A few comments, since I know something about biomechanics and speed/agility programming. If you’re coaching it in a group setting, you’re wasting your time. If you’re coaching it in a group setting to 9 and 10 year olds, you’re really wasting your time. I’m not saying such training has no value, but the bottom line is improving the rate of force development in young kids is an “in for a dime, in for a dollar” type proposition. It takes a LOT of time, effort, repetition, and individual instruction to yield meaningful results. And chances are, since you’ve got limited time to practice during the week, you’re not doing it near enough and/or with near the individual supervision required for it to yield meaningful value across the entire team. If anyone tells you different, be skeptical about their aptitude as a true strength and conditioning coach when it comes to young children.
Bottom line is speed is the product of physical factors AND execution. And execution is far easier to coach in a group setting when you have limited time, and it yields faster, more meaningful results. You’ll never take a bunch of 9 year olds who run a 6.0 forty-yard dash and turn them into a bunch of 5.3 kids through casual speed training. But you can probably achieve that same relative difference on the football field with good play execution, proper stemming and starts, etc.
Remember there is an opportunity cost to everything you do. If you spend your time doing X, the price is that you are NOT doing Y. Your response might be to therefore do some X and some Y, but, like cazador said: to each his own. Personally, I love watching opposing coaches spend time doing things other than working on their plays and play mechanics. Candidly, I think that’s a big reason we’re going to the NFL flag national championship this year and they aren’t.
Like I said, I'm probably in the minority. I don't view "fun" and "structure" as two things in tension that need to be balanced. Football is a game, and games are fun. But even a funhouse has concrete under it.
As a coach or volunteer coach, my first responsibility is to the collective experience of the team. And for better or worse, Playground Etiquette 101 is part of any group activity, even at age 5.
If a 6 year old isn't having fun because his i9 coach thinks he's grooming the '85 Bears, that's the coach's fault.
If a 6 year old isn't having fun because acting out and being disruptive aren't tolerated, that's not the coach's fault. That's not even the kid's fault. That's Dad's fault.
If a 6 year old is acting out and being disruptive, and (volunteer) coach never visits with Dad about it and/or doesn't ask Dad for air cover during the other 167 hours in the week, that's coach's fault.
As someone once said: There's no such thing as bad dog; there are only bad owners.
6 year old kids are gonna mess up constantly. But having structure isn't the same as maintaining discipline. At the end of the season, I may or may not have a "disciplined" team. But it isn't about discipline. It's about confidence. It's about having a shared experience. It's about having goals that 6 year old kids can visualize, and, more importantly, are within their power to achieve (since not everyone that age can catch and score touchdowns).
Each season my parting words to parents are always the same:
-- Thanks for sharing your Saturdays with me and my sons.
-- I hope your child enjoyed the ###### out of the season.
- I hope your child learned something from me and the other coaches about competition, teamwork, and the game of football. (In that order.)
I started coaching pee wee football in 2008. I have some very specific thoughts about tactical team management for 5-7 year olds, although probably not shared by everyone for that age group.
1. Coaching young boys is no different than training dogs. You need structure, you need consistency, you need patience. I stress fun, but my kids learn very early on that having fun as a team is different than horsing around and being silly. They raise their hands and line up and conform every day in the school cafeteria. No reason they can't do same on the field. I don't let little things slip:
- players must take their mouthpieces out before speaking to me or asking a question
- players must listen and make eye contact when I'm speaking (or a teammate is speaking)
- players may not talk over another player or coach
- I don't accept head-nodding or "yeah" as acceptable responses to a question
You don't have to holler. If you're consistent, you hardly even have to raise your voice. Just don't be afraid to call out a player who isn't conforming. If your'e speaking to the team and Johnny is looking down and digging in the dirt -- stop talking and look at him. The silence is deafening. He'll notice, turn red, and you'll continue on without ever saying a word about it.
If you're consistent, moments like that are opportunities, not frustrations.
2. Keeping young minds engaged is the hardest part about coaching 5-7 year olds. Some boys will tend to watch birds or play in the dirt whenever it's not their turn to carry the ball. Call them out if they do, but be fair to them by stacking the deck in their favor. Make sure everyone has a "job" if they're on the field. No responsibilities = lots of standing around = things quickly turn into "Lord of the Flies."
3. Get an assistant coach. It will help with #1 and #2. Have someone help you run practices and manage the sidelines during a game (substitutions, decorum, etc.).
4. Further to #2 and #3, separate the team and run smaller practices (e.g., 2+ concurrent drills). Maximize involvement and minimize standing around. Most young kids also have a hard time learning things in the abstract. So the more you can do to create muscle memory, the better.
5. Minimize unnecessary variables and focus on doing a handful of small things well. This may mean rotating certain positions less frequently early on, especially at QB and center. However, good ball exchanges will go a long way to reducing their learning curves. It will also help you maximize ball distribution to 10+ kids. I also do things like call "Ready" and "GO!" instead of letting my 5 y/o QB do it. Basically, I try to take the reins on anything that commands their attention if it will help with consistency.
6. Make a big deal about defense. Chasing things and catching them is in the DNA of little boys. However, your defensive instruction will be harder for them to visualize than offense, which only really requires that your players be able to trace a treasure map with their feet. About half your boys will chase, but not engage, the ball carrier when they get close to him. I usually have no problem getting every kid in the endzone during the season, but it's sometimes a struggle to get every kid at least one flag-pull at that age. But if you can get them fired up about it, suddenly you have something they can focus on and enjoy when it's NOT their turn to carry the ball. And that's a real victory at this age. It can also be a real alpha builder. I can't tell you how many times confidence on defense turned a total paste-eater on our team into a difference maker.
7. On offense, keep things simple and make sure each kid has something to focus on. I've found it's hard for kids their age to visualize plays, and it's twice as hard for them to visualize plays if they're required to know them at multiple positions. It can be done, but we only practice 1 hour each week and I don't waste time trying. Consequently, I don't coach my kids to know plays. I coach them to be coachable on the field and in the huddle. The kids do this by memorizing 2 running routes and 5 points on the field relative to the LOS ("A, B, C, little A, little C"). That's it. That's the offense. I line the kids up and whisper each boy's route assignment into his ear. "Johnny -- run to A." "Billy -- run to C, then B." "Sammy - run dive 1 and take the handoff." The result is, when the ball is snapped, a visually complex play HAPPENS, although no one kid actually knows the "play." This allows us to orchestrate complex plays on the fly and confuse the holy ###### out of 5-7 year olds playing defense. It also gives me the freedom to rotate positions freely since "run to A" is easy to do from anywhere on the field. Feel free to disagree with this.