Category Archives: How To Coach

How to Love your players

If you’ve been reading this site, you’re thinking that this old man is crazy and you can’t talk about this stuff with a bunch of boys. No doubt what I’m talking about will scare off a lot of men. By our nature we want to be mechanics. Something is broken and I’ll fix it. That’s why so many of us frequent the Xs and Os webpages trying to fix the problem with our team. If I just find the magic offense or defense, we’ll be so much better. These magic bullets don’t exist. We are not comfortable dealing with our player’s feelings or team chemistry. We just ignore the issues hoping they’ll go away. We don’t really understand how to fix those things so we let them go. Much to the detriment of our team.

Ok coach I get that I need to bite the bullet and learn how to love my players but exactly how do I go about that. You’ve given me reasons and theory but I need some nuts and bolts that I can get a hold of. OK, let’s get down to how to accomplish this.

The definition of love I use is “you are set to do what is right for the other person”. Sentimentality is how you feel towards someone else. To love someone is a choice you make. Most of the time what is best for someone else isn’t necessarily what they want to happen. Such is the case with our players.

Since we are football coaches and we’re doing what is right for our players, we need to first be well educated coaches. That’s where visiting the Xs and Os sites comes in handy. Learn as much about coaching the sport as you can. Buy books, attend clinics, talk to your fellow coaches, and ask the stupid questions if you don’t know the answer. Too many coaches think they already know everything about the game and you can’t teach them anything. Don’t be that guy. Be a sponge. Take it all in. You’re asking your players to be coachable, you should be coachable as well. That way you can make informed decisions when the time comes.

Now that you have all that head knowledge, you have to be able to put that knowledge in the heads of your players. Be patient with them. It took you a while to learn it and it will take a while for them to as well. Teach all the techniques it takes to execute your offense and your defense. Teach them the Xs and Os. How to execute the offense and the defense.

While you’re teaching the mental part, you need to also be preparing them for the physical part. That means to use drills to make them more competitive and aggressive. You must also not forget the conditioning part. We play our games on Sunday afternoons at 1pm so we see some very high temperatures. Last year near the end of our first game of the season, many players on the other team were throwing up due to the heat. My players never had a problem. I made the mistake of not conditioning hard enough many years ago. I don’t make it now. Your players will whine and complain but you are doing what is best for them not what they want. Stick to your guns. You can condition creatively and not just make it all wind sprints. We have a hill that’s about 20 yards long and very steep. We build up to running the hill 20 times. 4 sets of 5 reps. I give a short talk between sets. My kids learn the phrase “Fatigue makes cowards of us all” and what it means to the point that when I yell “Fatigue” they yell back “makes cowards of us all”. We take pride in how many hills we’re able to do. I once had a team beg me to do 30 hills so that their record would not be broken by future teams. They did it and none have done it since. I had a player a few years ago in tears not wanting to run another hill. I told him I haven’t killed anybody yet doing this and I don’t think you’ll be the first.

Too many coaches want to be their player’s friend. I do too but I’m their coach first. Make the hard decisions about who’s playing where. Dish out the punishment when they act up. No need to embarrass or demean them. Just state: You broke this rule, you’re going to be punished in this way. No need to yell. Just carry it out. You are loving them more if you discipline than if you let things go. The boys will respect you for it. Make sure the punishment is the same for the best player as it is for the worst.

I tell my players I reward your effort and ability with playing time not with a position. The position you are playing is what this team needs you to play most to make it the best team we can possibly make it.

I didn’t use to have the players address me as Coach Dave or sir. I didn’t think that was my style until I experienced another coach do it. Now I wouldn’t do it any other way. It instills respect for authority into the players immediately. It pays off in so many ways. This will really help them now and later in life.

Physical affection scares the crap out of most coaches because of our society and all the problems in it but hugs are a common sight at my practices. No player is ever required to hug the coach. I just let them know that it’s OK to do it if they’re comfortable with it. Sometimes the most important thing you can do is give your player a hug and tell him it’s going to be OK.

I remind them often that the reason we just did an especially hard drill was because I love them enough to do what is right to give them every opportunity to win on Sunday afternoon. To set them up to lose would be far from the most loving thing I can do for them. Then after the game, we discuss how what we did in practice prepared us for what we experienced in the game. After they see the payoff of the hard work then they’re willing to work even harder.

