How To Go Undefeated In Flag Football
I started coaching flag football two years ago and currently haven't lost a game. Not stating that to brag or impress you but to impress upon you some credibility in this article.
I made the decision to start coaching youth football after I realized I wasn't doing anything to reach my goal of becoming a head coach. I googled youth sports leagues and volunteered for the first one I found. I forgot I applied for it until I got an email one day saying I was selected to be the head coach at a rec center nearby.
I have played sports all my life, but I didn't know the first thing about coaching flag football, but the first tip I can give you is fake it till you make it.
Some coaches I have watched run practices, and they would tell the team they didn't have anything planned or the general vibe was disorganized. If that is the case, then at least pretend like you know what you are doing.
They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Realize you are the leader, and attitude is the reflection of leadership. I make a point to remember each person's name by the end of the 1st practice. Practices should be fun with everyone getting involved. I bring a lot of energy. Laser tag after the year end banquet is a blast and we are going to a Hornets game in April.
The best way to show you care is by being prepared. I didn't know what I was doing, but I researched (thanks Google/Youtube) and planned out practices. I email the practice agenda to the parents, so they know what to expect and have a good grasp on what their child is learning. Practices are always focused around what we felt was exploited during the previous game. For example, after our first game, we realized our players were losing their man in man-to-man coverage. The next practice we ran man-to-man drills, and it wasn't a problem for the rest of the year.
Communicate not only with your players, but with the parents. I send 2 emails/week minimum. I send the aforementioned pre-practice email usually the day before practice, and the day before gameday, I will send a last minute email with a checklist, game time, and location. Is this the best system? Can't say for sure, but each year we have had 100% attendance outside of kids that had prearranged scheduling conflicts. They are on time, and have everything they need to participate. Part of being prepared is preparing the team for battle.
It's important to set expectations, especially with younger players. We had a player that would get upset every time another player made a play on him. He would go into full blown temper tantrums, and it was not only embarrassing but disruptive. He was only 7 and a really good player, but we had to tell him we couldn't have him representing the team that way. Seems harsh, but at the beginning of the season, first meet and greet, we go over our expectations. We don't have a lot, but they are non-negotiable. Our first expectation is that players have a positive attitude. Let them know the other team will make plays and even score. When that happens, how you respond is everything, and it's the same in life. In a rec league, practices are usually only 1 hour/week, and every disruption or time we have to take "disciplining", takes quality time away from teaching and learning, so ask players not to come if they can't follow expectations. We have never had a player not come, and even the "temper tantrum" player really improved as the season progressed.
Overcommunicate when you explain things and have patience. Sometimes we forget that they are kids because they do tasks so well. It is important to realize that they are young and more than likely will not do things the way you want the first time you show them, and that's ok! Encourage them by reminding them where they started, how far they've come, and the things they can do once they get it. If they are really having a hard time learning a certain task, take a look into how you are teaching it. I have had to swallow my pride several times and realize they would have picked it up faster if I explained it better.
Losing exposes a lot of weaknesses, so when you're not losing, you have to really be looking for them. Challenge your team to not settle and get complacent. After each game we congratulate our team but tell them that we still didn't do this, this, or that well. I wouldn't tell my team the score during the game. If they ask I would say "pretend we are down by a touchdown". Every time you take the field act as if you are down by a touchdown and next score wins. Always look for ways to improve.
Have a play calling system. This goes back to being prepared, but we typically run 5 plays. I have them on a sheet of paper, and I point to the position on the paper while calling their name in the huddle to tell them where to go. Realize that you could call the perfect play, and they will often still run it wrong, so don't take it too seriously or get too upset when they do. (for U10 especially)
Correct them when they do it wrong. Just because they will do it wrong doesn't mean you shouldn't correct it. When I correct them, I make sure not to just tell them what they are doing wrong but why it's the wrong way and how it affects them and the team. That way they can to begin to understand purpose and they are not just doing it because coach told them to.
I personally have been blessed to be able to coach with some of my best friends. We have similar coaching philosophies but just enough differences to teach and learn from each other. During the postseason our team's energy was low for our first game vs the lowest seeded team. The 2 vs 3 game was going on and the #2 seed was the only team that came within 6 points of us during the season, and their energy was noticeably higher. Both our teams advanced, and there was a break before the championship began. Coach and I got together to see what we could do to get our energy up, and I proposed a HAKA. I showed him a video of one being performed and he says "Lets do it". We do a variation, if you can call it that, of the HAKA and our team goes on to win the Championship. He could have easily said "nah, that's dumb", and I would have probably agreed, but it was nice having that support with an outside the box idea. Surround yourself with a good staff that supports your ideas but has ideas of their own too.
Identify your studs. I wish I could say that the great play calling and game planning was the sole contributor to our undefeated seasons, but we truly had some studs on our team, so unless you're recruiting your team, you may need a little luck of the draw to have an undefeated season. Out of 10 players you should have 1 or more game changers. One of my favorite differences about flag football, compared to tackle, is the small roster size. Similar to basketball, most leagues play a 5v5 format, so having one game changer can really make a difference. We always say, "it's simple, get your athletes into space and around the ball; keep their best player from getting too much space and away from the ball." If you are prepared, communicate, and set proper expectations you can put together a season your kids will never forget and greatly improve your chances of finishing unbeaten.