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THE NEW COACH'S GUIDE TO YOUTH FOOTBALL SKILLS AND DRILLS
By Tom Bass
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Tom Bass
All rights reserved.
Becoming a Coach
When you make the decision to become a youth football coach, you take on an enormous responsibility. You are committing yourself to teach young players how to approach the game in a proper manner, provide them with a safe environment in which to play, and impart the life values that come from playing the game.
As a youth coach, you have the opportunity to introduce young players to one of America's greatest games, as well as to enjoy the tremendous personal satisfaction that comes from being a coach.
You will have the chance to see your players grow from a disjointed group of awkward young athletes into a smoothly running team. Initial chaos will be replaced with plays that run like clockwork—and oh, how wonderful the feeling when it starts to click.
First and foremost, you need to be a great teacher. All great coaches are great teachers. As a coach and teacher it will be your responsibility to:
1. Provide a safe and enjoyable setting for learning to take place.
The practical steps for achieving this goal are as follows:
Inspect the field before the first player arrives for practice.
Greet each player by name.
Take a quick check of each player's equipment.
Preplan the practice so the drills are safe and emphasize proper and safe body movements and positions.
Be aware of anyone who may be loitering around the field.
Have at least one coach remain at the field until the last player has been picked up.
Have a prearranged plan to respond to any medical problem that might occur, including a method of contacting parents.
2. Know what is to be accomplished each day.
You and your coaching staff will want to meet prior to each practice, each meeting, and each game to outline and communicate the goals for that day.
As a coach you need to understand not only what you are going to teach but also how and why it fits into the total team picture. Spend your precious practice time teaching only the particular skills needed for your team's offense, defense, or special teams. Should you and your staff determine that the offense will run the ball 70% of the time, try to allocate 70% of your offensive practice time to teaching how to run the ball. On the other hand, if you plan to be a passing team, devote more practice time to perfecting the skills of throwing the ball and running pass routes and less to practicing the skills needed for the option play.
In preparing for a practice, be sure to clarify when you will be teaching an individual technique versus working with the team, and when you will be teaching a skill versus an assignment. For example, when you teach pass protection to the offensive linemen, your concern is how to do the skill. So you need to focus on footwork, balance, and proper positioning of the upper body, lower body, and hands. On the other hand, when you bring the team together to run plays, your focus shifts from teaching how to block to teaching who to block.
3. Make sure everyone participates and has fun.
Players at all levels, and especially at the youth level, want (and deserve) to participate and have fun in practices and in games. Young players, in particular, want to stay active. Because attention spans may be limited, keep your drills brisk, short, and varied. It is better to use a number of drills to teach one skill than one drill to teach multiple skills.
Example: When you are teaching wide receivers to run a certain pass route, do not use the ball in the drill. Break down the pass route into various drills that can be done quickly by all your receivers. This sequence should include: a stance drill; a start drill in which they drive off the line; a drill in which the focus is on making the break at the correct depth; and, finally, a drill to come out of the break and complete the route.
Design your practices so that you keep all the players active and participating. Multiple repetitions of a short, brisk drill are better than one that goes on forever. Once you have explained the drill, try to keep lectures to a minimum. Above all, keep it fun and upbeat.
4. Present the information in a manner players can understand.
Each coach brings terms and ideas based on his experience and background. Football terms and experiences that are familiar to you may be a foreign language to your players. Make every effort to convey information in a manner they can easily understand. The object is to teach kids, not to impress parents or your peers with your knowledge. When the kids improve and have fun, that's impressive. So:
Avoid using a one- or two-word term as a shorthand for a skill or technique the first time you teach it. Instead, describe it fully.
Once you describe it, tell them the name of the skill or technique and use this name each time you refer to it after that.
Give your players a full description of what you want them to do.
Have them practice the skill or technique.
Be prepared that players may need two or three practices to learn football terms; one introduction may not be enough.
Do the same with drills: teach the drill, give it a name, then refer to the drill only by that name so players equate the drill to the skill being taught.
Example: You may already know in your mind what a "reach block" is and how a player should make this block, but do not assume that your young players have the same knowledge.
5. Be positive when communicating with players, parents, and officials.
As a coach you need to think through what you want your players to do and instruct them in a step-by-step manner, making certain they truly understand what you are asking from them and how it fits into the total football experience. Telling them what to do usually takes more thought and may take more time, but your rewards in team performance and the player's improvement will be far greater than when you simply tell them what not to do.
