Plug 'N Play Football

Simplifying Football for Youth Coaches

Running a Good Youth Football Practice

Written By: hawkcoach - Mar• 25•11

If you’ve had a son or daughter in youth sports and watched practices there’s a good chance you’ve experienced this scenario before:  It’s 5 to 10 minutes after practice is scheduled to begin and the coaches are huddled together frantically discussing what to do while the players are either standing around or running around crazily to fight boredom.  I know I’ve seen it countless times.  How and why could this happen?

Let me start off by defending the coaches.  Most coaches are volunteering their time – spending precious hours in the evenings and weekends after working a full-time job.  I think very few coaches are so self-serving that they are intentionally unorganized or poor at teaching.  Yet some coaches simply have teams that year-in and year-out outperform their peers.

The next time you see a contest between two youth teams really study the body language and interaction between the coaches and players.  Regardless of who is winning or losing, my bet is that you will find one team is having more fun and is better prepared for the game.  This only happens when a coach knows how to plan appropriately for practice.  Those coaches who are poor at practice planning are also much quicker to generate excuses, blame their players and lose control of their own emotions.

If you are a new coach or someone who might be guilty of showing up and coaching without proper planning here are some suggestions:

  • Before the season starts brainstorm all the things you need to teach prior to the first game.  It can be as detailed as you want it to be or you can add detail later.  You might make a list of the plays you need to teach the backs and receivers.  There are likely some blocking schemes to teach your offensive line.  Don’t forget the work you’ll need to do with your special teams.  Start filling up the time in your preseason practices with the tasks you need to accomplish with your team.  Make sure you block time into your practice for warm-ups and teaching & reviewing fundamentals.
  • Assign specific responsibilities to your coaching staff.  I like to have 2 to 4 assistants helping with practices and games.  With 4 coaches you have enough staff members to make sure kids are getting plenty of attention, are learning and are not standing around.  Prior to each practice send the practice schedule to the coaches so they know what they will be working on with the kids that night.  If you send it early enough they can get clarification from you on anything they don’t understand before practice actually starts.  Make sure you build in time for hydration & rest - especially if you are starting your practices in hot weather where there is concern of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Plan your practices down to 10 minute or 15 minute increments.
  • Involve parents, ask them to help hold a tackling dummy or stand in as a member of a scout defense or scout offense.
  • Don’t let kids stand around!  Kids hate standing around and lose attention very quickly if they are made to do so.  Make sure you have plenty of stations with short lines so kids are engaged as much as possible.
  • When teaching a new concept tell the kids what you are going to teach them, show them, have them try it, then start repetitions with plenty of feedback.

    Youth Football Practice with Coach Harrison

    Coach Harrison coaching youth football team

I know first hand the commitment required of coaches and understand you might be reluctant to spend even more time planning.  If you are one of those coaches who prefer to show up and “wing it” I would like to challenge you.  Before the next season starts spend 4-5 hours either on your own or even better with your coaching staff to plan out your practices.  Then spend a half hour to an hour the day before each practice honing and updating your schedule.  My bet is that you will feel more relaxed, less frustrated and be a much more effective coach.  The extra time invested will be well worth it when it’s your team that people will be impressed with in terms of team chemistry and the way you coach the players.  Take up the challenge and be a better coach!

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  1. Robert says:

    To save time and minimize standing around, do drills as far as practicable in parallel rather than in series. A given player should pay att’n to only one coach at a time, but many more coaches can watch a given player. One coach says “go”, the others watch and correct form.

    Also, just because you have only enough coaches’ eyes to closely observe a certain number of players execute at once doesn’t mean you can’t have more players than that practicing at once. A player’s rep that’s not observed by a coach isn’t useless; as long as each player gets at least occasional att’n to prevent bad habits from being reinforced, the players can correct themselves.

    I prefer several coaches working on one drill done in parallel to spreading them out in stations, except where position considerations dictate a station approach. Not only do the players learn from the coaches, but the players learn from each other and the coaches learn from each other. Plus, it’s easier to “herd” the younger, distractible kids that way.

    In some cases equipment issues may limit how parallel you can do a drill; for instance, if you had only 4 footballs, then a drill requiring the ball could be done by only 4 sets of players at a time. You can reduce some of these problems by enlisting the players as assistants. For example, if you can fit only so many players at a time under a chute, or have no chute, have players rotate forming a low bridge with their arms. If you do the ball drop drill, get extra tennis balls or Spaldeens and have players rotate dropping them instead of lining up to wait for a coach to drop the ball.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend a monitorial, Lancaster school model, however, because most children’s teams aren’t that big.

  2. [...] practices. That’s right–organize your pre-season practices ahead of time. The author of this article makes a strong case for spending a little extra time before practices to plan–in 10-minute [...]

  3. [...] Here is a post I wrote about planning practices. The offseason is a great time to think ahead about what you want to accomplish with your practices.  To me, nothing is more frustrating than watching a coach lead a practice and you can tell he is “winging it.”  Start out by writing down what things your team didn’t do well this year that you want to improve upon.  Maybe you want to make sure you spend more time on special teams.  Perhaps you wished you would have spent more time coaching your defensive backs how to cover a receiver.  While last season is fresh in your mind start to write things down so you don’t make the same mistakes next year.  My only advice is not to make your schedule too inflexible.  Remember that you’ll have rainouts, sick kids and other circumstances so make a plan but build in some flexibility.  Most importantly you should plan the installation of your offense, defense and special teams.  Which day are you going to install your basic run plays, which day will you start teaching your defense responsibilities and so on. [...]