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Developing Mental Toughness In Youth Football

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What is mental toughness? In youth football mental toughness is the ability to consistently perform to the upward boundaries of your potential regardless of competition or game circumstances. You can judge how mentally tough your team is by seeing how they react when they get behind very early in a game or when one of your key players gets hit real hard and has to come out of the game. How do they respond when they have a 3rd and 1 and a player jumps off-sides so you are in 3rd and 6? How does the team respond to poor or unfair officiating? How do your players respond after they make a big mistake? Does your team or players "choke" when put in pressure packed situations? Are your teams known for losing tight games? Or are your teams one of those who always seems to get "lucky" and pull out games at the end or make big plays just when you need them most?

If your players or team didn't do well in these scenarios, they lack mental toughness. How do you develop mental toughness in your players? Well it isn't going to happen on its own. It takes a commitment from the coaching staff to hold kids accountable to achieving to a standard of achievement that stands in the face of mediocrity. Yes, that means you aren't happy with 38-6 wins, when your team and players play to less than potential. It is a battle against underachievement that you must be committed to and willing to invest time and frustration to win. Needless to say, you aren't getting anywhere with that until you've won their trust and established those relationships as shown how in our "Developing Team Chemistry" e-book.

In order to develop mental toughness in your teams you have to design training to push players beyond their comfort zones. This isn't just pushing kids beyond what they could do physically in drills, it's mentally as well. Want to see a player stretched mentally? Do 20 yard offensive team plays on air with 11 in and 11 off every 15 seconds and have the goal of 20 perfect plays in a row to exit. That will put both mental and physical pressure on your team.

You have to do your best to create game type situations in practice that push your kids limits. Some of the things I've done in practice is tell the kids that if we make the next field goal kick, we are done with practice. If we miss we run 12 minutes of full speed deep kick return covers on air which is basically a bunch of 30 yard sprints, 20 second apart. I do the same thing on completing our "Hail Mary" desperation pass. Some of the highest performing teams I've ever coached I pushed beyond what anyone thought was possible. These were non-select, no cut, no selective recruited teams, the first 25 kids who signed up were on the team. We had kids of all shapes, sizes and abilities, nothing special at all, not a single DI kid in the bunch.

One of the ways we pushed these kids beyond where any of them thought they could go was by scrimmaging bigger, better and in some cases even older teams. We would scrimmage or even play select teams in games, where these teams would choose from over 120 players. We would at times even scrimmage our first teamers against teams that were an age group older in limited scrimmages. Make sure you don't push your kids over Niagara Falls, but letting them struggle a little in the deep end of the pool can push them to compete at their full potential. They learn that if they do effort to full potential and use the techniques as taught, that they can actually compete with teams that most think were far superior than them.

Always approach and "sell" to the kids the notion that practice beyond perceived limits and scrimmaging up is an opportunity to play and to improve, not something that is being forced on them against their will. If you think your team or players aren't mentally tough, they probably aren't. It's something you will need to invest some time in as a coach to get better with during the offseason. While this facet of the game will seperate the good teams from the great teams, when I attend or teach clinic sessions that discuss this all important subject the rooms are pretty empty. That's like a bunch of hungry kids at the dinner table passing up the plate full of pork chops, it leaves more for the rest of us who understand how important this facet of the game really is.

Winning Youth Football

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