Give the same consideration when speaking to a player's parents. Stay positive in your conversation regardless of what the parent is saying to you. Try to answer their questions concerning their son, but avoid being drawn into a discussion of any other player on the team.
Your players will not only learn from what you teach, they will constantly learn by observing your behavior around the team and during a game.
Treat the least skilled player on the squad exactly as you treat a star player.
Speak respectfully to the team, parents, and officials.
Show respect in communicating with other staff members.
Make individual corrections during the game when the player is off the field.
Be respectful to the opposing coaching staff and team.
One of the greatest lessons your players will learn from you, as a coach, is how you communicate with officials during a game. Show officials the respect they deserve, and save any discussions or questions for a time-out or halftime.
6. Lead so that your players will eagerly follow.
Your players are going to look to you for leadership before, during, and after each practice and game. Their attitudes and conduct will reflect your attitudes and demands. You are their coach, and young players want and expect you to provide:
Players come to the practice field wanting to learn and have fun. To do so, they need encouragement and positive teaching, and they want you to understand they will make mistakes. In addition, young players want everyone on the team to be treated the same. They do not want stars and whipping boys. They want a team on which everyone is coached with kindness, not ridicule.
Always remember that parents are entrusting you with their most precious possession—their children. Therefore as a coach, it is your responsibility to:
Treat each child with respect and caring.
Prepare and teach the skills and rules of the game to your best ability.
Demonstrate positive life skills, such as good sportsmanship, through your actions and words.
Allow every child to participate and have fun.
Again, you're to be congratulated on your decision to be a coach. Soon you'll be helping young players learn a great game in a safe and wholesome environment.
Your Coaching Staff
One of the most important keys to success in any football program is the degree to which the members of the coaching staff work together as a unit. Coaches must know and accept their roles on the staff and understand their responsibilities.
Sometimes a first-year coach, full of wonderful ideas and eager to implement them, will find it frustrating when he has to first understand and work with what is already in place. If you're in this position, take the time to appreciate the plan the head coach is implementing before you bring your own ideas forward, and don't be discouraged if your ideas are not immediately added to the program.
It will be easier for the coaching staff to agree on all aspects of coaching the team if they have an opportunity to meet away from the field prior to and during the season. It is during these meetings that each coach's ideas and thoughts may be brought up and discussed, focusing on these broad topics:
Offensive and defensive scheme and special teams play
Game day organization
During these meetings, it is important that everyone be given a chance to speak. The head coach may direct the discussions, but the forum should be open. Once a decision is made, however, everyone on the coaching staff must accept it. At the end of the meeting, the coaches:
Must be in agreement
Present a united front
Speak with one voice
Once on the field, it is important that coaches communicate with players, parents, and one another with a united, respectful voice. The players must receive one message, and this only happens when the coaches are in agreement in every area of coaching. Any disagreements and discussions—and believe me there will be some—are best settled in meetings away from the players and parents.
Every member of the coaching staff must understand and accept the coaching hierarchy of head coach, followed by the offensive and defensive coordinators, then the position coaches. Each coach is important to the successful functioning of the team. The more responsibility a coach has on the staff, the greater will be his input when making a final decision on how the team will be run. Ultimately the head coach has the authority and responsibility to settle any disputes.
For the team to function as one unit, the coaching staff must agree on what to teach as well as how to teach it. As a member of the coaching staff, you must do your part to make this happen.
The ideal coaching staff includes a head coach, an offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator, a special teams coordinator, and two or three assistant coaches for a total of six or seven staff members. Obviously, the more players you have, the more coaches you need. An ideal ratio would be one coach for every six players. With limited players, teams are forced to have players play both ways—both offense and defense. In this case, coaches can double up and learn to coach on both sides of the ball. Many teams operate with three coaches, with everyone helping in multiple areas. Depending on the number of coaches on staff, each may have more than one role. For example, the head coach often assumes the role of offensive or defensive coordinator and may serve as the special teams coordinator as well. On small staffs, the offensive and defensive line coaches may be the same person. However, for efficiency's sake, one member of the staff should be designated as the coach responsible for the offense, one for the defense, and one for special teams. During a game, each of these areas will need its own coach.
The head coach always has the final say. Each coordinator has the authority for his area of the team during pre-practice planning and actual practices and calls the offensive plays, the defenses, or the special teams plays during the games—but always with the approval and agreement of the head coach.
