Many youth football coaches feel they can predict who is going to win a game by watching the players in warm ups. During the Pop Warner and AYF National Championships there were quite a few coaches and parents that were partaking in this very activity. I kept my ears open, it was really interesting to hear what they had to say.
Over 90% of the comments were about the size and athleticism of specific players. When you get to this level of play there are some amazing physical specimens on most teams winbir. After a few hours of hearing the ooohs and aaahs and “look how big that kid is”, “look how fast that player is” it became a bit much for me to endure. Along with those comments would usually be a prediction, that red team is going to walk all over that blue team, look at the size of those kids, look at number 20, no one is going to be able to stop that kid etc.
A good friend of mine whose team won an AYF National Championship this year went with me as we watched a few of these teams practice. While we would comment on a player or two, about 90% of our conversations centered around how well or poorly those teams practiced as a team. How tight were the drills, where was the coach investing his practice time in, were the kids fundamentally sound, were the kids being held to a perfect standard, how well was the team meshing as unit, how hard was the offensive line coming out, pad level, what were the base blocking schemes, what type of offensive and defensive schemes were the teams running, how was the coaching staff interacting with the players and how well was the coaching staff working together. We would watch both teams practice in the 60 to 90 minutes preceding the game and then predict who was going to win the game. The data we were using to make our predictions was much different from those we could hear making comments. The interesting thing was that I was 5 wins and 1 loss using my approach, while those we were listening to were more times wrong than right.
The facts are players make the plays to win games, however a single player or even grouping of dominant players are not going to beat better coached teams with less talent as long as the difference in talent is not overwhelming. If you are playing a team that chooses from over 2,000 kids and you on the other hand take every kid that signs up in your program and that number is 23 kids, you are probably going to have a tough time competing no matter what coaching advantage you have. However most of the advantages other teams have do not approach this level of magnitude.
This disparity in talent was evident in a number of games at the AYF Tournament. When Deon Sanders Truth Select team was playing a team from Central Florida, it looked like a High School team playing against a bunch of small fifth graders. The Truth team was a head taller and 50-100 lbs heavier than every player on the Florida team. It didn’t help that all the Florida coach did was yell at his kids and tell them “they didn’t want it.” It wouldn’t have mattered how well they were coached, the Truth team was going to roll in that game and they did. However the Truth team did meet their match later in the tournament from an Ohio team, that was smaller and slower than the Truth squad but not to the same magnitude as the Florida team. The Ohio team was also much better coached than the Floridians. Note that the Truth lost last year to a very average looking non all-star team from Naperville, Illinois team that was coached extremely well.