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.

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