One of the very best ways to improve your youth football coaching skills is to attend a coaches clinic. If you’ve never gone to one, how do you get the most out of it? There are lots of answers: make sure you attend the right clinic, attend the right sessions and then there are all the in room things you can do to make sure the time you invest gets you a good ROI, some things many would never consider.
The first step is finding and figuring out what clinic to attend. There are MANY coaches clinic options for guys these days. There are clinics put on by Nike and Glazier all across the country usually from January-March. There are a number of good independent ones out there like the Clinic of Champions in Reno or even one of my Winning Youth Football clinics. Pick one that has been around for a while, longevity means they’ve at least been well attended enough to stay in business. Many leagues have mandatory clinics, it is what it is. Some are good, but most are just put on by the league as a CYA thing for insurance purposes. The speakers are often times poor and almost everyone is just putting their time in because they have to.
So now you are in the clinics doors, now what? If you haven’t been to one before it can be a little intimidating going into a mass of humanity, all strangers. You will walk in that door and see hundreds of football coaches, often time dressed in their team gear rushing about from session to session and visiting some of the exhibitors. Don’t sweat it, there are lots of newbies there just like you. Go to the sign up desk, get registered if you haven’t already and get the handout for the speakers. It’s always a good idea to preregister, you guarantee yourself a seat, the prices are usually cheaper and you get to stand in a shorter line. You can also usually get the speaker schedule online prior to the clinic opening, so you can do some research and map out your plan of attack- which sessions to attend. If you are with another coach on your staff and there are sessions you want to see going on at the same time, divide and conquer. Just make sure your buddy takes good and readable notes.
What sessions should you attend? Most clinics have multiple speakers talking at the same time in different rooms. Like many youth football coaches, you are probably going to be tempted to attend a session given by some big name NFL or College coach. While these can be entertaining, most of these guys tell a lot of great stories and jokes, the sessions are usually pretty short on technical coaching. For those NFL or College guys who do get into technical terms, a lot of times it’s too technical for most youth football coaches to understand.
How many of you know what a 6 technique DE is or what a 4-3 under defense looks like? And those are a few of the elementary level terms these guys will use. The NFL and College or even High School coach doesn’t have minimum play rules to worry about and he doesn’t practice just 2-3 nights a week. He has a roster of over 100 or has chosen the best from THOUSANDS of athletes. According to a Michigan State study 70% of kids playing youth football won’t even play it in High School. So the worst athletes the High School, College and NFL- they never see.
What I’m trying to say is go to the YOUTH sessions designed for youth coaches. Listen to guys who have been in your shoes and know your equation. You have to be careful there too, make sure it is an experienced and successful youth coach. I’ve attended a few youth sessions taught by High School guys who had never coached youth football. When I asked one of these guys about how he would address minimum play rules, he looked at me like I had 3 heads, he had no clue. Never mind that over 80% of the kids playing youth ball today play in leagues with minimum play rules.
Also make sure the youth coach you are listening to has been successful with multiple teams at multiple age groups. I once listened to a speaker who turned out to be a league admin who had an awful record as a head coach. If I go to a sales conference, I want to listen to the top salesman in the company and how he did things, not the guy who finished next to last.
I also once listened to a guy who had a very good record, but he had coached just a single team, moving up with them from age 7-14. It was a select team stocked to the gills with great players. What you’re looking for, lots of different teams with a variety of kids, select, rec, draft etc. Then look to the content, what do you need help with? Look at your teams and coaching strengths and weaknesses and for starters attend sessions that will have the biggest impact on your team in the shortest time period. That usually isn’t a session on advanced pass catching drills.
Once you decide on which sessions to attend, get to the room early. Some of the lecture rooms are very narrow, if you get stuck in the back you might not be able to see or hear anything. On the other hand if you are in the first two rows or in a front aisle seat, don’t be surprised if you don’t get pressed into doing some demos with the speaker. If you are up for that, do it you are going to make friends with the presenter that way and learn the concept better. If not, bury yourself in the middle of row 3-4.
That’s one of the reasons you want to dress comfortably. Loose clothing and tennis shoes work well. Some of the rooms are VERY hot, some are VERY cold, so have that UA short sleeved polo under a sweatshirt you can take off. If you have your team gear on, a lot of times it can be an entree into a conversation. Those conversations lead to relationships than can be great for you and your youth football program. Don’t forget to bring a water bottle, those clinic rooms can get warm and if you are in front, the water station is in the back and many times the water is gone anyways.
Coaches clinics are great networking opportunities. Sometimes you can learn as much from a guy you just sat next to at a clinic as you did from the speaker. That can lead to conversations in the hallway, at the bar doodling on napkins over a drink or maybe even over lunch. Good coaches LOVE to share and mentor others. Don’t be afraid to ask for someone’s email address or phone number. If you have a business card, put a dozen in your pocket and bring along. Don’t be afraid to let guys know what you are looking for and why you are at the clinic. Ask them which speakers they have seen and if they’ve heard anything about upcoming sessions or speakers. You don’t want to get stuck in a dog session and there ARE plenty of dogs out there. Just because someone can coach well, doesn’t mean they can present well.
Make sure to keep that notebook and pen close at all times. We all think we will be able to remember what the speaker is talking about, only to have forgotten the details by the time you pull your car away from the clinic venue. Same goes for your conversations with the coaches you’ve networked with. You never know, that guy sitting next to you may have coached with one of your leagues rivals and is only too happy to provide you some intel or be a scrimmage opponent next season.
Getting Some Extras
Once you get into the presentation there are a few other quick tips to get the most out of your time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, raise your hand, be short and to the point. Don’t get up and tell a story as a lead in to your question. If a session was good, at the end, thank the speaker. Some of them will even send you their PowerPoint presentation over e-mail or allow you to email them questions. If you get there early enough, some will even have handouts. Some coaches will let you download their presentation onto a flash drive. Heck I’ve even had coaches volunteer to drive me to the airport on my way home so they could bend my ear 1 on 1 for an hour. You may even get by with buying them lunch of dinner and get a boatload of consulting and advice for the price of a meal.
Go to a clinic, they can be a great way to find answers to your teams issues. They are also a great way to get your coaches together to get some things hashed out for the following year. Use that time to come together and get started on next season. Be aware MANY speakers go past the time limit, so make sure you know where and when the next session you want to attend is. If your guys is droning on, doesn’t respect the time limit and you have to move on to the next session, don’t be embarrassed by walking out. If someone doesn’t respect your time, you don’t have to respect his. By the way I NEVER go over, but am always available afterwards for questions. One last piece of advice: when you want to get one of your buddies attention, don’t yell out “hey coach”, about 75 guys are going to be looking at you and wondering why a stranger called out their “name”.
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