Summers at Winter Park can be quiet, especially if there’s no coaching activity. But nothing awakens an empty indoor field house more than eager volunteer coaches who are ready to review the fundamentals of football.
For five years the USA Football Coaching School, presented by Sports Authority and hosted by the Minnesota Vikings, has been coming to Winter Park and it did so again earlier this summer. The school is designed for volunteer coaches who want to improve. The event is a one-day clinic where philosophy of coaching, education, awareness and life skills are taught. In the past this clinic was geared to coaching youth in general, but this year the USA Football Coaching School took a new approach. Stations were set-up by age groups, and coaches went to stations based on the ages they coach
Joe Owens, Manager of USA Football, Central Region stated, “Before, we generally taught youth football, but now it is broken down by age. We do this because each age group needs to be taught differently. They are at different stages in their life and different skills need to be taught.”
An ongoing challenge for coaches and mentors is the implementation of consistent rules and guidelines.
“USA Football is trying to homogenize everything, so there are consistent youth football rules and coaching technique,” said Brad Madson, Minnesota Vikings Executive Director of Community Relations/ Youth Football. “The overall goal is to be consistent.”
Consistency is what the youth need these days, whether it’s a coach, parents or rules to guide them in their everyday life. And that is what these clinicians are trying to convey to the coaches. Be role models and mentors.
“Some of these kids come with a little baggage from home. Football coaches are not just coaches, they are mentors. So we like to help them work with life skills with these kids,” said Owens.
Ed McDaniel, an 10-year star linebacker for the Vikings, served as the keynote speaker and also answered some questions from the coaches.
One coach asked: “You were a tackling monster, Ed. Who was the toughest guy to tackle?”
“Barry Sanders,” McDaniel replied
Another asked: “What is it that we can tell the youth about tackling specifically that made you great?”
“Going back to the basics of football 101,” McDaniel said. “Going back to the fundamentals we learned as kids is key to coaching the youth. Not only do you need to teach the basic fundamentals of football, you need to incorporate life skills and become mentors to these kids, leading with passion. Size doesn’t matter. It’s right here (pointing to his heart). You can’t teach heart. It’s heart and how fast you learn the game.”
The key message at the USA Football Coaching School is: Get back to the basics, keep it simple and have fun – an overall theme that was repeated throughout the day.
As the day concluded, I asked a clinician instructing six and under youth coaches what he would take away from this experience.
“You have to do some non-football related activities to keep it interesting and fun for the little guys and not complicate things. It’s so easy to make things complicated. Keeping it simple and going over the same drill is a good way to keep it easy and fun,” said Rick Mengelkoch. “Keep kids playing. You know one of the worst things we see is kids saying that they stopped playing because of the coach, whether the coach did not know what he was doing or he was too hard on them. So we are trying to make that not an issue. We don’t want that to be the reason why a kid stops playing.”
Whether it’s a coach or mentor, kids can be transformed by being guided in the right direction. Teaching them the right life lessons, skills and fundamentals is the aim of the USA Football Coaching School.
“We just want the coaches to keep the kids involved and stay in the program. Be happy and tell them it’s not about this year or next year--just stay in the program,” said Owens.
The USA Football Coaching School isn’t like any other youth coaching instructional setting. It is aimed toward parents who want to coach their sons or daughters.
To learn more about USA Football, or arrange to have one of the organization’s regional managers meet with your league, by visiting www.usafootball.com or call 1-877-5FOOTBALL. USA Football is the national governing body of America’s favorite sport. An independent nonprofit based in Indianapolis, USA Football, which hosts more than 80 training events annually, offers education programs for coaches and game officials as well as skill development for young players and resources for youth commissioners. The organization awards $1 million equipment grants to youth and high school football programs annually based on merit and need through NFL Youth Football Fund.