Youth Football Bye Weeks Worst to First Youth Football Experience

Written by Dave on April 1st, 2015

tire flipping birthdaycoaches














What do you do during bye weeks when you are coaching youth football? What made sense to me was to take a day off. 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. Unlike most seasons where we practiced just 3 days a week until game one, then went 2 days a week thereafter, I couldn’t do this with this team. The kids were just so far behind fundamentally and I was spread so thin, we had practiced the full 5 days per week until school started, then went 3 rather than the allowed 4 practices per week thereafter.

The bye week allowed our kids to get a well-deserved day off and got me an extra day in Nebraska with my family. Commuting back and forth was tough, with 5 days in Reno, then 2 days in Nebraska. When I got home I was scrambling to get everything I could done to reconnect and care for my family, it was always a whirlwind of activity.

When we got back to it in Reno on Wednesday our goal was to have fun, take a step back and bond as a team. Much of what we worked on was building team unity, via things like tire flip relays, pass catching relays, dummy tackling relays, dummy carry relays and Hawaiian Rules football.  We worked about 60 minutes of individual, group and team, then spent 60 minutes on fun stuff and getting to know and trust one another better. Every night for the last 2 weeks we were doing the 20 things I like about player X exercise. By the end of the season we would cover every player. We also did a birthday thing with cakes and mini roast for one of our players, the one I had problems with earlier in the season. Celebrating players birthdays is a good thing as long as the player is someone that is efforting and adding value.  Often times that helps keep things fun and will help with the bonding process.

It was also time to improve our coaching. For most of the season our coaches had watched games, not coached them.  It didn’t matter much that every coach had a wrist band and knew the plays, they still weren’t coaching much. They were watching more than they were coaching and when they did coach, often times it was shouting things at kids that weren’t even in their position groups.

I had tried to solve the problem, but it wasn’t getting much better. These guys continued to yap at referees and be more fan than coach. I put my foot down harder than ever. I let the coaches know that they could either coach their position group and be silent with the referees or to stand up in the stands on game days. Youth football coaching and being a fan are two different things. The film showed major alignment and technique problems that were never addressed. In the Reed game, our Monster never made a single tackle. He wasn’t playing downhill and was too concerned about dropping into the hole, rather than aggressively responding to his reads, like we had practiced all week long. Our Linebackers coach was watching the game, not coaching it. There were situations like that going on with nearly every position group.

Unfortunately I had been forced to call both the Offense, Defense and Special Teams, something I hadn’t had to do in over a decade. I had to look at the big picture, manage the game and of course watch the Offensive Play keys.  I was very blunt on our Hudl film about the mistakes we were making and put it back on the coaches. When the kids make a mistake it’s  OUR fault. If the player is in your position group it’s YOUR fault. You get what you coach and what you accept, you tolerate and deserve. The encouraging atta boys now included a heavy dose of frowns, hard looks and “that isn’t acceptables”, directed at the coaching staff. Had they made progress? Yes, but it wasn’t good enough and it wasn’t enough to make a championship run.

As a head coach, you can’t do it all. You need input, good intel, good data from your assistant coaches and players in order to optimize your opportunities on game days. I wasn’t getting that. So now I turned my focus on pressing the coaches and players for that intel. This made them think, it forced them to look at what I wanted them to look at and it forced them to coach. When the film didn’t add up to the intel or in some cases guesses they provided, I called them out on it. Is shame a good way to get adults to do things? No, but I had run out of options and I was tired of walking on egg shells or having to frame words to make sure no ones feelings were going to be hurt. This is the intel we needed, this is why it’s important and we aren’t going to be successful if you choose not to do the work to provide it.

In this down week I devised a set of signals several trusted players would use to get me some of the intel I needed on offense. I won’t share all of them with you, but one included the alignment/first move of the Defensive Tackle over the Power Tackle, another was the alignment of the Linebacker closest to the Center.

This week was also full of film study and scouting. Our upcoming opponent would be playing what was most likely the 3 seed out of 13 teams. If we won our next game, there would be a very high probability we would face that 3 seed in the first round of the playoffs. As luck would have it I could see both teams play at the same time in the weeks just leading up to our game. Yes the schedule had been very kind to us.

We were able to do a couple of film trades to get film on both teams. By the end of the week I had play cards and scouting reports prepared on both teams and stayed the weekend to take in their game, instead of flying back to Nebraska a little early.

By the end of the week I could feel we were a closer youth football team. The coaches had started to come around. We weren’t clicking on all cylinders, but we still had some time and we had an even money chance to win that next game and make a first ever playoff appearance.

Friday Night Tykes Youth Football Season Finale Show

Written by Dave on March 25th, 2015

FNT show pic








This weeks Friday Night Tykes youth football reality television show focuses on the Texas TYFA State Championship game between the San Antonio Outlaws and the Mission Mustangs from the Rio Grande Valley.  Before we get to the title game, the show takes a peek at the year-end banquets of the Broncos and Colts.

