Unconditional Love Speech

This is the first speech I give to the team. It happens at the start of the first practice and sets the tone for the kind of culture they’re going to be in for the next 3 months.

I’m going to tell you that you that I love you, each of you unconditionally. Does anybody know what unconditionally means? It means that no matter how bad you screw up, no matter how frustrated I may get, no matter how poorly you perform, I still love you. I may not be happy with you at that time but I still love you. You may have cost yourself some punishment with what you’ve done. I love you before, during and after the punishment. There’s a verse in the Bible, Hebrews 12:5-6 (the Message), My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child that he embraces, he also corrects. So we see that if I truly love you, I will correct you. I will make you get it right. I will not let you coast. We have a lot of games to prepare for. If we just came out here night after night and goofed off and had a good time, we would get killed on gameday, wouldn’t we? So by being tough on you and disciplining you and preparing you for the battles ahead, I am proving to you that I love you.

Now what I expect of you is to extend that kind of love to each other. No matter how bad your team mate messes up, you forgive him and love him. I define the word “love” as being set to do what is right for someone else. Hollywood and the music industry have given us a distorted version of the word love. That’s not what I’m talking about.

As a start to the discipline, we practice respect for your coaches. The way we will do this is to address the coaches as “Coach” or “Coach Dave” or “Sir” but never as “Hey Dave”. When you respond to one of us, it will be “yes sir” and “no sir”. If you do not, you will drop and give me 10 pushups. I will give you one night, tonight, a night of grace to learn this. You will never talk back to your coaches. Every coach has the right to deliver punishment to you. You know and understand the rules. When you break rules, you are punishing yourselves. We, as coaches, are just carrying out the punishment.

Why coaching youth football is different than coaching HS football

There is a vast difference between coaching 18 yr olds and 8 yr olds. These are 2 very different creatures. The 18 yr olds have a chemical in them called testosterone. You won’t find hardly a trace of that in 8 yr olds. When you challenge an 18 yr old, he bristles up and fights back. When you challenge an 8 yr old, he shrinks back in fear. Most new youth football coaches remember how their HS coaches yelled at them and think that this is how you coach football. So they try it on the 6 yr old only to get frustrated, yell louder when the little guy doesn’t get it right. Now you’ve made it worse.

Another thing to consider is vocabulary. You can’t talk to young kids with the same words you talk to other adults with. They don’t know the meaning of a lot of those words. Keep your words simple so that they can understand.

Lets look at the stages of a man’s life. 1. Beloved Son 2. Cowboy (pre-warrior) 3. Warrior 4. King 5. Sage. Boys transition from beloved son to Cowboy about age 12 but the stages overlap and bits and pieces of each stage can be seen throughout life. So an 18 yr old is transitioning from Cowboy (trying to prove he can be the warrior) to Warrior stage. Your 8 yr old is living in his beloved son stage, where he needs to know he is loved, with just a touch of the cowboy in him. Obviously teaching these 2 will require different tactics. Your 18 yr old has quite a few battles won under his belt, is secure in who he is (if he was properly loved early in life) and is ready to meet challenges. Your 6-8 has no confidence in anything and no quality wins under his belt. He might not even be able to tie his shoes yet. He is not secure in who he is yet either.

Now that we’ve established the difference between the two, how do we coach the younger one? He needs to know you love him and care about him first then he’ll be more willing to listen to you. We need to build confidence in him that he can handle this thing called football. The way we build confidence is to get him quality wins. Make your practices very similar to each other day after day. He will gain confidence in knowing what is coming next. If you’re changing up practice (up to age 10), you’re doing it because you’re bored with it. Remember young kids can watch the same video a hundred times and not get bored with it. Changing practice too much only confuses him.  Teach technique drills till he knows the skill (blocking, tackling, etc.) very well. Now split the kids into groups of similar size and ability. Have stations to do different drills at and a coach at each station. When kids of similar ability compete against each other, they gain in skill and confidence. If they are mismatched, neither one of them gets better. The better player gets wins but not quality wins and the lesser player gets his butt kicked and gets get discouraged.

Other ways to get quality wins for each of the kids is in conditioning. Increase the amount of conditioning day by day and week by week. Remind them how they’re doing more than they were last week. This increases confidence. As you build in contact drills, they will gain confidence and lose fear when hitting. Aggression comes slowly and only after the player has confidence that he is doing it right. Only after he knows how to do something, can he do it aggressively. You can’t expect two 7 yr olds to go flying at each other to make a tackle their first night in pads. They don’t even know how to do it right yet. Having said that, I believe that the younger the player, the more contact is needed to help them overcome their fear of it. Let’s face it, the smaller they are the less chance there is of being hurt. As they get older, less contact is needed in practice.

Imagine a brick wall. Imagine that you are building a confidence wall in each of these young players. Little by little and brick by brick. It doesn’t happen overnight and don’t get discouraged when it takes time. Your investment will pay off. Each of these quality wins are a brick in the wall. Now imagine that you start screaming at one of them. Well you just smashed that brick wall with a sledgehammer and will have to start over.

How well do you learn if someone is screaming instructions at you and getting frustrated and yelling louder when you don’t get it. Not very well I imagine. Neither do your players learn well in this environment.

