Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Feeder Programs

Posted by admin March - 27 - 2012 - Tuesday

I just spent some time talking with a coach who’s frustrated about his feeder programs. He’s not getting a lot of cooperation from the programs down the chain. I shared a couple of things that all of you might find of interest and value.

The first concern he had was with his Community/Youth League program. Apparently it’s poorly run and the parents in the community won’t support it because of this. Not many boys are playing at the youth level because of the mistrust and anger over how the league is being led. I shared with this coach that, in my opinion, boys playing football at the “youth” level is an added luxury. It is not going to make or break a high school porgram. Too often, the coaching at that level is not sound nor do they run the same offense and defense that your HS program runs. It IS beneficial that the boys are playing football at that age but… it’s not a “make or break” situation for the high school.

What bothers me is that boys that age (8-11) are NOT playing any football. They’re inside on those video games instead of out in the yard throwing the ball around or playing pick-up games! I think that organized youth sports leagues have become a bit too organized anyway! Parents can become a bit too controlling at times. I want kids outside playing sports. It doesn’t have to be anything more than a bunch of them in somebody’s front yard. PLAY!!!

If a HS coach can help get a youth program running, and running right, then great! It is nice to have your system installed down to that level but not a requirement for success at the high school level. During my 22 years at HC at our local HS, our youth league program basically dissolved to the point that instead of 5 or 6 teams in our community, there were only enough boys playing football to field one team. Our numbers at the high school actually increased over that same time.

IF… you have a youth league in place, show them as much support as you can. They are a great asset to your HS program. As I said… getting boys outside and PLAYING is the important thing. If you have the resources and time to get a youth league up and running, I’d encourage you to do it. But, the KEY is the next level: MIDDLE SCHOOL.

For those of you who do NOT have a middle school football program in place in your school sytem… THIS is where you need to focus your energy. A youth program at this age/level is critical to your success! You need a strong feeder program for those boys who will come directly into your HS program. In my city, we were the only city in our region that had middle school football for years. And, in most cases, schools in our city dominated. Then the neighboring cities got wise and started playing MS football also. Wow! What a change in which schools began to dominate.

If you have not attempted to speak to your school board about starting middle school football, you should try. It’s not the best time economically to be asking for start up money for 6th, 7th and 8th grade football but you should try. If that is not feasible, then that youth or community league involvement becomes paramount.

If you DO have MS football in place right now, it is imperative that you form a strong working relationship with the MS coaches. In a lot of cases, the MS program does NOT fall under the guidance of the HS coach. If this is your case, you need to reach out to the MS football coach and offer any help that you can. Tell him that if he will install your system, your staff will help him in any way that you can! Offer clinics, camps or just meetings to discuss things that they might have questions about. Make yourself available. Show up for MS practices. Talk to those kids. Be there for their games if possible. Make sure that those 8th graders in particular KNOW who you are!

If you’re not getting much cooperation from the MS coach, then contact the MS principal and see if you can get an ally there. Maybe speak to the 8th grade PE teachers about coming in one day in the spring to “sell” your program to ALL 8th grade boys. If it’s as bad as it seems, there may be 8th graders who can help you next year who didn’t even play MS ball! Assure them that if they come out as 9th graders, they have a real shot at playing time on the JV. How does this happen?

My last point is critical for sustaining your program. If you only have a Varsity and JV then I think you need to make your JV team basically a “freshman” team. Once a freshman has started on JV, he has accomplished everything that the JV team is designed for. That sophomore needs to be on Varsity! When I took over our HS program years ago, I could not get soph’s to come out for Varsity. They wanted to stay on JV another year and be a “JV Superstar.” They knew if they came up to Varsity that they’d probably sit on the bench. I had to create a paradigm shift in their thinking. Most of these kids were good enough to play varsity as 10th graders and we did everything we could to get them on the field… particularly on special teams. They just wanted to contribute! I’d tell them and their parents: “Everyone goes through a rookie season— no matter what level you’re playing at! Learn the system, take your lumps now. As juniors you’ll be ready to compete for a starting position. You can be a 2 year starter instead of just one.” Over a period of 4-5 years the attitude changed and soon… kids complained if they weren’t allowed to play Varsity as 10th graders!

Sustained success at the HS level is predicated on keeping the flow of players coming in from the programs below you. Keep those lines of communication open. Develop a working relationship with those feeder programs. It will require some more of your time but… it’s important enough to your success to do it.

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