The Broncos finished up just 1-7 after suffering through a horrific 2013 season that saw Coach Charles Chavarria suspended for teaching targeting. Seeing the Broncos under the covers rightfully scared a lot of parents off. The new coaching staff did a great job of being positive, engaging the kids and teaching safe tackling methods, but they weren’t very good technical football coaches. Thankfully they didn’t hand out trophies to their team. I’m fine with participation trophies for kids aged 7 and under but for 5th and 6th grade kids, not so much. It’s great the kids made it through the season, the bags were a good gesture, but trophies are for excellence, leave that for the YMCA soccer leagues.

The Colts had a positive banquet as well. Coach Mareques Goodloe took time to bring every player on stage and say a few positive and personal things about each one of them.  At the end of the banquet Goodloe stepped down as President and Head Coach of the Colts. This didn’t surprise me in the least, it’s something I could see happening from the very first show. Mareques is an outgoing “relationship” guy who hates telling people no. He also is an aggressive recruiter. That makes for a lot of people one has to answer to and make happy. It can wear on a person, especially someone with the personality of a Mareques.

The kids love and respect Goodloe and he does a lot of very positive things, but you could see Coach wasn’t enjoying himself this year. Youth football parents can be one of the most unappreciative entitled group of human beings on the planet.  That shtick wears out a lot of guys coaching youth football, that’s one of the main reasons you don’t see guys coaching more than 4-5 years. The kids are great, but there’s a reason why being head coach of an orphanage team is a widely coveted job.  Goodloe would make an outstanding assistant coach somewhere, especially if he was paired with someone who could help him keep his language in check. Goodloe does just that at the end of the show by announcing to the Outlaw coaching staff that he will be joining them next season. I guess if you can’t beat them, join them.

The Outlaw-Mustang game starts off with the Mustangs missing two of their two-way starters. Yes, the players are running late to the State Championship game, supposedly because they are lost. This is the second time we’ve seen this from a team on the show. Coaching point: ALWAYS hand out paper maps to your game location along with several e-mails reminding parents of the route, time and penalties for being late. In my program every minute late equals one lap on Mondays practice and a loss in playing time. You hate to punish the players for the sins of the parent, but sometimes that’s the only way you can solve the problem. For the ultra undependable parent, make arrangements for a coach or another parent to take their child to the game. You hate to have to treat grown adults like children, but that’s reality when you are coaching youth football in 2015.

The Mustangs are limited in what they can run, due to their starters being out, but they move the ball and score on the Outlaws on a well executed pass play. They come right back with a beautiful onside kick and look to open the game up. But wait, now their two late kids come sprinting in from the parking lot and the Mustangs take a timeout to rush them into the game. The problem is, they first have to be certified and time almost runs out as they rush onto the field. In the confusion, the snap is bad, the Quarterback doesn’t field the ball cleanly and he throws a terrible outlet pass and it’s a pick six.

This was a HUGE momentum changer, the Mustangs had the Outlaws on the ropes. There was no need to rush those kids onto the field, the ensuing chaos, made the Mustangs make a massive mistake they wouldn’t have made under normal circumstances. The Mustangs score again late in the third quarter to make it a two score game at 16-6.  As we get into the fourth quarter the Outlaws open it up but face a 4th and 15 in their own territory. If the Mustangs hold, the game is probably over, but the Outlaws heave up a long pass and score to make it a one score game. The Mustangs fail to convert and the Outlaws take over at their own 7 yard line with just over 3 minutes to go in the game. The Outlaws go 5 wide again and throw it right down the field again to take an 18-16 lead with just 1:40 left. The Mustangs drive it the length of the field to the Outlaw 12 yard line, but just miss winning the game as the clock winds out.

The Outlaws without any shadow of a doubt had more talent than the Mustangs, that isn’t debateable. However the Mustangs were better coached, fundamentally and scheme wise.  They threw the ball on time and in rhythm, not throwing desperation bombs to athletes outrunning coverage. I liked the precision, finesse and accuracy of the passing game AND the playcalling on the Mustang side. When they scored their second touchdown, the Outlaws were all set to sack the big number 42 in the backfield on a Power I power to the blocking back side, but the Mustangs faked that and ran an Iso to the Blocking Back away from the power side, great call.

The Mustang Quarterbacks, pocket presence and movement was well coached, he wasn’t scrambling for his life and just being an athlete like the Outlaw Quarterback. However the Mustang Head Coach was NOT very good with his team. His nervousness and willingness to fiercely criticize his players using improper language was wrong and counterproductive. He was so tight and seemingly unhappy prior to the game. That manifests itself in your team. When they get into a tight spot, they concentrate on not trying to make a mistake, instead of going out and trying to make plays.

