When a child begins the journey of being a football player, it all starts with excitement and a love for the game as a result of playing in the backyard, watching games on television or seeing a game in person. But once someone steps onto the football field for the first time, whether it’s instructional football, youth football, middle school or high school, the relationship with the coach is very important in how a player develops. But most importantly, it’s why a player continues to play.
USA Football’s Football Development Model has a pillar of focus called Participation and Retention. That pillar is defined as follows…
Teaching in an age-appropriate way builds confidence and enthusiasm. We will encourage people to stay in the game longer by creating a better football experience.
When my son Bradley began playing football, he spent two seasons at the “peanut” instructional level. He learned a lot from his coach who was able to keep things simple for the kids while teaching the proper fundamentals. After Bradley moved up to the “pee-wee” level, it almost marked the beginning of the end for him playing football because he barely played. Although he showed up for practice every night, worked hard, and wanted to be a bigger part of the team, he only saw five or six plays a game.
From there, it could have gone two ways. 1.) Bradley could have just decided not to play anymore because he was frustrated. 2.) He sticks it out to see what the next season would bring.
He chose the latter and it all changed.
The following season, that other coach moved up with his son to the next age group so Bradley would be playing for a new coach. Bradley really wanted to play center. His cousin played center and his favorite player was former Jets center Nick Mangold. At training camp, Bradley shared his feelings about this with Coach Chris and the rest, as they say, is history. Bradley has been a starting center from that point on through youth football and through middle school. A big reason why was his relationship with a coach that trusted him and afforded him that opportunity to grow as a football player.
Bradley was always able to talk to the coach and share ideas with him. One season, Bradley was injured and had to miss a couple of games. The coach leaned on Bradley for input on who should fill in and had him at practice helping the other young man. During the course of those seasons, there were highs and lows, big wins and tough losses, and smiles and tears. But in Bradley’s final season of youth football before playing at middle school, it all came together when his team won a youth football Super Bowl.
As Bradley and Coach Chris posed for a photo after the game with the trophy, it dawned on me that Bradley’s football career reached a crossroads after that season with the prior coach. What if Bradley had not continued playing?
In 2018, after Bradley earned a spot in the USA Football Middle School Bowl Game Series for the first time, he thanked Coach Chris for believing in him and helping him achieve so much in football. The relationship between a player and coach at all levels of football is so important. It can make the difference between someone wanting to play or quit. It can also help an individual grow as a player, athlete and person.
Peter is a sports anchor for the CBS Sports Radio Network and WFAN Radio in New York. His son Bradley is entering his first year of high school football and is a participant in the U.S. National Team program while his younger son Jared plays flag football. Peter, his wife Sheryl and the boys are busy cheering on the New York Jets when they’re not at a youth football field.
USA Football's new model for youth football is designed to make the game safer by reducing contact and by teaching the game based on an athlete's age, the skill they are learning and game type.