A position coach has the responsibility of preparing all the players in his position and teaching them the necessary techniques and assignments as charged by the coordinator.
For your team to perform smoothly as one unit, the coaching staff must be coordinated. The key is to clearly define the responsibility of each member of the coaching staff prior to the beginning of the season.
When putting together a coaching staff, and especially one made up of dedicated volunteers, the first thing to be done as a staff is to decide on common goals and agree on the method and manner of coaching the team.
These include the following:
Practice schedule and tempo of practice
Techniques to be taught
Offensive, defensive, and special teams schemes to be taught
Game day organization and responsibilities
How to address discipline problems
It is great when all members of the coaching staff agree, but if there is a difference of opinion, the head coach must step in and set the policy. It is also critical that each coach's unique strengths be identified and fully utilized, and this is much more than focusing on who has played a certain position in the past or whose son is playing that position now. Pro Football Hall of Fame Coach Paul Brown once told me, "If you surround yourself with people just like you, your players will be cheated."
It is important to find one area that each coach has a special interest in or does better than any other coach on the staff, then give him that responsibility. For example, an individual coach may have:
A real interest in physical fitness and be more than willing to lead the team in the warm-up, cool-down, and stretching exercises
An interest in setting up and facilitating an e-mail and communications network for the entire team
Organizational skills and can provide team schedules, practice plans, game plans, Excel depth charts, and testing records
The ability to design and produce your offensive, defensive, and special teams plays for your playbook
Special game-day abilities that allow him to recognize what your opponent is doing and provide suggestions to improve the team's performance
Special first-aid and Red Cross training in case of an injury on the field
The coaching staff must set aside time to review the rules of the game and to establish an agreed upon policy and procedure for discussions with parents concerning their child's position or playing time with the team. Coaches must listen respectfully to parents, understand their concerns, and assure them that those concerns will be communicated to the entire coaching staff. Again, be sure to avoid speaking about the ability of another player when having a discussion with parents.
Before the team can come together, the players need to see the coaches cooperating, speaking with one voice, working toward the same goals, and performing as one cohesive unit.
It is important for each coach to know all the positions on the team and to develop a fundamental understanding of what is required to play each position. Because terminology will differ from team to team and coach to coach, the staff should agree on the names for the positions and what each position can be expected to contribute to the team's success.
Given the limited number of players on many youth teams, it is often necessary for kids to "play both ways." At the end of this chapter I offer a proposed scheme of complementary offensive and defensive positions for young players.
Offensive Positions and Responsibilities
Offensive Line—Five Players
The offensive line is made up of five players: two offensive tackles (OT), two offensive guards (OG) and one center (CN).
On running plays, the five offensive linemen:
1. Stop the defensive man's charge (neutralize).
2. Push and turn the defensive man off the line of scrimmage (block).
3. Create a space for the ball carrier to run (open a hole or running lane).
On passing plays, the offensive linemen:
1. Form an area for the quarterback to throw (set the pocket).
2. Keep the defensive man from reaching the quarterback (pass protect).
The center has the additional and important responsibility of handing the ball to the quarterback to start every play (making the snap).
When selecting offensive linemen, look for players who have the following traits:
Quickness for a short distance—not necessarily 40 yards
Receiving Corps—Three Players
The receiving corps is usually made up of three players: one tight end (TE) and two wide receivers—the flanker and split end (FLK and SE). When the flanker lines up just outside the tight end's position, he will usually be referred to as a wingback (WB) and may be counted as part of the offensive backfield.
On running plays:
The flanker and split end will block defensive backs (DB)—either a safety (SS or FS) or a corner (CO)—(block downfield)
The tight end will push or turn a linebacker (LB) or defensive end (DE) off the line of scrimmage (block)
On passing plays the wide receivers and tight end will:
1. Sprint off the line of scrimmage (release).
2. Run to a specific area of the field (run a pattern).
3. Separate from the defensive man (get open).
4. Catch the pass from the quarterback (completion).
When selecting your receiving corps, look for players with these traits:
Smaller players with speed, agility, and good hand-eye coordination to be your wide receivers
A player with strength, balance, and speed to be your tight end
Good hands and a determination to catch the ball in all three receivers
Excerpted from THE NEW COACH'S GUIDE TO YOUTH FOOTBALL SKILLS AND DRILLS by Tom Bass. Copyright © 2006 by Tom Bass. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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