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Youth Football – The Cornerstones of Winning When Coaching Youth Football, is it Football Playbooks?
Lessons to be gained from coaching youth soccer:
Winning in youth soccer is not much different than winning in other sports. In fact, it can be valuable to watch teams and coaches in other sports and see if you can learn something to take back to your youth soccer team.
Learning from John Wooden
I am in the process of or reading a book on the “Pyramid of Success” by John Wooden. While I’m not a huge basketball fan, I thought I might learn a thing or two from this UCLA basketball legend who won 7 straight NCAA national championships, 88 straight games, and 38 straight NCAA tournament wins.
Many of you may not be aware that when John Wooden took over UCLA, the program was a joke. Coach Wooden’s main source of income was as manager of the dairy, UCLA rarely drew more than 2000 fans, and for their first 17 years they had no place on campus to play or practice. The facilities were absolutely the worst in the conference and perhaps the country, but their teams were not only successful, they dominated year after year.
What struck me most about Coach Wooden’s approach to the game was his utter disinterest in his opponent. Although he studied some cinema, he studied much less than any of his classmates. Coach Wooden was of the firm opinion that his teams would do what they did best and spend valuable practice time preparing to execute Coach Wooden’s philosophy.
Don’t worry about the opposition, worry about yourself
In this book, player after player reiterated what Coach Wooden had said about the opposition. His players were very consistent in the notion that they cared little who they played against or even what style they played against. In some of the games, the UCLA players did not know the names of the opposing players or even what conference the opposing team was from. This wasn’t because UCLA didn’t respect the opposition, it was because they really felt, it didn’t really matter who they played, they were going to execute. UCLA players were PLAYING AGAINST THEMSELVES, they were playing against their potential, not an opposing team. UCLA was prepared against any philosophy, system, or contingency.
These UCLA players were very confident, not in their personal abilities but in the team, the coach, and the system. These UCLA teams and players had a quiet aura of confidence and invincibility about themselves that served them well in close games and greatly intimidated most of the teams that played them.
I see so many youth soccer coaches looking up and worrying about the opposition when their own team is struggling with their own execution. I saw a movie of a Louisiana youth coaching game last season. While he claimed to play in a “tough league” where all the coaches kept an eye on each other, I found little to explore. The execution and lineup of all the teams in this league was atrocious, something I haven’t even seen in the rookie intramural recreational level leagues here locally. All of these coaches would have done better to teach their kids their systems and fundamentals, and not worry one iota about their opposition. Exploration time was time wasted.
Example from the Nebraska National Championship
My friend Jerry Tagge said the same thing about the 1970 and 1971 University of Nebraska football teams. They went 24-0-1 and won back-to-back national championships. Jerry was the starting quarterback on both teams and the team’s leader on and off the field. When asked what his most enduring memory was of that 1971 season in which NU outscored their opposition 507-104 and won the National Title Game over #2 Alabama 38-6, Jerry didn’t hesitate for a moment and He said, “We knew we were going.” win all the games before stepping on the field”.
Jerry said they were so confident in themselves, their team, their coach, and their system, that the only question on their minds was how much they were going to win by. While many of their games were huge hits, they came in second place.
Oklahoma several times in that game, still referred to by most as the “Game of the Century.” Jerry said that at no time did they panic, they knew somehow that they were going to win, they remained very optimistic and confident throughout the game. He said; “We just knew we were going to win,” in his mind, and in the minds of the teams, the game was a foregone conclusion.
As a kid, I was at every one of Jerry’s home games in 1970 and 1971. We’d show up to games very early, go down near the field and watch the players warm up. That seems like a long time ago and all those players seemed so big back then to a 10 year old. We’d go down below the stadium and watch the players come out of the locker room for kickoff from behind the ropes. Many of the players would give you a quick pat on the hand if you leaned in far enough and smiled a lot. What I remember most is how calm these guys were and how none of them jumped or yelled, as you see so much today on TV and even at youth and high school football games. The NU players were always so eerily quiet, some would give a smile or two, but no rah rah would happen. It always seemed like in those days the team that played in Nebraska often played in an inverse relationship to the amount of emotion they displayed. Oklahoma was one of the rare teams on that day that could consistently compete with Nebraska and they weren’t rah rah either, they were equally calm and confident.
