How to Coach Youth Football … For Beginners.

So you are the Mom, or Dad, or friend of the family that stepped up to coach your local youth football team, and now you’re realizing you don’t even know HOW to coach youth football. Maybe you thought you’d just try it, see how things went; maybe you just fell in love with the idea of being “The Coach”; or you just wanted to make sure that your kid could play and they needed a Coach. Whatever the case, Thank You.

Coaching youth football will be the most rewarding, frustrating, fun, and humbling experience you ever have. Your challenge will not be to win 10 games or whether you can go undefeated from year to year; nope, your challenge will be whether you can keep their attention long enough for them to learn the game.

Kids are kids, at home, at school, or on the football field. They play hard, they crash and burn, they forget to eat and drink, they have to go to the bathroom at the craziest times. And while all this is going on, you are going to teach them the game of football.

Be methodical, have a plan, be prepared to alter the plan at all times, just like a game. Unlike players, everyday is gameday for a Coach.

Keep it Simple.

Always remember, THIS AIN’T THE NFL! These are not battle-hardened football players that understand football lingo, rules, or even how to keep score, they are kids. Some may be familiar with the game, some have never played, some want to be there and some don’t, some will learn quickly and some won’t.

You are there to teach the basics, reinforce the basics, and re-teach the basics over and over and over. Believe it or not, from one practice to another a kid can forget how to get into a proper stance, how to line up properly, what the 2 hole is, be prepared.

What are the basics? Here are a few things you’ll want to focus on:

  • Players can get into a proper stance.
  • Players can fire off the ball properly.
  • Players know how to tackle safely.
  • Players are well conditioned.
  • Players can execute basic plays well.

Muscle Memory.

One thing you will learn quickly, when kids get tired, they lose focus and forget. In fact, that happens at all levels, but when kids are still learning the game it is much more noticeable. The basics have to become automatic, how to block, how to tackle, how to hand fight, even how to get into a proper stance.

So your goal as the coach is to turn those basics into muscle memory functions. You don’t want your kids to be tired and trying to remember how to get into a stance, or thinking about how to tackle–that’s how a lot of injuries happen.

Your practices should be a continuous combination of conditioning and BASICS. This continuous reinforcement will make muscle memory automatic when it matters the most-when your players are excited or tired. Of course, you also have to make it fun, and that is at all levels not just kids. Your search for reinforcing drills and exercises should be constant.

Every exercise you do, every drill you run, and every play you run should be centered around reinforcing the basics. You will want to talk with other coaches, attend coaching clinics, attend other team practices, even search the internet. But your focus should always be on developing muscle memory.


Your biggest challenge as a coach, especially at the youth level, will be to teach your kids how to win and how to lose. It’s been said “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” Even the great Vince Lombardi once said “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”–which he actually clarified in multiple times in interviews after he said that; his intent is another quote “Winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is”. Even Coach Lombardi didn’t believe that winning was everything.

Winning is a by product of doing things better than the other team and luck. We’ve all seen those games where things just didn’t go the losing team’s way, it happens. And if you base your whole philosophy on winning, you will always disappoint yourself.

Better to focus your kids on the BASICS. Doing things right, executing plays properly, focus. I’ve seen programs turn around in a single season just by focusing on the basics, and that’s what kids need the most. Winning will come. The more you do correctly, the more detailed you will get as you try to get better.

Praise them for the wins, because yes, winning does matter. But never lose focus on getting better. What drill do you need to start running to make sure they don’t make a particular mistake again. What do YOU need to focus on to make sure they are tackling properly.

Only a very few players will be great, but TEAMS can be great if everyone is ready for game day.

Why we do it.

Only a fraction of a percentage of players make it to the greatest stage of American football, the NFL. That is an unrealistic expectation to put on any kid. Being undefeated in youth football, again an unrealistic expectation. In fact, probably not a good thing, everyone needs to feel the sting of a loss, makes winning feel so much better.

The goal of coaching at this level has to be to prepare kids for the future, whether that includes football or not. Keep it simple, develop muscle memory, and teach them to win as a team. All of your kids won’t play next year, they won’t all play in high school or college, and it is very unlikely that any of them will play in the NFL. Teach them the basics, teach them consistency, teach them focus, teach them commitment, teach them to win.

If you do this right, you will be a part of preparing your kids for life, not just football. There are so many things that can be taught by a Coach–personal responsibility, accountability, commitment, loyalty to name a few.

Don’t worry about being the best coach, stop asking yourself if you have a clue how to coach youth football. This is much like being a parent–nope, you’re not ready, but you’ll be fine, you’ll figure it out. Just keep your head down, your heart and mind open, and don’t quit.

Good luck,


How to Coach Youth Football ... like it matters.





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5 Comments on “How to Coach Youth Football … For Beginners.”

  1. Great article. My son is only 2 and half right now but like any father, I hope for him to find the right sport and go on to bigger things! I coached my younger brothers basketball team when I was teenager for 2 years (1st & 2nd grade) and loved it. Obviously, this is football but I’ve always been around football growing up and hope to see little man do well. It’s good to know what basic stuff to know and like you said, it’s important to know this isn’t the NFL. They’re kids. Know the basics and the stuff you know is teachable for them at a young age so they have the right understanding of what is going on.

  2. This is a great article. I really like the emphasis on keeping it simple and avoiding putting too much pressure when coaching kids. I have two young children and am keen to get them involved in sports. What age do you think children should start to get involved in competitive sports?

  3. Well done Skip. I see too many people trying to win. When I lived in the US I saw this when my kids went to play a sport. They were drilled hard and in some cases winning was everything. The one exception was I was helping out on a soccer team and some of the team weren’t even sure which way to kick the ball! We had some fun and after the initial storming within the team (good players vs more work needed) they started to pull together and actually won a game by the end of the season. I have never seen such a happy bunch of kids. It took a whole season, but it was worth it. So yes I think you have a great philosophy. Wishing you all the best.

  4. Hey Skip, I have been a tennis coach for 43 years and I like your approach. I would like to hear your thoughts on introducing mental imagery to your players.

    1. Mental imagery is fantastic! We were introduced to this in college and it helps tremendously. But honestly, I have not considered it’s place at the age level I am focused on; my experience with kids in the 6-12 y/o range is that they do not have the attention span or experience with the sport to use it effectively. But I may look at that later on; do you have any experience with this age group?

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