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Revving up practice tempo: Bills defensive backs coach tells you how
By Greg Bach
Former NFL great Tim McDonald – a six-time Pro Bowler at strong safety and a Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers – loved playing the game.
And he brought that same passion and enthusiasm to coaching youth football too, where he used innovative ways for making his practices high tempo and mega fun for the kids.
“We made everything about competition – even having them race to line up to do calisthenics at the beginning of practice,” says McDonald, who coached his two sons’ youth football teams for several seasons following his retirement from 13 high-caliber, hard-hitting seasons in the NFL. “Everything was competition oriented because I knew that no matter what their skill level was kids like to compete and they want to be good at something, so I found different things and different ways to keep them motivated through competition. It always took them in a different direction with different activities and it made it fun for them. It’s an old cliché but I really believe that if you make it fun – if you make learning fun – you can teach them just about anything.”
McDonald, who is the defensive backs coach for the Buffalo Bills, never wavered from his goals of making it fun, helping every child feel special and keeping them safe.
“The challenge for me was to make sure all the kids understood that I was going to treat all the kids like they were my kids,” McDonald says. “And I think that was the most important thing for me was that they all understood, and the parents understood, that I was going to make the effort to treat those kids just like I was going to treat my own. And I think I was pretty successful in that area.”
McDonald, who recorded more than 1,200 tackles and picked off 40 passes during his NFL career, spoke with SportingKid Live from the Bills’ Orchard Park facility on what makes a good youth coach, the importance of having fun, emphasizing safety and the special thrill of winning a Super Bowl. Here’s our conversation:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How important is it for young kids to play a variety of sports rather than specialize in one at an early age?
MCDONALD: I played all sports when I was young. I played baseball, ran track and played basketball and thought I was going to be a great basketball player. You just never know. Now it’s so tough to play more than one sport because everything is year-round but I encourage kids to play all the sports, especially when they are young. When they are young just develop all the skills because each sport uses a different skill, a different part of your body. I can sit there in my defensive backs meeting room right now and look at guys and see that they never played center field and they never played any baseball because they can’t track the ball. You notice that right away. My kids played all the sports – they ran track, they played football, they played basketball, they played baseball, they did it all; and I think they are in a better position for it. (His son T.J. is a safety for the St. Louis Rams and his son Tevin was drafted by the Oakland Raiders.) I encourage kids to do it all at a young age to hone all those skills.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What type of coaches did you play for growing up?
MCDONALD: I had good coaches; I didn’t have any yellers and screamers. And I was never that type. I had guys that I knew cared about me and cared about my well being and I think the No. 1 job for any young coach that’s coaching kids is you have to make sure you protect the health of the kids – no matter what. You want those kids to go home the same way they came to you – healthy. There are certain things you have to do to get them ready to play the game but I was always conscientious about the health of the kids. I wanted to make sure those kids stayed healthy.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What would be your advice to volunteers coaching youth football?
MCDONALD: Make sure every drill that you do, every conversation that you have, is centered around that you are protecting the health of those kids. First of all, that’s what a mom wants to hear and second of all, that’s the most important thing. You want those kids to enjoy the game. If you make it too demanding, if you make it too physical because everybody says football is suppose to be this big, macho, physical game, then the kids won’t enjoy it. Everybody wants to win and have fun, but the only true way to have fun is to be healthy doing it.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Describe the feeling of playing in – and winning – a Super Bowl.
MCDONALD: It is unreal. It was just unbelievable. I was fortunate to be the captain of that defense that year and to walk out for the coin toss on Super Bowl Sunday was just something. It was so exciting and so surreal for me. It’s hard to explain it, but it’s like an out of body experience. It doesn’t hit you until it’s all done and it’s just an amazing thing. There’s close to 100,000 people in the stands and you feel like all eyes are on you and you know there are millions of people watching and it’s an amazing experience. It makes you want more. I fought so hard but was never fortunate enough to be on a team that got back to the Super Bowl, but it just makes you want it so much more because that was just a special event and it was something special that I’ll always keep with me.
A renowned soccer expert on helping young players correct mistakes, improve skills and raise their level of play
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