Youth football team adopts minimum play rule, wins championship


Like many youth football programs across the country, the Southern New England Youth Football Conference (Conn.) can be a very competitive league. Passionate players and parents often place pressure on coaches to win at all costs – even if that means benching lesser skilled players.
But if there’s one thing Waterford Lancers Micro Football coach Tom Burrows has learned by being a member of the National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYSCA), it’s that all children deserve to have fun on the field regardless of their skill level. That is why Burrows took it upon himself this past season to institute a minimum play rule for his team to make sure that none of his players got left on the bench.
And how did his players repay him? By winning their conference championship.
“We proved that you can play everyone and still win a championship for the kids,” said Burrows. “To me it is a chance to be a real youth coach and do what is right. We teach every kid how to play and give everyone a chance."
The Waterford Lancers Micro Football team is made up of 9- to 11-year-olds from the Waterford, Conn. area. Because the Southern New England Youth Football Conference is made up of teams representing individual towns, there is a lot of town pride on the line during their games. As a result, coaches often make decisions based on what will give them the best chance of winning, as opposed to what’s best for the kids.
“Many of the other towns will only allow the second string players to play when the game is completely in hand, or out of hand,” said Burrows. “If it is a close game they will not play at all. Some parents from neighboring towns have told me that their kid has sat on the bench for as many as six of the nine regular season games.”
To avoid this scenario Burrows and league management agreed to make sure that every child who came to practice would be guaranteed playing time. Despite protest from some parents that this would place their league at a disadvantage the league decided to move forward and institute a “Minimum Play” rule, regardless of the circumstances.   
“In reality what happens is coaches quickly realize you’re only as good as your weakest players,” said Burrows. “This translates into more time given to some of the less motivated players to get them up to speed. Another thing we see happening is coaches are not waiting to the end of the game to put players in. The playing time is spread across the entire game and the player gets more quality play time.”
Despite being one of the smaller teams in the league and having a losing record halfway through the season, the Waterford Lancers persevered and improved enough to win their conference championship.
Burrows attributes the success to the personal attention his assistant coaches gave to players. He says his coaches believed in what they were doing and would not let the kids quit or give up on themselves. The coaching staff worked with children on developing better techniques and a better knowledge of the game. The end result produced an experience that the kids can always draw from to help them “tackle” future challenges both on and off the field.
According to Burrows, none of this would have been possible without the minimum play rule.
“Giving the opportunity to participate in meaningful play time builds self esteem and confidence,” he said. “It makes a kid want to get better as to not let the team down. It inspires a drive and a will to succeed that hopefully carries over to other parts of their lives, such as school and work. Just because a kid does not have instant success does not mean it is time to give up. We are teaching life skills, not just football.”
The actions of Burrows and the Waterford Lancers Micro Football team perfectly displays the mentality that NYSCA training tries to instill in its membership. The NYSCA is a membership program provided by the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) that has trained and educated more than 2.5 million volunteer youth sports coaches since 1981. The focus of the organization revolves around making sure that coaches maintain proper perspective in youth sports, as exemplified by Burrows.
“This was a victory for all youth sports, we proved that it can be done,” said Burrows. “Too many people take the wrong approach to youth sports and are rewarded with victories. We built our team on small victories, such as when a kid learned a block that we had been working on all week. The culmination of all these small victories was a league championship.”

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