In many agencies football registration has already wound down or is hitting the home stretch. This is the time when single digit registration grows by leaps and bounds. This is also a time some coaches start to worry.
While NGYFA Rules state that agencies with more than 35 players in a single age group must split into two separate teams- some agencies split before that. Splitting into two teams is not just about splitting players equally, it's about splitting coaches, and often times, affecting the ability of an age group to compete for a championship.
This dilemma creates a divide among coaches when considering present vs. future needs. Coaches are split between "weeding out" less physically gifted or less committed players and encouraging all who sign up to stick around. No coach has a crystal ball to identify high school contributors with 100% accuracy at the youth level.
So what is our primary mission as youth coaches? As far as I am concerned it is:
1) Player Safety – not just here and now but ongoing safety. The importance of teaching a player to use proper technique when tackling to limit future concussions, or even spinal cord injury at a higher level, cannot be understated. If a player learns proper technique from the start they never develop the bad habits which could eventually hurt them. Preventing heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and as important, learning how to treat them when they occur, should be at the top of every football coaches list.
2) Fundamentals - Whatever you consider the fundamentals to be: stance, position responsibilities, work ethic, footwork- teaching these skills that will translate regardless of system or coach are certainly important.
3) Love of the Game – As youth coaches we are ambassadors of the game of football. We have a LOT to do with how the future of this game will develop or if it will even survive. I contend that the more kids that love to play the game of football, the harder it will to get rid of the game. These kids we coach now will grow up to be attorneys, judges, school administrators, and others that will eventually be the decision makers when those against this sport are able to rally enough support to legislate against the game.
4) Program Building – Would your middle school coach want 16-18 players per grade that won a lot of games, or would the coach prefer to get 30+ players per grade that played a lot of snaps, regardless of what their winning percentage was.
Let's face it, kids and parents get paid with playing time. Life lessons and quality instruction are all well and fine, but little Johnny's mom wants to see him running onto the field, a lot. Little Johnny wants playing time as well. Diving deeper into this train of thought, is the middle school better off having 1 QB and 2 RB's per grade or are they better off having 2 QB's and 4 RB's? This only counts the starters on 2 teams to make the example.
The other thing vital to building a program is fundraising. Programs need as many revenue streams as possible. Each player gives the program an opportunity to raise money through their fundraising efforts, as well as their parents' involvement, and their friends. Every player, on average, adds members to the booster club, revenue at the gate and concessions.
So, before you find yourself hoping your age group doesn't split maybe you should consider the short term cost versus the long term gain if it doesn't split.