60-3 in the 90s
There was an era in Nebraska football from 1993 to 1997 where the team went an astonishing 60-3, winning 3 national titles along the way and barely missing another. In those days, teams often went to bed for Nebraska. What I remember most about those teams is that there was no fanfare, no player had their faces painted, no one was jumping, no one was yelling, only Darth Vader was walking through the tunnel. Someone was going to be kicked out of them that day and it certainly wasn’t going to be Nebraska. So often the other team looked like little wide-eyed lambs being led to slaughter, you could feel it in the air. Sometimes an opposing team would display a bit of faux nervous bravado, but in those days most had those baby eyes that said “I’m not sure what’s going to happen next, but I doubt it’s good for me.” personally.” By the end of the second quarter they were looking for a “soft spot” to land on to use a boxing term. If you know anyone who was in the stadium back then, ask them. No offense to the opposition, NU fans always they were given a standing ovation after the game, win, lose or draw.Perhaps it was our way of showing our appreciation for the opposition who endured the carnage and survived.
Were the Nebraska players cocky, arrogant or disrespectful? Not at all, they were just very confident in their preparation, scheme, coaches and team. They had no reason to be clowns, they were just going to do what they knew they could do, game over, move on to the next objective. Now of course we are in a different day, the man behind the curtain has been seen, the aura is gone, Mike Tyson has been knocked out and the giant has been found to have feet of clay. But in those days, that’s what it was and those same monsters exist in youth soccer today.
Applied to Youth Soccer
What can we do as youth soccer coaches to inspire such confidence in our youth soccer kids?
I can say with great confidence that it can be done. I’ve done it under the most ridiculous circumstances. I have led teams into situations where we faced enormous odds: In 2003, My Age 8-10 Team convincingly played and beat two 11-12 year old league championship teams, one in a 10,000 seat College Stadium with a 7-0 deficit and well undersized and outmanned. In 2004 I led a rookie country team to an 11-0 season and beat the league champions of a much bigger league where more than half of their sons were veteran players. In 2005, I took the same team of unselected 8-10 year olds (I took all comers) and beat (30-6) a huge inner-city select team that chose from over 150 kids and there was no lost in 3 years They started at least 5 kids who were over 150lbs and had a monster over 210, we on the other hand only had 2 players over 100lbs. That same year we beat a team (mercy ruled) that hadn’t lost in 5 years (started our 4th quarterback team in that game) and beat another select team from Omaha (36-6) who were champions of their league. In 2006 I took a team of 8 to 10 year olds to a tournament in
Kansas City and we overcame a team that started with 5-6 kids that were over 150lbs including 2 huge defensive tackles over 190, keep in mind our starting center was only 71lbs at the time (regular starter was outside). In 2007, my 10-11 year old team played against a Malcolm team that during the National Anthem evaluation had 8 “scratched” players against 1 of ours. Striped means the player weighs more than 128 pounds and must wear a stripe on his helmet. Not only did this team outnumber us 8-1 in striped players, but their striped players were huge, with at least 3 of the starters weighing over 180. Our one striped player weighed in at 148, then our next biggest players had 115 and 105. In each of these games he outnumbered us, but the kids were very confident.
How did we do it? I promise you it had nothing to do with paying close attention to our opposition. If we had done that, I’m not sure we would have had the same amount of success. In practice, we don’t waste time on frivolous non-football activities and execute central attack and defense to perfection against the more familiar contingencies. We know how to align our defense on each attack and how to respond to the typical tactics used to stop our offense. Our children trust the scheme, their assignments, their technique, execution and the coaches. We hope they do well and they do too. For those of you who have the movies of the games, you know our kids don’t get very excited about touchdowns or big plays, they expect them to happen, same for the coaching staff, they don’t see jumps or punches. the air, it is expected, tranquility calm confidence. We always talk to kids in past terms “After we score our fourth touchdown, remember XYZ”, “After the game is over, remember the other team drove a long way to be here and you’ll be sorely disappointed, no jump up and down and make a big win issue and make them feel bad, hopefully we play well, it shouldn’t be any kind of surprise,” etc. I have been told that our children act with far more confidence than their outward appearance should warrant.
Before the matches we face far from the competition and even arrive very late, we do only 30 minutes before the match while our opposition does 60-90 minutes. Our kids seem to be a bit oblivious to who we play, rural, inner city suburban, big, out of town, etc. By ignoring the opposition and worrying about ourselves, we have created that environment. We are always competing with ourselves. our potential, not that of the opposing team. Combine that with our “easy count” game mapping system, key tweaks and identifiers and the need to scout every opponent is negated. Do we explore our opposition? Very little, maybe one game a year, but they keep an awful lot of eye on us and it doesn’t seem to have helped much, even with the movie, the book, and the sharing of information between them.
Once you’ve got it going, the aura feeds on itself and can include things like championship banners, trophy displays, and other examples that reinforce the inevitability of your teams’ success in the minds of your players and in the minds of your team. their opponents.
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