Copyright John T. Reed

Who are the best youth football coaches in the world? I would like to know so I can see how they approach the game and learn from them. One thing I do know: the best youth coach in the world ain't me.

One candidate is Mark Tyrell of the Oak Grove Roughriders. His career record is currently 150-8 and he has won four Pop Warner Super Bowl Championships. I attended several of his practices and one of his games. I thought he had an ideal personality for the age group in question (midget, 12-14 year olds), his players were extremely talented. I liked his offensive blocking scheme. They block each hole the same way no matter what play is happening in the backfield to bring the ball to that hole. This is supplemented by line calls when necessary. Smart. He tries never to run the same play twice in a game and uses many formations. Interesting. I was not able to discern anything unusual about the rest of his practices or schemes.

I attended the Pop Warner Super Bowl one year when it was in California. I thought those teams did some interesting things. For one thing, they never punted on fourth down. That struck me as dumb unless you have no one who can punt, which is unlikely. They ran some interesting formations and plays like multi-cycle shotgun or single wing plays. But I thought the California Youth Football League champs might have beaten the Pop Warner Super Bowl winners. Pop Warner is famous and world wide, but they only have 150,000 football players. Little League Baseball has three million. CYF at that time had about 4,000.

Coaching not talent

I am interested in the best coaches in the world, not the luckiest as far as talent is concerned. Many successful youth coaches are not that good. Rather they simply benefit from a chronic talent disparity in their league.

Especially at the midget level, there are many systemic talent disparities. I coached one midget team at a high school that had freshman football. But many of our best opponents were in towns with no freshman classes in high school, so it was my 7th and 8th graders against their 9th graders. The following year, I coached midgets in a league where most opposing towns did have freshman football, making us relatively equal on that score. But many of our opponents had chronic recruiting problems at their midget age level, so again there were non-coaching factors at work in the win-loss records. Plus, in that league, the perennial midget champs were one of the few towns whose high schools did not have freshman football. One year that the perennial champs did not win was when one team complained about not having enough midgets and was allowed to use several normally illegal 15-year olds. They went undefeated. Again, talent, not coaching at work.

There are also disparities caused by soccer being relatively popular in some towns in the football league, but not in others. And, of course, there are disparities in the populations of the various towns that have traveling youth teams. In high school, such disparities are eliminated by putting teams in divisions based on male-student-body size. Little League baseball places limits on the population a league can draw from. But these disparities are generally ignored in traveling-team youth football. Systemic disparities in talent can cause some lucky coaches to think, erroneously, that they are coaching geniuses.

You might think that teams that cut would have an advantage over those that dont. We never cut on any of my yout teams. But some of our opponents did. In general, the teams that cut were better, but I was not that impressed. We once beat Elk Grove, who had so many kids come out for the team the league may them start a second set of four teams. That year, they had, of course, the league maximum 35 players. We had the league minimum 18, but we beat them decisively in the opening game of the season. So a coach who cuts players every year, and wins, is a bit suspect, but that is not as great an advantage as you might think.

I am not interested in talking to talent-lucky youth coaches with high win-loss percentages. One manifestation of a talent-lucky long-term youth coach would be a lot of his players going on to play college football on scholarships. That is the main indicator of extraordinary talent. The typical youth coach would point with pride to such players. In fact, they ought to keep their success secret. Players who get football scholarships are extremely talented---the top one percent of all high school players. Anyone can win with such players. Players who go on to play non-scholarship college football (Ivy League, Division III, etc.) are lesser indicators that the coach in question had a lot of talent to work with.

An indicator of a good youth coach is that he does well in an organization where his players either previously or subsequently did not do well. For example, if a junior pee wee (8 to 10) coach is consistently successful, but as his kids move up to higher age levels they are not successful, that suggests that there is a relative difference between the competence of the coaches at the various levels in that organization. It may be that the winning coach is decent and his colleagues at the other leevels are awful. Or it may he he is great and they are decent. The same thing would be true if a higher level youth coach, like a junior midget (10 to 12) consistently wins with kids who did not win as they came up through the lower age levels in that same organization.

You can tell the relative talent level regarding speed by caught-from-behind plays. When I coached the San Ramon Bears, we generally had no long runs. When we broke loose, we were always caught from behind. My 1993 tailback Will Sykes was the only exception to that---just barely. When our opponents broke loose, we almost never caught them. A coach who can win with a caught-from-behind team is a better than average coach.

An indicator of a good offensive coach is the ability to sustain drives. The typical successful youth offense cannot really move the ball except for an occasional long play when a talented back manages to get loose. That is individual talent success rather than coaching success.

Indicators of bad coaches include fumbled snaps, bad long snaps, high (more than 60%) incompletion rate, above-average number of penalties, missed tackles, kick returners who let catchable balls hit the ground.

I would appreciate it if readers of this page around the world would tell me about any youth coaches who have been extraordinarily successful over an extended period (three years or more) without any systemic talent advantage over their opponents. I will report the names and teams and what I learned from them here and/or in my future books.

Thanks, John T. Reed

Here's an email I received:

My name is Joe Islas and I am the current Head Coach of the Bulldog Pee-Wee team we are members of the Monterey Bay Youth Football League. The person I think would be great to be called The worlds greatest Youth Football Coach is John Perry. John was the Head Coach of my team and I was the Defensive Coordinator.I have been with this team for 10 years now and back in 1995 I thought I was going to get the Head Coaching position.And I did'nt ,oh boy was I upset.Then I asked who got it when they told me it was John I said that was the best thing to happen to this team.John Coached me when I was a Bulldog player and we won 2 championships and 1 Youth National Championship.He took a couple of years off , A freind of his called him up and told him about a team out in Watsonville,CA that was just going down hill fast.Both John and his Freind went and coached that team and in 2 years he took that team to the Championship twice.Then he took a couple of years off again and when his grandson started to play he started to coach again.Thats when we started to coach together.Between 1995-1997 we went 30-2 and in 1997 we won the Championship undefeated (10-0) Our Defense recorded 7 shutouts our Team scored 268 points and allowed only 24. In 1997 He retired for the 3rd time and who knows where he might end up,but where ever he does I am sure they will be in the Championship Race.Oh ya John is a master of the Fly Offense which originated by 2 High School coaches From the North County Area.