Also, check your ego at the house and don’t bring it to practice with you. This is not about you and how you want to be perceived, it’s about them. If you can’t do this then you’re probably not the man for this job.

Experience

Why should you listen to Coach Dave? Well, I have been coaching youth football for 33 years, 24 years as a head coach. In my 24 years as a head coach, my team’s record is 171-69. As a head coach, my teams have appeared in 10 championship games. Our record there is 5-5. To qualify all of this, we play in a conference that has varied in size from 8 teams to 16 teams during this time. My organization is always in the bottom 3 for school size. We divide our areas by school boundaries. We are constantly playing teams whose recruiting area is 2-3 times ours. Yet despite this, we are very competitive. I am located in West Milford, just south of Clarksburg in North Central West Virginia. I have coached 10-12 yr olds most of this time but have coached down to 5 yr olds.

How I came by coaching this way in the last 8 years was that I read 2 different books. “The Way of the Wild Heart” by John Eldredge and “A Season of Life” by Jeffrey Marx. My goal was to find a way to put the contents of these 2 books into a football practice. Using this knowledge, I endeavored to aim my practices at the heart of a 12 year old boy. This prompted me to do quite a bit of changing in the way I communicate with the boys. I started teaching virtues and values along with football. The boys love it. They long to be strong and powerful and use it in the right way. I structure practice differently to accommodate this mindset. I used to be a screamer and a yeller and I still do occasionally get loud but it’s because I’m passionate about what I’m teaching not because I’m mad or frustrated with a kid.

What I first envisioned as a better way to treat the kids has evolved into a new culture for the team. There is no doubt in my mind that God has led me in this journey. I’m not smart enough to do this on my own.

What you need to do is take the information I give you and weigh it for yourself as to whether or not it makes sense and you can use it. If you can, go ahead and do it. If you can’t then don’t use it.

 

What prompted me to start a blog?

I’ve been wanting to share how I coach with other coaches for years. I haven’t been able to decide whether to write a book, do clinics or a series of videos. The recent seasons of “Friday Night Tykes” and “Steel Country” really made me want to get the word out even sooner. I couldn’t imagine talking to the players the way these guys do. Cussing and yelling at 9-11 yr olds. I believe these guys are doing what they think is right. I disagree. I have proven that you don’t have to coach like that to win. You can actually treat the kids with respect like you would adults and get great results. Starting a blog was the quickest way to get the word out. I figure for every coach I convert, I have saved about 25 young men from having a miserable season and giving up on football.

Please bear with me as I do this. I have never assembled a website so this whole thing is a work in progress. It will change as I tinker with it and learn new things.

Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you are getting

This is a saying in business. So if you don’t like what results you are getting, you better change your system. How does this apply to youth football? If you don’t like what you see on the field when your team is out there, maybe, just maybe it’s not their fault but it is your coaching that is producing these results. Actually most of the time, this is the case. So what do you do? CHANGE WHAT YOU DO!

The average youth practice is 20-30 minutes of calisthenics and sprints. 20-30 minutes of the whole team doing one-on-one tackling. Each player getting one rep every 3-5 minutes. All of this followed by 1 hour of scrimmaging the 1st team offense vs second/ third string defense. If this is your practice then you won’t have a very good final product on the field. You can have so much talent on the field that you win even with this practice plan but they’re not nearly as good as they can be. This practice plan was reinforced to me when I watched the recent season of “Friday Night Tykes”. These 3 elements are about all I ever saw.

Why is this ineffective? Why do the kids not have fun at practice? Why are they not getting better?

Some calisthenics, some conditioning are both necessary but not every night and they are boring to the kids. They’d be boring to you as well. When doing drills, split the team up into groups. Groups of equal size and ability. When competing against someone of equal ability, you both improve. Mismatches in size and ability don’t improve either participant. And smaller groups get everybody more reps.

Scrimmaging first vs second string is almost useless. Your starters can easily push your second stringers around and are not working as hard as they can. You are programming this level of intensity into them hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Then comes gameday and you give the most inspiring speech of your life and they go out there and play mediocre. What just happened? Why don’t they play harder? Because they are playing exactly the way you programmed them to. Your system is producing the results it’s designed to. You have burned mediocre effort into them. It’s the only way they know how to play. They are giving all they know how to. No amount of inspiration can change this. In addition to this, your second stringers get discouraged and want to quit. Why? Because they spend half of practice getting their butt kicked every night. Night after night. Most of the time, your second stringers get smart and make an agreement with the starter to just let them push them around. It keeps the starter from getting yelled at by you and the second stringer gets off easy. Does this sound like either side is getting better or enjoying football? I’d hate practice too if this is what practice is.

If this is starting to sound like your team, you have to decide if you’re willing to put in the work to fix it. You can’t fix this problem in one day with one technique. It takes commitment by you and a holistic approach to coaching. This website is about how to fix this and other problems. I’ll do some small articles and videos on how I do things. It’s up to you to decide what and how much of this info you use.

Welcome to a very different kind of coaching site

I want to introduce you to a different way of coaching youth football. I will share with you how I do it. This site will be less about Xs and Os and more about the Jimmies and the Joes, i.e. how to treat and interact with your players. Do you want to turn your pawns into knights? Do you want to make a difference in the lives of your players? Do you want to make practice fun? Do you want your players to play with more aggression and intensity? You’re in the right place.