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 post is about the first day of practice. Per the previous post, I got to practice early to meet and greet some of the players and parents. As usual we started with a team meeting of players and parents to set expectations, help everyone understand what our mission was and share our basic approach. Since I had never coached or met any of the kids or parents, this was an important first step.
Every year I give the same speech. Word for word, that speech is in my free book on “How to Start a Youth Football Program Step-by-Step” found here: http://winningyouthfootball.com/startinganewyouthfootballprogram.php
This year’s talk was a little different, we had to talk about the reality TV show “Worst to First”, what that was about, why we were filming it and how the film crew would work around our practices and games. We had 20 of our 23 players in attendance. After getting to know each other and sharing why youth football is important and what the kids could gain out of the experience, I talked about how to effectively do that. We discussed how we would work together, what would and wouldn’t work, what the boundaries were, what they could expect out of me and my coaching staff and what we expected from them in return. Since they didn’t know me, in order to gain some credibility I talked a little bit about the championships my teams had won in the past, my 161-21 record and what part I had played in over 600 worst to first teams all over the US.
We talked about being able to be successful in Reno, what success would look like and what the process would look like. Additional credibility was gained by sharing with them the National Championship teams I had worked with and cliniced as well as the 180 plus clinics I’ve put on worldwide. I stressed I wasn’t there to make life long friends with parents, but to help a group of kids have a once in a lifetime successful season that they could look back on with fondness and pride. For those that would go on to play Freshman football, they would be prepared and be excited to play again. Like they were when they were in the second or third grade, not as skeptical beaten down eighth graders.
This was officially their second day of practice, I was still back in Nebraska on day 1. This day would be much different than in days past. The goal was to set the bar, the hard core standard for what would be acceptable from an effort and precision standpoint. With such a beat down team, we also wanted to reignite a passion for playing, obviously we couldn’t afford to run anyone off. Right off the bat we had issues, there was zero sense of urgency or precision in even being able to line up for warm ups. We have a “no walk” policy, no walking is ever allowed on the practice field. I guess they thought I was kidding.
We also use what we call the “ready focus” tool for getting kids to pay attention and look into the eyes of any coach who is giving instruction in practice. Unfortunately we had quite a few kids have to run to the cone and back for walking or not paying attention. What is normally a 6-7 minute dynamic warm-up ended taking us over 20 minutes. Our players and coaches weren’t used to the level of precision required to play winning football. Everything they did was pretty sloppy and instead of coaches getting in there and coaching everything up, they were standing around, talking and tolerating it.
While I was trying to manage the entire process, some of the guys started catching on when they saw my precision and pace or after I jumped in and tripled or quadrupled the pace of whatever they were doing. The kids really struggled with NEVER walking, that means running the 2 steps when it’s your turn in a drill or running to the very end of the line after a drill, not halfway back. Most of the coaches were open minded and trying, I could feel some resentment and pushback from others. They obviously weren’t used to the consistent use of the players names and the constant positive as well as negative reinforcement that was given on everything the kids were doing.
As we moved into the evaluation drill stations some leaders started to emerge. Every coach was assigned to a group of players who were grouped into 4 groups of 5 players. I’m no fan of the traditional evals like 40’s or pushups etc. We do fun competitive game stuff that exposes players underlying “football skills.” We had demoed all of these earlier in the day at the coaches clinic and they all had cheat cards of the games on their clip boards. Most of the games went off pretty well as I jumped from group to group. Again, I had to remind the kids of the no walk, max effort, ready/focus approach we needed to follow.
As always the kids have a blast playing the games and those games revealed the underlying skills we were testing for. During the water breaks I used the time to let everyone know it was great to have fun, but we needed to be efficient with our time and we all needed to be focused. I also used that time to remind the kids and coaches how some of the games needed to be played, using our most attentive players for very quick examples. Practice was ended at the 2 hour mark with a rousing 15 minute game of Hawaiian Rules football. We were exposing athleticism, ball skills and body control while getting some excellent conditioning in.
After practice the coaches turned in their graded sheets. That night I spent over 3 hours compiling and comparing the different scores each coach gave. While most of the scores from the various coaches were close, almost every score for the coaches kids were inflated by 1-2 from ALL the coaches. They were all sticking up for each others kids, while the scores for the other players were fairly accurate. Coach G- his numbers were very close to mine.
The rest of that time was spent mapping those scores into the position attributes we have for every position on offense and defense. While 3-4 kids were “tweeners” not fitting tightly into a single position or even position group, most of the kids positions were accurately determined that night after one non-padded practice. Early on it’s not necessary to be perfect on positions. I might have Jay listed as a 6, PT/RE on offense and DE/DT on defense. His position is going to be better defined on day 2 when we do another set of evals and we move into individual drills in position groups.
What did we have for kids? That will be in the next post.