Open Letter to Youth Football Coaches

Dear Youth Coaches (Volunteer or otherwise):

I write the following letter in hopes of reminding you of the importance of the role you will play in your team’s future. More directly, you will impact every player on your team in one way or another.

Most youth coaches will fall under one of the following categories to why they coach.  They are:

  • Guys will coach their son or daughters team because there is no one else.
  • Guys will coach specifically to put their son or daughter in the spotlight.
  • Amazingly enough some coach because they watched it on TV; and its “no problem to go 4 wide.”
  • Then there are the purist; the coaches who do it because they love it.  For these guys it doesn’t matter who or what they are coaching; this coach loves being around kids, teaching life lessons, teaching fundamentals and just being a part of the game. When you think back on your playing days, this would be the coach that made an impact on you.

No matter what your reason is for coaching, your objective and purpose should never waver. You are accountable to teach the fundamentals and sportsmanship of the game you are coaching to each one of your players. Winning games should not be an objective; but teaching kids what it takes to win should be a top priority. As their coach if you ONLY get that point across, everything else is lagniappe. Understanding what it takes to be successful is a life lesson every one of your players will cherish for the rest of their life.

To be clear, no one cares about your level of your experience, how many wins you have, how many points you can score, how many formations you can install in a day or even what you know; your job is to make a positive impact on every kid on your team.  It is not always about what you know. More importantly, it’s about what your players can understand.

Here is the most important reminder you can take from this letter. As their coach, you will influence your player’s future; it will be either positive or negative. Here are a few examples of some of the areas to consider.

  • It all starts with how your players view you as their coach.
  • Your actions and temperament speak volumes to young athletes.
  • The attitude you show towards your players will determine their love of the game.
  • Your attitude will also determine if your players choose to continue to play the sport or not? Unfortunately too many youth coaches have left such bad impressions on the players they coach, they no longer want to play the game.

Here is what I am saying; a kid who plays football at 10 or 11 years old is not the same kid who plays football at 13 or 14 years old.  I am saying it is our job to keep kids involved in the game, not run them off.  To go one further, according to the NCAA, 94% of high school athletes will ONLY be high school athletes.  Quality high school programs win because of “program players” not because of superstars.  A lot of the ‘program players’ get run off due to poor coaching.  Perfect example, 30 players on a team; team warms up, Coach yells “Team Offense”.  Eleven players jog out for 1st Offense; 90 minutes later, Coach yells “Team Defense”.  Same 11 from offense, move to defense and the other 19 do NOTHING during practice and from here until the end of the year, it’s Groundhog’s Day.

You must understand the seriousness of what being a “coach” means. It’s not about seeing how many touchdowns your son can score; it’s also not about letting everybody play (even the ones that do not show up to practice) nor is it about tossing it to your fastest guy so he can score every play. My friends, this is not coaching. The big picture shows us you are teaching kids to compete in life, not to simply beat up a lesser opponent.

While I am on ‘what coaching is and what coaching is not’. The following scenario is my greatest pet peeve:

Johnny lines up in a bad stance; one coach says to the other, “what kind of stance is
Johnny in?” The other coach responds “I told him two weeks ago how to do it.” The player
proceeds to come off the field only to be mauled by both coaches.

Coaching and Telling are on opposite sides of the world. Think about it, as a parent, how many times do you tell your kids to do something and it only takes once for them to get it right? My advice in this situation is this. Before pointing the finger outward, ask yourself “have I exhausted every option to get your point across (whatever it may be) to your player?”  I wish I would have learned this earlier in my coaching career. However when I did, it made me a better coach. The easiest excuse in the world is to blame others, especially the players (kids). Truth of the matter is no one wins in this scenario.  However when you take “the bullet” it forces you to find another way to communicate or get your point across.  When this happens, you become more knowledgeable and …. knowledge is power. The day you believe you know everything about the sport you are coaching, is the day you are finished as a coach.

