How to be a better high school football player
Some basic ideas to improve your performance as a HS or youth football player.
Photo Credit: Bill Grove
High school football is a high-pressure game, especially in some areas of the country. As detailed in Buzz Bissinger's landmark book Friday Night Lights, the fortunes and perceptions of towns can ebb and flow with the performance of their local team.
In such a competitive world, how can you make yourself better?
Listen to your Coach. This sounds basic, but a common problem with high school athletics across all sports is intrusive parents. Parents want the best for their children, but they also need to realize that sometimes "the best" can be provided by a coaching staff. When you begin listening to your parents over your coach, you're in danger of jeopardizing the basics of the team. With a no-nonsense coach, this situation might result in your benching; in other settings, it could alienate you from the rest of your team. One of the most important elements of high school football is learning how to play within a team, instead of outside or above the greater group. Don't jeopardize that by tuning out your coach.
Play the way you practice. In the hip-hop era, the attitude espoused by Allen Iverson (demeaning the concept of practice as secondary to a game) has become a bit too popular. Yes, games mean more --- they count towards your record. However, on a well-coached team, your achievement in games should directly relate to your achievement in practices. Be the first one on the field, and the last one to leave. Exceed your coach's expectations for every drill. Hustle on every play. Be a vocal leader with struggling or disinterested teammates. Not only will excellent practice sessions help you earn more playing time, they'll increase your skills on the field.
Specialize your drills. Certain players run the gamut of basic football drills every time they practice, because it's how they've been taught up to then. In reality, that's not effective. Focus on drills that help you improve areas in which you need improvement. For example, if you already throw a solid, spiraling ball, then don't consistently do a throwing drill for accuracy. Do it occasionally, as a refresher, but instead constantly do a footwork drill that helps manage your movements in the pocket. When you concentrate on areas in need of improvement, you gradually improve those areas, turning you into a more complete player.
Have a "Be the Best" attitude. When Buck Showalter was managing the New York Yankees in the mid 1990s, it was noted by some media that he was out of shape. Buck responded to the criticism, saying he couldn't get on a treadmill anyway. When pressed for why he couldn't, he explained rather simply --- "Whenever I'm on the treadmill, I'm thinking about what other managers are doing right then that's making them more successful." Simply put, if you want to be the best, you need to act like you're the best. If you have a choice between a Friday night out before a game and a better night of sleep, take the sleep. It's a hard choice in the socially driven HS years, but you'll perform better than players on the opposing team who did decide to go out. If you have an opportunity to get to practice early --- or school early, for that matter --- and get in extra workout sessions or drills, do it. Every little bit helps.
Be confident. According to Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest athlete within a single sport of all-time, "the whole thing" with sports is confidence. Espouse confidence in whatever you do. Realize that you've prepared well, and everyone you're opposing is a man, just like you, and has a similar set of strengths and limitations. Never get down on yourself, or believe you can't do something; it will hinder your ability to be the best you can be.
Study. This has a two-pronged meaning. First, excel in the classroom. All American high schools operate on a "Don't Pass, Don't Play" policy, and if you fail a class, you're riding the bench anyway --- and how is that going to make you better? Focus on studies. But, within a football context, study everything you can. How do the best players on your team approach practices and games? How does an upcoming opponent run their offense, or manage their defense? Does the QB tap his foot twice for an audible? The more prepared you are studying tendencies of the game, the smarter a player you'll be --- and often times, intelligence in on-field situations can make up for any difference in physical ability.