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Thinking Outside the Box When Coaching Youth Football
Now is the time to start evaluating everything you are doing for next season. You don’t want to wait and do your research in July or August and then start doing things the same way again because you ran out of time. In March, I break down the game movie for the second time. I critically review training plans, exercises and priorities and ensure that what we do is time efficient and directly related to our end mission. I am now researching different methods, techniques, offenses, teaching processes and defenses. I have already read close to a dozen books and attended countless clinical sessions and yet I still have about 6 books in my pile as well as 3-4 DVDs to watch.
Turn new leaves
Even though our mission won’t change, I’m always open to new ways to accomplish it. We’ve had incredible success, but that doesn’t mean we own the franchise on how to get there, there are plenty of great ideas still waiting to be used to improve our youth football teams. We just have to be open-minded enough to keep looking for them and relentless enough in our search to find them.
Learn from the best
If you haven’t heard of John Gagliardi (pronounced Guh-LAR-dy). He has been the head coach at St. John’s University, in Collegeville, Minnesota, since 1953, his teams have won 461 games. I have written about him several times and he has a different way of approaching football practice.
Here’s what Newsday’s John Jeansonne wrote about the trainer:
In a school of 1,900 students, none of them having benefited from an athletic scholarship and therefore none having been pampered by the history of music or any other class, Gagliardi, at 82, will train his 57th season at St. John’s in the fall, attempting to win a 27th conference title and a fifth national championship – the most recent in 2003. Three years ago, Gagliardi became the first active coach to be signed to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Listen to his philosophies: no agility drills, long calisthenics, or laps (just one push-up before training). “When I was in high school, we had a coach that I learned a lot from – all negative. He was a fanatic about calisthenics and drills, twisty stuff. And tricks, tricks, tricks. We Were exhausted before we started. My memory was that hell had to be like this. Those goddamn duck rides. I hated them. Years later everyone was told how bad those duck rides were. bad for your knees. I was a hair’s breadth away from hanging in there. You see, I noticed that all the kids that went inside the walls to play never did all the exercises and that stuff, and I never saw ambulances going to their fields. The ambulances were always there. And, you see, luckily I didn’t have a TV. I didn’t know anything at all. I knew just what I didn’t like.
He began his coaching career as a high school student, at Trinidad (Colo.) Catholic in 1943, when the real coach was drafted into the service. He took the team to the state championship game and, “Damn, amazingly, we won. I must have been 16.”
But his coaching ethics were established. “Our coach used to say, ‘Hit somebody! Kill somebody!’ But I noticed I was the guy getting killed Our coach believed the answer to everything was drills and conditioning but the only tragic flaw in his system was that when we lined up we didn’t know I was the running back – you know, that old one-wing Notre Dame box thing – and I noticed that when I called a play, there was panic in the eyes of the linemen. I thought the first thing we needed to do was figure out who to block.”
Beyond the figure, however, there is no training apparatus in St. John’s. No blocking sleds. No blocking dummies. “I get kids, when they first come in, ask me, ‘How can I prove I can play? Who do I hit or kill?’ That’s not the way to tackle First you gotta line up in the right place You gotta go to the right place You gotta find where the heck the ball is You got You gotta press the ball You do all of that, you’ll end up making the tackle.
Applying it to youth football
Does any of this get on the nerves of those of us who coach youth football? How many youth football teams do you see doing what Coach Gags is fighting against? In youth football you have to get your kids to overcome the initial fear of contact and kick, but once that’s been done how much longer does it take to do a full-scale scrum rather than a bird dog or quick adjustment and frozen repetitions?
Do the math
My teams can do a fit and freeze rep every 10-12 seconds, while an average “scrimmage” rep takes 90-120 seconds. Which means that in 40 minutes of scrimmage, the “scramble” team will be able, if they are lucky, to participate in 20 to 30 games. During the same period, my teams reportedly got 200-240 reps. On game day, which team do you think has better execution, the one that got 40-60 quality offensive reps that week or the one that got 400-480 quality reps? Multiply that over 3 months and you’ll get a partial answer to why many youth soccer teams perform with much better execution than their competition, even when they have less practice.
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