Youth Football Coaching Tips

Inspired by Coach Parker’s tips for coaching youth football, I thought I would share a few of my own. I haven’t been doing this as long as many, but I think have enough credibility to share some wisdom. I’ve been coaching for six seasons now (one 3rd/4th grade, two 5th/6th grade, one 7th grade, and two 8th grade). The teams I’ve coached have made it to five straight league championship games, winning the last two years.

My advice:

  • Find athletes willing to work hard, even if they are on the small side. This may sound obvious, but too many coaches care too much about size and too little about speed, hitting ability, and toughness. Two of my three rotating starting offensive guards where under 125 pounds. This approach pays even greater dividends on defense as most of your players will have to play on both sides of the ball.
  • Try to keep your coaching staff together, or at least a nucleus of a staff. My first four years were with the same head coach and things got better each year. The last two years have had four of the coaches repeating, and I think we’ll have the same four next year as well.
  • A small playbook executed well is better than an extensive playbook with mediocre execution. We went into our first game with just 11 core plays, pretty much all of which the kids had been running since third grade. We ended the season with about 20 core plays.
  • Don’t punt. I don’t mean you should never punt, but if you are basing your punt decisions based on what you see on Saturday or Sunday afternoon TV then you should reconsider your strategy. Our punt play is a rugby style run/pass/kick option, and I’m always looking to get a first down on the play if possible. I think we punted 5 times all season during competitive games (we would punt more frequently when up by four or more touchdowns). It only took a few punt returns for touchdowns while coaching a 5th grade team to force me to revisit my strategy here.
  • Have a routine, but vary it as the season goes on. We have a heartbeat to our practice week – Monday is all offense, Tuesday is mostly defense with some team offense and special teams, Thursday is mostly offense with some defense and special teams review. As the season progresses the coaches and players will get bored with this repetition, so mix it up. One week we turned the practice time into a film review and pizza party at a coach house. Another week we took Thursday off and did a no-pad walkthrough practice on Friday afternoon before the high school game.
  • Each coach should have very specific sideline responsibilities. My main job is to run the defense during the game, but while we are on offense I have another coach with me and we are as far downfield as we can get watching the opponent defensive front. We are looking for bubbles and for defensive end tendencies (more on this in a soon-to-come post). We are advising the offensive coordinator who simply cannot see what is working and not working from his vantage point directly down the line of scrimmage.
  • Have a helper focused on equipment and injuries. We had the luxury this season of a non-coach parent that was at nearly every practice (and game) and was focused exclusively on dealing with equipment issues and injuries. This keeps practice flowing while keeping the kids safe.
  • Raise your voice strategically. I’m probably the most vocal coach of our group, but I’m much quieter and calmer today than I was five years ago. When I get riled up it is usually planned and intended to motivate the kids. For too many coaches this is their default tone with the kids, especially during games.
  • Film analysis can be complex, but the keys and guidance for the team better be simple. I tend to overly analyze game film and opponent tendencies and dream up counters to every possible play and responses to every possible game time situation. None of this matters if the coaches and players can’t react appropriately in game time. This year I focused on leveraging the complex analysis to lead to extremely simplified keys for the coaches and players. For our championship game I had a list of about 7 keys to look for when the opponent was on offense, but I had only two automatic checks:
    • Spread formation — automatic BASE JET, but keep blitz and pass coverage.
    • Jet motion coming to hawk, widen out. Jet motion going away, ATTACK!
  • Scout yourself and look for tendencies. We did this extensively this year and our offensive coordinator did a masterful job of gradually introducing formation and motion adjustments to our core playset throughout the year to keep teams guessing.

I suppose that’s enough for now. I have some longish writing coming with more specifics on how we adjust our Wing-T play-calling based on different defensive alignments, both pre-game and during the game.

BGG.CON 2011 Report

Last week I returned from another stellar BGG.CON gaming convention. The routine has become very attractive and fulfilling for me: play games, drink beer and eat some food at the hotel bar, go for a run, repeat. It is just the break I need after a hectic football season. My gaming trickles to nearly zero from August to October – check out this graph of games played by month from 2008-2011.

