I posted this to thank everybody who gave me tips a couple weeks ago, when I posted "my youth FB team stinks." We lost yesterday 7-0, but we played by far our best game of the year, following up the week before when we scored our first touchdown. We have struggled against a ridiculously tough schedule which hasn't helped the kids get confident but we were sharp yesterday.
-Most of the tips involved making practice more fun for the kids. We have a lot of fun built in to the practice already so it was good to see that was a universal, but what really helped us was getting more serious with discipline. We now deliver five unconditional up downs to the team in the event of a false start, offsides or fumble in practice. Maybe I've been reading too much Rick Reilly, but I didn't like the idea of being the coach who calls for running or pushups or whatnot for mistakes...I don't want to lead through fear. But I've found the kids really improve when that kind of threat is on the line, and it's not scarring them (in fact I think they like knowing we are serious about our boundaries. As Bo said, they WANT you to coach them).
-I'm also sort of a demanding hardass in my regular life, so I wanted to dial it back while coaching the kids. As it is, I've found that being demanding works if it's fair and consistent and I don't give any sign that I'm emotionally invested. We also NEVER, ever punish kids for poor performance - only for practice mental mistakes or disrespecting (e.g. not paying attention, screwing around or walking when they should be running).
-We only have 15 players so scrimmaging is impossible. However, on the advice of a friend, I started running mini-football games, six or seven men to a side on a shrunken field with down and distance and everything. THAT really helped them understand that you have to go to the whistle, you can't just stop once you've made your block, how to compete each play, etc. Plus it's easier to keep an eye on everybody's technique when it's not 22 players at a time.
-We've also made some strategic moves - we've figured out who's really able to tackle on defense, so we put those kids in position to contain and to make plays, and we put two of our most aggressive kids at running back beacuse that way we can sometimes get yards even if the blocking doesn't pan out. We may have a shot at a win before the year is out, but at any rate I think our kids are starting to get the game of football. I appreciate the support.