The Sedalia Youth Football League is focused on the fundamentals.
“These kids that go through our program, when they get to eighth grade, ninth grade, they already know how to tackle, they already know how to get in a three-point stance, they know formations,” said SYFL commissioner Jimmy Brown.
For 800 to 1,000 athletes in kindergarten through seventh grade, learning those fundamentals is a big part of their preparation in hopes that one day they may be on Mark Johnson’s varsity squad at Smith-Cotton.
“I see other programs where football doesn’t start until eighth or ninth grade and a lot of those kids don’t have a clue how to tackle,” Brown said.
Part of getting those kids ready has been getting the varsity and youth programs on the same page. Johnson said there have been struggles with that in the past but expects it to improve in the near future. Smith-Cotton varsity football assistant coach Tommy Kindle’s work will be a big part of that.
“Tommy Kindle has worked with the fifth and sixth grade the last couple of years,” Johnson said. “They are taught nothing but our system. I think it will pay big dividends in the future.”
In addition to teaching in the Smith-Cotton system, Brown said it is mandatory for youth coaches to attend clinics and Smith-Cotton coaches will even talk tactics with youth coaches.
“What we do is try to get our coaches to run a lot of the same defensive formations and offensive plays that our high school runs so our kids are aware of what’s going on when they get to ninth grade,” Brown said.
“It’s as much as that particular youth coach wants us to be involved,” Johnson said. “Some of the teams sit down and talk with our coaching staff and talk about what we run and that type of thing. Our seventh grade has been very good the last couple of years trying to run what we run.”
But for Brown, there is something bigger than fundamentals.
“The first thing for us is safety,” he said.
With the increased emphasis on player safety and concussion prevention in football, Brown is working to instill safety in his players with an added emphasis on proper tackling technique.
Johnson said that while the older youth players are getting fundamentals, he wants to see the younger youth players out there having fun.
“I think the biggest part of getting kids involved in youth football at a young age is just for them to have a positive experience,” Johnson said.
And Brown said that positive experience extends off the football field.
“We have a lot of kids that go through a lot of devastation at home and this is a way to get away from all that stuff,” he said. “We monitor what’s going on with the kids’ lives. It’s not just about football. We see what’s going on in school and what’s going on at home.”