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Coaching Football by Motivating Players

Football is the ultimate team game, and you need to motivate your players to work as a team. Although the sport allows individuals in some positions (such as quarterbacks, who can elude defenders and scramble downfield) to create plays on their own, you and your team are much better off if you can get everyone to work together as a cohesive unit on the field.

Finding a surefire route to teaching the essence of teamwork among your players is difficult. Try getting the players to begin seeing the enormous benefits that accompany working as a team (rather than as a bunch of individuals) with the following pointers:

  • Praise team efforts in practices and after the game. Recognize the efforts of the team whenever possible. If you're conducting a passing drill and the offensive unit scores a touchdown, you may tend to acknowledge the youngster who caught the touchdown pass or the quarterback who delivered the ball.

    But what about the other players involved? How about the blocking by the offensive line? How about the wide receiver on the other side of the field who ran such a good pattern that he lured the safety over to cover him, providing an easier target for the quarterback on the other side? When you spread your praise among all the players who play a role in scoring, players begin to understand that each of them plays a very important role on the team.

  • Get the kids to praise one another. Encourage the kids who score touchdowns to acknowledge the teammates who helped get them to the end zone. Getting kids in the habit of giving one another high-fives or telling each other "great pass" or "nice block" forges bonds and strengthens team unity.

  • Promote sideline support. Encourage players who aren't in the game to stay involved by cheering and supporting their teammates. This role keeps them involved in the action instead of glancing over to see what their parents are doing or what kind of food their friends are buying at the concession stand. Hearing teammates' cheers also provides extra encouragement for the players on the field.

  • Allow individual freedom — at times. Although you should sometimes give players individual freedom to create plays on their own, you need to do so within the team setting. At some point during the game, you may want to give your quarterback a chance to run the ball after dropping back to pass, and calling these types of plays are part of the game. But when that player ignores an open teammate he could have passed to because he wants to run, he threatens team chemistry. Remind that player that he has teammates for a reason and to be sure to look out for them.

  • Avoid the captain syndrome. Continually relying on two or three players to serve as team captains throughout the season elevates them above the rest of the squad, but giving every player the opportunity to lead warm-ups in practice or head a drill infuses the team with the sense that everyone's equal. In most youth football programs, "official" team captains usually aren't required until around the age of 14. Naming temporary captains is just another tool you can use to build kids' self-esteem and make them feel like valued team members.

Here are a few general tips you can employ to help spur your players on to become the best they can be after they buckle the chin straps:

  • Love what you're doing. If you have a sincere passion for football and for teaching it to children, your excitement and enthusiasm will rub off on the team, and they'll respond accordingly.

  • Set attainable goals for youngsters. Forget about trying to win every game or having the league's highest-scoring offense. Those aren't realistic goals for kids, some of whom are just learning how to properly put on all the safety equipment.

    If a child senses that your expectations are far-fetched, he wonders what's the point of even trying, and his play on the field suffers. This negatively impacts the entire team.

  • Recognize the good things happening on the field. Stop practice to point out when a player does something really well, not just when a player makes a mistake. Being positive is simply one of the best motivational tools around.

  • Don't motivate through fear or threats. Making a child run a lap for failing to perform at an expected level has no place in youth football. Kids are there to learn and to learn from their mistakes, not be humiliated or punished for them. This motivation-through-fear tactic is likely to chase members of your team away from the sport in the years to come. If he's giving everything he's got and it's just not clicking for some reason, find another method or take a different approach to teach the skill.

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