"What Is JDL Football?" 

JDL Football is referred to frequently on this website so it is appropriate to explain as the first FAQ "What Is JDL Football?" 

To start with it is a unique "Player-Friendly" youth football program. I will soon explain why it is considered unique and why it is considered  player friendly.

As a former coach in two of the most competitive youth football programs available to youngsters - Pop Warner Football and Long Island Midget Football - I've had the opportunity to see, up close and personal, both the positive side and the negative side of such programs. However, it is not my intention in this writing to recount in specific detail either of those experiences.

Instead my purpose is to describe for parents and players a "player-friendly" football program that I started quite a few years ago that focuses on fun, participation and skill development for all participants.

It may be difficult to believe such a program actually exists, given that the common perception of the game, its fans and especially its coaches is quite the opposite - but such a program really does exist here in Northeast Florida. 

The program, dubbed Junior Development Football, was patterned in principle after the NFL's Junior Player Development Program and while the implementation of this program is uniquely different, the guiding principles of the two programs are identical:

Make It Fun
Limit Standing Around
Everyone Plays
Teach Every Position to Every Participant
Emphasize the Fundamentals
Establish a Progression of Skill Development for Every Participant
Yell Encouragement, Whisper Constructive Criticism

Many experts agree that these should be the objectives of any quality, wholesome youth sports program but, unfortunately, insensitive and overly competitive adults often undermine these principles.

Junior Development Football addresses the common "problem" situations that are so prevalent in youth football these days including insufficient playing time for all players, an overemphasis on winning, insensitive and abusive coaches and competitive mismatches.

The mission of the Ponte Vedra Junior Development Youth Football Program is to provide a safe and player-friendly environment, in which children can learn, play and enjoy the game of tackle football. Essential to the mission are:

* Balanced competition
* Full and equal participation
* A unique coaching approach

The goal of this innovative program is that every single participant has a positive and enjoyable playing experience regardless of skill or ability - an experience in which each player has the opportunity to develop new skills, gain confidence, and learn life - lessons regarding the importance of teamwork, responsibility, sportsmanship and discipline. Achieving this goal can encourage continued participation in the sport.

As is common in many youth programs, participating players in this program are grouped according to age and weight but an additional factor - ability - is also a consideration in placing a player in a division. Divisions are established for comparable size, age and general skill level participants and each division consists of approximately 28-30 players each. 

The ideal breakdown would be to have a division for each age group, but that is not always possible. Depending on the number and ages of players registered, a typical program might be constructed in the following manner: 

Division 1 for the youngest and smallest players, generally 6, 7 old and weighing an average of approximately 65 pounds*

Division 2 for players approximately 8 and 9 years old and weighing an average of approximately 80 pounds*

Division 3 for players 10 and 11 years old and weighing an average of approximately 100 pounds.*

Division 4 for players 12 and 13 years old with no limit on weight. (the average weight might be approximately 125 pounds.)

*Unlike most competitive youth football programs, these age/weight limits are flexible.Younger, heavier players are not required to play in an older division. The reason for this is that age and maturity are far more compelling parameters than weight in youth football. Young but heavier players are typically less aggressive and slower than more mature, older and lighter players, and are less likely to injure another player. Forcing a young, heavy child to play in an older age group with players of comparable weight, puts the younger player in a mismatched  situation and will likely turn him off football forever..

Coaches are assigned to each division and coach all the players in that division. Players compete only against players in the same division in practices and games.

In preparing for the season, basic formations, common drills and fundamental techniques are taught in the four divisions. Position stations are used to provide instruction for all players in each of the major positions and players are encouraged to play each position during practice and in games.

During practice and during games, player match-ups are made considering size and skill level to avoid mismatches. 

When players are prepared sufficiently to play a game - usually after the first month of practice - two teams are formed from the 30 players in a division - 15 players per team. Players are assigned to these two teams by the lead coach to ensure balanced competition. A game is then played according to conventional youth football rules with some minor accommodation to ensure safety (eg. no kickoff returns and no punt returns).

