Pop Warner Challenger Flag Football League

"There's a new game in town"

Coaches' Handbook

Pop Warner Challenger Football

Coaches’ Handbook

03/12/2006

Page 1 of 5

BE PREPARED..........................................................................................................................................................1

GAME DAY-SATURDAY MORNINGS ..................................................................................................................2

GAME TIME ..............................................................................................................................................................2

PRE-GAME ANNOUNCEMENTS, NATIONAL ANTHEM, COIN-TOSS ..............................................................................3

KICK-OFF..................................................................................................................................................................3

EVERYBODY WINS ...................................................................................................................................................5

Capital District Pop Warner would like to extend a special thank you to Rich Grace, for his work developing this handbook.

Preface

Sports for children that are disabled, sick, or otherwise unable to play in a regular

sports program is nothing new. We at Pop Warner realize this, and we’re not here

trying to reinvent the wheel or claim to be the first in the nation to have a program like

this. What we are trying to do, is make these children in every way, part of our

program. They are no different than any other child in this organization; they play

football for Pop Warner, period. They will be treated like, and afforded the same

opportunities as any other child in Pop Warner. Many communities and organizations

separate out their Challenger leagues from their other ‘regular’ sports programs. This

does nothing but further alienate these children from their peers and the community.

That’s what we don’t want.

Be Prepared

To be successful coaching any sport, at any level, it takes preparation. Running a

Challenger program is no different. If you look at the rules for this level, it mirrors the

Pop Warner flag rules which we used early on as a frame work. It does not however,

give you an idea of how a game really plays. This overview will give you some hints

and tips as to what course a typical game will take, or how a typical game plays out

from start to finish. It is assumed that the Challenger team is already part of a local Pop

Warner association which already has in place, all the basics. I am going to also assume

you have at least ten players signed up and ready to go. If you only have nine, or let’s

say some days eleven show up, it doesn’t make much difference, you can still have a

game. Hopefully as word spreads, numbers won’t be a problem, but early on, and in

smaller markets it can sometimes be an issue. It would also be very worth while to sit

down with the parents prior to the first game and go over this document and look for

some feedback and help from the parents. They know their children best; listen to them.

Prior to the first game make sure you have the basics in place. You should have a

supply of belts, footballs (Pop Warner approved, junior size), and of course an

appropriately marked field. I found a field that was fifty yards long (seventy total) by

forty wide worked the best. Anything bigger is too much for the kids. Keep the action

as close as you can to the parents and fans, mark it accordingly, and make sure your on

the regular game field (don’t let anybody tell you that the wheel chairs will rip up the

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Coaches’ Handbook

03/12/2006

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field because they don’t). You don’t want to be pushed off on to a practice field. The

whole concept of this program is to make it just like a real game. There is however one

important difference. No score will be kept, and keeping it free from competition makes

it pure fun for these kids.

Game Day-Saturday Mornings

It didn’t take too long to figure out that Saturday mornings were the best time to play.

We have a very robust Pop Warner program in our area, and even though we have a

good size flag division which also played Saturday mornings, we had no problem

finding the Challenger kid’s field time Saturday mornings. We are again this year

playing at least one Friday night and one Saturday night game under the lights, because

the kids loved it last year. But Saturday mornings were our bread and butter, it seemed

like it worked best for most families, a couple of hours in the morning start to finish,

and then they had the rest of the day to themselves. And of course there are no practices

during the week. When it comes to the games, whatever you do, don’t ask the parents

what time works for them, you’ll get twenty different answers. Get with your

organization and set the schedule, the parents will get the kids there. The games usually

take about 2 hours start to finish. We would get started about 10 and after the game and

a snack we would usually be done a little before noon. Again, make sure the field is

marked, and the concession stand and bathrooms are open before the kids start

showing up, because once they do you will have to devote your entire attention to

them. Remember, early on; recruit some help because you’ll need it for refs, chain crew,

etc.

Game Time

Okay, your field is set, the concession stand, bathrooms and press box are open, and the

kids start streaming in…what now? Before the first game I was racking my brain trying

to figure out how this whole thing was going to go down. I have been either playing or

coaching football my whole life, but I was honestly concerned about how we would

make this work. After most of the kids arrived we sat everybody down and went over

how the game would play (or at least how we thought it would play). But I could see

the kids getting anxious real fast, and it dawned on me if we were going to give these

kids a real football experience, then I was going to treat them like any other football

team I’ve ever coached. So we got out on the field and I started them on a drill that I use

to get any other team warmed up and going, I made two lines each with a quarterback

(have the coaches do this at first) and have the kids go out for some short passes. Some

kids went out 15 yards some kids went out fifteen feet, I’d throw them a real soft

pass(sometimes even underhand) until they caught it and they’d run the ball back. The

kids and the parents went wild! I knew right away that this was going to work. If a

child has no use of his or her hands, have their helper catch it and then hand the ball to

the child. Actually, we could have kept doing that all day long, the parents were

clapping and hooting and howling with every catch and it was great for the kid’s

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confidence, they realized pretty quickly too that they could do this. Besides the

encouragement though, make sure you offer some instruction. Show them how to

throw, show them how to catch, or carry a football, again just like a coach would do

with any child, and I think you’ll be pretty surprised. It won’t take long before you see

some good little ball players develop before your eyes. All these kids need is a chance.

