Mart Lukk has thirty two full seasons of coaching football, baseball and basketball. He has had the honor of being invited to the inaugural National Conference on Youth and Amateur Football (Huddle 2004), hosted by the National Football League and USA Football. Additionally, he has hosted an annual coaching clinic in conjunction with his duties as On-Site Director of the “White Shoes & Friends” Lifeskills Youth Instructional Football Camps
What is one of your favorite things about being a coach?
There are SO many amazing, wonderful things about coaching kids in sports – from the “X’s and O’s” of developing vibrant, teachable, fun and effective practice and game plans (from playbooks up to daily practice logs and weekly game plans), to actually putting them into action on the field (and in the classroom with film study and playbook review), to the day to day, week to week growth and development of the overall TEAM throughout the season… ALL those things, and SO much more… But, all that being said, my most favorite thing about being a coach is to be privileged enough to help encourage and actually facilitate those “lightbulb” moments, when you can see (and feel!) that “Ahh HAA!” moment when a student-athlete actually gets it – whether that “it” happens to involve something directly associated with the game you’re teaching or a life lesson you’re trying to impart… No score posted on any lit up scoreboard anywhere at anytime comes close to that amazing moment!!
As a high school football coach, how do you feel about Iowa’s decision to ban 2-a-day practices and no full contact until the sixth practice?
Maryland and Delaware (the two states where I have coached) have adopted similar protocols in the past few years, so I have already coached under these situations. I like to use the following analogy in attempting to explain my feelings on situations like this: If you went to a doctor, and he told you he’d be more than happy to take you on as a new patient, but wanted you to know in advance that he only uses the same equipment, techniques and procedures he used 30 years ago… well, I have a pretty good idea you’d be looking for a new doctor…!! One of the things we emphasize to our student-athletes is the constant need to be able to “Adapt – Adjust – Overcome” in any and every situation (on the field and off). As coaches, the best example we can set is acting as we speak – so we do our best to adapt and adjust to new rules and regulations, and overcome our own prejudices about things that are “new” and “different”. Just because we may have to approach something differently that the way we learned it (and/or did it for years) doesn’t mean we can’t still get all the positives we remember out of it…
With regard to younger players, do you think football teams should be organized by age, size, or skill level?
I firmly believe that youth football should be organized by all three of those factors simultaneously, and that flag/touch football should be encouraged (over full contact tackle football) from younger players (ages 5 to 10). We start kids WAY too young playing tackle football nowadays. I’m a firm believer in the old adage, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it…”. I’ve always believed that little kids shouldn’t be playing tackle football and know, with the increase in awareness about the long term affects of head trauma, I think it’s even more important that we literally save them from themselves (and, too often, their parents!!)
There are too many poor ‘coaches’ at the lower, younger levels of all of our sports – and these ‘coaches’ do FAR more damage than good to the physical, psychological and emotional well being of the kids who are stuck with them. Look at the numbers of student-athletes we lose – who give up playing sports for any number of reasons – between the ages of six and fourteen… it’s absolutely shocking and appalling. In my opinion, far more needs to be done to organize and operate our youth sports experiences on a more reasonable, rational level.
Specific to football, we need to organize age, size and skill levels that best encourage and develop each individual to grow and progress in their abilities in (and love for) the game much more effectively than we do now. We need to help parents understand that one child’s flag football experience – even if that’s all they ever play – is just as valuable, important, and meaningful as another child’s recreational tackle football experience – which is just as important as another child’s competitive, travel team experience. Until we start working toward that understanding and acceptance we will continue to lose kids (and have innumerable negative experiences for countless others).
Football players are some of the most likely to suffer from concussions. What do you think needs to happen in high school football to protect players from the long-term effects of concussions?
For starters, see above…!!! Many states are now mandating very specific concussion education, training, protocols, etc. at the high school level – which I think is a GREAT idea. One of the best ways to help in this regard – at the high school level – is to make that full time, dedicated, certified athletic trainers are on the staffs of every high school that offers athletics as part of their high school experience. Sure, it costs money… but aren’t kids worth it? I’d much rather see an administrative position (or two!) cut, if that’s what it takes.
As for community based, youth teams, the more knowledge we can get to football coaches of EVERY level involving concussion effects, the better. I think the NFL/USA Football “Heads Up” program is a great start in this regard…
I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of “those” sports parents during your coaching career. What advice do you have for newer coaches that need to manage overly involved or aggressive sports parents?
At the high school level, my advice is straight forward and simple: Have a clearly stated set of “Team Rules and Expectations” booklet that covers the basics of participation in your program from student-athletes, coaches and parents – make this booklet available to all parents before the season starts, and have both the student-athlete and their parents sign a release form stating they have read, understood and agree to abide by all points contained therein. (I’ve attached copies of examples I’ve used in the past). One of the KEY POINTS in this document should be your explanation of how you handle parental involvement/concern. (I’ve found the “24 Hour Rule” and “School Administrator must be present at any meeting between parents and Head Coach” rule to be among the most effective in this regard).
As for actual athletic performance specifics, I’ve found that the use of film – particularly from practice – can also be a VERY effective tool in this regard…
How do you manage a team when players have different skill levels (common especially on younger teams) so that everyone gets the coaching/attention they need?
For football, I’ve found the most positive and effective way to address this concern is by having a dedicated, qualified full staff of coaches so we can actually “Coach Up” all our kids…!!! By keeping our coach-to-player ratio low (optimally four to six), I’ve found that we can get the needed attention tourplayers, which – amazingly enough – makes us a much better TEAM.
I try for a ten-person coaching staff:
Head Coach – oversees program, sets practice/game plans
Offensive Line Coach, Quarterbacks Coach, Running Backs Coach, Ends Coach,
Defensive Line Coach, Linebackers Coach, Defensive Backs Coach, Special
Teams Coordinator, Kicking Game Coach
You can pick an OC and DC from each respective internal staff… If I have a roster of 35 players, that comes out to roughly 3.5 players per coach…45 is 4.5… and so on and so forth.
Qualified guys and gals are out there – you just have to find them, and then coach them up on how you need them to coach…!!
How would you describe your personal coaching style?
I like to delegate – and not only let my coach’s coach, but encourage them to bring all the passion and creativity they can to not just their area of focus, but to our staff, team and program as a whole. One of my favorite ‘coaching quotes’ is from Coach Bryant, who once said, “I don’t hire anyone not brighter than I am. If they’re not smarter than me, I don’t need ‘em.”
As for the student-athletes I’m fortunate enough to work with, I believe the words “Firm – Fair – Demanding” sum things up well. I simply hope to challenge them to discover the best they have to offer – on the field, and off…