Games played by month, 2008-2011

November certainly peaks every year, largely because of BGG.CON but also because I get back to hosting gaming, gaming with my local group, and gaming over the Thanksgiving holiday. December looks a bit lower than expected, but I suspect I’ll get in 25-30 new game plays this coming month.

Great job Derk, Aldie, and the rest of the BGG.CON for putting on another great show. We are moving to a new venue next year so it will mix things up a bit, but I’m sure they will maintain high standards for the event.

Let’s break down what I played this year.

Great Stuff

  • 18AL — 18xx is a tradition now at BGG.CON and we (Mark, Jim, and I) played the pimped-out version of 18AL. I had a hard time of it, nearly going bankrupt but rising from the ashes to throw off a lot of cash, helping push Hamzy over the edge and get a narrow victory over Jim. 18AL is losing a bit of its luster for me but the company was great.
  • Agricola — Agricola remains my #1 favorite best-ever game and it was great to get in a live version of this with Yehuda and Nadine (from Israel) (and Jim of course).
  • Gettysburg — Unfortunately Jim and I didn’t get to finish our game — my second false start of this wonderful game without a finish. Improves on the mechanics introduced in Waterloo but I like the setting and streamlined nature of Gettysburg.
  • A Game of Thrones: the Card Game — Up there with Magic: the Gathering as one of my two all-time favorite collectible / trading card games. Wiped out Jim’s Targaryen deck with my awesome Martell deck. Oh, I built Jim’s deck as well but just set him up.
  • D&D: The Legend of Drizzt Board Game — I love the D&D boardgame series and it was even more fun with characters I enjoyed in Salvatore’s books.
  • Innovation — one of my favorites of the show, and I’ve played it twice since and still love it.

OK Stuff

  • Alien Frontiers — This was the first game I played on Thursday and while I enjoyed it I don’t think this brings enough new to the table to encourage repeat playing.
  • Poseidon’s Kingdom — Lovely to look at and surprisingly quick to play once we got going, but not much game there and a bit clunky rules-wise. Had fun and enjoyed teaching it to another group though, but not worth spending $100 to own.
  • Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer — I only know this game well because of the iPad version. Decent deck-building fun but best suited for electronic play vs AI (fast!).
  • Keltis — My second or third play of this game and it remains enjoyable. It feels so tense when playing – I suspect everyone feels like they aren’t making progress because the cards just won’t go your way. Plays in only about 40 minutes and I’d gladly play again.
  • Rune Wars — I’m on the fence about this one and hope to play again in December. I really enjoyed the play but it left me feeling like it is very much like other multi-player build-an-army-and-conquer games. Then again, I there is probably more subtlety to the game that I’m missing (recruiting neutrals as allies seems like a good plan, maybe I should have focused on questing more, etc.) so I will reserve judgment until another play.
  • PÜNCT — Love the GIPF series of games and need to remember to pull out my copies at home more often. Julie enjoys two-player abstracts.

I’ll Pass

  • Nefarious — My rating here is partly informed by the hefty $60 price tag for a light-ish card game, and partly because the game left me wanting more depth.
  • Troyes — Glad I got to play this hit from last year. There’s so much to like about this game, but I really hated people stealing my dice. Money seemed to flow too freely that I wonder if we played something wrong. Get your hands off my dice!

BGG.CON 2011 Days 1 and 2

Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve played so far:

Thursday

  • Alien Frontiers — One of my hope-to-play games from 2010. Reminds me of Mission: Red Planet but with a better mechanic (dice!) for placement and actions.
  • Innovation — Surprise hit so far, and at only $20 for the base game (and $20 for expansion) was an easy buy from the guys at Funagain. Civilization-building card game with very creative mechanics and relatively short playing time.
  • Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer — I’ve played about 100 times on the iPad and once before in real life. Taught Jim how to play; solid deckbuilding.