During the game, an offensive coach is on the field and coaches the offensive units for both teams. Similarly, a defensive coach is assigned to coach both defensive units. In this manner the coaches have no stake in which team wins and are able to focus on having each player play to the best of his ability. A sideline coach is assigned to rotate players in and out of the game ensuring total participation by all. The offensive and defensive coaches do not compete with one another but work together to ensure competitive in-game match-ups are maintained.

Games consist of two 25-minute "halfs" using a running clock. There is no 25-second play clock. If the outcome of the game is not in doubt (one team is ahead by more than one touchdown) as the 50 minute mark approaches the game ends when 50 minutes has expired. If, however, the game is in doubt (less than a touchdown separating the teams) after 50 minutes, each team is given an opportunity to complete a possession. This is done to ensure that the outcome of the game is determined by the players on the field, not by a circumstance of clock management/manipulation. Since we stress balanced competition, games can and sometimes do end in a tie. 

Once the game is over, no record of the outcome is kept because new teams will be formed from the 30 players the following week. The season consists of ten games played each Saturday with new teams made up each week. To accommodate this, players receive two contrasting jerseys at the start of the season. Players wear the appropriate jersey depending on team assignment.
Statistics such as yards gained and tackles made by each player as well as game highlights are kept and included in a weekly newsletter sent to players and parents.

Because "game day" team rosters are small (approximately 15 players on each competing team) playing time for each player is extensive. The measure of success of the program is player enjoyment and player development, not won-loss record or championships.

Some JDL Football Testimonials

Here are what a few of the parents have to say about the Junior Development League Football program:

Last year our son Jacob (age 7) played his first year of football in the Junior Development Program. Not only did he learn the fundamentals of the game, Jacob learned the importance of teamwork, sportsmanship and discipline. Most importantly, he had a lot of fun. I would highly recommend the Junior Development Program to any parent who wants to introduce the game of football to their child in the right way.
Mark Brunell
Jacksonville Jaguars

Ryan plays on the recreational (Junior Development) team because of the philosophy held by Coach Jerry and the coaches he passes it down to. Competition isn't what drives this. A passion for football and a love for children is demonstrated at each practice and every game. Yes, Ryan learned how to play football last year. By the end of the season, he was a tackling machine. He had played almost every position and knows how to play them the right way. He received a great foundation for the rest of his football career. But that was just the beginning. Ryan learned that he was a valuable part of a team. He learned how to dig down and reach his greatest potential. He learned teamwork, perseverance, fair play, and the importance of a great attitude. Plus he had a blast! It was an incredible experience for our family. Thank you for making this possible for our kids!
Tom & Kim Freeman

Last fall I enrolled my son (age 9) in Ponte Vedra's Junior Developmental Football, after being told that he was over the weight requirement for Pop Warner. Initially, he and I were skeptical of the program and our expectations were low. I can not tell you how wrong we were.
By the end of the season, he had played every position, had knowledge of the importance in being a team player and had developed a confidence and sense of pride in his abilities to play a team sport that I have never seen in him before. I was thoroughly satisfied with the entire experience. 
The coaches' philosophy and expertise in managing the children with the game is by far superior to any baseball or soccer experience we have had. And without it, my son would have had no tackle football experience at all.
We are eager to enroll in another season and are in hopes that this program will continue for many more seasons.
Susan Taylor

The Junior Development football program is an ideal place for my boys (twins age 7) to learn how to play football. They get the opportunity to play offense, defense and even the skill positions which gives them a better understanding of the game - and how important each position is to the team as a whole. As far as competition is concerned, come game day, these kids want to win as much as the next kid. It is refreshing to see the coaches emphasizing the importance of each child playing to the best of their ability and not focusing on the end result of winning and losing. In fact, the coaches stress equal playing time for all children - playing both offense and defense each game.
I think Ryan summed it up best when he asked if we knew why he loved playing football? His answer "Because the coaches were so nice and make playing fun!"
Jim and Sandi Applegate

