfortunately 3-4 of our kids didn’t have internet access and the kids that did, didn’t bother watching.

So how do you handle a team that is overconfident after two measly scrimmage game wins? You break them down, are critical and have a tough week of practice. Before moving on to anything new, we had to shore up the fundamentals we had already taught. We had gotten overconfident and sloppy in the second game. To encourage the kids to stay on point, we laid out goals for them to hit. When they hit those goals, they could move on to something new. The goals included number of perfect group reps in a row, pace of drills and overall consistent mastery of what we had already worked on.

When you are adding scheme, you have to take a look at the skills required to be successful and teach those skills prior to installation. If you put the cart before the horse and the group struggles, they lose confidence in the scheme, the coaching staff, themselves and the team. That’s why I’m so against early season scrimmage games. So we had 5 plays  in on offense, the sweep and power strong, wedge in the middle, counter weak and a run pass option play strong. We also had the hard count “no play” which we were able to successfully run in the second scrimmage game.  More on what we added in week 3 in the next post.

Youth Football Coaching Lessons Learned from Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes

Written by Dave on January 14th, 2015

While much of what we see on television on Saturdays and Sundays doesn’t apply to non-select youth football teams, there are a few lessons we can all take away from Urban Meyer’s 2014 Ohio State Buckeye team. Love him or hate him Urban Meyer has won and won big at every stop in his coaching adventure, Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and now Ohio State.

This was a very difficult year for Ohio State, coming into the season they had a bunch of very talented players graduate. Their Heisman trophy candidate Running Back, their top Receiver, 4 starting Offensive Linemen, the list goes on and on. Then before the season even gets started, they lose to injury their record setting Heisman trophy candidate Quarterback. Along the way, they suffer a myriad of injuries including losing their redshirt freshman now starting Quarterback, who had morphed into a Heisman trophy candidate of his own.

What did Meyer do schematically to adapt to this ever moving equation? An easy one was he made it easier for his Quarterbacks. The power read and sweep read type plays some call inverted veer option plays became less and less of the offense to the point they disappeared. These plays had been a mainstay of the Ohio State offense when Braxton Miller was the starter. They require accurate and quick reads by the Quarterback and many young Quarterbacks struggle with these plays.   With the offense struggling a bit early on, turnovers would be key, so would limiting negative football plays. Most of the pass plays you saw from OSU had very few reads and few if any choice routes. The passes were simple play action passes, often times with a one receiver read, then run approach.

We saw fewer zone read type plays and when you did see what you thought was zone read, most of the time it was not. The play was a called give or keep and was optimized from a blocking standpoint for whatever “option” they had called. The same was true for the Jet Sweep “read”, watch the blocking on those “keeps” they are QB Power plays all the way. The same is true for the third option on these plays, the pass. Many are simple little hitch routes, but if you look at the fake handoffs and QB “keep” portion of these “option” plays, it’s very obvious there was no intention of making any of them give, or keep options, they were designed and called passes all the way. These are great series based football plays, but they weren’t options, making the QB’s job much easier.

Another thing we saw Meyer do was try and limit some of the big hits and gang tackling of his QB’s. The very Single Wingish and HUGELY successful QB off-tackle Power, QB Power Sweep and the QB Counter with 3 lead blockers was no longer part of the offense. These plays had been a mainstay of the offense with Miller at QB, but they disappeared in year three.

The moral of the story for those of us coaching youth football? We have to adapt what we do offensively to our talent. The play mix we use may vary a bit based on that talent.  We have to coach up our backups, because you never know when you’re going to need them. Lastly, if we are thin at a position we may have to rethink how we use that position or limit what we call to put that player in harms way.

One Step Forward Two Steps Back- When Coaching Youth Football

Written by Dave on January 14th, 2015

One Step Forward Two Steps Back

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. Waiting for game two of the scrimmage to start, you could feel the confidence in our kids. There were lots of smiles, they were talking about the next game as if it was already over. Our team had actually beaten the team we were going to play by 7 points the year before as 7th graders. The other team would be the very same kids and coaches from that team and they weren’t very good. Our kids knew we were a much better team this year, so they were expecting a blowout.

As we went through another warmup period after the 40 minute intermission, I could already see a lack of focus. Just like in game 1, I talked about the things we wanted out of the kids: effort, precision, alignment, attitude, pace, technique and ball security. Starting on offense again, we scored quickly on a 5 play drive. But we didn’t sprint as fast back to the 50 and we didn’t align as crisply on the ball. On the second series we scored in 11 plays and we moved the ball in spite of some very poor seal and stalk blocks by our Backs. Our Offensive Linemen were making good initial contact, but they weren’t finishing their blocks off.

