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Thinking Outside the Box When Coaching Youth Football
Now is the time to start evaluating everything you do for the upcoming season. You don’t want to wait and do your research in July or August and then do things the same way again because your time is up. In March I review the movie of the game for the second time. I critically look at practice plans, drills, and priorities and make sure that what we are doing is not a waste of time and ties directly to our ultimate mission. I now research different methods, techniques, offenses, teaching processes, and defenses. I have already read almost a dozen books and attended countless clinical sessions, and yet I still have about 6 books in my stack, as well as 3-4 DVDs to watch.
turning new leaves
While our mission will not change, I am always open to new ways to achieve it. We’ve had incredible success, but that doesn’t mean we own the franchise on how to get there, there are a lot of great ideas still waiting to be used to improve our youth soccer teams. We just have to be open-minded enough to keep looking for them and relentless enough in our search to find them.
learn from the best
If you haven’t heard of John Gagliardi (pronounced Guh-LAR-dy). He has been the head coach at St. John’s University, in Collegeville, Minnesota, since 1953, his teams have won 461 games. I have written about him several times and he has a different way of approaching the practice of soccer.
Here’s what Newsday’s John Jeansonne wrote about the coach:
In a school of 1,900, none of them on an athletic scholarship and therefore none coddled through music history or any other class, Gagliardi, at 82, will be training for his 57th season at St. John’s. in the fall, attempting to win a 27th conference title and a fifth national championship, most recently in 2003. Three years ago, Gagliardi became the first active coach to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. .
Listen to their philosophies: no agility drills, prolonged calisthenics, or circling (just a push-up before practice). “When I was in high school, we had a coach that I learned a lot from, all negative. He was a fan of calisthenics and exercises, torturous things. And round, round, round. We were exhausted before we started. My memory That was that hell must be like that. Those damn waddle walks. I hated them. Years later, everybody was told how bad those waddle walks are for your knees. I was a hair’s breadth away from standing there. Look, I realized I noticed that all the kids that were going to play intramurals never did all the drills and stuff, and I never saw any ambulances going to their fields. Ambulances were always coming to us. And, look, luckily, I didn’t have a TV. No I knew nothing. I only knew what I didn’t like.”
He began his coaching career as a senior in high school, at Trinidad (Colo.) Catholic in 1943, when the real coach was drafted into the service. He led the team to the state championship game and, “Wow, amazingly, we won. I must have been 16.”
But his coaching ethic was set. “Our coach used to say, ‘Hit somebody! Kill somebody!’ But I realized that I was the guy getting killed.Our trainer believed that the answer to everything was drills and conditioning, but the only tragic flaw in his system was that when we lined up, we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. I was the running back, you know, that old single-wing Notre Dame box, and I noticed that when I called for a play, there was panic in the linemen’s eyes. ‘Who am I blocking?’ I thought the first thing we should do is figure out who to block.”
However, beyond the figures, there are no practice apparatus in St. John’s. No blocking sleds. No blocking dummies. “Some kids, when they first come in, ask me, ‘How do I show that I can play? Who do I hit or kill?’ That’s not the way to make a tackle. You’ve got to line up in the right spot first. You’ve got to go to the right spot. You’ve got to figure out where the hell the ball is. You’ve got to not get blocked. You’ve got to press the ball. Yeah you do all that, eventually you’ll make the tackle.
Applying it to youth soccer
Does any of this affect those of us who coach youth soccer? How many youth soccer teams do you see doing what Coach Gags criticizes? In youth soccer you have to get your kids to get over the initial fear of contact and make a few shots, but once that’s done how much longer does it take to do full scale skirmishes instead of a quick attack and replays? frozen?
do the math
My teams can do a snap and freeze replay every 10-12 seconds, while an average scrimmage replay takes 90-120 seconds. Which means that in 40 minutes of scrimmaging, the scrimmaging team will have 20-30 plays, if they’re lucky. In that same time frame, my teams would have achieved 200-240 reps. On game day, which team do you think will perform better, the one that got 40-60 quality offensive reps that week or the one that got 400? -480 quality reps? Multiply that over the course of 3 months and you have a partial answer as to why many youth soccer teams execute so much better than their competition, even when they have fewer practices.
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