If you’re coaching youth football for the first time or looking for new strategies to bring to the field, we have you covered.

Ask a coach at any level of football and they will all tell you the same thing: Great youth coaches are essential to the future of the game.

High school, college and NFL organizations all recognize the importance of a strong youth football experience. That’s why leagues and universities spend so much time and energy on summer camps and development programs every year. Not just to teach the fundamentals, but to instill a love of the game.

If you’re taking the field this year, we put together a list of eight tips for successful youth football coaches.

1. Have a Practice Plan

As the leader of the team, preparation is key. Being organized and detailed in your routine provides players, families and your staff with the structure and the discipline required to safely learn the game and have fun doing it.

Outline a plan for each practice, then create a timed schedule from start to finish, and stick to it. 

2. Set a Parent Meeting Early

The coach-parent relationship is paramount to the success of your program. Having a meeting early in the season goes a long way to creating healthy, respectful relationships.

This can be as simple as asking parents and athletes to arrive 15 minutes early or stay 15 minutes after your first practice. If you want to set up a longer, more formal meeting or even a zoom call, go for it.

But no matter the format, it’s vital to set the table with behavioral expectations, the practice schedule and times for the season, and your team goals for the season. 

We suggest a three-step meeting agenda:

  1. You, your staff and every parent should introduce themselves.

    You don’t need to be on a first-name basis with everyone. However, having everyone participate on day one helps open lines of communication and create a more inclusive environment.
  2. Clearly outline your goals for the season.

    Remember: this isn’t a wins and losses conversation. Maybe your goal is to have each player lead a drill to build their communication skills, or have every athlete play quarterback once during the season. Whatever you decide, clearly articulate your goals early and expect to be held accountable.
  3. Provide your contact information and set guidelines for how and when to contact you.

    Some coaches have an open door policy, others prefer a text message. Whatever your method, make sure you provide that info to family members and set a window of time for when you’ll respond. Don’t want to be bothered after 9 p.m.? Make sure everyone knows, and give them a timeframe of when they can expect a response.

3. Develop Your Staff

Whether you have staff assembled or source a group of parents who are willing to help, it’s up to you to delegate properly (think back to tip no. 1). Empower your staff to have an area of expertise. Have an offensive and defensive coach. One might work with footwork, another with the offensive line.

When it’s time to work on those drills, they’re the expert. Let them take the lead.

4. Run Small Group Drills

Coordinating a drill with 25 seven-year-olds?

Hard pass.

Instead, break up into smaller groups. These groups can rotate from station to station or drill to drill. Having smaller groups means more individual attention for players and a less overwhelming experience for you.

Plus, you’ll be able to hold their attention and give more direct coaching on foundational skills.

5. Use Video 

There’s a good chance that when your players get out of the car for practice, they just finished watching something on a phone or a tablet. Why not use that to your advantage?

These days kids are accustomed to learning from videos. If you find a drill online, share it with them so they can watch it before practice. You can also upload videos of skills and techniques to a platform like Hudl and overlay notes or drawings to share with individual players, specific groups or the whole team.

Having players watch drills before trying it in practice can save you precious time and help keep everyone safe.

6. Keep It Fun

This seems pretty obvious, right? Being active and being a part of a team should be fun. As a youth coach, the truest metric of your success is how many players come back and play the next year. 

It’s important to find ways to celebrate both the big things and the small stuff, all season long. 

Did everyone show up on time for the game? Bring a cooler of sports drinks to the next practice. Did someone make a great play? Create a highlight reel or give them a public shoutout. 

Did you win your last game? Two words: Pizza party.

If your players have fun, you’re a great coach. Enough said.

7. Don’t Use Running as a Punishment

Running as punishment may work for older kids, but for younger athletes? It’s likely not effective.

Kids have boundless energy. They want to run around and have fun. Don’t use that against them—you’ll only be hurting yourself.

How much of the game is spent running? Almost all of it. By using running as negative reinforcement, it teaches them to resent one of the key facets of football.

Heck, even the Patriots’ Mac Jones had to do pushups as a punishment instead of running. 

8. Involve Parents and Guardians

So much of what we love about football is all the traditions that come with it. One way to keep parents involved while creating a fun experience for players is to incorporate those traditions into your team.

You can create a list of activities or ask parents to brainstorm what would be fun for the team.

Have them set up a pregame tailgate, or go watch a high school game on Friday night with every player wearing their jersey.

Whatever traditions you bring to the table, make sure every player is invited.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to three things: communicate clearly, stay organized and have fun.

Reflect back on your experiences. What did your favorite coaches do to help you enjoy sports? What did you not enjoy?

No coach sets out to do a bad job, nor do they set out to create an unenjoyable experience. But having these tips top of mind as you begin your season will set you up for success.

Hundreds of youth football teams use Hudl to create a fun, safe learning experience for football. Discover how the easy-to-use video review tools and online playbook can aid in player development, help keep players safe, and keep your coaching staff organized.