"Someone You Should Know" is a monthly series that will feature a representative from the football community. Each guest will answer questions around youth football health and safety and how they are contributing to this key initiative.
For October, we are featuring Craig Tyler, a youth football coach with Trojans Pop Warner City in Austin, Texas. Tyler answers 10 questions about his coaching philosophy and the strong responsibility he shares with parents regarding player involvement and safety.
1. Tell us why you coach youth football
As a father of four kiddos, I have coached different youth sports over the years -- basketball, baseball, flag football and tackle football. Coaching tackle football, by far, requires the most investment of time and energy, but it is also the most rewarding. Over the course of just one season, you see these young players transform into not just better players, but also better human beings. Football is not alone in teaching lifelong lessons, character traits and skills -- many youth sports provide that -- but I feel that football is the absolute best at teaching the importance of teamwork, competition, hard work and overcoming adversity. It seems that every year, each player on the team does something that they never imagined they could do at the beginning of the season. Witnessing that growth, and the confidence that comes with it, is so rewarding.
2. What is your team's football philosophy?
We want to give these players a love of football and teach them how to play it safely. Our goal is to see all of them playing in junior high and high school, and maybe even beyond. We measure success not by the wins and losses, but how they compete (with amplitude and consistency) -- every game, every practice, every play and every drill.
3. What is your typical practice like?
We begin with dynamic warm-ups and then "chalk-talk", teaching our players what they will be doing that day at practice -- often there is a mixture of new material (plays, formations, tackling concepts) and older material that we want to refresh. We try to emphasize how they can do what we are asking them to do safely and effectively. Then, we design individual, group and team drills, scrimmages, etc., to allow the players to implement what they have learned that day. We finish together with a team discussion on what we covered at practice and praise players for outstanding individual efforts -- whether physical or mental. Two of those recognized players will be captains for the next practice or game.
4. What steps does your team take to gain parental trust in order for them to feel confident that their children are being protected?
We have multiple parent meetings before and once the season begins to inform parents of our teams' philosophies, how we will run practices and games, and how we will teach their children to play the game safely. We also distribute weekly practice plans so parents can see the thought and organization that we are putting into the practices, and also understand what steps we are taking to keep their players safe during practices and drills. We provide parents with our league's safety plan and manual -- which all coaches must read -- so that parents can understand that we are proactive in protecting their players. Our practices are open, meaning parents are welcome to stay and watch everything we are doing and all the efforts we make to teach players proper technique in order to keep them safe. We also encourage parents to visit with the coaches and ask questions -- my coaching staff and I remain approachable and available throughout the season to ensure the comfort and trust of our parents.
5. How do you try to increase participation across a large group of kids on the team?
We have players learn and play multiple positions on offense and defense, and rotate players through different positions during the game. For example, our H-backs (much like a full-back) all rotate through the right guard position during practices and games. That is, they learn both positions and play both positions in the games. The learning process takes a little longer, but the players also have more opportunities to learn different positions and contribute in different ways. This not only ensures our players have more playing time in our current season, but it also enhances their general knowledge and skills so that they can move into other positions and be ready for different roles as they grow, change and play in junior high and high school.
6. How do you talk to a parent questioning a player's playing time?
I'm not just a coach, but I'm also a dad and I have had lots of those types of questions as a parent. I actually welcome such questions because the parents are obviously interested in their kid's experience on the team -- and I try to pick a time outside of practice to talk to them in person or by phone. I understand that it is hard to always see a practice or game through the eyes of players or parents, and I want to address any concerns that they have. It does not always mean that the player will get more playing time. They have to earn that through their effort in practice. But, I often will try to give the player more opportunities in practice.
7. How has your team or league generated community interest for the program?
We have been overwhelmed by the community support of our league. We are only beginning our third season as a league (I coached in other leagues before). In those three years, we have grown from having about 60 players on three football teams to having 150 football players on six teams and just under 100 cheerleaders on three cheer teams! I think that much of the interest has stemmed from the experiences the players and families have had with the league, and the connection that our league has made with the junior highs and high schools in the community. We are truly a family. The coaches at our middle and high schools understand that we have the ability to provide them players who have been taught proper and safe fundamentals, as well as a love for the game. Our league has arranged meetings with those coaching staffs to implement similar offenses and defenses so we can provide those building blocks to our players so they can grow into middle and high school players for these coaches. The schools have been very supportive of our league, often having coaches and current players visit our practices to talk to the Pop Warner players and coaches, as well as inviting our players and cheerleaders to run through the tunnel and out onto the high school field with the varsity players! And through our league communications, we advertise the high school games, encouraging families to come out and wear their colors. During those games, I sit near my own players and we watch their positions closely so they get to watch and learn from the high school players in their positions. So we get great teaching moments and well as great community fun and involvement.
8. How are moms involved with your team?
We are so fortunate that our moms are super involved. Each team has multiple team moms that tend to all of the nuts and bolts that are required to certify the team, run practices and host games. Many moms and dads attend our practices, and it's not just the dads who lend a hand in holding pads and blocking dummies -- moms are welcome as well! My team uses signs with picture images as one way to call in plays, and just the other day at our practice we had a mom standing on the sideline learning the names of the plays and calling signals by holding the signs for us! We also use a software platform that allows us to send video game clips out to each player's family. We are able to post comments right into the video next to a player indicating a great play or a better way to approach a play, and we not only watch that film as a team, but we also email it to the parents and ask them to watch it with their player. I think our moms (and dads) feel welcome because we encourage them to attend and participate in all practices.
9. Tell us about a special moment with your youth football players?
My most recent special moment is from practice earlier this week. We had just had two tough, HOT scrimmages against teams that we will play in the regular season, and not much went right in the scrimmages from an execution standpoint. We competed well, but there was certainly a feeling that we did not perform as well as we had hoped or expected. I was not feeling that good about the practice plans or in my hopes of "fixing" everything in the few practices before our first game this coming weekend. There were several players absent from the practice, which added to my apprehension. However, then practice started and something magical happened -- we all had a ton of fun just playing football! I felt like I was a kid again and was reminded that this is a fun game -- you don't have to make it fun! It just is. That is my current favorite special moment -- just remembering how fun this game is and how blessed we are to be able to participate as a player, coach or fan.
10. Tell us about your favorite football memory either as a player, fan or coach.
My favorite football memory is probably as a fan. My wife and I have had season tickets to the University of Texas football games since we graduated from law school in 1995. In 1998, Ricky Williams needed only 11 yards to break Tony Dorsett's NCAA all-time rushing record heading into the annual Thanksgiving game against sixth-ranked Texas A&M. My wife and I both attended the game with great anticipation. In his first few carries of the game, Ricky actually lost yardage, prompting A&M fans to mockingly add up the yards he now needed to break the record. Near the end of the first quarter, however, Ricky took a handoff from left tackle, broke one tackle and streaked down the left sideline 60-plus yards before running over an A&M player at the goal line and into the end zone. Touchdown! Record broken! At that moment, we joked about naming our first son, with whom she was then pregnant, "Ricky Mack" after Ricky Williams and then-first-year-head-coach, Mack Brown. That name ultimately did not win out, but the memory will last forever. Ricky's run gave Texas a 10-0 lead, which led to its eventual 26-24 upset over Texas A&M.