Friday

  • Poseidon’s Kingdom — The latest game from Fragor Games. Took a while for us to get going without a real teacher but very fluid once we got down the core mechanics. The “wave breaking” mechanism with dice raining down on the board is very slick.
  • Troyes — Another dice-based game but hardly overly random or chaotic. This is a deep game that the four players fumbled through and generally enjoyed.
  • Runewars — Big hit; we played with 3 players in a learning game and finished in about 2-3 hours. Multi-player American style war and building game with a nice fantasy adventure twist set in the Runebound (and Descent) universe. Would be a big hit with Jacob and Matthew.
  • PÜNCT — Jim and I had 45 minutes before dinner and listening to the Sherwood football playoff game stream so played this game in the GIPF series. Forgot how much I love these games.
  • Nefarious — Very light card game that Jim and I played with old friend Tim. Fun enough for what it is, but I don’t think it will be worth the $60 retail. Feels like a $25 light card game to me.

Tomorrow we expect to play A Few Acres of Snow, 18AL, and Agricola.

BGG.CON 2011 Preparation

Tomorrow I fly to Dallas for my 6th BGG.CON gaming convention, joining the convention a bit later than most but earlier than I usually do. As usual (in a good way) I’ll be hanging most of the time with friend Jim Ginn. Also looking forward to seeing Yehuda who I think I last saw when I was in Israel in 2006, though we did play Agricola over Skype at BGG.CON in 2008.

Jim and I have a few traditions that I’m sure we’ll uphold this year:

I’ve been so out of the gaming loop for the past 5 months that just about anything released in 2011 will be new to me, as well as many games from 2010. Jim and I did target some games to hopefully try this weekend:

I suspect we’ll try maybe half of these, but you’ve got to start with a list, right?

For reference, here are my reports from past years:

My Football Video Processing Workflow

Video capture, processing, and publishing are a huge part of my football coaching routine. We film all of our games (Julie being my go-to videographer) and I spend a lot of time on the road capturing scout film of future opponents. I commonly have 2-3 hours of video processing to work through on a given weekend, often with a 12-18 hour required turnaround before we have our coaching meeting on Sunday evening.

“Back in the day” things were a bit simpler. We would capture the film on a digital camcorder then burn a few DVDs for coaches. Problem solved. Some things have changed that no longer make this viable:

  • Parents and family of players really like to see game film. We have parents who live away from their player, parents who travel, grandparents, etc. Making DVDs for all of these folks could turn into a part-time job.
  • We started using Hudl for film analysis and scouting. This requires that we have a digital version that we can upload and turn into a play-by-play breakdown.

This year I publish game film in multiple forms:

  • I publish whole-game film to Vimeo, usually password-protected so as to make things a bit more difficult for opponents to easily gain access to our film. The later we get in the season the less I worry about this. Our players love this because they can share the film with families and even download their own copies of the games for their records.
  • I upload individual play clips to Hudl for breakdown and analysis. This allows the coaches to do deep analysis on tendencies, our opponent’s best plays and players, and review our own film for the same. We also mark up individual plays (think John Madden with a telestrator) to share with our players.
  • As a last resort I can burn a DVD using the awful iDVD application from Apple. I think I’ve had to burn a total of 2 DVDs this year.

I thought I’d share my detailed video processing workflow — you may find something useful in here whether or not you process film for football.

Video Capture

Most of my video is captured on a Canon 7D DSLR with Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens. This is an expensive setup for filming but I’m a photographer and this works pretty well for us. Ask Julie sometime how hard it is to get acquainted with a setup that requires manual exposure control and lacks follow focus. My backup camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2 — the camera we bought for our underwater shooting in Galapagos earlier this year. This is the camera I give to friends who will go scout games for me.

My rules for football film capture are simple:

  • One play per video clip. Start the camera before the start of the play and stop it after. This is critical for making it easy to load film into Hudl.
  • Try to start zoomed out so that you can easily see the field position and down/distance.
  • Show the scoreboard after each scoring play and end of each quarter.

A typical full youth game (12 minute quarters) has about 30-45 minutes of video. On my Canon 7D this equates to about 15GB of video data recorded in 1080p full HD, 1920×1080, 30 frames per second, H.264 encoded. This is higher quality than I need for film analysis, but with 32GB flash cards I’d rather just capture at the highest quality and downgrade later for processing.

