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Former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann shares some tips for coaching young players
At the age of 12 Joe Theismann played on his first organized youth football team, and that fateful fall day turned out to be the launch of a spectacular career.

After starring at Notre Dame he went on to play 12 seasons for the Washington Redskins and help lead them to a win in Super Bowl XVII. He also passed for more than 3,500 yards and threw 29 touchdown passes on his way to earning the league’s MVP award in 1983, and he earned Player of the Game accolades in one of his two Pro Bowl appearances.

Besides being a gifted athlete he also had some great coaches along the way who made a difference in his development, beginning with his days of putting on a helmet for the first time in youth football.

“I hope that every youth coach understands what they are doing because they are life changing individuals,” Theismann says. “They’re as significant as a teacher, and actually more so, because teachers have less latitude than when you have kids in a sports environment. I have so much admiration and respect for the men and women who coach youth sports because it’s an extension of parenting.”

Theismann sat down with the National Alliance for Youth Sports to share some thoughts on how youth football coaches can make a positive difference with their teams:
Be creative: “Come up with different games and change things around a little bit at your practices,” Theismann says. “When I was with the Redskins before practice on Saturday mornings the offense would get on one side of the goal post and the defense would get on the other and we’d have a volleyball game. John Robinson, who used to coach the Los Angeles Rams, would have the offensive and defensive linemen catch punts at their Saturday practice. There are all kinds of little things that you can do with the kids, so be creative.”
Make it fun and involve everyone: Kids play football to have fun, learn skills and be a part of the team setting, one of the most special aspects of participating in organized team sports. So make sure that everyone feels a part of the group, regardless of their skill level.

“Make sure that those who aren’t quite as talented feel like they can contribute,” Theismann says. “They can become really something special in time. What we are in our youth isn’t necessarily what we will become later on or as an adult.”
Zero in on the basics: “When you build a house you build the foundation and then you put the roof on and then you do the exterior and then you do the interior,” Theismann says. “It’s the same kind of a process when you are dealing with young children. You have to assume that they know nothing. As a coach it’s really important to spend a little time and talk to someone about the fundamentals of coaching.”
Pay attention to what works with each child: “Just like I have three children and I have to talk to them all differently, not every approach is effective or good for every child on the team,” Theismann says. “So if you are taking on the responsibility of coaching youth you should also understand the obligation that you have also become the parent of 15 or 20 kids, or however large the group is, and that these are very impressionable children.”
Keep a positive tone in your voice: “It’s never what you say to someone, it’s how you say things to people that matter,” Theismann says.
Create fun competitions: Kids, especially at the older levels, love to compete and put their skills to use against their teammates. Devise some creative and fun approaches to challenge the kids. For example, have the offensive and defensive linemen run pass routes against each other, or have shuttle races between the running backs and wide receivers.
Teach discipline: Don’t overlook the little things, such as stressing the importance that in the huddle players are quiet and listen to the call that is being made.

Enjoy success: Whenever you’re introducing a new skill keep it simple and give the kids plenty of chances to be successful performing it and building their confidence before you increase the difficulty. “Working with kids at a very young age it’s important that they enjoy success,” Theismann says.

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National Alliance for Youth Sports
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