Running a Youth Football Program

So a Facebook friend asked for some advice and I gave him most likely more than he bargained for.

You coach youth football, right? Looks like I am going to be my little guy’s Pop Warner coach. Hell, I don’t even know the difference between the age groups – I believe we are “Tiny Mites”. Any advice for this age group? And by advice – I mean anything that is NOT cliche or the common fluffery that is omnipresent. I am going to do things a bit differently with these kids……Think Bruce Lee’s “Jeet Kune Do”.
Tim O’Keefe LOL After 11 years I am taking a well deserved break and a perspective reset. But am on as VP mostly to teach this very thing. Coach the coaches. I applaud you wanting to help out and I can say my sons got the best gift I could possible give them. And even though I started out as an assistant coaching my oldest, soon I realized all my team was my sons. Before I realized or accepted that in some way the opponents were too.

I spent many a day taking criticism from my much more experienced assistants for my non conventional approaches. With your understanding of psychology/philosophies I am certain you are walking straight into this with huge goals to change the world as far as kids go. And rock on.

All I would say is keep those goals. And be prepared for adversity. BTW Not sure how Bruce Lee would last a second on a football field other than the mechanics of leverage. (move like water, there is a guy I can turn you onto who is teaching new blocking techniques that is more in tune with martial arts. Ex NFLer who got into martial arts and wondered how he was getting his ass kicked by much littler guys. Used that to teach safe blocking techniques)

At any level start with your philosophy as the football world likes to call it. Study Wooden’s pyramid as an example. Its what most of us outside football would call values. Many guys if they talk philosophy it is about a 1/8′ thick. Its one of those cliches. 

A recent book that I liked for business but also programming a team was Conscious Capitalism as I like the authors discussion of higher purpose, and myth, specifically the heros journey. Myth in my opinion is huge with kids and such a no brainer. Without the higher purpose a system will eventually corrupt. 

Decide right now if the point of a game is to win at least at some level. Because you will be asked to chose that over something else at some point. See previous paragraph. 

I do warn that if you do not make winning a priority you will have a possible mutiny. As the parents will not stand for it. On that note make your parents your priority. They are the 12th man and without them behind you, you are in for a f’kin miserable experience. They are responsible for the season being a success.
I was able to balance both by making winning each play the priority as opposed to the scoreboard. Allows for way more wins. I can go to my kids from two years ago who are now in high school. And ask, “How many plays in a game?” 60 coach is the reply. “Which is the most important one?” This one coach……….. Here and now kind of thing.

Ideas of competition I messed with by stealing ideas from Pete Carroll. That we have an obligation to our opponent in practice and in the game to do our best and elevate our best each repetition or play. As does he us. He expects us to block him 5 years into the dirt. And he expects to do the same to us. We have an obligation to make him better and if that requires us to woop his ass (within reason) then so be it. But we had better gentlemen and pick him up. And if he needs it to coach him up.

Carroll actually scores a practice. In a blocking drill as an example you get a score on each of your reps. Its tallied and up on the wall by the time they get in the lockerroom. Positive peer pressure. A bit over the top for a youth program, but I think it gives context to the idea. 

We have a phrase often abused ( that cliche thing of which you )speak. “Buy in”. 

If the parents do not buy into what you are teaching your kids most certainly will not as the parents carry more influence in the car ride home from practice than your entire two hours of practice. gawd I have lived that nightmare. 

Stories and myth help with the buy in. I would tell my boys to stand tall as if a superman cape on their back. Breath deep. Eyes/Chin up. Set their physiology straight from the get go. Later referencing for them to put their Superman on. 

When young and new I would tell parents to watch their boys demeanor as they gear up on game day. Something magical happens to many physiologies with those adorning “armor” and colors.

The little guys loved the mythical battle of Mr Whiner and Superman. Mr Whiner always wants them to just do the least possible. He teases them to be less. Their inner Superman is who they really are. Thats where all their greatness is. Etc. You get the idea. 

Kids will often reference their gear as their armor. Often confirming my hunch of the game as a tap into a Jungian warrior archetype type thing. My Polynesian friends made this even more real for me as they often refer to players (o r men) as a “real warrior”.

Recruit parents right now to be your team “mom”, manager, filmer etc. So this falls under the admin side.
Then you have the coaching side. 
Who are your coaches? MY OC and DC had twice my experience I did although I had a pretty rich playing background and some coaching up till then. One was my first coach in high school. I let them obsess over xs and os. Smartest thing I ever did.

Warning: as you get better, there will be a power struggle. But with them Xng and Ong I could make sure we were doing the more important things (in my view) coaching effective and safe tackling and instilling those more esoteric values things into them that guys like you and I dig. I have a whole body of work that goes with that after 11 years and falls back under philosophy again. I am more worried about their life away from/post football than football. But make no mistake we have won and won very big with this approach. 

Proudly I cannot tell you “my” record. (in quotes as its not my record. Its the boys. A great local college coach once told me if you win, The kids won and its their fault, if you lose its all you”). As one time winningest coach Amos Alonzo Stagg told a reporter about how he felt about his teams massive success that season. He said “I won’t know for another 20 years”. I love that as a virtue to aspire. 

