The following is an article I wrote concerning a major event for a former JDL Football player that appeared in the Ponte Vedra Recorder newspaper. 

Former JDL Player Signs NFL Contract with Arizona

Followers of local youth sports, division I college football or the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars probably spent  a few hours watching this past weekend’s NFL draft; and since I fall into each of the above categories I spent more than a few hours tuned in to the three-day event myself.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything better to do with my time. I did, but I had a very special interest in watching the draft proceedings to the bitter end. My very special interest--a local guy named Lucas Crowley.

As you may have guessed, Lucas Crowley is a football player and a very good one at that. As a four-year starter at center for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, he received numerous national and All-ACC honors. His 2016 performances against Illinois, Miami and Georgia Tech earned him ACC Lineman of the Week three times. He was chosen Second-team All-ACC center as a senior and was a two-time nominee for the Rimington Award given annually to the nation’s best center. At the 2017 NFL Pro Day, Lucas caught the attention of NFL scouts with eye-opening performance in the 225 bench press by completing an remarkable thirty repetitions.

Before arriving in Chapel Hill, Lucas made a name for himself playing for the Nease High School Panthers. Rated by as the fifth best high school center in the country plus first team All-State honors, Lucas attracted the attention of more than a few Division I schools upon graduation. He opted for UNC and quickly earned the starting job at center for the Tar Heels and kept it of four years

I first met Lucas when he was 6-years old. Laurie, his mom, approached me to see if Lucas—a very big six-year old--could play football in our Ponte Vedra junior player development football program. The answer of course was yes, so Lucas and his best buddy, Drew Taylor, who went on to star for Fletcher High School, started a long connection with Ponte Vedra youth football. My long time interest in Lucas’ career began at this point.

In his final year in JDL football, one of Lucas’s teammates was Jon Heck, son of then Jaguar coach Andy Heck. Lucas went on to play for Nease while Jon starred as an offensive lineman for The Bolles School. The two former JDL players met again as members of the 2015 Tar Heels offensive line nominated for the Joe Moore Award, an honor recognizing the best offensive line play in the country.

But back to the NFL draft.

Lucas entered the 2017 NFL draft and last weekend became the first Ponte Vedra JDL player ever to do so. But would he become the first-ever former JDL player to be drafted by the NFL?

Unfortunately, after seven rounds of draft picks, Lucas’ name was never called. That might have been heart breaking but for one thing. Once Mr. Irrelevant’s name (the name of the last player selected) is called, all NFL teams move quickly to sign quality-undrafted players as undrafted free agents (UDFAs). Obviously, not all undrafted players are offered contracts but fortunately Lucas was, by several teams in fact, including the Arizona Cardinals, the team with which he chose to sign. As it turns out, that is one of the few upsides of going undrafted--you get to chose your destination.

Lucas certainly shouldn’t fret about not being drafted in the three-day event. The list of undrafted free agents is long and notable including Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, Warren Moon, James Harrison, Adam Vinatieri and Herm Edwards just to name a few.

Lucas is already the first-ever former JDL player under contract to an NFL team. The challenge now remains for Lucas is to make the Cardinals’ 53-man opening day roster. Knowing Lucas, I’m sure he will.


Former Jaguar Jimmy Smith Inducted Into the Jaguars Hall of Fame 

Just before the start of the 2016 football season, I was chatting with a good friend about our mutual interest--youth football. With the football season still a few months off, a lot of kids’ program directors were making plans for the 2016 season and the two of us were doing just that.

If you live near Jacksonville, FL, Jackson, MI or Grand Prairie, TX you probably know or at least have heard of my friend. His name is Jimmy Smith—no, not the American Jazz musician—I mean the former NFL All Pro wide receiver.

Jimmy spent more than ten years in the NFL most of them with the Jacksonville Jaguars and arguably ranks as one of the best receivers in league history. His 12,287 career receiving yards rank him 19th on the all-time list, above the likes of Michael Irvin, Charlie Joyner, and Don Maynard.

I was a Jimmy Smith fan long before we became friends. We first met when I was covering the Jaguars for the Orlando Sentinel newspaper and he and Keenan McCardell were the “Thunder and Lightning” duo dominating the Jaguar passing game.