That is what won the game for the Outlaws. Their kids were confident in their team and their athleticism. They overcame poor offensive coaching to pull out the win. Why a team with so many amazing athletes would feel like they had to power teams, when they can create so many mismatches all over the field in spread just boggles the mind. When you have the athletic advantage with so many weapons over another team, space it your FRIEND, not your enemy. When the Outlaws late in the game finally decided to spread things out and go 5 wide, they moved the ball at will.

Hats off to both teams, we saw good sportsmanship from the players and a heck of a youth football games. Hopefully we all learned from the experience and can take what we learned not to do and to do into our next youth football season.

Worst to First Youth Football Coaching Show- Game Seven

Written by Dave on March 24th, 2015

sparks after game handshake















So how did game seven shake out? The game wasn’t without a little youth football coaching drama.  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. The starting Corner and backup Fullback  who had been held out by mom with all the “health” issues didn’t play again. He fell down riding his skateboard and had a couple of stiches in his lip. During our final practice of the week, he sat next to his mommy under a blanket instead of engaging in practice- which I ended after looking on in disgust. A split lip isn’t an excuse for not engaging in at least walk through mental reps.

We had instituted a very strict, you don’t attend practice, you don’t play policy, and that included injuries. The only excused absence was missing school because of illness. Again, these kids weren’t used to commitment and follow through. I wasn’t going to let the parents bully me into playing their kids just because we were so shorthanded. I had told the parents and players in a team meeting I would gladly lose every game, rather than reward them for a lack of commitment and follow through.

We talked about not letting their teammates down and of course all running had to be made up prior to being allowed back into practice. This player was hard to reach, thanks to an overprotective mom and he hadn’t bonded with his teammates. In this players place I started the former head coaches son who weighed a whopping 76 lbs. This would be a great spot to give him his first start. To discourage teams from running his way I switched and put our huge Defensive Tackle with good feet to his side and instead of going strong/weak, put our more athletic Linebacker to his side as well.

The coaches son had been a two way starter in previous seasons, but he couldn’t/wouldn’t tackle, was a poor blocker, couldn’t catch and while fast, he refused to trust his speed. He also had a past history of fumbling and he did some of that in practice too. He was a likeable kid, who gave reasonable effort, but he wasn’t a very good football player. On any other team, he wouldn’t play much at all.

But the head coach was a good guy. He had for the most part supported me even though it had to be hard for him. Here I come in the last season this team would be together, take over and accomplish something he couldn’t get done. All in all, he took it pretty well, but I could tell he didn’t like the fact his son was no longer a starter. To keep the wolves at bay, I made sure to start his son on all the special teams and got him in early on offense on plays we didn’t really need a Wingback. When we got up by four scores I would immediately get him a carry. In this game I was going to “bank” some goodwill and start him at Corner.

The game was in one of the most beautiful youth football venues I’ve ever coached at. The game started as the sun was setting over the base of the Sierra Mountains in a very nice High School stadium. The game started with us on defense, they went three and out of the Double Slot Pistol, running power, an orbit sweep and a play action pass. We scored in five plays on a run pass option. They got a first down on a penalty, then went three and out. We score in seven plays, as they bunch up to stop our inside running game. They go three and out on offense and are getting desperate, a half back pass and double reverse are snuffed out for losses. We go to Spread Single Wing and score on one play on a Jet Sweep. We recover an onside kick and score in three plays off a Spread Single Wing Wham style play off of Jet Sweep action, the rout is on. The next series we see them try a flea flicker and a double pass, both stopped in the backfield.

At the end of the first quarter we are up 28-0 and start emptying the bench. With the game well in hand we put all the backups in on defense, many on offense too and go into halftime with a 42-6 lead. At the half I talked to the starters in the backfield and asked them to take a dive if they got inside the one. We got the coaches son and another kid who had never scored a touchdown that way, putting them in at Quarterback and running power from the 1 yard line. The  opposing team finally figured out our weakness at the one Corner spot and got us for a couple of scores there. The final score was 54-19. We banked a bunch of playing time for our backups as they ended up getting as much playing time as the starters in a game we could have easily scored 80-100 points.

Our first team offense had scored on every possession but one. We had two turnovers, one by the first team, another by a kid who was a lineman and wasn’t used to carrying the ball. We got two turnovers on defense and were called for three penalties.  The former head coach saw in real time what a huge liability his son was on the defensive side of the ball, point made.

At 5-2, this set up game eight against a team with an identical record for a chance to play in the playoffs for the very first time in this teams long suffering history. The other team was at our game filming our game, even though doing so is against the league rules. When confronted, they went over to the opponent’s side of the stadium and sat in the top row, then left. Game on.

Coaching Youth Football the Week of the Weak Opponent- Worst to First Game Seven Week

Written by Dave on March 23rd, 2015

sparks practice reno



When coaching youth football what do you do the week you are playing a bottom dweller?  There can be long term repercussions when you play a weak team and use all the coaching clichés like playing one game at a time, any given Sunday, or build up that weak team as someone that can actually beat you. You lose credibility with your team, credibility you are going to need later on in the season when you DO play that mediocre team, that you DON’T match up well against. Cry wolf and the kids will get it and not respond well when there IS a legit threat. 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.

