One of the most important parts of any High School program is the development of the middle school and youth leagues. The key difference between successful programs and programs that have good teams from year to year is the development of the feeder programs. In reality High School football is dependent on the players, the better athletes you have the better coach you will be. The middle school and youth leagues primary objective is to develop a love of football in their players.
The Ideal Incoming Freshman | Getting Players Ready for High School Football
Youth and Middle School teams are truly at the front line of saving the sport. These teams are where the majority of kids have their first experience playing football. If this is a good experience they will fall in love with the game and continue to play during their high school career.
On the other side of the coin, if a player has an awful first experience with football they are likely not to play the sport again. It’s true that football is not a sport for everyone and there are some kids who will not like the sport. That is an accepted fact and is part of the game, but too many time kids are run off from football because they are put head to head in hitting drills with players who are well past them in terms of development. Many times the kids that are the superstars in 5th through 7th grade are the kids who have hit puberty early and have essentially maxed out their athletic ability. When these kids go against a kid who has not hit puberty and destroy him in a hitting drill the less developed kid will become discouraged. If this happens enough many times the player will quit and never come back to the sport regardless of how much of an athlete he becomes as he hits puberty.
While retaining athletes is the primary goal for the youth and middle school leagues, a well-run feeder program can cut down on the amount of base level work that incoming freshmen need to be taught. The effect is that the team can get into higher level skill work earlier in the summer which puts them at a huge advantage over other teams.
There are a few skills that almost always have to be re-coached at the Freshmen level. While the need to coach these will never go away, if the skills are learned earlier in their career it will be a quick 10 minute re-teaching as opposed to a half hour skill session. These skills are the major skills of stance, blocking, ball security and tackling.
I have the personal philosophy that every player should be able to get in a 3 point stance. There is a very simple teaching progression that every player should be able to master. After players have learned how to get in a 3 point stance they can learn the specific stance for their position. By having the 3 point stance as a base, every player has learned how to bend at the knees, put weight forward and stagger their feet. Most of these skills are involved in any position stance.
Another huge skill that players must learn is how to block. They don’t need to have the same level of technique as an offensive linemen, but if they know how to come out of a 3 point stance and block they will be able to easily translate that into stalk blocking, an iso block, J block or whatever block their position may require. Again the most important part is giving the players a broad base from which they can develop position specific skills.
Any offensive coach will tell you that ball security is the number one job of the ball carrier. It’s important that every player knows how to carry a ball. Whether it is a fumble or an interception, every player on the field has the potential to carry the ball. They must know the correct way to do so. This is a quick teaching progression and there is nothing defensive linemen like more than to practice carrying a ball.
(See Also) Running Back Ball Security
The last skill that needs to be taught to players at lower levels is tackling. Tackling without a doubt is the most important skill in football. While it’s easy to make an argument that blocking is just as important, tackling is something that every player on the defense must be great at while players on offense don’t all need to be great blockers (although they should be!). While tackling is the most important skill it is also the most dangerous skill to practice.
Much of the danger of tackling can be removed by focusing on the technique of tackling instead of the “toughness” of the tackle. I am not a believer in the idea that players hitting each other makes them tougher. Many players who are not physical are that way because they lack confidence. Just like the best way to teach a person to swim isn’t by throwing them in the water, the way to develop confidence in tackling is not by lining them up and running them at another player. Instead the coach should work with the players to develop specific skills that will lead to a successful tackle. As players work on and improve these skills their confidence will grow. This confidence, combined with their improved skills, will increase their ability to tackle without scaring them away from the sport.
(See Also) Tackling Technique
In the end Youth and Middle School coaches play an important role in the sport of football. Beyond just developing players for the high school they are the first experience kids have with football. If they have a bad first experience there is a chance they will shy away from the sport for the rest of their lives. While allowing players to fall in love with the sport is important it is equally important that these players are taught basic skills that will allow them to improve as players. As they see themselves becoming better players in drills and then in games they will fall in love with the process of improving through hard work and then seeing the result on game day.
(See Also) Great Youth Football Coaches