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The relationship between a youth league and its respective high school program is vital for maintaining a positive and successful football community.
“Youth programs need to connect with high school programs so that not only we grow the great game of football, but more importantly so that young people of all ages have a positive experience, which is key for the development of the game,” explains Mac Stephens, President of the North Coast Youth Football League in Northeast Ohio.
For Mike Elder, head coach at Avon (Ohio) High School, the partnership with the Avon Youth Football Association achieves the goal of “having as many kids identify as football players as possible.” By building the partnership between these programs, it helps football become more marketable and have families stay connected with the program.
“If we are going to market football in our community, who would we market to? The number one audience for us when we market football isn’t even the kids, it’s the parents,” Elder said. “We talk about how we are going to market football to the parents in the Avon community and then it’s the players and the students. But if they’re not allowed to play, and their parents are telling them no, it doesn’t matter what we market to them [the players].”
Stephens makes sure that his youth athletes are invited to the high school football games to help them build a connection with high school athletes and the program they someday hope to be a part of.
“I suggest youth programs contact their local high school athletic director and head coach and seek ways to be a part of the Friday night experience. It’s important to coordinate free camps or clinics in the offseason too so that fundamental blocking and tackling concepts that USA Football emphasizes can be taught well before official practices start. This allows the community to see how safe practices are being implemented at both youth and high school levels, and secondly, it will produce a great sense of pride in the community for its football programs on all levels.”
By coordinating youth football camps in the cities of Euclid and Cleveland Heights for years, Stephens was able to begin building relationships with parents and youth in both communities.
Elder created the Avon Youth Football Association and is still included on the Association’s board even though he doesn’t coach in the association directly.
“Our [Avon Youth Football Association] Board of Directors is comprised of five people, who don’t have kids in the program. They love football and they’re guys that have strong opinions about how things should be done. They had a willingness to include me in every step of the process.”
In addition to serving on the board, the partnership between Elder and the league also includes events that afford Elder the opportunity to communicate his vision for the community.
“We’re always looking for ways to get better. We do five different camps. We have our K through sixth grade Winter Skills Camp in March. When the kids are getting warmed up, I take the parents into the cafeteria and I talk about our ‘K through 12’ vision - What football looks like in Avon, why I’m passionate about it and why we’re doing it.”
Want to hear more from Mike Elder? Listen to Episode 7 of the Football for All™ Podcast where he talks about Building a K-12 Football Program.
Do you have insights to share that can help youth football across the country? Submit your thoughts and you could be featured in the next Commissioner Corner blog.