When coaching youth football you will eventually play a team you match up really well against and will most likely blow out unless you have a catastrophic once in a millennium blow up. What do you practice on that week? Should you invest a lot of time defending their offensive scheme and game planning or take that valuable time and invest it where you will get a long term return? What’s more important, beating that bottom dweller by 62-6 rather than 42-14 or strengthening areas of your game or maybe bringing your team closer together?

The youth football team we were facing this week would end the season with just 1-2 wins. Yes, if this was 2013 instead of 2014, scheme would have been important. In 2013 this game would have been a dogfight, but in 2014 our kids were much more fundamentally sound, confident and playing together. Had this weeks opponent run something we hadn’t seen yet like a true triple option or Markham Double Wing team, investing a little time on scheme would have probably made sense. But our opponent ran a lot of Power I, then they ran some Double Slot One Back stuff using a Rocket Orbit Sweep series of plays. This wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before and they were very average in space. If we protected the football we should be able to name the score.

The goal was to get fundamentally better during the week, work some on improving the passing game, improve the reads and consistency of our Defensive Tackles, consistently gang tackle and build depth. We wanted to have plenty of momentum going into our last regular season game against a team with the same record as us, which would determine if we made the playoffs or not.

The remaining two practices were tough, we amped up our pace. During full team offensive and defensive recognition drills, we were running 11 kids in and 11 kids out on every rep and were getting about 1 rep in every 15 seconds. Defensive recognition covers all the formations and alignments we would see during the season and many of the base play concepts. We actually tilted some of the recognition towards our last regular season opponent which with the bye we wouldn’t see for three weeks. While we were still trying to build depth, this team was so weak we had every descent athlete playing both ways. We had a lot more flexibility on the line.

How would it end up? Next post will tell all.


Friday Night Tykes Season Two Episode Eight

Written by Dave on March 18th, 2015

outlaws ravens









This episode featured the Outlaws, their athleticism and their mismanagement. As mentioned in previous posts, they just have too many coaches and they continue to get in each others way. Even in the semi-final game head coach Fred still doesn’t have down who is supposed to be calling the defense or have a chain of command communication structure in place.

In the Outlaws first playoff game their opponent, the Steelers come out in several empty sets with five receivers split out. The Outlaws struggle to align correctly and Fred tries to get a timeout as we see seven or eight coaches all frantically yelling out alignment instructions to the confused Outlaw defenders. Fred doesn’t get the timeout and the Steelers make a big play. It looked like Keystone Cops, not a championship caliber youth football coaching staff.

On defense, the defensive coordinator is the only coach who should be making the formation, defense, stunts or coverage calls. The rest of the defensive alignment in youth football should be simple enough and been practiced enough during defensive recognition that there should be no need for the other eight or nine coaches to be screaming out instructions. This doesn’t really surprise me though, when we see the Outlaw practices they are full of full contact hitting drills, I have yet to see a full team defensive recognition drill. Their alignment instructions are a lot of long one on one talks and descriptions instead of just aligning and showing the various offensive alignments and sets and having the defense quickly realign. So much wasted time in the practices leading up to these playoff games.

If there IS a need for further instruction it should come from ONE position coach for each group, the Defensive Tackles, Defensive Ends. Linebackers and Defensive Backs. The problem is you have eight, nine or even ten coaches seemingly all coaching all the kids instead of each coaching their own position group. Even when coaching a position group, only ONE coach from that position group should be in a position to speak onto the field during the game. Those instructions should be one or two word, key word instructions, not the long sentence gibberish we see from the Outlaw coaching staff. They all yell over each other and the kids are obviously confused.

After struggling a bit early alignment wise, the Outlaws sheer athleticism overwhelms both opponents and they win both games, not in blowout fashion but with just enough of a cushion to be pretty comfortable and confident. The Outlaws are flawless open field tacklers.  Last years star Running Back Mizell Miller, who hadn’t even been featured so far, comes up with two monster games to lead the Outlaws. Yes, they are that deep. Several star players from last years teams are now backups, yet play key roles in both games.

This causes some heat in the Outlaw camp. Defensive Coordinator Tony Coley’s son Lucas Is kind of left out in the cold. After suffering a wrist injury earlier on the season he returns to action. But instead of starting at Quarterback or Defensive Back he is now relegated to a backup role on the defense. Early on I said Coley should have been the starting Quarterback and move Daiboo Johnson to a Running Back spot. But after returning from the broken wrist injury I totally understand not playing Coley at Quarterback in a semi-final playoff game, especially with the three backs the Outlaws have in their backfield. Any of them would be the feature back on any other team in the league. More on that in another post.

