Tag Archives: youth football

It’s not “Just a game”

After a hard fought football game in which you lost, you’re faced with a group of crying young men. They’re staring at you hoping you’ll make sense of what just happened because they can’t. You give that famous quote “it’s just a game” boys, no need to cry over it. That statement rings hollow in the hearts of those young Warriors in front of you. You know it does but you’re trying to give solace to them and you really don’t know how. In your mind, you can hear them saying ‘Coach, if it’s “just a game”, why did we work so hard to win it? If it’s “just a game” why did we give up evenings of comfort at home to practice in the cold rain? If it’s “just a game”, why do we feel so good and celebrate when we win? If it’s “just a game”, why do I feel as though my heart has just been ripped from my chest?’


A video game is “just a game”. A board game is “just a game”. A card game is “just a game”. These require little preparation and should not upset you greatly whether you win or lose them. To enter into a physical battle with another live opponent that both have put considerable time and effort into preparing for is not a game and it is unfortunate that it is called that.


Here’s the truth and here’s what needs to be said. Young Warriors, that game we just played mattered. It’s okay to cry and mourn its loss. Because when you lose something that matters to you, it’s okay to be sad about it. It’s okay to feel pain. In fact, it’s natural and part of the process of life. In fact, I mourn its loss with you. You invested a lot of time and effort in an attempt to win that game. It would be unnatural to dismiss it with just a wave of the hand and try to pretend it didn’t matter. I am very proud of you and the effort it took to try to win that game. I’m really proud that you chose to stick your nose into the arena of competition. That takes courage. Many of your friends never do that out of fear. That effort has made you a better person even though we lost. That effort will make you stronger in the future. It will teach you to work hard in the face of adversity and to keep trying no matter what. It is what helps to make you a man. Learn to love that effort.


So now the next time you’re tempted to say “it’s just a game”, understand the difference and the damage you may be doing to that young Warrior. This is just a part of the process of learning how to love them correctly that each coach must go through.



The Games We Play

While other coaches are doodling with their X’s and O’s, I’m researching and dreaming up new games for the kids to play that will either develop their aggression ability or condition them or both. It will also allow them to have more fun while doing so which will bring them back for another season. Hopefully you can use some of these.


The circle represents the other players on the team.

Pick 2 teams. Team 1 chooses 3 players for offense, 2 blockers with blocking shields and 1 runner with the ball. Team 2 picks the defender. Alternate choosing offense and defense each turn.

The defender has 12 seconds to touch the runner. If he does, his team gets a point. If he does not, the other team gets a point. Play until all players have had a chance to participate. Losing team bearcrawls back to the water break area.

I have tried it without the shields. It gets too violent. We don’t really enforce blocks in the back. Also if the defender falls down, he is likely piled on and loses. The more the boys cheer the better it is. Of course we play music during this drill.

Deer Hunter

Mark off a square area at least 20 yds by 20 yds with cones or lines. The bigger it is the more running they have to do.

Pick 3-4 hunters. Equip them with balls to kill the deer with. They run after the deer killing them with the balls until you only have as many deer left in as you have hunters. These deer now become the hunters for the next round.

Variations-We sometimes have a gate for the deer to run out of after being killed. They run to a designated point and back and enter into the game again thru the gate…We use footballs because they sting a bit more when they hit. Since we have helmets on, headshots are legal.

I just came up with a new variation. Using pool noodles as the weapon to kill the deer. You have to get closer to make the kill. More chasing and running is done with this variation. The kids liked it too.


We make a large circle of players. Start with the 2 weakest players. They sumo wrestle. If they are driven out of the circle or a part of their body touches the ground they lose. Winner stays on until you have one final player standing. Of course we play music for this game.

King of the Boards

Have two players face off and try to drive each other backwards. Declare a winner. Winner stays on. Start with the weakest players and work up to your King. Music is played. Bonus effect of this drill is that the players (and parents if they’re watching) know the pecking order on the team and that will cause you less questions about playing time in the future.

Rescue the Treasure

This drill is brand new but the kids loved it. Mark off 3 – 5 yd by 5 yd boxes with cones or lines. Place a guard with a blocking shield in each box. The “Rescuer” is placed at the front of the area. He has to get past all 3 castle guards, rescue the treasure (football) and escape back through the same 3 castle guards. Guards attempt to knock the rescuer out of the drill area but must stay in their own box.  If the Rescuer is knocked out of the castle walls, he loses and does 10 pushups. If he makes it back out of the castle, he wins and has no punishment. Rescuer goes to the back of the line. Rotation through the drill starts with the guard nearest the treasure. Players move to the outer wall until they become the rescuer.