While Jimmy was still playing for the Jags, I told him about a special youth football program (Junior Development League Football*) I ran for little kids and if he was ever interested in having his sons Trey and Dalys play, to let me know. About that time both Jaguar quarterback Mark Brunell and offensive tackle Tony Boselli had registered their sons for our JDL football program.

Shortly after he retired, Jimmy contacted me to enroll Trey and Dalys in JDL football. He was anxious to coach his sons teams but the off-field substance issues which lead to his abrupt retirement in 2005 would prevent him from passing the mandatory check required of all JDL coaches. Although Jimmy could not coach, that did not stop him from assuming his role as a caring and supportive parent at every game.

Jimmy was also an invaluable supporter of, and spokesman for, the JDL Football concept in which every player is taught to play every position. Jimmy immediately recognized the value of this unique approach to youth football and was the first person to use the term “improved football IQ” in describing the benefit of such an approach.

Now let’s get back to the conversation Jimmy and I had a few months ago. He contacted me because he intends to start a JDL football program for the kids in Grand Prairie. If you’re a parent with young kids and live in the Grand Prairie area, this should be absolutely exciting news. There could be no better football coach than my friend and no better football program than JDL.

Not only has Jimmy performed at the highest level, he understands the technical challenges and pressures young kids face. He knows how to relate to kids. His positive guidance and support undoubtedly played a key role in son Trey’s development (Trey is a running back for Louisville University).

Having conquered his off-field demons, Jimmy Smith now has acquired the unique perspective so valuable in providing critical life-lesson guidance to the youngsters he will be coaching. I expect him to be a marvelous youth coach.

So congratulations Jimmy on your induction into the Pride of the Jaguars Hall of Fame. That is indeed quite an honor. Only three other Jaguar players  have been so honored; quarterback Mark Brunell, offensive tackle Tony Boselli and running back Fred Taylor.

Is induction into the NFL Hall of Fame a possibility? I would like to think so but John Clayton, a HOF voter and reporter for ESPN, isn't as optimistic. ​This despite five consecutive Pro-Bowls from 1997--2001 where Jimmy led the NFL with a combined 479 catches and 6,728 yards and a career that amassed 67 touchdowns and 862 catches for 12,287 yards. For comparison, the legendary Dallas Cowboy receiver and Smith's close friend, Michael Irvin, finished his career with 750 catches, 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns.

​Clayton cites several reasons for his pessimistic view on Smith's HOF chances including the log jam of potential Hall of Famers  with better numbers waiting for selection. Clayton also suggests that Smith's HOF chances may be negatively impacted because his Jaguar teams never made it to the Super Bowl. This view is supported by another HOF voter, Rick Gosselin, who says "Voters love jewelry. If if you've got a ring, you got a leg up."

Jimmy may not have a Super Bowl ring, but ten years after retirement he still holds Jaguar records for receptions in a career and a season (862 and 116), as well as consecutive games with a reception (80), highest average yards per reception (14.3) and the most 100 and 200 yard receiving games (46 and 2). When talking about elite NFL wide receivers, Jimmy Smith's name is certain to come up.

What Is Fun?

Often times coaches and parents are puzzled by what I mean when I say "kids sports must, above all, be fun." Too many adults think that the words "fun" and "competitive" are mutually exclusive terms. They shouldn't be. In addition, some adults may think that fun only comes with winning and that, of course, is also not true.

In youth sports, competition is not a bad thing. It is natural and normal. Kids love to compete against one and other. It is a way for kids to measure their abilities, their development and their progress.

When kids play a sport, they should always try to do their very best and should be urged to do so. They should always strive to win - that is the essence of sports competition. Striving to win and making the effort is what is most important, not winning. Certainly winning is more fun than losing, but performing well is a worthwhile and commendable objective and accomplishment.

A coach's commitment to winning should be to prepare the players to play. Coaches should help each player develop the skills necessary to play his or her position and should help players set and achieve reasonable goals. Problems start when competition between kids escalates to competition between adults, either coaches or parents.

A good youth coach will make a commitment to ensure that each player has a positive and enjoyable experience. By recognizing and rewarding players performance and achievement, coaches are making the sports experience enjoyable and fun.

