Copyright 2000, 2001 John T. Reed

If you attend a youth baseball, basketball, or soccer game where one of the opposing coaches is a rookie, you probably will not be able to tell which one he is. Indeed, the rookie coach’s team may well win the game.

It doesn’t work that way in youth football. In youth football, rookie coaches make public fools of themselves. They make every single mistake in my list of youth-football-coach mistakes and then some. Their teams draw a zillion stupid penalties for things like false starts, too many men on the field, not enough men on the offensive line, delay of game, and so forth. They also frequently fumble the snap or hand-off or snap the ball over the punter’s head. They throw more interceptions than completions. They do not scout. They think NFL rules are the same as the high-school rules used in youth football. You may hear pleas like “It was uncatchable!” or “He was in the grasp!” at a youth game where there is a rookie coach. This is very amusing to the officials and opposing coaches, but not to the fathers of the rookie coach’s team. Rookie-coach teams typically go winless for the season and are blown out every week by their opponents. It is not uncommon for a rookie-coached team to not score a point all season.

At this Web site and in my books, I am a harsh critic of what I call the “typical” youth football coach. But the typical youth football coach has several years experience. I am less critical of the rookie coaches. They are too pathetic to criticize. They are like boys playing with men.

In 1992, one of our opponents, Walnut Creek, had just restarted their junior pee wee (8 to 10) program after several years of not having a team at that level. So all their jpw coaches were rookies. We played them in a pre-season scrimmage at our field during a regular practice night.

To teach our players to abide by the rules, we always have a coach playing the role of referee. I was the defensive coordinator, so I played that role when our offense was going against Walnut Creek. As usual, I had with me and threw my yellow flag. I threw so many flags against Walnut Creek that they asked me to stop. Half the time they said there was no infraction, explaining NFL rules like getting out of the neutral zone before the snap. I repeatedly explained the correct rules to them (e.g., getting back does not matter in high-school rules.) I quietly pointed out that the refs were going to do the exact same thing in three weeks when the regular season started, so they might want to take this opportunity to get it straightened out. They refused, so I only threw penalty flags against our offense for the rest of the scrimmage. I believe Walnut Creek lost all their games that season.

The following year I believe they had an all new and also rookie staff at the jpw level. Our team, which was not a league powerhouse, was ahead of them 26-0 at the end of the first quarter. We put in all our bench-warmers and ran plays we did not think would work. For example, we attempted a field goal on second down from midfield. Had we continued at the first-quarter rate, we would have beaten them by 26 x 4 = 104-0. In that game, Walnut Creek looked awful. Their coaches responded with angry screaming at their players. As a veteran coach, I could tell that it was the coaches’ fault, not the players,’ but the coaches were apparently so embarrassed that they were desperate to deflect blame to the kids.

Is there anything a rookie coach can do about this? Yes. Read and follow my books. Now, you might think I’m just saying that to sell books. I am saying it to sell books. But it also happens to be true.

Not only do rookie coaches who use my books avoid making fools of themselves, they often have great seasons. Read the reader-comments pages for my books Coaching Youth Football, Gap-Air-Mirror Defense For Youth Football, Single-Wing Offense for Youth Football, Coaching Youth Football Defense, and Coaching Youth Flag Football. You will find emails from guys who went undefeated as rookie coaches, like Derek Wade of Kodiak, AK and rookie coaches who had winning seasons like Rick Wilburn’s 5 wins and 3 losses. In his rookie coaching year, Dan Blair won his division and finished fourth in the state.

One rookie high-school coach used my books when they restarted football in the Virgin Islands after many years of no football. He missed the deadline for getting into the only available league, the Puerto Rican High School League, but he was able to arrange two post-season exhibition games with Puerto Rican teams. The rookie coach and his all-rookie team went 2-0. Puerto Rican coaches refused to believe my reader and his team were rookies.

Football, even youth football, is far too complicated to just waltz in with nothing but your good intentions and high-school playing background. Occasionally, you see commercials like McDonalds showing a youth-football coach and his team. Typically, the coach is trying futilely to get the kids interested. They are thinking about their post-game Big Mac or something. They make it look like tee ball. Tain’t so. In those commercials, they use kids who are too young to play tackle football, and they deliberately dress them in oversize uniforms so they look cute and inept.

Real youth football is much closer to high-school football than it is to any youth sport. In our area, other youth sports are played at elementary and middle schools and in city parks. There are parents with lawn chairs and rarely a snack bar or scoreboard. The officials are usually teenagers. The crowd is usually just relatives or parents and totals about 30 or 40 people.

Youth football has a high-school or college field and stadium; public-address announcer; chain gang; snack bar; professional, uniformed, adult officials; uniformed, skilled cheerleaders; electric scoreboard; and a charge for admission. The crowd, which is made up of friends and relatives of players, as well as league and association officials, swells to several hundred because of the four-games-in-one-day format. Most of the people in the crowd are players and coaches from the sister teams of the team you coach and your opposing team. My point is that when you make a public fool of yourself in youth football, it is in front of a much larger crowd than in other youth sports. Plus, your failures are not only visual, they are also noted by the public-address announcer (e.g., “Oh, another fumble on the play”) and the scoreboard.

You can be successful as a rookie youth-football coach if you get thorough preparation. My books provide it. There may be other non-experience ways to prepare for a rookie season, but I am not aware of any. Coaching clinics won’t work. They generally give you bits and pieces of dozens of different high-school, college, or pro systems. A knowledgeable experienced youth-football-coach mentor who was willing to spend about as much time with you as it would take to read my book out loud could do it. But such expertise is rare and the willingness to spend that much time sharing it is rarer.

My main point is that if you approach your rookie youth-football season as you have other youth sports, your season will be a disaster.

Good luck,

John T. Reed