Next Man Up!
Next Man Up!
It should be no surprise to anyone that coaching football between levels is very different. There are many reasons for this but the biggest reasons are the sizes of teams and the requirements of coaches. Typically the average size of a High School team is between 30-50 kids from Freshman to Seniors. Even more for larger schools. This, in itself, creates an atmosphere for some coaches that will limit the time spent on skill development for players who are looked at as expendable. It’s unfortunate but understandable when taking into account that coaches at the Varsity Levels are hired for the purpose of winning. Winning at the Varsity Level brings with it many advantages which includes an increase in booster money and registration. In short, High School Coaches get paid to win, and they are left with the burden of using the best players available to do so. i.e., for every starting football player, there are 2 that will scarcely, if ever, see the field and are usually left out at practices.
The occurrences that I mentioned above may be understandable at the High School Level, however when I see these occurrences happen at the Youth Level, it pisses me off something fierce. Youth Level Coaches have different responsibilities. First of all, and in my opinion, most importantly, Coaches at the Youth Level don’t get paid to win. Matter of fact, Coaches at the youth level don’t get paid at all. I believe there's a direct reason for this. Youth League Football will be the first experience kids have in this sport. This level of football is an introduction to the game, and the techniques used to become a good football player. It is the responsibility of the coaches to teach ALL kids the game. The coaches are responsible for keeping the kids interested in the game and developing the "want" to improve. Developing the love of competition and skills to achieve their goals. In my experience, when given the same chance to learn and develop each athlete will eventually develop. This isn't to say that each athlete develops the same, only that each athlete will eventually develop. This is the responsibility of the coaches, and if done properly, winning is the byproduct.
What is “Next Man Up” Football?
Next Man Up Football, to me, is the training of each player to reach the ability to play to a given capacity so that if a situation comes up where a starter gets injured or needs a rest, the next man up is ready to fill in without creating a weakness due to a lack of attention in practice.
I have had the extraordinary privilege of coaching at every level of youth football, and have also run a number of tutoring programs. Personally, my biggest successes have not been coaching players with natural athletic abilities, athletes who could start on any team they play for, it has been being able to turn kids, who would have otherwise been overlooked, into Starters. Though I have had much success at this at the High School Level, it is the Youth Level where I expect this mentality to be the norm. Unfortunately, you don’t always get this and there is no excuse for it. Unfortunately, some Youth Level Coaches forget their real responsibilities. They get wrapped up in visions of grandeur, in reverie of past glory, in living vicariously through the successes of their team or specific players. They are under the false impression that victories will gain them acclamation or validation. In my experience, youth level coaches with this mentality will risk leaving out certain athletes in their narcissistic pursuit of glory. They focus only on the players that they feel will get them the “W” and leave the rest standing to the side. This is something that I do not allow on my teams.
First of all, At the youth level, I do not allow my teams to fill up to sizes where personal attention becomes an issue. That, in itself, creates an urgency for coaches to be sure every player is trained up to be able to get PT without costing the team.
Secondly, my football program is structured as an “Indy Heavy” program. This means that our main focus is not to get starters together and learning plays for the whole of practices. Our focus is to train the individual positions! We spend most of our practice in individuals where each player can focus on developing their positions' skills. This has always been the driving force of developing good football players, and, in my opinion, the best opportunity for underdeveloped players to build their skills.
Lastly, (though this has become harder in post covid football) I try to fill each level with enough coaches to be able to keep coaching the underdeveloped players while the starters are in team. All my coaches are experienced coaches and understand the details of my program. I do not allow coaches to stand around and converse with each other or be on their phones during practices.
I trust that my coaches understand my program and make sure they are following it. However, I do not take responsibility away from my athletes either. My teams go through a lot of discipline so that they can become the players they signed up to be. Discipline is our #1 objective and I do not think any team can know success without it. Though I do feel Playing time is the greatest method of teaching football, we do not gift PT! We do not have mandatory PT in our League. One has to earn their place on the field. However, with Next Man Up Football, we can assure they when they get onto the field they are prepared.