In game 1 we didn’t have a single poor snap, in this game we didn’t have any that were terrible, but 5-6 of them weren’t perfect either. They were 4-6 inches to one side or the other and a couple were too high, near the facemask. The other team had a big beast at Nose Guard, so that may have had something to do with it. So we didn’t look terrible, but I could tell the kids had let off the gas somewhat.

Our team had a fragile ego, having won just a handful of games the previous 6 years. I wanted them to have confidence in the system, themselves and me as a play caller so when we huddled to begin the third series, I went with an adjustment to one of our base plays, that I knew would work in this game. I told the kids I guaranteed we would score on the third play of the series using this play if they blocked it correctly and to the whistle. Just like I had told them, we scored on it. When we got back to the huddle they were looking at me like I was some kind of omnipotent prophet. One player asked me “how did you know?”

As we started the fourth series and worked more of our backups in, you could visibly see many of the starters let up. They weren’t using the base technique they had been taught, they were winging it and they weren’t finishing, in one word we were sloppy. To teach our kids a lesson, I started calling plays I knew wouldn’t work based on midpoint and edge counts. The kids had no idea I was doing this, they just thought we weren’t playing well.  It took us 10 plays to score and when we did score it wasn’t because of us, it was because of poor tackling by the defense. As I emptied the bench, we didn’t score on the final drive.

Defensively we did ok, alignments were good, run fits were ok but pursuit angles and tackling were sloppy. Some of our kids were just playing, not using the block destruction techniques we had worked on. The other team scored a touchdown and had just 1 negative yardage play.

So what we learned that talent wise we were on par with the teams that had finished in the middle of the pack. We could dominate those teams executing our base at this point in time. When our kids were focused and on edge a bit, they executed pretty well. On the other hand we also found when our kids thought they could play well because of past performance or could dominate based on who the opponent was, they would let up, not use the techniques they had been taught and our results were subpar, a 28-7 win instead of 56-0.

The next post- week 3 practice.


After That First Big Win- How to Communicate With Your Youth Football Team- Worst to First

Written by Dave on January 13th, 2015

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.When you are coaching youth football, what do you communicate to a team that “won” it’s first scrimmage game big? The team we played was as athletic as us, better at the Quarterback position, threw the ball better and had good size. As 7th graders they hadn’t played our team last year, but they did have a winning record, made the playoffs and were known as being good on defense and mediocre on offense.  I thought it would be a battle, turned out it wasn’t.

Our team desperately needed to get off on the right foot and this was a solid first step, but I didn’t want our kids to get too full of themselves. I talked about all the good things we did: ball security, alignment, effort, coming off the ball well, fast pace, reasonable precision and an aggressive and positive attitude. Then I nitpicked a few things like weak fakes, average double teams and very average downfield blocking. The alignments by our Defensive Backs was a little deep on several snaps, we didn’t gang tackle as well as we could have and we didn’t close on Receivers well at all.

I’ve always tried to be very positive at the half or end of a game where we didn’t play well and then nitpick and be more harsh in games we dominate. This would be a bit different, I would play it as a typical positive youth football scrimmage, but what I expected. I would point out a few negatives, but far less than what I normally do. The issues we had were all things that were fixable and I let the kids know those mistakes were 100% my fault and that we would work on that in the following weeks. I asked the coaches to purposely play down any giddiness they had from the win. The coaches were obviously very pleased. The two guys who were the biggest doubters were now starting to believe. One of the coaches told me with a big smile, ” I think we are going to win every game.”  Getting a little giddy was understandable, our team had never “mercy ruled” anyone in the last 6 years, or even beat a single team with a winning record. Our big crowd had cheered wildly from the stands with each score, they wanted to see what was going on with this team. There were lots of smiles all around from everyone.

All of the coaches then spoke to the kids for about a minute or so each on how they thought their position groups did. We had a 40 minute break as we watched 2 other teams scrimmage, including our next scrimmage opponent. As the kids got hydrated and went back to sit in the shade, I scouted our next opponent.

The next team we would play had a couple of obvious tells, but they weren’t anything special. They were a weak team who had won just 1-2 games the previous year as 7th graders. The previous year our team had actually beat them by 7 points. While they had plenty of size and had enough athletes to compete, including a very big Running Back and nice tall athletic Quarterback, they just weren’t very good. Their fundamentals were poor, they didn’t pursue or tackle well and their block destruction was poorly taught. We would use this scrimmage game to correct some of the mistakes we made in the first game and get the backups more playing time.

This was a process and we were about to stub our toe a bit, more on the next post. We hope you are able to “steal” a few ideas from these posts to enhance your youth football coaching experience.