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.
- 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.