I would recommend this drill be done as one station instead of a whole team drill. Just more time efficient that way.

We do 1 fun drill per day in the middle of the practice. It breaks up the grind of the rest of practice and injects a little more spirit into the kids. Have fun with them. Encourage them during the games. This helps build team spirit as well.

Shoulder Tackling vs Chest Plate Tackling

The good thing about blogs is that you just get to put your opinion out there and people can deal with as they may.

When I got into coaching football back in the eighties, we taught a type of shoulder tackling. When I played high school football, I tackled with my shoulders. It just felt natural. I started researching more about all aspects of coaching about 1998. No matter where I saw it taught whether at a clinic or in an article, chest plate tackling was what was being taught. So I got on board with all of the experts and started teaching it in about 2001. Questions always arose about how a small safety was going to tackle a large fullback with this technique among other questions. I argued that at least while he was being trampled, he had his head up. What I noticed about this technique was that no matter how hard you drilled it in practice almost no one ever executed it properly in a game. I noticed that while watching college and pro games that I almost never saw it executed properly. When I did see it executed properly it stood out in stark contrast to the other tackles being made. I also noticed what developed was that my players and others we played against started trusting their helmets too much and used their facemask as a weapon to tackle and block. Now mind you that they never heard that command from a coach even one time yet they did it consistently.

During this time I watched a high school player that I had taught to tackle when he was 8 yrs old and I had coached him for many years doing this as a Senior. He got a few bad concussions and it cut his senior season short. I started re-evaluating what I was teaching at this point.

My theory is that the players are lazy about the technique so they stay high as they are coming in to tackle instead of dropping their tail so they could explode up through the ballcarrier and so they hit him with their facemask instead of their chest. Add to this the ballcarrier has followed the same process and so he stays high as well and leads with his facemask. Now we have two ball players making head to head contact when neither coach ever intended that to be the case.

I think what the real problem with chest plate tackling is that it is completely unnatural. If I told someone who has never tackled anyone to go tackle that guy over there, he is going to tackle him with his shoulder. He is not going to rip up though the pits and tackle him with his chest.

While I was pondering this question in the off-season, I was emailing some good coaches that I know around the country about what they were doing. A few of them had gone to a version of shoulder tackling because they found chest plate tackling to be ineffective. You didn’t dare bring this subject up on a message board because anything but chest plate tackling was considered to be unsafe and you would be yelled down as being a heretic and a bad coach. I just wanted to teach my kids the safest and surest method there was. Also during this time I saw the movie “Invictus” which is a movie about the South African Rugby team. It hit me like a ton of bricks “if the safest way for them to tackle in rugby is with their shoulder and they don’t have helmets then it’s surely the safest way for us to tackle with helmets”. This was surely a big aha moment for me. I was back on track to where I wanted to be. I researched rugby tackling and starting teaching a version of it to my players. I still didn’t discuss it on message boards but I did in emails with others.

I really loved it when Pete Carroll put out the Hawk tackling video in 2014. I don’t know how many years it had been since I went back to shoulder tackling before this video came out but I could now come out of the closet and be a shoulder tackling enthusiast in public without repercussion because an expert had put his stamp of approval on it. I recommend watching that video and one called “Tackling Dummies Smarter” by Bobby Vernon if you’re interested in teaching the rugby style shoulder tackle. I won’t teach it to you here as they do a much better job than I could. They’re both on Youtube.

I have since purchased a few of the tackle rings and use them in practice as part of the whole program of teaching shoulder tackling. I really encourage you to do your own research on this subject. I just wanted to share my journey through it.

Barefoot Practice

I’m always talking about making the experience special for the players. Sometimes an opportunity that you didn’t expect happens and you have to just go with it or you might pass up a chance to make some memories for the kids. Just such an opportunity happened to my team this past season.

At our Saturday morning practices we do special teams first on the high school field then we go to a practice area, “over the hill” as it’s called to review the defensive game plan and rep offensive plays. On this Saturday morning, my QB forgot his spikes. I told him, well that sucks for you because you’ll have to practice barefoot. As we lined up to do kickoffs, I looked at his bare feet and imagined the other player’s spikes tearing them up. So I made a quick joke, or so I thought. “In support of Nathan and his predicament, let’s all go barefoot” I said. I really didn’t mean it. I got different responses. Some were crazy about the idea and the others…well, not so much. Then it hit me that it might actually be fun and I didn’t see any down side to it. We weren’t going to have an intense practice. Mostly review so I thought why not? So I told them all to take their socks and shoes off and put them on the sidelines. I did let the kickers keep their shoes on to do their kicking. The grass was a little wet and we got a few light showers during the practice. The boys slipped around in the wet grass and fell a few more times than they normally would have but all in all had a grand time.

