What Makes a Good Football Coach?
Coach Dave Cisar
That is a question I get asked quite a bit. I also am a little perplexed when someone that is a poor coach by most definitions is called a “good coach”.
Before we can determine if a coach is “good” or not, we first have to determine what the goals of a youth football coach should be. The goals should include both football skills goals and character building goals. Too many programs go to the extreme on either. The “win at all costs” coach that cares little about integrity or playing time is just as damaging as the coach that is disorganized and has no clue about what he is doing but is the nicest guy and lets all the kids play the same amount.
The goal of the youth football coach should be to teach the basics in a safe and technically sound manner. He should be organized and confident in his approach and skills. He should make the practices and games fun to the point that the kids look forward to both. The coach should realize and respect his own position and lead by example showing the highest possible standards of integrity and sportsmanship. He should coach the kids up to their legitimate ability to compete while ensuring all players that meet minimum behavior and attendance standards play at least some each game and feel part of the team.
So should youth football coaches be judged based on win/loss records?
Partly but not solely. Football teams should play up to their God given potential, but we can’t ignore all the other factors that the coach should be judged on. If a coach is losing most of his games year after year after year, something is wrong. I personally know one coach that has coached in three different organizations in the last 4 years, and has a 4-40 record. Is it possible that he had the worst team in the League by chance with 3 different football organizations? Doubtful.
The same is often true of good football coaches, are they just lucky every year? Doubtful. My first football coaching position was in a blind draft football league. All we had to go on for our selection process was the kids age and weight. So over time the teams are going to be pretty even size and talent wise, since we all have the same number of kids. Well in the 5 years that I was in the KWAA League in Omaha Nebraska, the Dolphins won 6 League Titles (2 age groups). Out of 20 teams the Dolphins won 60% of the League Titles. The only time they didn’t win was the two times my teams were the best because of overwhelming talent and the other time was when the entire coaching staff turned over. Yes, they went from 1st place to last place after the coaches moved on in my final year in that League and before I went to the Single Wing. Youth football is much more than who has the Jimmy's and Joe's, it has much to do about coaching, X’s and O’s. If it was all about Jimmy's and Joe's, why bother having coaches at all, just let the kids go out there and call their own plays. Or better yet, if you could choose between a soccer mom and Tom Osborne coaching your kids youth football team who would do a better job?
Football coaches can coach competitively as well as meet all the other criteria. Unfortunately many of those that have great records do not play all the kids, they are “win at all costs” coaches, they berate the referees and their player's.
However, it can be done, the amazing Durham Fighting Eagles Pop Warner Pee Wee football team whose record over the last 5 years is something like 62-2, have done it. So does Jim Barg in Rochester NY, Eric Strutz in Stateline Illinois and many others. I promise you none of my personal Screaming Eagle teams has ever had a coach or player flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct or had anyone tossed from a game. You can be a great sport and play competitive football.
I have also seen “good” coaches that have great records for a year or two based solely on talent. They run their fastest kid around end with little or no blocking for touchdown after touchdown and somehow they are a great coach? Why? Because by geography a blazer ends up on his team and he has sense enough to run him around end 20 times per game?
A good football coach has a win/loss record that is at or above what most would consider the potential for that particular team. If your team is in its first year of existence and are playing against experienced kids, sure a 4 wins season may be “playing to potential”. Or if your league is divided up into “A” and “B” squads and one of your “B” squads gets put in an “A” division to even out the teams your win potential may be very low, but in most cases it isn’t.
Most Common Excuses for Losing at the Youth Football Level:
are too small:
Many of the teams running the Single Wing run it because for whatever reason, they seem to lack size from year to year. My 2004 8-10 year old team went 11-0 and was by far the smallest and youngest team in the league with just one player over 100 pounds and 13 eight year olds. If you think we had speed, think again we scored on one sweep the entire season. Same for my 2002 team just 1 player over 100 pounds and one sweep score for the year. We were so slow, that are main weapon was the fullback wedge, our fullback Josh A, had over 30 wedge TDs that year. We were also the youngest team in our division and won the League Title.
kids lack heart:
How can a football player feel confident about who he is supposed to block when he has only been told to “block the person across from you”. What happens when there is a player in both his inside and outside gap, two players “across” from him?
Many football coaches on the first day of pads throw the lambs to the wolves. They do full speed tackling drills to “see who can hit”. Of course most of the first year players do poorly because they are not comfortable with their technique and they don’t know the how's or whys of ‘accelerating through contact”. We slowly build up to full speed tackling by doing lots of walk through “fit and freeze” drills as well as tackling to landing pads with little or no acceleration. By the time we do full speed tackling every player would have executed at least 300 tackles of far less impact. In fact my personal teams rarely if ever get out hit, but we do full speed hitting rarely more than 50 minutes per week total.
If the kids are not playing aggressively 9 times out of 10 it is the head coaches fault.
play in a tough football league:
don’t practice as much as the other teams:
are just trying to have fun:
I don’t believe that all players should play the same amount of time regardless of ability. If player A is better than player B and player A is meeting all the teams standards, he deserves to play more than player B. However, I also believe player B should get playing time in the game regardless of game circumstances. I set internal minimum play standards for each of my teams based on team size before each season. It may be 8 plays , it may be 16, whatever I set, I stick to no matter what. We get very aggressive and creative to make sure each deserving player gets his “plays”.
goody goody coach: