Building Connections with Your Youth Football Program

Coach instructing Youth Football team at practice

Coach instructing Youth Football team at practice

This article is a MaxOne original written by Scott Heitland, Head Football Coach at Dallas Center-Grimes High School (IA). Scott has been a football coach for 20+ years and is an active board member for the Iowa Coaches Association. In this article, Coach Heitland shares the importance of building relationships with the Youth Football Program in your area.

Building Connections with Your Youth Football Program

Whether you’re a veteran head coach or a rookie head coach, establishing a good working connection with your local youth football program should be a goal for us all. Some might view this as an additional responsibility that they just don’t have the time for, especially during your season. But I would challenge you to take some time to rethink that position.

As youth football grows, whether flag or tackle versions, it is a very important time for these young players because their experience will likely determine their desire to play in the coming years. I often tell our youth football leaders that they very well might be the most important football coaches in our community. It is the experience that they provide that might determine whether I get the chance to coach those kids in high school or not.

I ask you again, are you willing to put some time into building a strong connection with your youth football league?

During my journey in working with our local youth football programs, I have tried to follow some very simple steps in creating a strong bridge with them. The first thing that every coach should do is take the time to assess the state of the youth program. The best way to accomplish this is to sit down and listen.

Take an assessment from their point of view on how things are going. How is participation? What is the level of excitement from the kids and parents? Are the people in your community finding a program that they want to be a part of? Taking the time to gather information is a crucial first step. Until you know exactly what is or isn’t going on it is hard to implement change or offer suggestions. Don’t rush this step and take your time gathering your information.

Once you feel you have a hand on what the state of the program is, gather some resources that you have to offer. Sit back down and have a discussion on how you can help, implement change, or be involved. At this point, you can decide what level of involvement you want to have.

Once it is established what your role could be, take the lead and go! If you feel that a window of opportunity is there, don’t let it slip away.

Your position as the football leader in your community is valuable.

Many times, the parents coaching youth sports don’t have the time or the resources to grow and learn about the latest trends or techniques in the game, but you as the head coach are always growing and learning about how you can coach the game better. Don’t be afraid to lead, you may be very surprised on how well received your efforts will be.

When you find yourself in a position to contribute, work collaboratively with the local leaders to create a better and improved pathway for kids to follow during their youth football experience. If your assessment discovers that people are looking for a better or improved game, use this chance to share how you believe the game should evolve for the youth.

Keep your focus on what you as the head coach want kids to develop as they make their way to your program. Fundamentals and skill development are the foundation of any athlete and make sure that these things are the focus of your youth program.

As you take a role in creating the pathway they will follow, it will ensure that these things are being addressed. Create a pathway that is best for the kids in your community. It doesn’t have to look like all the others, but it does have to work for you and the people involved with it.

Next, let the leaders and coaches know that you are there to support them! Don’t come in and make suggestions and offer changes without offering your support.

As mentioned above, many of the youth leaders don’t have development opportunities or know where to go and get them. Offer to include them as part of your staff at a clinic where you get a clinic rate for as many coaches as you want. Offer to put on a local clinic using your staff to teach them during a time of the year when they can all participate. Give them a chance to attend your camps or practice to see drills run in real time. (See Educating Young Coaches)

You can even offer to sit down and help them create practice plans to make sure that they are using their time efficiently. Whatever you choose, let them know that you are there to support them. You will develop a strong group of coaches in the process and people who will support you in the stands on game night.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the importance of your time and efforts.

When you invest in your youth programs you are investing in your future.

You open the lines of communication with the coaches and league leaders in a way that will improve the overall game and experience of the participants. Keep in mind that the goal of any change should always be what is best for the kids and when you keep the kids and their experience as your “north star” you will always do what is best!

Assess-Lead-Support-Invest: these are the things that you can offer your local programs.

We as head coaches must remember that we are the first line of defense in protecting the game that we all love. You have a great opportunity as the leader of the game in your community.

This past weekend, a Youth Football Summit was held in Iowa. It was sponsored by our state coach’s association and the state athletic association. It was a great day of gathering information, sharing ideas, and learning about what the different leagues were doing across the state. If you hold a leadership position within your state coach’s association or know someone in your state’s athletic association, I would strongly encourage you to make some calls and see if this is an event that you can hold for the youth leaders in your state.

There are many great things that can be accomplished when people sit down across the table from one another. If you would be interested in learning more about an event like this please contact me and I would love the chance to share with you what we have done here in Iowa to promote it within the high schools and youth leagues.

Good luck and make the most of your opportunity while you have it!

Scott HeitlandHead Football Coach at Dallas Center-Grimes High School (IA)

Additional Resources

Feel free to contact Scott with any questions about the article: scott.heitland@dcgschools.com

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