So the next time God hands you an opportunity to make some memories for the kids, don’t be so fast to dismiss it. Don’t be that coach that always has to have it his way and keep grinding on the kids. Sometimes the best reason to do something is just because it is fun. The boys don’t need any more reason to do something. Why should you? Remember, it’s not about you.

10 years from now, they might forget the games they won or lost but they will always remember the barefoot practice.

Aggression Training

I hear the question all the time. How do I make Joey more aggressive? I hear it from other coaches and I hear it from parents. Well there is no magic pill you can give him or a miraculous speech you can make to get it to happen. What you can do is make a concerted effort with your team and you’ll make your team as a whole more aggressive. Most of the players will ride this wave and become more aggressive than they were. It is a slow process. You as a coach have to be willing to wait for it but work diligently towards it.

As I’ve said in some other articles, there is little to no testosterone in these little fellas so trying to get them to “man up” isn’t going to work. Challenging their nonexistent manhood is not going to work. You need to get the fear of hitting out of them. You must replace it with confidence. Teach them the skills first with coaches holding bags. Blocking or tackling. Be patient and teach by showing. Encourage them to hit the bag hard and drive. They need to learn that this doesn’t hurt. Keep encouraging to hit it harder and harder. Brag on them on how much harder they’re doing it than when they first tried it. Replace their fear with confidence in what they’re doing. Once they’re hitting the bag hard, you can move onto board drills. If you have a sled, it would be the next natural step but we don’t have one. A board drill is where two players try to drive each other straight back while having a board placed between their feet so that they keep their feet wide while driving. I stopped using boards a few years ago. I think it’s safer and I haven’t noticed any difference in performance of the players. Plus I think we’re more aggressive because we don’t fear slipping on the board. Divide them into groups of 5-8 equally matched players. If you mismatch your players, you can undo some of your progress you’re making. Keep the groups small to get more reps. Make sure you mix up the matchups in the group. Place a coach with each group. Have about one yard between them when they start. About like they’d have in a game. You can have some fun with this. Hoot and holler, get them hyped up and excited as they’re doing it. Brag on the winners and encourage the losers to work harder. You can move a player up to the group one better than the one he’s in if he’s dominating his group. They like these promotions but it also makes them work harder and get better. Just don’t do it before he’s ready. I recommend playing music during this. It automatically increases the intensity. You can play King of the boards if you have time. I usually plan to do board drills for about 15-20 minutes in the practices we do them. When you play King, You have all the players stand side by side facing you. Pick your 2 weakest and let them go first. You declare the winner. Winner stays on. Loser gets behind you. Encourage the team to root for them as they go at it. Keep going until there’s only one. He’s your King. A side bonus to this game is if the parents are watching they learn the pecking order on the team. The players pretty much already knew it.

The younger they are, the more of this they need. I think that board drills are the heart of our aggression. They allow a lot of contact and one on one battles with little chance of injury.

Another part is mental. Not that gaining confidence in board drills isn’t. Convince them how tough they are. Build them up, don’t tear them down. That’s why my practice starts with “Good evening Warriors”. The coach whom I highly respect (that’s you if you lost track) just called me a Warrior. If he believes I am then I must be. These little guys long to be powerful. They long to be a superhero. You just put a helmet, shoulder pads and a jersey on them. That’s just one step short of a cape. Teach them to fly and revel in it with them. Build this warrior mentality into them at every opportunity. Remind them that Iron sharpens Iron and that’s why we do so many board drills.

One of the biggest mistakes youth coaches make is to brag up the other team. They talk about how big they are, about how hard they hit, how fast they are. Sorry coach but in your attempt to challenge your players’ manhood, you scared them to death and they will play against them the same way…scared. And there you stand not understanding how the game went that way and asking me how can I make my players more aggressive. By NOT scaring the crap out of them for one is my answer. When you talk about the other team talk about how they do this but what we’re going to do to counter that is this and convince them that what we’re going to do is better than what they’re going to do. You have to have confidence in your plan for your players to buy into it.