Nick (age 13) was never a good fit in the standard sports programs, although he always was a willing participant. Being bigger, slower and not as coordinated in early adolescence has its considerable drawbacks.
We were encouraged to find out about your program in 2001. Through your organization, every effort was made to provide Nick an encouraging, challenging environment in order to move forward in his interest to learn the fundamentals of football. A sport, I may add, I swore I would never allow him to get involved with. Not that I don't like the game, but it takes on a whole new meaning when it's your kid getting hit!
Parental concerns were laid to rest when the benefits of this instructional, team environment were realized. You and your volunteers have created a fun, yet safe environment for kids to thrive. The positive contribution that this organization makes in the lives of these kids is nearly immeasurable. They realize a potential that they at times, surprise even themselves.
Sue Adomaitis

"Can JDL Groups From Different Communities Play Against Each Other During the Season Or In Playoffs?"

No, inter-play between different community JDL programs is not allowed for two major reasons.

First, the number of players in a specific JDL community league age group is limited to approximately 30 players total with 15 players on each competing team for a very important reason--to ensure abundant playing time for every player. For example,   with 15 players per competing team, 11 are on the field at one time playing and just 4 are waiting to be substituted into the game. If a JDL team in one community were to play against a JDL team from another community 60 players would be involved--30 on one team and 30 on the other.  This would mean that with a team roster of 30 players, 11 would be playing and 19 players would be waiting to substitute into the game. This would violate our abundant playing time objective. 

The second reason inter-JDL community play is not permitted is that it is not consistent with the unique coaching assignment philosophy which is an essential element of JDL football. In JDL, coaches of a competing age group work equally with the two competing teams. The coaches work together to ensure competitive player match-ups are maintained through out the course of the game, players have an opportunity to play the various skill positions and substitutions are managed effectively to ensure abundant playing time for all players. The coaches are not competing against each other but instead work together to achieve JDL objectives of balanced completion and player position assignments. If two different community JDL groups were to play against each other, the coaches of the two groups would most likely windup completing against each other in order to win the game. In such a situation, it is unlikely that players would have an equal opportunity to play skilled positions, not only the better players would play the skill positions but they would get more playing time. Further with 19 players waiting to play, instead of 4, substitutions would be difficult to manage and playing time for each player would be severely and negatively impacted. 

There are no playoffs within JDL community programs nor are there division championships or MVPs.


Parental Intervention

A few years ago a student asked me a kind of "email interview" set of questions relating to parental involvement  and intervention. Since some of the questions are one you may be seeking answers to I have included them in this section. Below are the questions he asked along with my answers. 

I am doing a report for a class at school on the parental intervention, and the quality of the
sport experience. More specifically, hockey only. And I was wondering if you could help by briefly answering these questions for me. I thank you for your time.

1. Would you consider parents to be a big factor when you are choosing the players with which will be playing on your team?

2. Describe to me some of the different types of parents that you have experienced over the years.

3. Do you think that parents play a role in the performance of a young athlete? Explain.

4. Have you ever had to take action on an athlete because his parent(s) cause too many conflicts?  For example, cutting the player from the team.

5. Have you ever hat to remove an athlete from one of your teams, due to their school grades, based on what his parents have told you?

6. Has a member of one of your teams ever approached you to talk about issues involving his parents on the topic of them affecting their sport interest? If possible, can you please extrapolate?

7. Do you feel that a parents behavior affects their child's behavior on the ice?

8. Overall, what are your personal views on parental intervention, and the quality of the sport experience?

9. If there is anything that you would like to add, maybe just a comment, may you please do it now.

My answers are as follows:

1. Would you consider parents to be a big factor when you are choosing the players with which will be playing on your team?
I believe competitive balance between competing teams is extremely important in youth sports especially in the ages you are considering. Competitive balance usually suffers when coaches select players - i.e. coaches generally want only the best players, and try to circumvent the drafting rules to get the best players. Assignment of players to teams should always be done in a manner that ensures an equal distribution of the available talent. I don't think coaches should choose players. Instead, the program/leagues officials should assign players to teams based on ratings so that a degree of competitive balance is achieved. If teams were formed in this manner, parents should not be a factor in the assignment of players to a team.