The difference between me and them is that I understand what it takes for them to get to their goal. I understand the pain, the sweat, the toil it takes. They do not understand. It’s my job to push them into territory they never knew existed and if they did, they never thought they could accomplish. It is the most loving thing I can do for them. I am their football coach and it’s what they came to me for.

I started incorporating most of this stuff a few years back in an effort to bless my players. I got much more back in return.

Warrior Heart explained

Intensity

I teach my players that God has placed a Warrior Heart in them and it’s my job, with the help of the sport of football, to strengthen that Warrior heart so that it’s strong when they need it later in life to withstand the struggles of life.

Me to the team: When a boy learns how to ride a bike and they get a little confidence in their ability to ride what happens next? They see how fast they can go and then they race their buddies. When that’s not fast enough, they find the biggest hill they can to ride down and go even faster. Next they build a ramp to jump the bike in the air. When a girl gets a bike, she rides to her friend’s house to play. It’s a useful tool for her where for the boy it’s all about the bike and making it more challenging, competitive and fun. This is just one proof of the Warrior Heart within. There are many more.

For us coaches, how do we tap into this desire the boys have and satisfy it with our practices and the way we approach the game? Well, we do have an inside track. We were boys once so we need to think back on this and use our “inside info” and apply it to our team.

Some of the things I have done:

Every practice and before each game we start with our team chant:

Coach- “Good Evening Warriors!”   Boys- “Good Evening Coach!”

Coach- “What’s our job?”   Boys- “To Love Us”

Coach- “What’s your job?”   Boys- “To Love each other”

Coach- “What are we doing here tonight?”   Boys- “Preparing for Battle Sir!”

After our chant, we get close together in a sort of a circle with our arms out and around someone near us then we say a prayer. I say each sentence and the boys repeat it. After the last sentence, I pray a normal evening practice or game prayer.

Prayer -The Lord is a warrior, the Lord is His name. God created me in his image. I can do all things thru Christ who strengthens me. Thank you Lord for giving me a Warrior Heart.

The Warrior Heart idea came from John Eldredge’s “The Way of the Wild Heart” book. The prayer reinforces the idea. Exodus 15:3 is The Lord is a warrior, the Lord is His name. Genesis 1:27(b) is God created me (man) in his image. If God is a warrior and I am made in his image then I carry the Image of the Warrior God within me. Pretty powerful stuff when you think about it. The boys hear this every night and they believe it and buy in.

One note here; you, as a coach, have to sincerely believe in everything you teach or the boys will sniff out the insincerity and you’ll lose them. I sincerely believe what I teach is real and tangible. A transactional coach cannot fake this stuff and have it work. You have to be a transformational coach and be fully bought in yourself for it to work. Do not try to go beyond where your heart will let you.

I have specially made T-shirts with a Warrior Heart logo on the back that I and a friend designed. On the front, it says “I have a Warrior Heart”. These shirts have to be earned. Not everybody gets one. I have to see your Warrior Heart in action. I determine when and where that happened. These shirts are highly prized by my players.

We also do a fun drill every night. This is to satisfy the heart of the boy and prove to them that I value them above winning a game and trying to grind them into purely a performance machine to glorify me and satisfy my ego. We play Sumo, Hurricane, Run thru the Jungle, Sword fight, Deer Hunter to name a few. These games do also serve another purpose. It puts them on a stage and makes them perform in front of others while being competitive. It also reinforces the idea that you only get one shot at each play in a game. You win or lose on every play. In most of our games, winner stays on.

Remember that I design practice for the heart of a 12 yr old boy. Not to entertain the parents or myself. I have had parents tell me that my practices are boring for them to watch because they like to watch scrimmages. I told them practice wasn’t for their entertainment and what were the results they saw in the team at gametime. They agreed that it works.

Another thing I do is that the players that lead the group in the very few calisthenics we do are the first ones to finish the warmup lap. Most teams put their captains up there no matter their effort. You can be the smallest and youngest on my team and lead these exercises if you’re willing to hustle. Willingness to compete develops the Warrior Heart and we start competing at the start of practice.

The Error of using Rage and Revenge to motivate your players

I believe this subject will cause some controversy among coaches because it’s what they’ve done for years and let me say that I have too. I have only in the last 3 or 4 years learned the error of my ways and I want to save you from venturing down that path.