Tony gets frustrated with his sons lack of playing time. Early in the game he encourages his son to keep his head up and stay engaged. As the game progresses and Coach Fred takes over the defense and tells all of his coaches to quit instructing on the field, Tony has less to do and he starts making sarcastic comments about his sons lack of playing time. We don’t see everything, but it looks like the Coley kid does get some playing time on defense later in the game, but he’s no longer a starter or star like he was last season. At the end of the game Tony walks off the field in frustration with his son in tow, prior to the teams post-game meeting.

We don’t see everything that has transpired this season but I said in previous posts that this youth football coaching staff was poorly managed and was ready to blow. It did blow and now we have an assistant coach who has been integral in helping build this team, quitting on this team as they head into the State Championship game. With just one game left in the season, Tony shouldn’t have quit, especially if the majority of his frustration flows from his sons lack of playing time.  Personally I’m not one that feels one year should carry over to another or that a player never loses his position because of injury. Injuries change things, players progress and regress, that’s part of life. No matter the reason, Tony should have sucked it up for one more game, then moved on the following season.

We get a quick scene with Coach Mareques Goodloe from the Colts. He talks about why it was more important to attend the funeral of one of his players caregivers than it was to be focused on winning a game last week. You have to take your hat off to Mareques, he totally got that one right. If coach reigns in his language he could be one of the most valuable assistant coaches of all time. Very few people connect with their youth football players like this guy.

On the other side of the bracket the Austin Ducks lose their Semi-Final playoff game to a team from the Valley, Mission. I’ve done a LOT of coaching clinics in Texas and the Rio Grande Valley gets the least amount of respect in the state as far as football goes. From the youth to High School level, no one respects the Valley, their teams always lose big in the playoffs.

The problem as I stated before is the Ducks have little team chemistry and I predicted they would fall apart because of it. Their star player #1, Mckutchin is a specimen no doubt on both offense and defense. However he lacks heart, selflessness and is a poor teammate. He trash talks in practice and games and it finally catches up to him. Missions star player #42 catches several balls right over the top of Mckutchin, so #1 starts turning on his teammates who have made mistakes. The kids look up to their star player for leadership and he shows none. The Ducks get behind, panic, turn on each other and lose to a team with less talent that is better coached.

The Ducks head coach is up in the stands thanks to an altercation he had after a game with one of his parents. What a shame, great talent and poor leadership doom this team from the start. Everyone including the Ducks coaching staff were already looking at playing the Outlaws in the Championship game. The head coach didn’t even think the game would be competitive, NO ONE thought this game would be close, let alone a Mission win. I wasn’t surprised in the least. Next week is the Championship game between the big bad Outlaws and the upstart Mission team.

Back to Work After an Emotional Loss When Coaching Youth Football

Written by Dave on March 17th, 2015

sparks after game handshake














So how do you get your kids back on track after the big emotionally draining loss? The coaching staff takes the blame for the loss and we start the week with some fun.  At the start of practice, as always I took the blame for any loss and asked everyone to point at who was to blame. All fingers pointed at me, as they should. Before I did that, I showed the kids how close we actually were to winning that game. We were close, but to get over the top was going to require some serious but doable work.

After a very physical Saturday evening game we went without pads on the first day of practice that week.  We did some things the kids love doing, competitions and games. That meant lots of tire flipping relays, pass catching relays, firemans carry relays and Hawaiian Rules football. I wanted to see smiles and a passion for the game of football on our kids faces. While we had lost to a youth football team that we were overmatched against, I was proud of our kids heart and willingness to play hard and with poise until the final gun. After a crushing loss, it’s important for the kids to understand that the game of football is designed for them to have fun.

There would be plenty of time to get back on track for a playoff bid. This weeks game would be against a bad two win team. We would get a bye week the following week, then we would play a team that would probably be 5-3 for a chance to get into the playoffs. This was a great schedule. We had three weeks to get ready for the big game, because I felt very confident in the matchup against the two win team. They were a Power I team without a lot of open space athleticism, a perfect matchup after the big loss.

After watching the film, there was a lot to be happy about and even more to be disappointed with. As a coaching staff our position coaches had done a pretty poor job coaching our kids up. Our Linebackers weren’t stepping correctly, taking correct angles, fitting properly or tackling well. Our Monster- the “vacuum cleaner” in this defense didn’t make a tackle until the fourth quarter. Our Defensive Backs were standing flat footed instead of taking their three quick buss steps to start, tackled poorly and weren’t playing aggressive. Our Defensive Tackles didn’t get a consistent hand on the second level blockers and didn’t squeeze down hard enough when their keys said they should. Our Defensive Ends/Outside Linebackers had great opportunities to make tackles, but whiffed. On offense we played pretty well minus the two miscues on the hard count and some open field blocking whiffs.

As a team we aligned well on defense, but we weren’t executing our base fundamentals, reads and scheme responsibilities. Part of this was coaching, our position coaches were obviously watching the game rather than coaching it. Another part was just simulating that speed and athleticism in practice. In practice we got to the bubble and smoke screens, in games with the talent we were facing, we didn’t. Same for the Veer option and even the toss sweep, we were overcompensating for our lack of speed by overrunning plays and giving up the cutback lanes. We had a tough time simulating that athleticism in practice.

