Developing Mental Toughness in Youth Football Players

As a youth football player I was one of those odd kids that loved to go to football practice. We all have some of those type of kids on our teams every year, but in today’s world of unlimted choices and instant gratification, we see less and less of these kids these days. As a youth football player, I dreaded those first few weeks of torture and deprivation, but knew in the end that we would eventually get into learning the game and actually playing. Other youth players on my teams often never got to that point, they didn’t know there was an end result that was worth waiting for, some would sour on the game or quit during those first miserable 2 weeks.

As time went on, I ended up playing High School, then College Football. The physical portion of the game became less important than the mental toughness needed to perform well. Being perfect with technique and assignment as well as the “mental toughness” of the individual was more important than just dominating physically at these upper levels. As a player moves up the ladder of competition, the disparities in talent are less and less pronounced and the mental portion of the game becomes more important.

At the youth level, the higher the level of competition the greater the importance of mental toughness is to the success of your team. If you have a stud player or two that has carried your team all season, when you get to the upper levels of competition, the other teams are going to have two to three studs as good or better than yours. You can rarely get by on talent alone when you play at the highest levels of youth football especially when you got to the playoffs or travel out of town to play. Your team has to be prepared to play in dogfights where they may have to play from behind or be matched up against far superior teams. บ้านผลบอล

Many youth coaches that are now in their playoffs or traveling to National Tournaments are looking for edges, physical, emotional and mental edges. Traveling out of state to play games against unfamiliar teams can be very challenging mentally for your football team. Maybe you are from a primarily white suburban area and you are matched up with an all-black inner-city team or you play a team that outweighs your offensive line by over 60 pounds per player, it happens all the time in playoff and tournament games. If your kids don’t have a lot of mental maturity, it’s going to be very difficult for them to succeed in these type situations. Often when faced with this type of challenges, many youth players develop mysterious illnesses or injuries. In boxing terms we call this “looking for a soft place to land”. Many of you youth coaches that have not gone to these tournaments would be surprised at how poorly some teams perform. Teams that have been bullies in their own leagues face adversity or a quality match-ups for the first time and fold like a cheap deck of cards. I’m speaking of teams that come in with amazing records, but get smacked in the mouth for the first time and crumble. But there are techniques you can use when coaching youth football, to prepare your team for these inevitable challenges.

I’ve found there is no last minute magic bullet or speech that can help your kids over this type of hump. There are some pre-game tips listed here on the blog that can help lessen some of the stress, see “Beating the Bully Team” entry. But helping your kids develop some mental toughness throughout the season is what’s needed to tame this ghost. We try and create pressure situations during practice all year that will show our kids they can perform well under lots of pressure.

Some of the tactics we use:

20 Perfect Offensive Football Plays in a row. We run our offensive plays out on air. Our backs and pullers run everything out 20 yards, our linemen take their first two steps and freeze, then on a whistle sprint 20 yards to a designated spot for the next play. Needless to say the kids get pretty winded as I’m calling out both the plays and cadence to keep the pace very fast. Each play must be executed flawlessly for it to “count” and we don’t quit until we get 20 perfect plays in a row. Perfect means the alignment and stances of all the players is perfect, each linemen has led and finished with his correct foot, each back has performed his responsibilities either blocking, faking or running perfectly and that we have 100% effort from everyone on the play. This includes the back-ups running with the group at full attention and effort. If one player breaks down, we start over again at 1.

The kids need to understand that this is an 11 player game and if one player fails his responsibility, our football plays will fail and then our team will fail. The kids need to be trained that every detail is important and non-negotiable. Peer pressure is a very important tool in youth football, the kids will police themselves in this drill, they don’t want to have to run endless 20 yard sprints.

 

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