I believe good coaches are patient and perceptive. If after the 10th day of explaining the same thing to your players, and most are still in a fog; it may be your approach that is the problem.  I promise the kids aren’t purposely trying to agitate you. I like to say “as a coach we have to speak many different languages” because each player learns differently.  Basically it lies on the coach to break things down to a level and language your players can understand. Again, by researching what you are coaching helps you learn “to speak different languages.”

The biggest coaching mistakes I see in football can be the ones that cause kids to hate the sport and lose respect for you as their coach. Here are a few:

  • Lining up players 10 yards apart from each other asking them to collide head on time after time after time.
  • Constant yelling. Been there done that and finally learned if you yell, kids will tune you out. There is a time and place for it but having a conversation with your player will be more beneficial for both parties involved.  Not because you are coddling them; it is just a different day and time.
  • Promising a player something and not following through with it.

Three years ago was my first year coaching an 11/12 year old team. Prior to that my experience was mostly in high school Two weeks into practice, I had to shut down what we were doing because I had zero players that could get in a fundamentally, balanced stance. If I ignored this fact, I knew I would have set them up for failure before the ball was even snapped. More importantly, I didn’t want their next coach to ask them “Who taught you that stance?” and they would answer ‘Coach Todd’. Have pride in what you teach!

Last but not least, fundamentals are a players “road map” in times of adversity. I set up every practice so that the first 45 minutes was dedicated to fundamentals. During this time, EVERY single player was coached up equally. It gave every player the same opportunity but it is up to each individual to decide what to do with it. My best bit of advice to you is when your team is not scoring points; it’s not advantageous that on the following week you do two hours of “team” every day. The break down is in your teams inability to perform the fundamentals of the game. To get the fastest turnaround for your team, work individual fundamental drills.  Not only is this the right thing to do, it shows you care and it shows you know how to coach.

The following is a first-hand experience. I was asked to sit down with a group of coach’s about two weeks into the season. They were having some issues within the staff. At this time I had yet to put one play in; I was working conditioning, footwork and fundamentals. This group who coached another team within our organization, was complaining that the QB could not take a snap; among A LOT of other things. The QB not being able to take a snap turned out to be the least of their worries.  Anyway, the coaches continued by saying the QB could not get the ball to the running back; he was a quiet kid, etc.  All this time (which they didn’t realize) I was analyzing their ability to coach; their coaching philosophy and really, if they even wanted me to be there.

Here is how the rest of the conversation went.

Me: Has the QB ever taken a snap before?
Them: No, but that shouldn’t matter.
Me: Has he played football before?
Them: Ummm, I’m not sure; but he is our best athlete.
Them: We also are running Jet Sweep with him out of the Gun and he can’t read the backside DE.
Me: I looked at them and said you really want to know what I think?
Them: Yes
Me: This is a common coaching problem (that’s the nicest way I could say it). You CANNOT assume anything. To not show a kid how to take a snap is bad enough; but then to ask him to
get in the shotgun, time the jet sweep and read the wrong DE is not being smart.

They looked at me like I was insane. The kids they were coaching, 8/9 years old.  Nothing changed and they went 0-9.

Morale of the story is this, if you coach kids under the age of 12; keep these 2 basic fundamentals at the core of everything you do each day. Teach your players: 1) how to get in a good, well- balanced stance and 2) how to fire off the ball low and hard every play then the winning part will take care of itself. If your progress is going well, teach blocking techniques by starting with teaching what foot they should step with and why.  Defensively, proper tackling technique is a fundamental.  I was given great advice on this topic as well; start from the end of the tackle and work back.  Tackling is confidence.  If they can not make a tackle from 3 yards away from the ball carrier, why move them to 5 yards away from the ball carrier?  Made great sense to me.

I understand that every team is different. My point is if you ONLY got the above accomplished and did not win a game, your players will be way ahead of the game in years to come. At this age, a championship is cool, but the ultimate success story would be every kid loving the game of football and eventually, you watching them play on Friday Nights!


Good Luck and feel free to post below if you have any thoughts or questions.  If I can’t answer your question, I have the resources to find someone who can.  This is not about me or you but the kids you are coaching so I want to make sure I get you the right info.