That would have to get solved this week. Part of coaching youth football well is coaching your coaches. I would have a heart to heart with the coaching staff and make sure to spend time with each coach and every position group this week instead of devoting most of my time to the line groups. We were 4-2 now and weren’t as far off as some might have thought. Had we scored when we were on the 3 and not given the ball away on their 10, we are at 40 points. We get a stop and generate another take away and we win the game.

But as always it would come down to perfecting and executing our fundamentals. If we got a chance to play Reed again, things would be different. Our approach overestimated our ability to play the edges and get to their bubble and smoke screens. We overplayed their Jet motion series and we would have to gamble a bit on a couple of personnel changes. We would start preparing for that game now with some position changes and a total immersion on getting better in space and on the defensive side of the ball.


Playing the Monster Youth Football Team- Worst to First

Written by Dave on March 13th, 2015















For those of you following our “Worst to First” Youth Football Coaching reality television show season, this weeks game is against the number one seed in the league. Reed- look here for a write up on how stacked this team is:

After watching their game films my goal was to slow the game down, take as much time off the clock as possible, win the turnover battle and hold on for dear life on defense. We simply didn’t have the horses to defend all their quality weapons in space with kids who had won just six games in the previous six years. Hopefully we could get an early lead and maybe Reed would panic.

Our week of practice had gone fairly well. We were still struggling to tackle in space and due to our lack of athletic numbers, we had to limit our contact. With one of our starting Corners out for the week, we were at a disadvantage in repping Reed’s pattern concepts. The only reps our guy was going to see was in pre-game.

I didn’t want to show our kids film of our opponent beating teams by 50-60 points every week. Our kids knew this team was good, but I didn’t want to blow their minds. To give you an idea how athletic this team is, our kids had played these guys as sixth graders. The Reed Quarterback threw an interception, he didn’t like that. So the Quarterback made the tackle AND stripped the ball and then went 50 yards for a touchdown with the stripped ball. In that same game the Quarterback had put out for the entire game our best two Running Backs in the FIRST QUARTER.  The Reed team was legendary in this league for athleticism. size and physicality. With Reed combining with the third place team for this season, they were the “Super” team on steroids.

Our kids weren’t outwardly nervous going into the game,  but they were anxious to see if the “new” Sparks team could hang with the Monster. I was very lighthearted and all smiles prior to the game, to keep the kids loose. There were a lot of people at the game seeing if this 4-1 Sparks team could really play with big bad Reed. Reed had it’s 25 cheerleaders and big crowd. We of course had our zero cheerleaders and faithful parents and relatives.

As I had hoped we received the opening kickoff. On our first three plays we probed the middle, on a fourth and two we jumped our own hard count, something I haven’t had a team do in five or six years. Facing fourth and seven from our own 45, I faked the punt and we barely made the first down. Disaster averted, we had to get some confidence and momentum to stay in the game. We then drove the ball for a touchdown with a 15 play drive using a combination of Powers, Sweeps, Counters, Wedges and Wham plays. It’s 7-0.

We onside kick and make the recovery.  If you are coaching youth football and not perfecting the onside kick, you just aren’t trying very hard.  On the first two snaps we get 10 yards apiece on spinner wham plays. On the third snap we catch the beast QB in an A gap blitz and torch them for a touchdown on a spinner wedge as their Defensive Tackles were tired of being trapped on the whams and weren’t penetrating hard. Had the QB stayed in place at Safety, there is no way we score on that play. Reed hadn’t expected us to move the ball, let alone score, so they were willing to take some chances against a team they had mercy ruled in every game they had played in years past.  It’s 13-0.

We onside kick again and they recover at their own 40. Out of the double slot pistol, they score in three plays on a simple toss sweep after just missing on a 40 yard four verticals concept . We are in position to make the tackle on the sweep but several players whiff.  It’s 13-6.

We get the ball back and like clockwork move the ball downfield and score in eight plays. We have yet to attempt a pass. It’s 20-7.

We BARELY miss getting another onside kick back, it looked like we had it, but their kid fought it out of our kids hands at the last possible moment and they retain possession. They score in one play from sixty yards out to make it 20-12.

We recover their onside attempt and drive it for two first downs before coming up short on downs,  thanks partly to another off-sides penalty on us. We were able to milk another four minutes off the clock though. Reed scores in five plays when we adjust by alignment and stunt to take away their jet sweep, instead they stop the jet motion just short on the other side of the formation and speed option the other way, catching us without numbers. That was something we hadn’t seen. Now it’s 20-18.

We get the ball with just over eight minutes left to go before the half. My goal is take it down and score leaving Reed no time to retaliate. We do just that. Taking the ball from our own 35 we march the ball down to the Reed 10 with just under a minute left. We throw an 18 sweep option pass on first down, hopefully the Corner and Safety are looking run. Our QB as instructed throws it away if it’s not there and if he doesn’t have the corner. He does just that, exactly the way he has been taught, however he gets called for grounding. We definitely had a player close enough not to be called for it, but we did.