2. Describe some of the different types of parents that you have experienced over the years.
I have had experience with a wide variety of parents - from extremely competitive to completely indifferent. Most parents fall in the competitive category (i.e. they want their child to play on a winning team and they want him or her to play a lot and be the star of the team). They also want their child to play the skill positions. Many parents have an over-inflated opinion of their child's abilities. Parents of this type are helping to create many of  the problems that we have in youth sports today.
Children should be playing sports for fun, participation and development of skills. Parents (and coaches) should not put pressure on children to play and excel instead they be trying to see that each child has a positive sports experience - and that doesn't necessarily mean winning. It means trying to do your best at all times, working to improve and living up to the rules of the sport and good sportsmanship.

3. Do you think that parents play a role in the performance of a young athlete? 

Parents can and should play a role in the performance of their young athlete. They should  encourage their son or daughter to pay attention to the coach, to work hard and to practice the skills the coach is trying to teach, to always try to do their best, to respect the coach, the game officials, their opponents and the sport and to help them take proper care of their bodies.

4. Have you ever had to take action on an athlete because his parent(s) cause too many conflicts? For example, cutting the player from the team.

Answer: I have never taken action against an athlete because of the action/behavior of the parent(s) nor would I ever. A youth  coach must always deal with parents. The key is communication. It is imperative that a youth coach hold a meeting with all parents prior to the start of the season to discuss such matters as the coaches philosophy, expectations the parents should have of the coach, expectations the coach has of the parents, expectations the coach and the parents should have for the players, playing time, the coach's approach to discipline, practice schedules and what to do if a player cannot make practice, rules for completing homework assignments prior to practice, maintaining scholastic performance, etc, etc. This meeting will help to avoid or defuse future difficulties.

5. Have you ever had to remove an athlete from one of your teams, due to their school grades, based on what his parents have told you?
Answer: I have never removed a child from a team because of poor grades but I have had a few players who were not allowed to play by their parents because of poor grades. I try to encourage players to do their homework before coming to practice and to keep grades up so they don't have that problem. Rather than denying the child's sports participation for poor school work, I encourage parents to find an alternative "punishment" because young kids can learn so much from participating in the right kind of sports program.

6. Has a member of one of your teams ever approached you to talk about issues involving his parents on the topic of them affecting their sport interest? 
Answer: I'm not sure I understand the question. I don't recall a player ever talking to me about the influence of the parents on  the child's interest in sports. My experience is that parents talk to me about their child's interest or lack of interest in sports. Kids seldom talk about what their parents are doing to affect them in sports.

7. Do you feel that a parents behavior affects their child's behavior on the ice?
Answer: Absolutely. Children are always aware of their parents in the stands. Children want to do well and they want to please their parents. They see how their parents act, they hear what they say - often with detrimental effects. Many parents  put too much pressure on their children to perform well instead of watching, encouraging and enjoying the game. Often parents distract players with too much advice and instruction during games.

8. Overall, what are your personal views on parental intervention, and the quality of the sport experience?
Answer:  By now I think you can understand how I feel about youth sports and the effect parents (and coaches) can have on a player's experience. Parents should find high quality sports programs for their children, programs that allow children to participate and have fun without extreme pressure and intense competition. Parents should be positive and encourage children - not pressure them to perform well. Parents should be good spectators and good listeners. After a game most parents ask their son or daughter whether they won. Better questions would be "Did you have fun?", "Did you play well?", "Did you learn something new today?", "Were you a good sport?", "Is there any thing your having difficulty with?" Parents (and coaches) should remember that making mistakes is a part of the learning process - don't criticize! The top priorities in youth sports are safety, fun, participation and skill development. Adults, parents or coaches, should never let their personal desire to win impact their child's opportunity for a positive sports experience. Most of all adults, parents and coaches alike, need to remember that this is not the Stanley Cup, not the Super Bowl and not the World Series. These are kids playing a game for fun.

9. If there is anything that you would like to add, maybe just a comment, may you please do it now.
Answer: The problems that are so prevalent today in youth sports (overzealous or abusive coaches/parents) are attributable to the adults not the young players.  The correction of these problems can only come through changes at  the lowest level - the level where coach, parent and player come
together. The adults must make things different.

