What it’s like to take a group of roughly twenty-five grade-school kids and prepare them to operate as a cohesive football team on Saturday? As you can imagine it takes a lot of dedication, it takes a lot of patience and it requires a certain amount of creativity in the process.
“An hour on day on average,” is what Lake Country Chiefs 7th-grade coach Brenton Carr said, regarding how much time he spends on his team. Keep in mind that this is time outside the two hours a day in practice, and Saturday’s game itself. “It’s getting practice plans together, communicating with the assistant coaches, and watching our team on film,” the head coach added.
The preparation starts on Sunday. While the kids are kicking back and thinking more about the game the previous day, the coaching staff has to be moving forward into the next week. Video of the game is downloaded into a website where the coaches can review everything, from strategy to their team’s execution of basic fundamentals.
Coach Carr said roughly two hours is spent studying Saturday’s game. “It takes about 20 minutes to go through once, and I usually watch five or six times. It’s realistically impossible to see everything a coach needs to see on the first run through—if your team has the ball, each component of the offense—the line, the backs, the downfield blocking, along with evaluating how each matched up with the unique defensive scheme—all have to be taken into consideration.
On Monday, it’s time to hit the practice field and while there are certain similarities to the flow of practice—the first hour with players in their position groups working individually, followed by the team coming together as a whole—each day has to approached with subtle differences that build to game day.
“On the first day, it’s more individual-based,” Coach Carr said. “Maybe we put in a new play or two.” On Tuesday, the offenses and defenses come together as a unit. In the latter part of the week, the preparation segueways to the unique challenge presented by Saturday’s opponent. The “scout teams” are put into place. The second-string players will mimic what the opposing team is likely to do on both offense and defense, so there are as few surprises as possible in the game. Then on Thursday, it’s time to fine-tune.
When we think of a coach being creative, it’s usually some sort of brilliant offensive or defensive innovation we have in mind. And as the introduction of some new plays every Monday shows, that’s part of the life of a youth football coach. But there’s another facet to being creative that a youth coach has to work on and it’s how to keep the kids conditioning.
There are only two hours of practice time for four days now that the season has begun—Fridays are an off-day. That time isn’t all players in constant motion—there are frequent stoppages and teaching moments, along with water breaks. And we aren’t deep enough into the season for the kids to slack off on conditioning. Carving out 15 minutes to run sprints is an inefficient use of time.
“We incorporate it (conditioning) into the drills,” Coach Carr said. The drills are designed to work some extra running into them. For example, a drill for running backs might include a requirement that they run an extra 10-15 yards on each repetition. The time constraints of youth football make this kind of creative practice design necessary, something Mike McCarthy or Gary Anderson don’t exactly have to worry about.
The life of a youth football coach offers a lot of challenges, but also the reward of seeing it all come together on a Saturday afternoon. There’s no pay in it and no prestige. The commitment the coaches bring to the table exemplifies a lesson they try and impart to their kids—that hard work is its own reward.