Many of the great High School coaches I visit with at the coaching clinics I do tell me about what they are looking for from youth football players entering their High School programs. The most successful coaches tell me that all they are looking for are kids that have a love and appreciation for the game of football and that the player is "coachable".
What does being "coachable" mean?
It means the player is attentive and able to follow direction from coaches.
The player does not respond negatively to constructive criticism.
The player understands the coaches standing on the team and understands the coaches, not the players have the better knowledge base on technique and strategy than the player.
The player efforts.
The player is able to "shake off" bad experiences and learn from them.
The player does not "cop an attitude" when demoted or turn "Hollywood" when promoted.
Unfortunately many youth football players go into their High School experience with bad habits fostered by their youth football coaches. Obviously many of these young men do not change overnight into the selfish crybaby monsters many of the High School coaches complain about. It is a long process of enablement for many of them by both their parents and coaches.
How do kids get to this point?
Youth Coaches enabling the player by cowering to the players (or their parents) every demand for fear of losing the player to a rival team or losing games because the player quits.
Lack of good fundamental coaching. If something works in spite of the use of solid technique, that poor technique is allowed and theby encouraged.
Parents enabling the player by cowering to their every whim.
Parents living their lives through their children.
Parents coveting the "full ride" or NFL dream for their child.
Parent coaches "staring" their sons on youth football teams.
Poor practice methods.
Inconsistent disciplining methods employed by parents and parents.
Lack of sportsmanship standards by youth football teams, coaches and parents.
Promoting a player to "star status" getting away from team play and humility.
This may sound a bit grim, but fortunately we are talking about a small minority of youth football players. Unfortunately many of these "uncoachable" players are very good athletes who know they can play. These players have been held to such low standards they have little chance of making the typical High School team, let alone move on to College Football. Some of them even hold weak youth football coaches "hostage" by threatening to quit or move to another team. Most High School and College coaches just refuse to put up with this type of attitude.
How do you make sure that when a player leaves your program he is "coachable"?
Let all the players and PARENTS know the standards required for him to have the privilege of playing for your team well before the first day of practice.
Let all the players AND PARENTS know the consequences of not meeting set standard
(Attendance, effort, listening ability, attitude, etc.).
We let our players and PARENTS know we want all the kids to finish the season and that we will coach everyone up the best we can, but we do not care if their sons are great or poor athletes, we are going to be successful with Whoever we have, it does not matter.
Let all players AND PARENTS know that football is a team game and all players will play in the position and technique that best suits the players ability and the needs of the team.
Let all players AND PARENTS know that players will be corrected when they do something incorrectly, The reason this is done is out of concern that the player play safely and properly. It is MUCH easier to say nothing.
When you do have to offer "constructive criticism" do it using the "sandwich" method. Sandwich the criticism between 2 positives, then encourage the player in a positive fashion.
Hold the player accountable to a perfect standard on things that can easily control like step, first step, alignment, effort and being a good teammate.
Hold the player accountable to having a positive learning spirit. If he drops his lip or gives you the evil eye, deal with it immediately. Let him know again why it's important he correctly does whatever you are trying to teach him. If he is insolent you will have to figure out the best method to reach him which could mean a lap, sitting out or a reduction in playing time.
Foster humility and a true team attitude in word and deed, making no one player more important than another.
Fortunately due to us being very explicate about our expectations and early on holding kids accountable to very high standards, this has not been an issue for me, but we have a few minor issues. One very talented player I had in 2003 was Richard W, my fullback. Richard was very small but powerful and quick, he was also very smart. Richard had been trained by me to stay in our wedge play, he was to break out of the wedge only between the tackles and only when an opening appeared there 5 yards or more past the line of scrimmage as the wedge naturally comes apart on its own . We had talked about it, diagrammed it, walked it, jogged it, ran it, fit and freezed it and even scrimmed it a A TON. Up to that point Richard had been very obedient and done a great job with the play. However in our first game of the season against a perennially tough team, he had different ideas. We had a packed house that day there were hundreds in the seats, lots of grandmas, grandpas, uncles, aunts, moms dads and friends, it was loud. On our very first offensive snap Richard got into a very nicely formed wedge play, but inexplicably broke the ball around the end for about a 40 yard gain, The stands went nuts as we had the ball on the 10 yard line and were ready to draw The first blood of that game and our young season.
The problem was he had not run that play properly, against most teams he would have been tackled for a modest gain or loss, but against this team he lucked out and got a long gainer. I immediately took him out of the game, my very best player in a hotly contested game. I calmly let him know that he did not have permission to run the ball outside the tackles on a fullback wedge play, that he knew this and that he would not be playing again until the 2nd quarter. Fortunately his parents had been at our first practice where we laid out exactly how we were going to handle situations just like this one. In addition both his parents had seen the coaching experience and crispness demonstrated in our practices thatave them the confidence we knew what we were doing. I had met them both previously and during a break in the action I let them know what was up, they supported me 100%. This was in a very inner-city environment where Jerry Springer accidents are very common. Trust me, we have similar discipline issues in the rural bedroom community we live in now with "helicopter" parents.
When Richard came back to play in the 2nd quarter, he played very well and did exactly what we had asked him to do in a game we went on to win 36-6. Richard ended up being one of the best fullbacks I ever coached with over 2,000 yards rushing in that 11-0 Season. Had I not taken this drastic step I doubt Richard would have had the same success that season. This action also demonstrated to all our players and parents, it did not matter who the player was or what the game circumstances were, the standard was going to be enforced and the standard in the end was the players friend, not his enemy.
The Bible says that if we hate our children we will not discriminate them. I care enough about my players to discipline them in an effective way and my hope is that you do too.
Some Words from that book in modern language:
Who loves loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid
A wise son accepts his father's discipline, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke
A fool rejects his father's discipline, but he who regards reproof is prudent
Does this mean we are cruel to the kids, screaming and yelling like some kind of maniacal drill sergeant all the time? No, I'm a big advocate of making football fun for kids but if you do not teach a player to be coachable using some reasonable discipline, you are not doing it any long term favors.
Sometimes disciplining is difficult and in the short term may be painful. But in the best interests of that child and your team, you have to do it. Just think of all the great athletes out there that could have had different lives had they had a youth football coach that would have held them accountable at an early age BEFORE that players world view had been formed?
They call these the formative years for a reason. Help your players be teaching them to be coachable so they will stay in the game and benefit from the life lessons the game teachers us all.