Thinking Outside the Box When Coaching Youth Football

Thinking Outside the Box When Coaching Youth Football

Now is the time to start evaluating everything you do for next season. You don’t want to wait and do your research in July or August and then go back to doing things the same way because you ran out of time. In March I break down game film for the second time. I look critically at practice plans, drills and priorities and make sure what we are doing isn’t wasting time and relates directly to our end mission. I research different methods, techniques, offenses, teaching processes and defenses now. I’ve already read nearly a dozen books and attended countless clinic sessions and yet I still have about 6 books on my stack as well as 3-4 DVDs to watch.

Turning Over New Leafs

While our mission won’t change, I’m always open to new ways of accomplishing it. We’ve had incredible success, but that doesn’t mean we own the franchise on how to get there, there are lots of great ideas out there still waiting to be used to improve our youth football teams. We just have to be open minded enough to continue to look 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 head coach at St. John’s University, in Collegeville, Minn., since 1953, his teams have won 461 games. I’ve written about him a number of times and he has a different way of approaching football practice.

This is what John Jeansonne of Newsday wrote about coach:
At a school of 1,900, none of them on athletic scholarship and therefore none coddled through music history or any other class, Gagliardi, at 82, will be coaching 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 enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Listen to his philosophies: No agility drills, lengthy calisthenics or taking laps (One push-up before practice only). “When I was in high school, we had a coach I learned a lot from – all negative. He was a fanatic on calisthenics and drills, torturous stuff. And laps, laps, laps. We were worn out before we started. My memory of it was that Hell must be like this. Those damn duck walks. I hated them. Years later, everybody was told how bad those duck walks are for your knees. Anyway, then we’d scrimmage. We’d kill each other in practice. I came within a hair of not hanging in there. See, I noticed all the kids who would go play intramurals never did all the drills and that stuff, and I never saw any ambulances going over to their fields. The ambulances always were coming over to us. And, see, fortunately, I didn’t have a TV. I didn’t know a damn thing. I just knew what I didn’t like.”

He began his coaching career as a high school senior, 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, “Geez, astonishingly, we won. I must’ve been 16.”

But his coaching ethics were set. “Our coach used to say, ‘Hit somebody! Kill somebody!’ But I noticed that I was the guy getting killed. Our coach believed that 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 what the hell we were doing. I was the tailback – you know, that old single-wing, Notre Dame box stuff – and I noticed that when I’d call a play, there would be panic in the linemen’s eyes. ‘Who do I block?’ I thought the first thing we ought to do is figure out who to block.”

Beyond the figuring, though, there is no practice apparatus at St. John’s. No blocking sleds. No blocking dummies. “I get some kids, when they first come in, ask me, ‘How do I prove I can play? Who do I hit or kill?’ That’s not the way to make a tackle. First you’ve got to line up in the right spot. You’ve got to go to the right spot. You’ve got to figure out where the hell the ball is. You’ve got to not get blocked. You’ve got to pressure the ball. You do all that, eventually you’ll make the tackle.

Applying it to Youth Football

Does any of this strike a nerve with those of us coaching youth football? How many o-fer youth football teams do you see doing what Coach Gags is railing against? In youth football you have to get your kids over the initial fear of contact and do some hitting, but once that has been done, how much more time does it take to do full scale scrimmaging rather than bird dog or quick fit and freeze reps?

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 in 40 minutes of scrimmaging the “scrimmaging” team will if they are lucky, get in 20-30 plays. In that same time period my teams would have gotten in 200-240 reps in. On game day which team do you think will have better execution, the one that got 40-60 quality offensive reps in that week or the one that got in 400-480 quality reps? Multiply that over the course of 3 months and there is your partial answer as to why many youth football teams execute with so much better execution than their competition, even when they have fewer practices.