We use a variety of fun games to not only condition our kids but for team building and evaluation purposes as well.
Youth football is a game that values core strength--the strength a player has from just under his hips to just under his chest. This strength is what allows players to control their bodies. Youth football is all about very short bursts of speed and changes in direction. Those that can burst, stop, change direction and accelerate in very small areas are those that have the natural ability to go very far in the game of football.
Unfortunately the typical 40-yard dash or pushup contest doesn't measure for this skill set, but there are youth football drills you can use that will help reveal those that do and do not have this core strength.
One of the kids' favorite "games" and mine as well is the Dummy Relay Race. This is a youth football drill that once you do it, the kids will beg for it all season. It's a game that will get all the kids shouting encouragement for each other and have the parents howling with laughter from their seats.
You start by dividing your squad into "teams" of 4-5 kids. You may want to have each assistant coach be the "head coach" of a single team to bring some competitive fire into the game.
Put a pylon down to mark where each team lines up to start. The players from each team are in a single-file line behind their team captain or coach. Next, put a pylon directly in front of each team's starting cone at about 15 yards for kids ages 9-10. You can go longer distances for older kids and shorter distances for the younger kids. Just make sure all the teams are lined up side by side and have the same distance to run to their cones.
Now have the captain of each team start it off by grasping a tall blocking dummy. This is usually done by holding the dummy the long way close to the chest in bear hug type fashion. The goal of the game is to run with the dummy around the pylon and back to your teammate.
It is a relay race. When the player gets back to the starting pylon he hands the dummy off to the next player on his team. We usually have the four losing teams do five pushups to make it interesting with coaches shouting encouragement for their respective "mini" teams.
How It Works
What you will find is the kids that have core strength--the best athletes--will have little problem holding the dummy and running around the pylon. If you hold the dummy to your chest the long way you can feel the strength it requires from your core to keep the dummy upright and stable. On the other hand, those that have poor core strength will wobble when they try to run with the dummy and will rarely be able to run it a straight line. They will look like a listing ship or even fall over.
The results of this game may really surprise you. We have often had nice-looking big kids we thought were real athletes struggle with this. Initial looks can deceive you. On the other hand we have had small wiry kids that didn't look like they were very athletic at all just crush this drill and go on to play significant roles for our teams at "skill" positions.
This game really separates the kids that can play from those that can't, a huge time saver we all need in that first week of football practice.
If you do this game using a quick enough pace with small enough team sizes, it can even help you with your conditioning. Think about it, the distance covered is 30 yards, about seven seconds worth of a short burst, then the four other players do their seven seconds and time to do five pushups means a total "rest" of 40 seconds between when a player does his seven-second burst. Sounds like the interval many football players run in real games, a 6-7 second burst followed by a 40-50 second interval to get the ball set and in and out of the huddle.
The Real Fun Part
Once we have had ample time to evaluate the players, we like to add a twist to this game for purely fun and team-building reasons. Pair teams against each other by having just one pylon for both teams. The goal is to run around the pylon and back to your next relay player, but now contact is allowed. So when the competing players go around the pylons they can run into each other using the dummy against their chest as a big cushion.
The squeals of laughter will be heard in the next county on this one. I promise and your parents will think you are some kind of cool coaching genius. Be careful not to allow mismatches as the kids are not wearing pads or mouthpieces.
We usually do this game at our first practice of the season. In the end you will know who your players are and have a bunch of enthusiastic, motivated and satisfied kids and parents.Find a football activity or league near you.
Dave Cisar has more than 15 years of hands-on experience as a youth football coach. His book "Winning Youth Football a Step by Step Plan" was endorsed by Tom Osborne and Dave Rimington. His DVDs and book have been used by teams in all 50 states and five foreign countries to run integrity-based programs that enhance every player's football experience and win championships. Dave has spoken at over 60 coaching clinics and is always a top-ranked speaker. His web site, WinningYouthFootball.com, is one of the top destinations on the internet for youth coaches.