We ended up surrendering the ball on downs at the three with just 7.6 seconds left in the half. This was a 16 play drive that resulted in nothing.  Reed runs a sweep that we almost stop in the backfield, but ends up going 97 yards for the score as time expires. So instead of going into the half with a 28-18 lead, we are down 26-20.  We had the ball for 49 offensive snaps in the first half to Reed’s 10 and we were down by six points?

Our kids were heartbroken. While we were still in the game, as we had consistently moved the ball, that body shot just before the half was devastating.  When you take over a team that has consistently lost, it’s very difficult to help them convince themselves that they deserve to win. I stayed positive, talked almost exclusively about all the good things we had done. Defensively we had been in position to stop them, but just weren’t tackling well. At this point we just didn’t have many options to make changes, we just couldn’t match their speed and ability to cut back. In an attempt to match their speed, our kids were overcompensating and overrunning the plays.  Film would show some other mistakes, but from this is what we saw now.

Reed took the opening kickoff and scored in six plays to make it 34-20. We got the ball back and drove it right down to Reeds 10 yard line before a botched snap yielded a turnover, they still hadn’t really stopped us. At this point, I couldn’t go slow and take time off the clock, we were playing to win it, not to make it a close game. Reed went right down and scored again to make it 42-20. How would our kids respond? They didn’t give up no one was quitting, we drove it right down and scored in nine plays to make it 42-26, with an onside kick and score we would be back in it. We just missed another recovery and Reed scored again to make it 48-26.

Reed was pissed we had scored so many points. At this point in five games only one team had scored on their first team defense. So they still had all their starters in on defense, right to the final gun. We subbed and hurried to score again, but Reed scored as time ran out to make it 52-26. Our kids never stopped playing hard, never showed poor body language or layed down. We played poorly on defense in space, anything between the tackles was shut down. On offense we left 14 easy points on the field.

Reed hand played nearly mistake free football and beat us by four scores. I felt with some improvements on defense and playing our best game, we could have shot at beating them in the championship game if we made the playoffs. I was proud of how hard we had played, but disappointed we had squandered a chance to upset them. There would be plenty of changes in store if we had a chance to play again.

More Effective Open Field Tackling

Written by Dave on March 13th, 2015










Open field tackling can be one of the most difficult skills to teach when you are coaching youth football. Players without good body control or who don’t understand proper pursuit angles and tackling techniques are usually going to fare poorly when they have to make an open field tackle. While we can do a lot of technique and fit work when developing the skills for the open field tackle, in the end we have to get some full speed reps in to bring it all together and help the player feel confident in the way they approach, leverage and make the open field tackle.

 To cover all of that, we would need at minimum a twenty page post, so let’s limit this one to reps. Open field tackling shouldn’t involve kids attacking each other head on from ten yards apart at full speed, but even when done properly the space will create some big hits. Even if you have eased your kids into contact, not every player is going to be looking forward to the big contact open field tackling is almost always going to produce.

To help kids get over that fear, whatever open field tackling drills you do, make sure to develop the underlying skills in the time leading up to that first open field tackling drill. When you feel some of your players are ready for it, make sure to do the open field tackling drill first as a fit, where the tackler doesn’t take the ball carrier to the ground. The ball carrier freezes on contact as does the tackler.

 After the kids have gotten comfortable with the drill on a fit basis, now comes the full contact part. Many players are going to “pace” themselves just to try and survive the drill. If the players think the drill is going to last for 15 minutes, they may not go all out for all of the reps. You often times see players play hard the first rep or two and them slack off until the very final rep. Some kids will limp off after the first rep or two and then come back into the drill at the end. Who’s to say if they are injured or not?

What I like to do is tell each player they will do five reps, they have to complete five strong reps in order to participate in team defense that day. When kids understand they only have to do X number of reps and can see the light at the end of the tunnel, you seem to get much better effort from everyone, especially those that aren’t very physical football players.

This very simple approach worked extremely well for the Reno team I coached this year in the “Worst to First” television show. Prior to implementing this technique we would lose two to three kids for most of practice when we did open field tackling drills. Try this simple trick out and see if it doesn’t improve your open field tackling reps.


Friday Night Tykes Season Two Episode Seven

Written by Dave on March 12th, 2015

FNY brandon









This is playoff time so everyone but the Outlaws are in full playoff mode. As a number two seed the Outlaws are in a bye week, while the Colts play two games. So this week focuses on the Ducks, Outlaws and Colts.

The Ducks from Austin, Texas lose their coach for the rest of the season thanks to a post-game fist fight he has with a disgruntled parent in the parking lot. Parents can be crazy and we don’t know what led to the altercation, but my guess is the coach had plenty of ways to avoid the incident. This doesn’t surprise me in the least coming from a coach who greets an assistant coach with the words “how ya doin gangsta?” This guy is a buffoon and some of his kids follow suit, some do trash talk. His over the top bravado and stick it in your face approach to sportsmanship has no place when you are coaching youth football.

