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Coaching Youth Football – Lessons Learned from Other Sports
Lessons learned from other sports
Some lessons learned in coaching youth soccer have helped me a lot in coaching other sports that I know very little about.
In 2002 the Screaming Eagles Youth Football Program decided that we would 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 as the popularity of baseball had declined dramatically in the inner city.
Since we were able to turn our football program around from the bottom of the league to the top through intensive coach training and research-intensive system development, I decided to do the same with baseball:
My experience with baseball was non-existent as a coach. I had only played until my junior year of high school and was average on a really good day. I felt that my little experience 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” I was running was for my personal team only.
He began the project like any other, doing research on the videos and books available to teach youth baseball coaches. I bought a Marty Shupack tape on organizing baseball practices. I went to the local indoor baseball practice facility and bought some books and tapes that were all aimed specifically at youth coaches. I asked around and found out who the best coaches were who consistently won. Many of them practice in an indoor practice facility, so I went and watched some of the best youth teams get their year-round instruction inside.
Then I sought advice from the best youth baseball coaches in the area. If you’re going to learn from someone, why not go straight to the guy who’s had the most success? Here in Omaha that’s a guy named Bill Olsen. Coach Olsen has coached National Championship teams at the youth level. He is an outstanding high school coach and has also been an assistant coach on one of the US Pan American Games and Olympic teams. Coach Olsen knows his stuff and has a passion for developing youth baseball players and loves teaching coaches how to teach players.
I was fortunate enough to attend 4 great clinics that Coach Olsen put on, and while playing 9 years of competitive organized baseball, I discovered:
1) I knew nothing about coaching baseball
2) My previous baseball coaches didn’t know anything either, I was lacking as a player.
I vowed not to let the same happen to these children.
Coach Olsen showed us the proper fundamentals, but more importantly how to break down and teach each move. He gave us a lot of detailed progressions to teach how to bat, field, throw and even throw properly. I was surprised to see how his methods paralleled how we teach our kids to play youth soccer.
Below I observed several of the top “select” and rec level coaches as they ran their practices. I learned how to teach the moves and shave tons of time off my practices. Back in the day I played, batting practice consisted of 1 player hitting while 11 players fielded balls, how boring. Training points were rarely awarded, we assumed we were getting better by “practicing. I learned how to do a lot more in a lot less time. I also had the opportunity to watch Mike Evans do some practice of his own, Mike took several Pacesetter “Select” equipment to the Junior National Championships and now coaches a Junior College team, I’ve learned from him some real games that get kids interested, like the fun team building and evaluation exercises we do for our youth soccer teams.
To make a long story short, I developed a plan and implemented it based on the experience of these men, not what I had learned from my own experiences. My first team could be described as the “Land Of Misfit Toys” from the movie “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer”. Our first practices most of the kids had to be shown how to put on a glove and about 1/3 of the kids didn’t even have gloves, they were HORRIBLE. I went down to the Salvation Army store and bought some used gloves, oiled them up and had them ready for the second practice. The kids kept coming and we got better with each workout as we slowly made progress towards our goal. Just like in youth football, we work on the critical success factors, nothing else, no wasted time or movement. We use many of the tricks we use in football such as progressions, ‘ready focus’, group instructions, snap and freeze, limited live games, player contracts, discipline model etc. Using coach Olsens ideas and what I saw in the videos, we were able to get each player 16 minutes of batting practice in every 2 hours of practice we had. We didn’t even go “live” until week 3, as we did a lot of “hitting” instruction and drills with no bats and no balls, then we go to Tees, then soft toss, then hitting the ball attached to the hard. 5′ pole gear that really hurts my wrists.
We didn’t scrimmage or do a lot of live downfield and downfield drills, we did a lot of no-ball drills and ball-to-bucket drills. We don’t play catch, it would be a total waste of time (playing fetch, not catch) we work on the mechanics of the frozen throw (yes, fit and freeze). I did everything 100% as Bill Olsen suggested.
We went into our first game not knowing how to play the game terribly well, but we were making really good progress on the fundamentals. We ended up winning that game and all 14 we played that year, to EVERYONE’s surprise. Every single one of my kids was hitting the ball, even the very overweight 190 pound defensive tackle who in the first practice missed every ball he hit off the tee! We would constantly have 1-2-3 entries and so on. in defense For the next two years I stayed at this age level as this original group moved on to other teams. The next year my team won all 12 games and the next year we won all 14 again, three years as the dominant team in the league without losing in this age group and we switched leagues one year to a Little League that consistently produced. State champions. We never played in major tournaments as we unfortunately didn’t have the funds to do so and generally took a much smaller approach to baseball as we did soccer. Baseball for us was just “filler” until football season came around.
The moral of the story is; priorities are important, teaching progression down to the smallest fundamental detail is important for all sports, “scrimmaging” is overrated, and good organization of practice using time-saving tricks is essential. Taking time to learn from the experts has allowed me to properly teach kids so they have more fun. Just like in football, kids have more fun if they don’t lose every game, in baseball they don’t have much fun if they never get hit or lose every game. The sad thing was that we were so much better than the other teams each of the three years I coached, that we could have played an age group and competed. Many of the coaches I coached against went to the same Bill Olsen clinic that I did, but I could tell during warmups that they weren’t doing what Coach Olsen suggested they do during warmups, not how they held their gloves or how their players field they got into their stance or how their batters got into their stance. Either these coaches were asleep while Coach Olsen was talking, or they just decided to do it their “best” way. I decided to do it as Olsens coach and if it didn’t work I would do more research and make changes. In my opinion these youth coaches really didn’t know their players, ours were so fundamentally sound, it looked like we were training 5 days a week when in reality we were practicing far less than any team in the league and most other teams had kids. with experience in their teams.
Go see how other teams in your sport practice, go to clinics that teach youth topics, ask a very successful coach to be your mentor, most are happy that someone cares enough to want to learn and think enough about they like to want to learn from them. . Your kids will benefit in the end, training is training no matter the sport.
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