Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Pop Warner Coaching Philosophy

The other day, my seven year old G - in his first year of playing Pop Warner with his Dad as coach - asked me an intriguing question.

"Dad, why do you like to coach?"

Good question.  I always like watching the kids play sports and the wife might say I get too excited at wins and losses.  At the time, I think I spewed out some pablum about wanting to be involved with my children's lives and that coaching was the best way to do it.  I was trying to hide my initial, almost instinctive, response that by being coach, I can put my kids in the positions that they (and I) wanted.  But then I started thinking about it.  If the answer was as easy as the two reasons I listed above, then why do I cheer so loudly when one of the kids on my team strikes someone out or makes a good block?  Why do i have trouble sleeping at night worrying about some play calls?  Living vicariously through my children isn't a good answer either since I never played football or basketball in high school and only played baseball for a short time.  Living vicariously through my children suggests that I was trying to relive past glory.  But I didn't have past glory to relive - unless you're talking about that time when I hit two home runs in one inning when I was 12 against the best pitcher in the town growing up.  It was something more...altruistic.

But I digress.  When I signed up to coach football for my seven year old, I admit that my initial motivation was to put him in a position to succeed where he wanted, not where someone else wanted.  I didn't have any experience coaching football before and my experience playing consisted of pad less tackle football when I was 13 years old.  My left knee still hurts when it rains because of those football games.  But I wasn't intimidated, because after all, I know the rules of football and most of these 7-9 year olds don't.  And I'm not coaching the Crimson Tide, so the first three weeks went by pretty quickly, if not without help from Tylenol and Jamesons (both to calm my nerves after coaching a bunch of second graders).

But after an embarrassing loss at home in our first week, I realized that coaching kids in this sport is actually a lot different than showing up a couple of minutes before a little league game.  In team sports, preparation and work is more important than individual skill, so I made some adjustments to my own coaching philosophy.  Of course, I had a lot to learn about some of the fundamentals - about conditioning, offensive and defensive drills and walkthroughs.  And after some of those sleepless nights (I won't forget how awful I felt when one of the games ended with a last second touchdown and a lot of tears - no not mine), I've developed my own practice plan that has been introduced in bits and pieces this year and will be fully introduced next year.

Conditioning.  Stretching is extremely important.  After a lap around the field, stretching out for at least 15 minutes - including some dynamic stretching needs to happen.  5 minutes of agility drills should follow - including running backwards, side to side and karaoke.  For two hour practice, 20 minutes of conditioning is an absolute must.  I would need to do this too.

Offensive and Defensive Drills.  Every practice should have elements of offense and defensive drills.  Focusing on one over the other on a specific day prohibits the most important aspect of youth football playmaking - repetition.  30 minutes working on defensive drills - including angle tackling, shedding blocks, pursuit and form tackling should be followed up with 30 minutes of working on offense including center to quarterback exchanges, quarterback to running back exchanges, pass throwing and pass catching and form blocking.

Execution.  I am spending this time working on defense's execution (offense skeletons) working at three quarters speed.  No need to tackle anyone to the ground, just wrap them up and wait for the whistle.  After 15 minutes, switch to defensive skeleton and work on offense for 15 minutes.  Try to mix things up with thoughts on keeping your starting team together more often than not.  If you have the ability to work on an opponent's tendencies, work on those with this walkthrough.

Motivation, Games and Sprints.  Motivate the players at least once a week with a "chalk talk."  All of the kids like to hear how well they're doing after hearing all week how they can perform better.  Even in a criticism sandwich, there is still criticism and these kids aren't stupid.  Once a week do something fun.  A quick two hand touch game, maybe a tug of war or maybe a game of sumo.  Something to make practice fun.  If you practice more than two times a week, throw in some sprints at the end of the other practices.

On Game Day, make sure all of the coaches know what their roles are so you don't have two different coaches yelling in play calls (usually different play calls at that).  On game day, it is important to motivate the kids before, during and after game and make sure you tell the kids to root for each other.  This is their team too.  And as Bill Belichick said:  You work too hard during the week not to get excited when you make a good play.  And don't forget to always make attainable goals - score a touchdown, force a turnover and most importantly - have fun!  Don't talk about the game for 24 hours after they happen.

That is my brief coaching synopsis.  Now let's go have some fun.

photograph courtesy of footballbabble.com

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