By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor
The lifeblood of any high school football program is the feeder program at the youth level. Engage youth players now so that they are active and informed when they get to the high school level. The future rewards are well worth the sacrifice.
Garrett Shea has been organizing youth football clinics in affiliation with the Philadelphia Eagles for the past two seasons. This year, despite the pandemic, he’s had participation from more than 500 athletes from 30 different states through the Eagles Football Academy Youth Football Clinics. He recently shared tips for high school coaches who are looking to build a feeder system.
Run a clinic for youth players.
Give youth players a chance to meet your coaching staff, learn the game of football and ask questions in a fun atmosphere.
Show off your facilities.
Many 6- to 13-year-old players are used to playing on worn-out fields with old locker rooms and volunteer coaches. Impress them with your football environment.
Bring in motivational speakers.
This could be anyone from a coach on staff, alumni or current player. These youth players look up to high school athletes. Inspire them with their words.
Incorporate the parents.
Half the battle when it comes to selling kids on the sport of football is getting buy-in from their parents. Allow them to spectate at the clinics and ask questions of coaches.
Follow up with youth players.
Don’t let the conversation end at the conclusion of the clinic. Attend youth games, reach out to parents by email, and set up informational sessions each season.
Keep it simple.
Don’t push youth players too hard with conditioning drills or full-contact workouts. Give them drills to do at home, in their garages or even in their living rooms to stay engaged.
Connect families through football.
Any time a high school coach hosts an event for youth players and parents, he is giving them a chance to connect with each other. If families come together through football, they’ll be more likely to stick with it through high school.
Build character in your own players.
The common feeling among high school players who volunteer their time is they get just as much out of it as the people they’re helping. Ask your players to volunteer at youth football events to give them an opportunity to experience that feeling.
Expand your fan base.
Not every youth player is going to play high school football. But every player might remember how impressive a coaching staff was when they hosted him for a football camp as a youth player. That’s how you build good will in the community.
It’s never too early to find out which players at a particular youth level are natural leaders. Find out early, and lean on those players when they get to high school. Those are the players who will lead their classmates to success.
The Virtual Clinic
The Eagles Football Academy conducted several virtual clinics this spring after the spread of the coronavirus forced Shea and his team to shift gears.
More than 500 kids registered and participated in the Zoom sessions. Players like Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham and running back Miles Sanders served as motivational speakers during the clinics.
“When you think ‘online’, a lot of people think it’s recorded,” Shea said. “The fact is we do it live. Mom and Dad can do it with their kids. The kids and parents both loved it.”
Between each session of the clinic, Shea opens the floor to questions. Youth players and parents can speak directly to NFL players.
“From the Eagles’ perspective, they can connect with youth fans when they don’t get a chance to come to the facility,” Shea said. “It gives Eagles players access to families in their community who are fans.”