After about ten minutes of this, we circle everybody up for some stretching. Because a

lot of the kids are in wheel chairs we did things they could all do. I would start them off

just by clapping. By the way, like any kids, these kids love the rah-rah stuff. We’d just

clap and I’d get’em revved up. You know the stuff, I’d yell out ‘Let’s Look like a

Football Team out Here!’ or ‘What time is it? Game Time’ the kids really eat that stuff

up. But we would do neck rotations, a couple of different arm rotations, again just some

light stuff. After warm-ups we would have the kids make their way to the sideline and

get their belts (if a child is in a wheelchair their helper will wear the belt). At this point

you should divide the kids into teams, get with the other coach and just split the teams

(I hope it goes without saying you don’t line them up and choose sides). We would

usually have between twenty and thirty players show up. If it was twenty, we’d have

two teams of ten or so each. If we got more kids we would have two games going

simultaneously. We would keep the younger kids (10 and under) together and another

game with for the older kids. It’s a lot more fun for the younger kids if they can play

with kids their own age and size. However, even the youngest kids did fine with the

older kids, so if you don’t have the numbers to have two games don’t worry about it.

Pre-game Announcements, National Anthem, Coin-toss

If you want to give these kids a real football experience, do anything and everything

you would do for a regular game. Line the kids up on the sideline after they have their

belts and get an announcer to do introductions. They love hearing their name over the

p.a. “At Quarterback, Number 12, Billy Smith” after they have run out to midfield, play

the National Anthem. You can even have coin toss, just make sure you give different

kids each week a chance to be team captain(s). You can even have the announcer call

the play by play. Again this stuff is lots of fun and it adds to the experience, try to fit it

in.

Kick-off

Once you’re ready to start we would have each team start about 10 yards from the goal

line. I would then throw the ball to the other coach who would then hand it to a child

and let him go. Make sure your ref’s work the game like a regular ref, but with one big

difference. There are no penalties, period. If a child does something wrong, blow a

whistle, let them know what they did wrong and that’s it. Put the ball back in play and

keep going. Again, make it fun, like any other kid they are sensitive to making mistakes,

so keep that in mind. Realize also that you have to get every player in the end-zone

during the course of a game. So every drive is continuous, in that each drive will end

with a touchdown (i.e. there are no turnovers). If you kept turning the ball over you’d

never get the kids in the end-zone. We played (2) twenty-five minute halves with a ten

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or fifteen minute half-time. After the return we would huddle the kids up and start

running plays. You’ll find out real fast it’s all about throwing the ball. I would do most

of the quarterbacking and the play calling until I found a young man who just so

happened to have down-syndrome that was a super ball player and could throw a

football on a dime. As the season progressed I took less snaps and he took more. Don’t

do it all for these kids. I know that we often needed to catch a ball for a child in a wheel

chair and then hand it to them, which is fine. But back away when you can and let them

do it, they’ll surprise you. That also goes for helping the kids on the field. Often times a

parent or a sibling would be out there with a child leading them by the hand when they

didn’t need it. Like I said earlier, get the ball in their hands and let them go. You don’t

have to be in their ear ‘run right or run left’ after a couple of times they’ll figure it out.

We would also different times have people show up that wanted to help. That’s great,

but often times they didn’t know football or more importantly they didn’t have the

experience or patience to help with the kids. You can however use these volunteers as

ref’s or announcers, or any of the other dozen things that need to get done on game day.

Helping these children on the field is a big responsibility. It is important to understand

that the helpers on the field are made aware of everyone’s general safety. If a helper is

pushing someone in a wheel chair they have to make sure they are cognizant of the

safety of everyone. The wheel chairs have a lot of edges and angles that could hurt

someone during the course of a game. Just make sure everybody is aware of the safety

issues, and don’t let anyone get too carried away. During the course of a game it is

important to spread the ball around as much as possible. It’s also important to get every

kid in the end-zone. It’s not easy but it can be done. Make sure you run a huddle like a

regular huddle. Of course I’d water it down, but I wanted these kids to get a real taste

for what it’s like. We’d call like ‘load left, screen right, on one, on one, ready break’ they

caught on that we were flooding the left side and then we’d run a screen right. I ran

reverses, half-back options, hook and ladders nothing is off the table. If you try to keep

some of the terminology it makes it fun for the kids, and now when they watch a game

they can say to their parents or friends “I know how to run a jet pattern” or “We run a

reverse”, this is the kind of stuff that helps to forge a bond with the game that you can

only get from actually having played it. As the game progresses again keep making

sure you spread the ball around evenly. Getting back to the continuous drives, you can

have a chain gang and use the down marker but when fourth down comes up and they

haven’t scored just turn it back to first down and let them keep going. Just like offense,

when it comes to playing defense, I like seeing the kids rotate around. Depending on

how many kids show up, balance out how many are on the line of scrimmage. We

would make the kids count to like ‘5 Mississippi’ and then let them go. Because this is

all about offense, if you get a kid that can blow things up, make him count higher or

move him back into the secondary. Remember it’s all about offense and making sure

everybody scores a touchdown.

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03/12/2006

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Everybody Wins

After the game we would line everybody up and do high-five’s. The kids even liked

doing that. Then we would provide a snack and as parents get together real quick if

necessary. I have to say as a coach I have enjoyed every single second spent with these

children. So when I say ‘Everybody Wins’, I mean it. To see the kids with a new sense of

accomplishment that only comes from playing football goes beyond words. You can see

these kids hold their heads a little higher because they are part of a football team, not a

lot of people can say that. It was also great to see the look of pride from the parents at

what these kids can do on the field given the chance. I hope if you can come away with

one thing from this overview, it’s that you as a coach need to be flexible. It’s all about

having fun, if you keep it free from pressure, free from competition, you can make this a

great experience for everybody.