Practice can be a major element in the fun factor since practice time is much greater than game time. Practice is when the coach has the greatest impact on the players. It is the time when recognition and reward are most easily accomplished.
Having said all that, let's now get back to answering the title question "What is fun?" Fun is:

* Doing something you enjoy
* Feeling good about yourself
* Participating, not being left out
* Doing, hearing or seeing things that make you laugh
* Belonging, not being rejected
* Being praised, not ridiculed
* Being congratulated, not criticized
* Succeeding, not failing
* Being appreciated or recognized by parents, friends, peers or practically anyone

Youth sports would be more fun for all players if every youth coach kept in mind these definitions of what fun is. Here are some specific things youth coaches can do to maintain a fun attitude:

*  Make drills short, realistic and game-like
* Keep all players active and keep lines short 
* Let kids make some decisions 
* Give players positive nick names 
* Make conditioning activities into races or competitions 
* Find something that each player does well and let him demonstrate it 
*  Praise and reward effort and accomplishment in any form
* Criticize the technique not the individual
*  Break up routines with unusual activities 
*  Give all players an opportunity to play and practice their favorite position 
* Announce players by name or nick name 
* Remember that players are children not small adults
* Smile a lot!

The following objectives should be paramount if sports competitions are to enjoyed by both competing teams:
* Balanced competitions need to be created so that outcomes are in doubt.
* Players should set achievable, individual goals.
* Athletes should be taught to measure their success in terms of attaining such goals.
*  Players who reach their goals should be commended and celebrated. 

As an example of making the total football experience enjoyable for our players, I write a poem at the end of the season that tries to capture the essence of our JDL football program. Here is the poem from this past season.


The season is over—you’ve played the last game,
And life without out football just won’t be the same.
No practices Tuesdays or Thursdays again.
Perhaps now you’ll all get to bed before ten.

When Saturday comes, no more games will be played.
The touchdowns all run and the tackles all made.
The only thing left that remains to be done
Is to check and to see if you really had fun.

‘Cause fun is the reason you came out to play.
And “FUN’s our objective” our coaches all say.
But what does it mean when I say to have fun?
It’s really the same thing for every one.

To have fun is to do what you really enjoy,
When doing it brings you a feeling of joy.
It means being praised first and not criticized
Succeeding not failing in anyone’s eyes.

It’s building your confidence and self-esteem.
It means that you feel you’re a part of the team.
It’s playing not watching while others have fun.
It means feeling good about what you have done. 

It makes me feel sad now that football is through
I’m sorry its over now.  How about you?
So turn in your helmets and all of your gear.
To play the next game we must wait ‘til next year.

That begs a new question. I can’t wait to hear
How many of you will play football next year?
For that’s how we measure our program’s success.
So stand up and answer a very loud YES!

And last but not least one more chance to be loud,
Your chance to be heard and your chance to be proud.
Please answer--befitting a group of this size
And tell me again now “Who are you guys?!!”

Good Luck Sharks 2016
Jerry Norton

This photo was taken ten years ago. The young six-year old boy in the photo holding hands and looking up with admiration at the big high school senior is now himself a linebacker for Ponte Vedra Sharks High School football team.  The little guy played Junior Development League (JDL)  football for seven years and always maintained his enthusiasm for the game. He is a product of JDL's unique approach to teaching the game to youngsters--which is to keep young players excited about  football so, when they have the opportunity to play at the next level, they will be prepared and willing to make the commitments necessary.  By the way, the big guy in the photo was a member of the same high school championship team on which Tim Tebow played and, like Tebow, he also went on to play at the University of Florida.

 You can learn more about JDL football by visiting or by reading my book Unintended Consequences--How Adults Took the Fun Out of Youth Sports. 

This site was created specifically for kids, parents and coaches involved in youth sports. Through commentary exchanged on this forum, my goal––and I hope yours as well––is to make the world of kids' sports a better place.  On these pages you will find discussions and articles on a variety of youth sports topics. I look forward to our sharing opinions on various topics.Sincee this site is not currently a blog, if you wish to contribute a topic for discussion or if you have a question for coach Jerry, please use the contact us section and I will post your question and my response in this section. If you have a sports related question you may want to check our FAQ section.

