Congratulations! You’ve taken on a pretty big responsibility, but the rewards can last a lifetime. You’ll have a team picture with you, your child, and the whole team, as well as many good memories.
Hopefully, you’ll have a qualified assistant (likely another parent), and a helpful league administrator (likely another parent who’s stretched pretty thin). Hopefully, you also have a whistle.
You’re probably pretty nervous. I’ve been there. Keep in mind what will determine your success as a youth football coach will not be wins and losses, but if the kids had a good experiences overall during the season.
To make things go more smoothly, remember to practice some basic principles over the season.
Teach Proper Tackling and Blocking Technique
I heard it said if you want to see how high school football was played in the past, one only needs to look at youth football practices today. A former player of mine from semi-pro football once told me he had a coach that instructed smacking the facemask into the chestplate of opposing ballcarriers. Safety first, right?
Modern techniques are safer than what you or I may have learned from our youth or high school coaches. So learn and teach proper, modern techniques right from the start of practice. Be vigilant throughout the season that players are executing the techniques properly. Always stop and correct bad technique quickly, specifically, and with a huge amount of encouragement.
Here are some good links from USA Football on how to teach proper technique in tackling and blocking:
Xs and Os – Keep It Simple, Stupid
You can’t emphasize everything. You will want to emphasize everything.
You will come across articles, playbooks, special teams diagrams, practice plans, videos, etc. etc. etc. There are thousands of resources out there, and if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself bogged down in some seriously complicated detail.
Defensively and on special teams, I recommend simple alignment/assignment-based schemes – line up here and anyone that comes through this gap with the ball, tackle them.
Offensively, it may be a good idea to limit your playbook to eight to ten plays. Coaches will sometimes introduce 20-25 plays to a young team, and players end up forgetting what to do on two-thirds of them because there are two practices a week in season – not enough time to cover and review everything. Brain drain and lack of attentive listening will happen if your team offense sessions turn into the Mike Leach playbook.
Your playbook really only needs the following plays, no matter what your scheme or base formations look like:
- Some kind of sweep (power, toss, or even rocket/jet sweeps if your league allows motion). This is your bread and butter,
- A counter to the sweep going in the opposite direction. Use this when your opponent takes away your bread and butter.
- An inside play (a dive, or an inside zone play where an athletic kid can cut back into open lanes when needed). Use this when the defense overemphasizes the edge where your sweep running paths will hit.
- Two or three various pass plays, including a play action or bootleg pass. Because well-executed pass plays will keep defenses on their heels.
- All of the above, mirrored to run to the other side.
Add to it, if you’d like. But do so cautiously. If you’re tempted by the “Offense of the Week” (which you’ll find tends to happen after a particularly bad game), remember that the more complicated your offense is, the more difficult it will be for your players to master it.
And don’t bother blocking the cornerbacks on those sweeps. You’ll see why.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Planning is an antidote to the poison of chaos. Plan everything –how your kids will line up for equipment handouts, the structure, length, and even the layout of your practices, your drills, when you schedule water breaks (always leave plenty of time for the players to rehydrate themselves), your pregame warm-up.
What’s you lightning plan? Hear thunder, see lightning – practice is over.
Plan how you’re going to correct a kid’s mistake (hint: it should be very specific. If you find yourself yelling “You gotta block somebody!” it’s time to reassess your coaching style).
Plan, plan, plan.
If you have a plan, the kids will begin to follow all of your familiar expectations. Soon after your season begins, you’ll see them taking the initiative when they hear “Okay, let’s begin our warm-up,” and they jump into lines or begin jogging around the field. The natural leaders will take charge to guide their teammates.
Remember when you had to tell them where to stand? This is progress.
Some kids won’t want to be there . . . maybe for just that day. Maybe for the whole season.
They’re not going to say it to you. They’re probably not going to say it to their parents. But honestly, they’d rather be playing video games, or hanging with their friends, or maybe they’re just biding their time until basketball season.
The lack of desire to play football will manifest itself in a lot of ways, but most commonly, you’ll see it in a lack of interaction with teammates and a lack of full speed effort.
Don’t try to force them to be enthusiastic. Don’t try to pull these kids “out of their shell” or whatever nonsense you’ve seen other adults try in real life or the movies – they’ll come out when they’re darn good and ready. Work with them as best you can. Be patient. Give them a lot of encouragement when needed, and breaks when you sense they’ve had enough.
Remember, it’s your job to try to give the kids on your team a good experience. That doesn’t mean just kids that are wildly enthusiastic about sports. It also means kids who will not be in football in a few years. They need your time and attention too.
Sometimes you won’t want to be there.
At times, your enthusiasm will vary from stoked to be a part of such a great experience for your kid to dreading loading the car up with gear after a tough day at work, and maybe even wishing the whole season was over already.
It happens. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad coach or a bad person. It’s a grind sometimes, especially if the team isn’t doing so well.
Here’s the thing. None of the kids, not even yours, can ever know this. They can’t even suspect it. You need to fake it ‘til you make it.
Remember, it’s your job to give them a great experience. That requires enthusiasm, simplicity in teaching the game, and letting them know through your coaching you are happy to be a big part of their childhood. In doing so, you’ll be fulfilled as well.
You have to keep that in mind when you’d rather be home dozing in front of the TV.
Of course, this list isn’t comprehensive – you already know that you’re not there just to make sure your kid gets all the carries, right? Right.
Keep seeking out age-specific football information. And remember, it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. Same with the kids.
Good luck, Coach!