The private coaches/team clinics I do all across the country for youth football teams are interesting to say the least. Many of the coaches share thought provoking stories of their teams, leagues and opponents. While I always enjoy working with the coaches and kids, what I enjoy most is going out to dinner with the coaches after we get done and just listening to these stories, sharing a few laughs and learning about the nuances of how things are done in their neck of the woods. The trip I’m speaking of and the story you are about to hear made me laugh so hard I think the waitress and patrons thought I was having some kind of attack or maybe had choked on some food and needed the Hymlich Maneuver.
A fairly recent trip showed me the extent youth football coaches will go to put a winner on the football field. I’ve been coaching youth football for about 15 years and coached in 3 different organizations in 3 different towns in 7 different leagues. I’ve been to football clinics from California to Florida and talked with literally thousands of youth football coaches, I thought I had heard it all, but this story takes the cake. During a very tasty dinner at a local restaurant, coach shared with me a rather amazing story about the extent one youth football coach in his league went to so his team could maintain their dominance in the league. Many competitive youth football teams have to recruit players every year to get enough kids to put together a team or teams. While it is a necessity for most, it is a year-round obsession for others and for some they go off the deep end.
This story starts out with a very big and fast running back that moves from the local area his team is in, to a town right at an hour away. This new town mind you is a hotbed for youth football and has plenty of quality teams the boy can play for. But instead of playing for a team in his new home and making new friends, the player continues to play for his old team over an hour away. In addition to this wackiness, the coach drives the hour to pick him up every Friday, has him sleep at his home and then drives him back home after the game on Saturday. This coach logs 4 hours of drive time every weekend so this player can play on his youth football team. Is it just me or does this sound lame to anyone?
To have such little confidence in your team and coaching abilities that you would spend 4 hours driving every weekend to pick up a kid to “carry” your team is just weak in my mind. This kid only came to games, he did not practice with his team during the week. Why not play a local kid, coach everyone up and make due with the team you have? What kind of message is this sending to this teams players and to this “superstar”? You guys can’t win without the star, football is a one man game, you don’t have to practice to play, teamwork counts for nothing etc etc. A good coach adapts and will figure out a way to compete with the hand that was dealt him, not rely on one superstar to carry his youth football team. This came from an organization that dominates this youth football league. But a coach this desperate for wins is vulnerable, obviously he doesn’t think much of his coaching ability and thinks talent is all that matters in youth football. What’s next, flying kids in for games?
This same "coach" often tries to pull the rug out from under the teams in his league. My friend learned this the hard way, this opposing coach actually showed up at the homes of several of his players to convince their mothers to come play football for his team douglas luiz. This coach actually drives by my friends practice field, goes into the neighborhood to ask where the kids live and shows up on their doorsteps with his song and dance about playing football for him. Fortunately for my friend, his players and parents just adore him so the only thing generated from these escapades in an immediate phone call from mom to my friend to report the shenannigans. This "coach" even had the audacity to "be in the neighborhood" when my friend put on his team barbeque, he even stopped by to say hello and talk some football. My friend is more patient with this person than I might have been.
While recruiting is necessary in youth football, it can be overemphasized to the detriment of the program. Many youth football coaches mistakenly think they HAVE to have the best players to win championships. When their teams lose games they often look at personnel as the reason they lost rather than looking at schemes to counter the other teams personnel or improving their own team. Good coaches concentrate their effrots on working on the aspects of the game they can control. Blaming losses on personnel mismatches frees the youth coach of personal blame, (he can't control the talent levels of the other team) while in reality no youth football team should allow one player to beat them. Recruiting star players or driving 4 hours to pick one up every weekend are shortcuts to success, it is the easy way out. Good coaches put the time in to become better coaches so they don't need star players to win or have to cut corners and make accommodations for "star" players.
In youth football I see less talented teams competing and beating much better teams every week. I see this in our league as well as in every league I’ve ever coached in and in the regional and national tournaments I’ve gone to. I see it in the tapes and DVDs people send me every week. Good coaching nearly every time trumps talent in youth football. Now I’m not saying the weakest team can win it all, But the weakest of teams if coached well can compete and finish .500. The average talent team can vie for and even win league titles with good coaching. Meanwhile the best talented teams and poorly coached teams don’t always win it all and can in fact end up to be a .500 team.
If recruiting is allowed in your youth football league, most often you need to recruit. But don’t obsess over it and don’t get down if you don’t recruit the monsters of the midway. My most satisfying seasons were by far the ones we clearly had very little size or talent, yet came together and played very well. Nearly all well coached youth football teams can compete if they have the right priorities, scheme and well defined vision for success and if you have average talent you can even win championships.