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Coaching Youth Football – Lessons Learned from Other Sports
Lessons learned from other sports
Some lessons learned as a junior football coach have really helped me coach other sports that I know very little about.
In 2002, the Screaming Eagles youth football program decided to start a baseball program. The problem was that I had never coached baseball before, and over 90% of our kids had never put on a glove, because baseball’s popularity in the downtown area has drastically declined.
Since we had been able to completely transform our football program from the bottom of the league to the top through intensive coach education and the development of a system with heavy research, I decided to do the same for baseball:
My experience with baseball was non-existent as a coach. I had only played until my junior year of high school and was just average on a really good day. I felt my little expertise on the subject was minimal and I had no authority or credibility to impose a new system on the entire Screaming Eagle program. The baseball “program” that I put in place was reserved for my personal team.
Started the project like any other, researching available videos and books to teach young baseball coaches. I bought a Marty Shupack tape on organizing baseball practices. I went to the local indoor baseball training center and bought a few books and tapes that were all specifically aimed at youth coaches. I asked around and found out who were the best coaches who consistently won. Many of them train in an indoor training facility, so I’ve been to see some of the top youth teams training indoors all year round.
I then sought advice from the best youth baseball coaches in the area. If you’re going to learn from someone, why not speak directly to the most successful one? Here in Omaha, it’s a guy named Bill Olsen. Coach Olsen has coached national championship teams at the youth level. He is an accomplished high school coach and has also served as an assistant coach on one of the US Pan Am and Olympic Games teams. Coach Olsen knows his stuff and has a passion for developing young baseball players and he enjoys teaching coaches how to teach players.
I had the chance to attend 4 great clinics organized by Coach Olsen, and while I had played 9 years of organized competitive baseball, I discovered:
1) I knew nothing about baseball coaching
2) My old baseball coaches also didn’t know I had been wronged as a player.
I promised not to let the same thing happen to these children.
Coach Olsen showed us the proper basics, but more importantly how to break down and teach each move. He gave us lots of step-by-step progressions to learn how to properly hit, line up, pitch, and even throw. I was amazed at how his methods matched the way we taught our children how to play youth football.
I then observed several of the top select and rec level trainers as they performed their workouts. I learned how to teach the movements and save time on my practices. Back when I was playing batting practice was one player hitting while 11 players were hitting balls in the field, it’s boring. Rarely were coaching points awarded, we were supposed to improve by “practicing”. I learned to do a lot more in a lot less time. I’ve also had the chance to watch Mike Evans perform his own workouts, Mike has taken multiple “Select” Pacesetter teams to National Youth Championships and now coaches a Junior College team. I learned some great games from him that keep the kids interested, just like the fun team building and assessment exercises we do for our youth soccer teams.
Long story short, I came up with a plan and implemented it based on the expertise of these men, not what I had learned from my own experiences. My first team could have been described as the “Land Of Misfit Toys” from the movie “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer”. Our first practices, most of the kids had to learn how to put on a glove and about 1/3 of the kids didn’t even have gloves, they were HORRIBLE. I went to the Salvation Army store and bought some used gloves, oiled them up and got them ready for the second practice. The kids kept coming and we got better with each practice as we made very slow progress towards our goal. Just like in youth football, we worked on the critical success factors, nothing else, no wasted time or movement. We used many cheats that we use in football like progressions, “ready tune”, group instruction, fit and freeze, limited live scrum, player contracts, model discipline, etc. Using Coach Olsens’ ideas and what I saw on the videos, we were able to get 16 minutes of batting practice for each player for every 2 hours of practice we had. We didn’t even hit “live” until week 3 because we did a lot of instruction and drills of “hitting” with no bats or balls, then going to the tees, then smooth pitching , then hit the ball attached to the stiff 5-foot device that hurts my wrists so badly.
We didn’t scrimmage or do a lot of infield and outfield drills, we did a lot of no ball drills and bucket ball drills. We didn’t play catching, that would have been a total waste of time (playing fetch, not catching), we worked on frozen throwing mechanics drills (yes, fit and freeze). I just did everything 100% like Bill Olsen suggested.
We went into our first game not knowing how to play the game very well, but we were making very good progress on the fundamentals. We ended up winning that game and all 14 games we played that year, to EVERYONE’s surprise. Every one of my kids was hitting the ball, even the overweight 190 pound defensive tackle who in first practice missed almost every ball hitting off a tee! We would constantly have 1-2-3 innings, etc. in defence. Over the next two years, I stayed at that age level as that original group moved on to other teams. The following year my team won our 12 games and the following year we won all 14 again, three years as the dominant team in the league unbeaten at that age group and we changed league a year for a little league that has consistently produced state champions. We never played in big tournaments as we unfortunately didn’t have the funds to do so and generally took a much less key approach to baseball than we did to football. Baseball for us was just “filler” until football season arrived.
The moral of the story is; priorities are important, teaching progression down to the smallest fundamental detail is important for every sport, scrimmage is overrated and excellent training organization using time-saving tricks is essential . Taking the time to learn from the experts has allowed me to teach kids properly so they can have more fun. Just like in soccer kids have more fun if they don’t lose every game, in baseball they also don’t have much fun if they never touch or lose every game too. The sad thing is that we were so much better than the other teams in the three years I coached that we could have faced an age group and competed. A lot of the coaches I coached against went to the same Bill Olsen clinic I did, but I could tell during warm-ups that they weren’t doing what Coach Olsen suggested they do during warm-ups, or how they were holding their gloves, or how their infielders got into their stance or how their batters got into their stance. Either these coaches slept while Coach Olsen spoke, or they just decided to do it their “best” way. I decided to do it the Coach Olsens way and if it didn’t work I would do more research and make changes. In my opinion these youth coaches really wronged their players ours were so much more fundamentally sound it looked like we were training 5 days a week when in reality we were training much less than any team in the league and most other teams had experienced kids on their teams.
Go watch other teams practice in your sport, go to clinics that teach youth topics, ask a high-achieving coach to be your mentor, most are glad someone cares enough. them to want to learn and think enough of them to want to learn from them. Your kids will ultimately benefit, coaching is coaching no matter the sport.
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