Journal of a Youth Coach: Being a helping hand for my son’s first team

By Andy Ryland | Posted 8/9/2022

USA Football Senior Manager of Education and Engagement Andy Ryland recently volunteered to be an assistant coach for his 8-year-old son's Rookie Tackle youth football team. A former Penn State linebacker and member of the U.S. Men’s Rugby National Team, Ryland is an expert on tackling and preparation for contact with athletes, consistent with USA Football's Football Development Model. He also assists coaches of all sports in areas of drill design and skill development. This series of journal entries chronicles his family's 2022 youth football experience.

I recently became an assistant coach for a third-grade Rookie Tackle football team in my community.

For the first time, my son wanted to play football. We have never pushed specific sports but opted for the self-selection model. We introduced our kids to lots of activities via camps, clinics, and classes but always let them choose their season. Soccer was first, followed by basketball, which was a turning point in my eyes. My son had an awesome experience with great coaches, and it really sparked his love of sports. Last spring, we did baseball and soccer again but this summer he asked to play football.

My son wasn’t into playing organized sports the first year that his age group was eligible to play, which was fine because I was not sure he was ready them. My son loves to play, and at the time it dominated his free time. We live directly across the street from a park, so it’s no exaggeration to say my kids play there every day. They are very active because the park tends to be a meet-up place for all the other kids in the neighborhood. They play tag, hide-and-seek, wax museum and various ‘made up’ games based on what’s cool or popular at school. As I said, very active but just not into (or maybe even ready) for structure. So we showed very little interest in traditional sports.

After the football conversation came up, the idea of me coaching was not far behind. It drew interesting mental gymnastics from me as I felt that I could be useful to children in my community and potentially help the league, but what about work, my position, and my level of commitment? What if I placed added pressure on my son? Ultimately, my work schedule and travel wouldn’t make it possible or fair to act as a head coach, so I volunteered to be an assistant. My son made it no secret that he wanted me to coach him because for work, “Dad is a football coach.”

Being a huge student of Dr. Wade Gilbert and a proponent of “Coaching Better Every Season,” I planned on keeping a coaching journal of this season, so I proposed the idea to USA Football that maybe it could be a blog series. Our USA Football coach members can follow along with my learning, experience, troubles and epiphanies. This is my first entry in that series.

True to form, I missed the first practice. Practice started on a Monday, and I was on the road for a work event. The first two weeks of practice will be five sessions (four for me) in an entire age group setting. This is designed to teach some basic skills (blocking and tackling) as well as movement and change of direction drills (yes I’m using specific language as they will do some COD testing but not any agility). These five sessions will serve as an evaluation for team selection – to ensure equal teams and good competition, I hope.

I was sad to miss the practice, but I got to watch via FaceTime for a few minutes and see he was having fun. My son had a blast, says he likes football and is really excited for me to coach him. 

My next blog will detail the second practice and my first as a coach. It should be fun to work with all of the athletes in a group setting. My preparation so far has included studying the practice plan, which is sent out by the league, and adjusting my schedule to ensure I can attend the pre-practice coaches meeting where they go over the schedule and drills/Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to be taught that day and sorting my laundry. I plan to coach in bland apparel, not USA Football gear, or any of the various accumulated clothes received as gifts from high schools and colleges via visits and film work. I’ll be just a guy working with his son and the kids in the community.

So here’s to a fun season. Wish me luck.