Practice plan. Script every ten minutes. Keep them moving. Little kids wander off in mind often. And even in body as I looked up once and saw little Alex on the other side of the field looking for a bathroom. lol

If possible go to a good college practice and watch the speed and movement. I used to have access at USC when Pete Carroll was there. I was blown away at the intensity and speed. Then I went to UCLA just and it made the USC speed from 8 years prior look like molasses. Even the ball boys were sprinting everywhere. 

So here is my most important advice. 
1. Get help in coaching, assistants, and parents. Have a parent rule book. What happens when lil Johnny misses practice?
2. Be flexible. Its volunteer. What happens when none of your coaches can make it and half the team gets swine flu? And you are going into playoffs. What happens to that practice plan? Learn a concept that will help in that regard -half line. 
3. Know your value system. Revisit it often and adjust as needed. Keep it simple stupid in its teaching. I talked about mine with the kids probably too much, hopefully demonstrated it well. 
4. Build a cult around your philosophy. All football is, is a cult. It is either going to take from your followers or empower them. The greatest lesson is to no longer need the cult 

Do this for a few years and I promise you will be a better lawyer, manager and businessman. You will get way more from it than the kids. I know I did. 

****But I ask you? Are you out of your freaking mind? *****Lots of work my friend. And often you will feel all alone. Last year there was a moment that reminded me of what I felt like after my divorce . I wrote I think a very useful piece on it that you may also like.http://timokeefe.net/how-a-beautiful-girl-humbled-me…/

I have lots of resources for help on admin stuff. Would love to talk with you over the horn if you want more. Or maybe I said too much? I love this stuff and am happy to help. 
Michael Dade Adrian Simon Robert Michon Rick Regalado Julio Munoz Bob KehoeMike Kehoe you may appreciate some of this for whatever it is worth for you. 

It is after all the world according to me. But as deluded as it may, or may not be. It created massive success on the field and so far it seems off too. Thanks for asking me to share. I pray you can experience the joy and growth that I received from my experience.
 Another metaphor. I would tell the kids that the green was my church. And the only way to respect church is to run. If you do not hustle on the green then you are disrespecting all whomever have given us this game. I mentioned my mentors of recent. All the way to those who coached me (who cool enough some were coaching them) and the ones I could only read about. It was part of my cult process. To get them to realize and embrace that they are part of something larger than themselves. It was the team and the game itself. Also you do not get to chose when to quit football, it is usually football choosing it for you. As you can tell I took the church thing seriously. The field can teach soooo much for a young man. It can also steal from them. Be responsible.
Mike answered….
Mike Kehoe I’ve coached youth football for 10 years. I’ve been a head coach, offensive coordinator and o-line coach. I’ve only got 3 pieces of advice for new coaches. Really it is three categories. 1) Parents – get to know them, respect them, respect THEIR children 2) Players – have fun. (easier said then done), have empathy for each player. 3) Respect the game. Practice and Opponents. My most practical advice is a detailed planner for your preseason and detailed practice plans. Keep’em moving with purpose.
Robert chimed in…
Robert Michon You didn’t ask for my advice, but here ya go, anyway…

I think Tim took care of all the metaphors for you, so I’ll stick to the tangibles. 


Keep them moving. Coaches whine, “They don’t pay attention.” They don’t pay attention because they’re not being coached properly. They’re easily bored. So act accordingly. 

Anything you want them to master, find a way to make a game out of it, preferably a competitive one. 

Tuck this one away for later: 

Most conditioning is a waste of time. Keep them moving, run a tight, fast-paced practice, and they’ll be in game shape come game day. And for the love of all things holy, don’t EVER make them run “cross country.” It sucks the joy right out of the game for them, and it makes them SLOWER athletes.

Plan your practices. Know what you want to accomplish. 

Start and finish on time. The parents should be able to set their watches to your time slots. 

Coach the kids as though you’re going to have to rely on every one of them. And then make sure the position coaches are getting everyone some playing time. 

Set some objectives to coach to: “By the end of the season, I want my kids to be able to do the following….” Keep them simple, but have something to shoot for. 

Create some measurable, so that everyone on the team has something to point to: “I got better at these things.” This way, even if they didn’t see the field a tremendous amount, they get to experience success, and learn the lessons of hard work, dedication, self-mastery.
  • Tim O’Keefe As far as running etc. Its purpose is not to condition, it is to bond. And they will only bond via pain and competition.
  • Robert Michon One last thing- look for assistants who care about kids and understand that this is about teaching them to be productive, valuable human beings. Value that over knowledge of the game. X’s and O’s can be learned. Character is static.
  • Tim O’Keefe Oops, the part I forgot and is huge. Raise money starting yesterday. I was really proud last Friday to find out that my man LaDell Polk already had raised $1700. Are you freakin kidding me? What an animal. They had a bbq and a sn auction and got it done. He tells me much more to come. It is crucial. There is lots of goodies to buy for the boys. We did lots of car washes and corporate sponsorships as our main fix. It was a great team builder as the boys learned to work together. Another way that we never got around to doing but I learned from an epic fund raiser out of AZ is to get a company to donate a TV, or whatever and then have the boys sell raffle tickets out front of the store. He would also have them sell outside of pro games at people tailgating till they got kicked out.

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