Changing The GameProject by John O'Sullivan

Players, Parents and Coaches please take the time to checkout John O'Sullivan's Changing The Game Project blog at:  

In his blog, O'Sullivan examines the question "Why Kids Play Sports".  He believes, as I believe and tried to illustrate in the previous article on What Is Fun, that kids play sports because it's fun and they stop playing when it is no longer fun.

​On his blog, he introduces the concept of "participating" and "performance" pathways for children involved in sports.

He encourages parents to "help their child to find the environment they are asking for--not the one you hope they want..."

He stresses that "children play sports because they are  enjoyable, and they quit when they are not."

​His is a profoundly pertinent perspective and fits perfectly into the most worthy objectives of his Changing The Game Project. 

​Anyone involved in youth sports should understand and heed the messages of O'Sullivans Changing the Game Project.

Jerry Norton's Parents' and Coaches'  Guide To Youth Sports

In Kids'  Sports The Coach Can Make A BIG Difference

Not surprisingly, many parents today are quite involved with their children’s education and intellectual development. Parents join parent-teacher organizations, participate in school board meetings, faithfully and enthusiastically attend open school nights, serve on committees or meet frequently with teachers, councilors and administrators. They are intensely interested and aware of how, how well and what their children are being taught.

 Curiously though, millions of these same prudent and concerned parents allow total strangers to dramatically influence the physical development and psychological well being of their children without a second thought.  Who are these parents and who are these total strangers who are having such an influence on kids today?

The parents referred to are many of the mothers or fathers of youngsters playing organized youth sports. The strangers are today’s youth sports coaches.

Youth coaches may spend dozens of hours a week trying to teach youngsters the skills necessary to play a particular sport. In the process, the coach can profoundly influence players both physically and emotionally. But is the volunteer coach prepared and qualified for this task? Will the coach’s influence be positive or negative? And, shouldn’t parents be concerned about the qualifications of their child’s coach?

Indeed they should. Statistics suggest that there are serious problems with organized youth sports today and that many  of the problems can be traced to coaching. For example, seventy percent of the kids who participate in organized youth sports stop playing by age 12. The reasons given are: abusive coaches, players don’t get a chance to play, winning is overemphasized and there is excessive repetition that leads to boredom. In short, kids quit playing because it is no longer fun and it is the coach who determines whether children enjoy their sports experience.

Unfortunately, too many youth coaches today are more concerned with winning games than they are with developing the skills of all their players and making sure all their kids participate and have fun. Jack Hutslar in his book Beyond X’s and O’s,  uses the phrase “coach the best and bench/cut the rest” to describe the inappropriate mentality of many youth coaches.

To make things different, basic coaching philosophies and attitudes in our youth sports organizations must change and parents must help bring about the needed improvements. More parents must take a proactive role in the organization and administration of their children’s sports programs to ensure that programs focus on total participation, skill development and fun, not just on winning games. Remember, players striving to win is the essence of youth sports. Winning or losing is simply an outcome.

Organizations should consider the experience and qualifications of the coaches and should require that coaches be trained and certified. For guidance, read Beyond X’s and O’s, and review the Standards for Developing and Administering Youth Sports, created by the National Alliance of Youth Sports (NAYS) and the NAYS Code of Conduct for Coaches and Parents.

Parents  should talk to their child’s coach to learn about his or her specific goals and objectives, beyond winning games, to make sure they reflect the philosophies established by the organization. The coach should be committed to player development and improvement, fun, sportsmanship, safety and 100 percent participation.

Parents should also attend and observe several practices. Things to look for include whether practice is well organized or haphazard? Are there enough coaches? Are many kids standing around idle or waiting in long lines? Is the coach working with all the kids or just the best ones? Are players being subjected to harsh or abusive treatment? Pay particular attention to how the coach speaks to the players. Is it positive or negative?

Parents should attend games and watch how the coach behaves in the heat of battle. Is the coach courteous or disrespectful to game officials, opposing players and coaches? Does the coach harshly and publicly criticize players for failures? Are all the kids getting a chance to play? It really doesn’t take very long to recognize a good coach or a bad coach.

Kids deserve an opportunity to play and enjoy the benefits that organized sports can provide. Parents should require that organizations set and enforce appropriate standards for coaches. Good coaches should be coveted and cloned and bad ones replaced. The brief mission statement of the NAYS says it best:

 “Better Sports For Kids…Better Kids For Life!