Coaching Youth Football: Setting Priorities

James Ryan

The world is full of harsh realities for children who are not prepared for the future. The very first thing that I ask myself when I think about setting priorities in youth football is: what will be best for my players in helping them to set the tone for the rest of their lives?

Football season only lasts a few months and when I prioritize the needs of my players, I have to consider that I only have a very short time to either make a major, positive influence on their lives, or no impact at all. Or worse yet, a negative impact.

If you ask some players, “Why do you want to play football?” they may simply answer, “To hit somebody.” The challenge and excitement of physical play is always attractive to some children. Therefore, making the game fun for all of the players must certainly be a top priority for any Coach.

While teaching the aggressive nature of this sport however, a Coach must also consider his social responsibility to player safety. “Cheap shots” and “foul play” should never be a part of the lesson plan. Instead, teach your players to “play mean, but clean.”

For some, it is hard to teach the game to children because of how we have become conditioned by our own experiences. We trust that whatever was good enough for us, must also be good enough for our kids.

The other week, I overheard from one parent to another, that he advised his 11-year old son that he should gouge his thumb into his competitor’s eye, if given the opportunity. He then looked at me with a smile (no doubt I was looking quite stunned) and laughed, “That’s how it was when I used to play.”

Well, that may be so Mr. Smith (not his real name), but times have certainly changed over the past 30 years. In an ever-changing world, our children need to understand the importance of respect and fair-play. They need to understand that there are no shortcuts in life.

Life is a constant competition and without respect for others, a person could quickly and easily find themselves at the bottom of the social ladder. This particular parent meant well in this situation (I will assume), but the potential risk from encouraging this level of behaviour, could have a disastrous outcome on this child’s future. I know because I see it every day.

As a part-time College Professor and Co-ordinator of various “at-risk” programs, I have made a career out of trying to help those individuals that are not always in a position to help themselves. It saddens me to see how many of these young men (although some are older than myself) are so completely unprepared for the hardships and responsibilities of life. Luckily for some, it’s never too late to change. For others, life is one misfortune after another.

Why am I so passionate about Coaching and the impact that it has on our youth? I guess I believe that it is better to get to them while they are still young enough to avoid making too many of the wrong decisions.


These are my opinions. If you don’t like them…I have others. Check them out at

James Ryan
James Ryan

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