He is in it for himself, talking before the game how much he “hates” the Greyhounds and that it’s going to be 50-0 at the half. He gets upset because his team wins by just 57-6. I don’t get how anyone can get all worked up and excited about scoring points against an obviously inferior team that you’re going to beat by 50? Makes no sense. What a shame someone would base their lifes value by how much a group of children beats another group of children in a game. Not a fan of this “coach” obviously.

The Colts win playoff game one big over a Valley team. But just prior to game two one of their star players granddads dies. The granddad is the primary care giver for Brandon of the Colts. Coach Mo takes Brandon under his wings and the team goes to the funeral which is scheduled right before a three hour drive to their playoff game. Coach Mo loves the kids and they love him as Mo does his best to help Brandon through this tough time. The team attends the funeral in support of Brandon and in turn about five kids are late to the game. Their starting and backup Fullbacks don’t arrive until right before half and the van has the equipment of another starter that is already at the game.

It’s hard to fault the Colts as there is a lot of emotion going on in the wake of Brandons grandpas funeral. Coach Mo freaks out a bit in pregame as he attempts to cobble together a starting lineup out of what’s left. An assistant coach does the right thing and lets Mo know he has to look calm and collected as the kids are going to feed off of his body language and ques. The end result is a team that is out of sync from the start and they lose a close one to a team they probably should have beaten. Take away Coach Mo’s continuous flow of cursing as part of his everyday sentence structure and add in someone to handle some of the administrative and parent issues and he would be an excellent assistant coach. The guys just needs a good mentor and someone with some sense to be accountable to.

Some take aways from the Colts last game? Don’t panic if you have kids missing, act like it’s no big deal. That’s a tough one I know, been in those same shoes, its aggravating. The kids are going to feed off of you, you have to be the cool cucumber.

I’ve traveled a lot with teams, whenever you go further than an hour from home make darn sure every player and parent checks and double checks their equipment bag. If you have “partner” assignments, the partner double checks his partners equipment bag.  Never allow someone else to be responsible for your equipment, make sure it is always in your possession. As the coach- always take a couple of extra sets of gear with you. Yes I have had kids forget helmets and even had kids share helmets, it happens. Prepare for the worst, the worst usually happens on road trips. DON’T trust parents navigational skills or GPS, every player and parent gets a map. For kids who have parents who don’t understand how to read a clock or the value of actually showing up when they are supposed to: have a coach or trusted family pick them up. It’s a shame that grown adults can’t get this down, it is what it is, that’s why some people will never be able to hold down a job etc. Unfortunately that’s part of the youth football coaching job.

Friday Night Tykes Season Two Episode Six

Written by Dave on March 12th, 2015

FNT outlaws







This episode brought an end to the Spartans, Lobos and Broncos seasons. While all three teams ended up with just a handful of wins between them, we see three very different teams. None were coached  very well but both the Broncos and Lobos kept the kids engaged, tough to do when those two teams combined for just three wins.

The Spartans, as I predicted after the first show totally disintegrated. You could almost hear the audible sighs of relief from the kids after their last practice was finally over. Their drill sergeant head coach who invested most of his practice time in mindless conditioning and full scale scrimmaging, of course failed miserably and ran off nearly half the team in the process. It’s like I’ve always said, teams who spend a lot of time conditioning and scrimmaging, do so because their coaches don’t know how to practice the real stuff. It’s easy to go on the internet and find a bunch of torturous conditioning drills, it’s a lot harder to coach the fundamentals extraordinarily well. The rah-rah big hat no cattle types rarely if ever consistently win.

The Colts continue to win, however as I said earlier Coach Mo is feeling the heat. He has kids missing practice, coaches bailing and the parents are causing him headaches. The Colts coach decides to start a Quarterback who has missed a lot of practice over a solid, but less athletic player who is making all the practices. While it’s evident that coach Mo loves the kids and the kids love him, his lack of self-discipline and trying to please the parents of the kids he’s selectively recruited has come to haunt him. People watch your every move when you are coaching youth football. When they see you lack boundaries, they will overstep theirs. When you are concerned about keeping everyone happy and keeping the kids you begged to be on your team on board, you have little leverage. When you choose to do the wrong thing and reward parents or kids who consistently aren’t toeing the line, expect bad things to happen over the long haul. While the Colts win, there are lots of problems right under the surface. This is a talented team living on borrowed time.

The Outlaws are the Outlaws. They continue to play physical football and continue to win in spite of not using their assets very well. Their offensive scheme and player placement severely limits their ability to score. A team that completely shuts down any offense they play, should in turn be able to score 50 points against those same teams. You have the talent to be just dominating on defense, but not on offense? That is a coaching, scheme and personnel placement issue.