With the recent spike in football-related injuries and concussions, youth football coaches must be extra careful in how they prepare for each individual game and season. The NFL is limiting the amount of contact practices permissible and lower level teams are following suit. It’s easy to make the claim that the landscape has changed. As a youth football coach, you also need to be aware of many off-field issues along with these on-field aspects as you set out to run a youth football squad.
Handling Ego’s and Personalities
Not Professionals, but Still Potential for Friction. Obviously, your youth football team won’t contain the ego’s that may arise if you were managing a team like the Cincinnati Bengals. However, that doesn’t mean everyone will get along and it will be a perfect season. Typically, at the ages of 10-16, there is going to be a few players who think they have legitimate NFL potential. They’ve consistently been told they were great athletes and may have even proved their talents on the gridiron.
The trouble is this persona won’t be agreed upon by all the other kids on the team. The best solution for these potential issues is to preach respect. Every player and coach should respect all their teammates, assistant coaches, referees, opponents, fans, and anyone else involved with the team. Honestly, I believe this is the best way to handle these common cases.
Dealing with Parents
Think Before Acting. Growing up, I’m sure nearly everyone has heard the quote to think before you speak. Well, this quote actually plays greatly to my next point for management of a youth football game. Chances are you’ll have parents come up to you with suggestions. These might not always be positive, but they’ll likely involve the playing time of their son or daughter. My best advice is to set up a pre-season parents meeting where you set the ground rules. This will allow you time to plan it out and get everything out in the open. Although it might not stop all of the upset parents, it should diminish the odds of issues arising mid-season.
Here Head Coach Rick Stewart explains the best way to deal with the Irate Parent.
Assistant Coaches. Another role of a youth football coach is filling your staff. Due to the amount of players needed to form a football team, it isn’t a smart idea to try to do everything yourself. Not only will it damage the overall success of a team, but it will decrease the individual attention each player will receive at his or her respective position. One of the best ways to fill these openings is to utilize parents as volunteer coaches.
In the pre-season parent meeting, you can get some knowledgeable coaches that are already familiar with many of the players. This will assist you in individual game management, as you’ll have a parent designated for the position groups, who can provide in-game critiquing. As a side note, if the assistant coaches need help developing drills, check out the videos on CoachTube. From defensive back drills to place kicking training, there is something for nearly every position on the gridiron.
Unless You Have the Next Barry Sanders, Play Everyone Equal. Depending on the age, you do have some flexibility here. For middle school and high school, it is very possible you’ll have starters set, who will receive a greater share of the playing time than the reserves. However, if we’re discussing grade school flag-football teams, try to give everyone an equal chance to succeed on both sides of the ball. At all costs, avoid having one player take every snap at quarterback the entire season and one player handle nearly all the carries.
The result will likely be significant player turnover on your roster, as players won’t see the purpose in putting in the hard work at practice if the starters at the key positions are written in stone. Try to avoid having a narrow minded view of your roster and stay open to new ideas as the season carries on.
Respect. As I mentioned above, it is important to create a culture where you get your players to respect each other. Anyone that has ever watched a sporting event has probably witnessed a coach get overly mad at a referee. These aren’t professional referees with the privilege of having instant replay available, so keep this mind. At the same time, remember who is watching. If your players see you acting like this, what’s going to stop them from arguing a call with the referees? After all, they’ve seen their head coach do it time and time again.
Similarly, what do you think the parents’ reaction will be to this behavior? It’s quite possible they won’t want to put you in charge of their child again. In the end, you set the culture, so try to set a positive one for the young athletes.
Playing and Formations
Simplicity. Again, you’re not coaching the New England Patriots or Chicago Bears! So, don’t try to create an elaborate game plan if you’re coaching 9-10 year olds playing flag football. Adjust the playing style to the skill level. It is fine to teach them advanced defensive sets and offensive styles, like the spread offense, but keep it at a level where the players will feel like they can handle it. Also, don’t be afraid to play to recent trends in the game. Currently, we’re seeing an influx of spread offenses at the college and high school level.
Personally, I see this being something that would get the players interested in playing and learning about the game. The kids might see teams like Baylor or Oregon put up tons of points at the college level and want to mimic their dominance. Ultimately, you need to play to their interests and avoid going over the top with a strategy that only one or two players will be able to comprehend. Implement something that everyone can learn, utilize, and succeed.
Strive to Win, Yet Have Fun!
My best advice for coaches is to create an environment where players are excited to come to each practice and game. Football can be a demanding sport. There is a lot of contact, which is something many of the kids will be unfamiliar with, and plenty of mental aspects to the game. At the same time, dealing with a youth team will require you to keep everyone on an even playing field, even if some might possess more talent than others. In the end, keep it fun!