70% of the kids who play organized sports quit by age 12 because of abusive coaches, an over-emphasis on winning, kids sitting on the bench and not playing and kids no longer having fun.

The ultimate tragedy in kids sports occurred several years ago when two hockey dads were involved in a fight at a hockey practice and one died as a result. We desperately need to make changes in youth sports programs when things like this are happening on a regular basis.

Jim Thompson of the Positive Coaching Alliance (www.positivecoach.org) provided perhaps the best perspective on the subject of Parental Intervention in his "Life Lessons From the Playing Field". In Life Lesson #10 he's states "The game is short––enjoy the game. Your child’s experience with sports will end abruptly, and when it does, you will wish you had not been so obsessed with how well your child did. You’ll wish you had fretted less and enjoyed it more."

What do youth sports do for kids?

Over the years I've been asked frequently, "what youth sports can do for kids." While I am neither an educator nor an individual trained in child development, I have spent more than 60 years as a volunteer youth coach and therefore feel comfortable and qualified to offer my thoughts on this question

According to educators, psychiatrists, psychologists and other trained experts, youth sports can play a very important role in a child's development. The life values that can be learned from a positive sports experience might best be summarized by the opinion of a noted high school athletic executive who said "Sportsmanship is the starting point - if not the essence - of good citizenship" and sportsmanship, of course, is the foundation of a quality youth sports program. 

Here is a short list of what, I believe, participation in youth sports can do for children. 

Youth sports can:

• Provide a source of fun and to enjoyment for children, by themselves or with their peers
• Provide the opportunity for regular, healthy exercise 
• Build an appreciation of personal health and fitness
•  Provide a release from daily pressures of school and family life
• Provide children the opportunity for a degree of independent activity
•  Provide children the opportunity to understand and learn the importance of discipline in an environment that makes it more easily accepted
• Provide the opportunity to learn the importance and meaning of teamwork
• Can teach important life values such as teamwork, fair play and sportsmanship
• Can teach responsibility - both individual and shared
• Provide the opportunity to learn and to accept authority
•  Provide the opportunity to learn to accept and follow directions, rules and regulations
• Provide the opportunity to develop and master leadership skills
• Teach the importance of commitment, dedication and loyalty
• Help children develop good work habits 
• Teach the importance of always doing your best
• Teach children to accept both winning and losing and how to manage success and disappointment
•  Provide an opportunity to meet new friends
• Provide the opportunity for physical development, improved coordination and the development of new motor skills 
• Provide an opportunity to improve a child's confidence, sense of accomplishment and to develop a positive self image and self worth
•  Help children learn to resolve issues and disputes without violence 
• Provide the opportunity to develop new interests and activities that can be enjoyed for a lifetime (tennis, golf, bowling, swimming, skiing, etc.)
• Provide the opportunity to develop healthy social relationships with adults as well as peers
•  Teach children to respect others

Also you might be interested in the following statistics that illustrate the significant, positive impact participating in high school sports has on students:

• Kids who play sports do better in school and are less likely to get in trouble
•  The rate of absenteeism is less than half for students who participate in sports!
•  School dropout rate for athletes is 1% and over 8% for non-athletes!
• Discipline rate is 10% lower for athletes!
• Grade point average for athletes is 1 GPA level higher than non-athletes!
• Students who participate in sports are 90% less likely to use drugs and 3 times more likely to graduate!
• Girls who participate in sports are 80% less likely to become pregnant!

These are pretty compelling statistics. An important thing to remember is  in order to benefit from what sports has to offer kids need to participate. If youth sports are fun and enjoyable, young people participate willingly and eagerly, increasing the likelihood that the objectives will be achieved. However, children are frequently turned off by overzealous coaches or overbearing parents and the opportunity to benefit from important like lessons is jeopardized. Even worse, bad coaches may teach distorted values.Unfortunately many youngsters drop out of sports too soon and before they have had to opportunity to reap the benefits.  he best youth sports programs and the best youth sport coaches will use a child's sports experience to cultivate, teach or develop these positive values. Unfortunately, as I said, not all programs nor all youth coaches focus on these very worthy objectives.