Coaching Youth Football: Psychological Experimentation – Part One

James Ryan

The only words that I can think of that would best describe the conflicted and distressed feelings that I was experiencing leading all the way into Mondays practice, would have to be “lost” and “confused”.

Our team had just won three straight games and we were really starting to build on our momentum. Then, without reason, we collapsed (such is the beauty of football). Our timing suddenly fell apart and our blocking ceased to exist.

The challenge then became; how do we fix a problem of this magnitude so late in the season without truly understanding ‘why’ it was happening? I thought that maybe it was time to try a new approach. I considered that with nothing to lose, I might try a little social experiment with the players.

Upon my arrival to Monday’s practice, I made a point to say very little to the players or parents. In part, because I wanted them to ‘sense’ and ‘feel’ my disappointment, but also because, after staying up for most of the night and thinking about it throughout the entire day, I still had not yet completely decided on what I was going to do or say to the team.

Then, as I sat there on the bleachers, watching the players warm-up, I debated my next step and decided to give my latest idea a try.

I called all of the players together out onto the field and asked them all to take a knee. Well, actually, to be more accurate, I did not say a word. I simply pointed to the ground and they all followed with strict obedience. The group was deadly silent as they awaited my anticipated lecture and I tried my best not to disappoint them.

“Three rules!” I blurted out.

“Number one – if you have something to say, you put your hand up. Number two – nobody is allowed to tell any body else to shut up. And number three – absolutely no name calling.”

At this point, the players were collectively starting to look a little worried.

“Gentlemen”, I said, “yesterday’s game has made it quite apparent that this team is badly broken. I don’t want to hear any excuses from any of you and I don’t want anyone blaming anyone else. This is a team sport and as a ‘team’, you have all let yourselves down and you have let each other down. I am giving you five minutes to speak privately amongst yourselves without myself or the other Coaches, and when we get back, you had all better have an answer as to how you plan on fixing this team.”

Then suddenly, the assistants and myself all turned around and walked off the field, leaving the players all alone to vent out their frustrations and anxieties.

I remembered an old friend and mentor of mine who came from a very large family and coincidentally, had several kids of his own. One of his philosophies was to sometimes allow his children to work things out between themselves without the constant interference of mom and dad.

He felt that it would better prepare them for being able to deal with problems on their own later in life. Knowing the risks, I wanted to give my players that same opportunity.

Something was preventing them from playing like a ‘team’ and so I decided that instead of telling them what needed to be done, I would simply give them the opportunity to provide their own insight and figure out the problem themselves. After all, this was their team.

After five minutes, the other Coaches and I started to return back out onto the field. “Five minutes is up!” I yelled. “Are you good to go or do you still need a little more time?”

Collectively, the players all yelled back “we still need more time!!”

Instinctively, one of my assistants then intervened and appointed our Quarterback as the group facilitator. From then on, only he would get to choose who would speak. To my amusement, this reminded me a bit of the ‘Lord of the Flies’, written by the Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding. I crossed my fingers that this scenario would have a much more positive outcome.

After a few more minutes, the Coaches and I, once again, walked back out onto the field. This time, the players were not given the option to continue. “Well?” I asked assertively, “what have you managed to come up with? What is your answer?”

To be continued….

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

James Ryan
James Ryan


  1. tradespeople

    That was great!

    I look forward to Part 2, when can I expect to read that?

  2. dougwillick

    I look forward to the result of what the team had to say.

  3. Mark

    James u did a great job keep it up

  4. Peter

    come on james i want to know the rest

  5. Dean

    and their answer was. “Sir, we've decided on getting a new coach.” hahah
    When's part 2?

  6. Gino

    James…what's up. Read the article and some of your past stuff. Good stuff. I try to let me kids work it out at home…at work I try to allow conflicts to work out between employees as well, before I have to step in. I think you are making them accountable between themselves to try and come up with a solution to all get back on the same page and win the next game. I like this style as I have coached soccer with Benny in the past. We were tough with the kids but positive at the same time. My son played football this year for Dave Sauer's team. I'm thinking about getting involved next year. Anyways, good reading and solid messages.


  7. James

    Thanks Gino. I am sure that you would make a great football coach! I really appreciate your feedback.

  8. Paul

    i don't wanna wait.That was great, very exciting to read I was completely absorbed.

  9. Debbie

    I think it's great James, very positive

  10. Jan Culp

    Ahhh…I have to wait for the response…great articles Jamie! :-)

  11. Richard

    One must experience contrast to know what they need to do to achieve what they want….keep me updated pal….

  12. coachbert

    Coach Ryan,

    I like your style. I also coach 12 year old football, in Miami, FL. I use similar tactics to encourage the right behavior. Another thing we do is that each Friday before our game the players must select their 4 captains for the game (they will also be line leaders for the following week's practices). I remind them of the criteria, they nominate 4-6 players and vote if necessary. The instructions are “we are not selecting the fastest or strongest, we are selecting those that have lead through their example. We are selecting those 4 players that have consistently done what was expected and done it to the best of their ability.” It is amazing that they consistently choose the same players I would have chosen. It really provides an effective mechanism for highlighting and rewarding the right behavior. It also motivates the boys to perform well in practice in the hopes that they will be seen as leaders by their peers.

  13. Logan

    i need part 2 soon james . good job on the vick letter see ya in dec

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