Don’t call them little guys. Beware of your language in this regard. I cringe when I hear a Mom call her son “My Little Man”. She’s doing it innocently and thinks it’s cute but it tears at the fabric of what we’re trying to build up.

As I said in another article on here, remember that you’re building a wall of confidence in them brick by brick. Be patient.

Another drill I like for aggression training is Who’s ball. I learned this drill and many other things from Coach Dave Potter. It’s simply a fumble recovery drill but you let the players wrestle for the ball for an extended period of time. I do this at a station and we usually let them go at it for 30 seconds. They get to do another aggressive and competitive drill in a fairly safe and controlled manner. Hootin and hollering by the coach is encouraged here too.

One drill I love that is like real football is the Bronco Drill. I have seen it called a multi-level Oklahoma drill too. You set up 3 levels. 1st level is your linemen. 2nd level is your linebackers and the 3rd level is your secondary personnel. Make your 1st level about 3-4 yds wide, 2nd level 5 yds wide and the 3rd level about 8 yds wide. Place the levels about 5 yds apart. Adjust these distances based on the age and size of your players.

On the snap count the offensive man attempts to block the defensive man in one direction or the other. The running back has to read the blocks to make the cuts to score. The defensive man is to shed the block and make the tackle. Try to keep the matchups as equal as possible. Last year, one night when we had some players and coaches missing, I put us all into one group and we ran Super Bronco for the first time. We put 2 of each at each level so we ended up with 13 in the drill at once.  2 O-linemen and 2 D-linemen, etc. Still only one ballcarrier. This is now our staple on how we run it. It is fun, chaotic and intense. Everybody loves it. Coaches and players. By keeping the matchups equal, we are increasing each player’s growth as much as possible. There are many other competitive drills you can do. These are just a few. Remember to build up slowly.

Plan your season before planning your practice.

To steal a phrase from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book: Begin with the end in mind. I have been doing this with my team for many years but I never really had a title for it.

Envision your team at mid-season. Think this through thoroughly. What plays you want to be running at that point and the players’ thorough knowledge of it. What defense do you think you’ll be running? The mental and physical toughness you want your team to have. The hustle you expect at that point. The conditioning level you want to be at. Now with that mental picture in mind, start writing.

  1. To run offense A, we need to learn these specific blocking techniques. Drive blocks, double teams, pulls, downblocks, reach blocks, etc. Not all offenses employ all types of blocks there are. What are the steps needed for each type of block. If your offense does not use them, it would be a waste of practice time to teach them. Teach techniques specific to your offense. What backfield actions are necessary and what aren’t. What pass routes do you employ? Teach only those. If you decide to add a play at mid-season you never thought of, you can also add the elements of it as well at that time.
  2. Now that you have your list for your offense, make it for your defense and special teams. Obviously for defense, you will need to teach tackling. Other skills will depend on whether you have a reading defense or attacking defense. Do they need to learn block destruction or block evasion or both?
  3. Identify the drills you need to teach these skills. Write them down. If you don’t know what drills to use, either search the internet or design them yourself. I have designed many drills to teach specific game situations.
  4. Now that you have that list, you can plan what you need to accomplish each week to get to the mid-season vision that you started with. Remember to include drills for conditioning and physical toughness. Physical toughness gives birth to mental toughness. I will do some conditioning and drills specifically for this goal.
  5. You are now ready to do your daily practice planning based on the lists of drills you already wrote down. Do the ones you consider most important every day or at least every other day. Others may be once or twice per week. I will also include the lessons I teach my players during water breaks but that may not be your shtick. Analyze whether your players are “getting it” or not. Improve your teaching or number of reps if they are not. Whether you split into separate groups for linemen and running backs is up to you and the makeup of your coaching staff.
  6. Have multiple stations to run drills. Spend 5-10 minutes at each station but no more as that will greatly ratchet up the boredom factor for the kids. Keep each group to 8 kids or less to maximize reps at each station. I like to mix conditioning stations with learning stations. Too much of either makes Jack a dull boy. Players run from station to station. This sets expectations of hustle. If they don’t their whole group runs extra. Upon arriving at the next station, they perform 10 pushup, 10 situps and 5 seconds in a good 3 pt stance (from Derek Wade’s Impact book). We remind them by saying do your 10-10-5. We run to and from everything whether it’s the next drill or a water break
  7. Now you can execute team drills with the whole offense or defense. Repping plays on air for offense and pursuit angle drills for defense are a good start.

While this may be a short article to read, it is a long exercise if you do it.

Remember, not planning is planning to fail. Good luck and have a great season.