ExampleHere is a video of our end-of-game Bowmen cheer taken last weekend. It is about a minute long, and out of the camera it was a 400MB file.

Initial Processing

I used to pull the raw video straight into iMovie for processing on my now 3-year-old iMac with attached Drobo 3TB storage device. Importing 15GB of HD video could sometimes take all night (10+ hours). Some of this is my slowish iMac, some of this is iMovie and how it handles video like this.

This year I changed my workflow to compress and downgrade my video for easier processing. Initially I did this manually using HandBrake with great success. I just used the “Apple TV 2” preset which converts the video to 1280×720 H.264 and saw file sizes reduced by an order of magnitude. The video above went from 400MB to 48.3MB.

Still, manually converting individual clips was not going to be a winning solution – I needed a way to automate it for large collections of clips — typically about 100-120 clips per game. The solution for me was to use the HandBrake Command Line Interface combined with my favorite file automation tool on the Mac, Hazel. I created a special folder on my Mac called “ToConvert” and created a processing rule to act on all files not ending in mp4 (input files will typically have a .MOV extension)

The script that gets invoked for each file is very simple and calls the HandBrakeCLI with the “AppleTV 2” preset:

#!/bin/bash

if [[ $1 =~ ([0-9a-zA-Z_.-]*)..* ]]; then
    /usr/local/bin/HandBrakeCLI -i "$1" -o "${BASH_REMATCH[1]}.mp4" --preset="AppleTV 2"
fi

I throw all 15GB or so of my movie clips at this directory and my MacBookPro starts spinning (with CPU temperature hitting 190f or so!) and completes the processing in less than an hour. Now I have a set of 1280×720 mp4 files that I can easily work with in my other tools.

Note that this approach works for any kind of movie file that HandBrake can handle, so those AVCHD files that come out most consumer camcorders also work just fine.

Post Processing

After converting these files I immediately copy them to an external drive and walk over to my Windows desktop to upload to Hudl. Yes, you can only upload to Hudl using a Windows desktop. Hopefully they address this at some point and offer a Mac option. Because my upload is comprised of play-by-play clip files, I generally don’t have to do any manual intervention on the upload to support the breakdown in Hudl — it just works.

Simultaneously with the Hudl upload I will begin importing these downgraded files into iMovie. This usually takes about another hour or so to process for a full game. Once they are imported I quickly add a title screen and add the rest of the clips in order. Rarely will I do any other editing. You can see a sample of one of my game films on Vimeo.

The Hudl upload also takes about an hour for me. Once that is complete I dive into film breakdown. This involves looking at each play and marking it as offense/defense/kicking, recording down/distance and field position, and for our offense recording details about our formation, motion, and play called. I’ll do another post in the future showing what I record for opponent scout film.

Publishing

The great thing about Hudl is that once I’ve uploaded film it is instantly shareable to the other coaches and players. I’ll often mark big plays as highlights, even tagging some specific player highlights, and Hudl automatically creates highlight reels for the team on a game-by-game basis. The Hudl Youth package that I subscribe to does not support film sharing between coaching so I have no first-hand experience using that. It uses a robust escrow model though and I know our high school coaches trust it.

My other publishing avenue is through Vimeo, which involves uploading the full movie file produced from iMovie. I will usually password protect our game film and send a direct link to the coaches and players so that they can view and share with family. Password protected videos will not automatically show up in my profile. It is a weak form of security given how broadly I send the links and passwords, but good enough for my use. When I need to share film with an opponent coach I can just send the URL and password – so much easier than arranging a face-to-face meetup to exchange DVDs. That said, most of the other coaches don’t have an online option so I often end up receiving DVDs that I then need to rip and process myself.

Conclusions

The incorporation of HandBrakeCLI and the Hazel automation was the real game changer for me this year. I come home from the game, insert my CF card into the reader, drag the movie files into my conversion folder, then walk away and consume a chilled adult beverage. I usually have the film ready to view by the coaches in Hudl within 2 hours of the game finishing. If Hudl offered a Mac upload option I could streamline things even more.

Do let me know here in the comments if you have questions on the workflow or suggestions for improvement.