In what school subject or life lesson would you teach that you should take your anger, turn it into bitterness and rage to reach a solution to the problem at hand. This goes along with revenge as well. Revenge does not solve problems, it only creates an ever escalating feud. Yet we teach these 2 as solutions to football problems every day on the field. How many times have we as coaches said “I couldn’t get little Johnny to play hard until I pissed him off”. Again, what other arena is this a possible teaching scenario? I’d venture to guess no other arena is this a solution to the problem. I can just see you teaching your son or daughter to drive. That guy just passed you on a double yellow line. Now get mad and chase him down and hang on his bumper! I’m willing to bet that will get them a failing grade on their driving exam.

We say that we are teaching life lessons in football and we are so we do we want this boy to learn that rage and violence will fix other problems in his life too? I doubt any of us agree with that statement. I understand that football is a violent sport and I teach that it is. We just need the right motivation behind it and not the wrong motivation.

We know why we try to use this mechanism to increase intensity on the football field. Because it was done to us so we think it’s the right thing to do. We also get frustrated with little Johnny and start yelling because it is the natural outlet for our frustration. Let me explain why I believe it’s the wrong thing to do.

Romans 12:19, in quoting Deuteronomy 32:25 says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. It’s in there twice! Paul reiterates it quoting the Old Testament. But the world we live in tells us “Revenge is sweet.” Who is right? Why does God not want us to avenge ourselves? Is it because He wants to have all the fun himself? I’m going with no on this. God knows that revenge is more than our souls can handle and will do damage to our souls by leading us down an evil path to accomplish it. It will require us to devalue the other person and harbor bitterness towards them before we can get the revenge we desire. Our God, who loves both parties, knows what is best for both of us and in His mercy wants us to forgive because we can’t handle revenge without damaging both sides. I believe revenge is what Jesus was addressing when He told us to turn the other cheek. He never said not to protect or defend yourself or others from further harm. Only not to retaliate. An eye for eye, so to speak. Jesus never rebuked any soldiers for the job they do.

Paul also says in Ephesians 4:26 “In your anger, do not sin”. He’s not saying that anger is a sin. Anger is a useful emotion. It lets you know when something might be wrong. At this point, you have to decide whether to give in to letting the anger go to the next level and be wrong or to take heed of the warning and see what the correct response to that anger is.

Another more practical and less spiritual reason not to use rage and revenge to motivate your players is that this emotion is unsustainable for a 2 hour football game. It’s only good for maybe 2-3 minutes into the game and then the normal rhythm of the game takes over.

So…now do you still want to use rage and revenge to motivate your players? If you do, then at least you know the consequences. I also believe this is where a lot of team discontent and fighting originates from. It goes uncontrolled by the coaches mostly because they encouraged it in the first place and now they don’t know how stop what they started. Then the coaches yell at the kids to stop it and the cycle continues.

I’ve had many opportunities to use revenge as a motivator and years ago, I used the old “BOYS, THEY’RE COMING IN TO OUR HOUSE AND TRY TO TAKE SOMETHING AWAY THAT IS OURS!!!” or they got us in the regular season and now let’s go get them back for that loss!! How many times have you beaten a team and thought “I took what was theirs”? That thought has never crossed my mind and I doubt it has ever crossed yours. You both set out to play and win a football game and one of you won. That’s all there is to it.

A few years ago, we lost in the regular season to 2 teams that we were going to have to beat in the playoffs to win the championship. Not once did I mention revenge to our players. I just kept telling our kids that we had fought thru a tough season and we were getting better every game and I thought that we would be a better football team the next time we faced them. I was building confidence in us instead of bitterness and rage. I was putting bricks into the confidence wall. We also prepared with drills specific to the talents of those 2 teams. This also built even more confidence in my kids. No negativity. Only positives. By the time we got to the games, my boys had no fear of their opponents, only respect. We blew out the first of the 2 undefeated teams and got a 1 point win over the other in the championship. A team that beat us by 4 touchdowns in the regular season. I am sure that both teams had more talent than we had but we were having more fun playing football the way it should be played. Aggressive and with emotion, sustainable emotion. That emotion is love for your team mates, your coaches and the game itself.

I can hear it now. If I can’t use anger to motivate my players, how will I motivate them? I didn’t say not to use anger at all. Only in small doses and used wisely but do not let it elevate to the upper levels of bitterness and rage and cause damage to your players’ souls. I will show you how I accomplish this in later articles/posts.

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.