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USA Football held a high school football coaching school at St. Monica's last Saturday. Christian Gascou, St. Monica's defensive coordinator for football, shares coaching plays and techniques with area high school coaches. (photo by Benjamin Brayfield)

ST. MONICA — The orange juice, sports drinks and donuts were laid out, an athletic apparel company sent sales reps with samples of the latest in uniforms and shoes, and two dozen football coaches unfamiliar with the term “off-season” were assembling for insight and instruction.

You wouldn’t have been able to tell these men (and one woman) represented players who are almost all younger than 13.

Under the plaques, banners and retired jerseys in the St. Monica Catholic High School gym, youth football coaches from all over Los Angeles came together last Saturday for the first Santa Monica Coaching School offered by USA Football, the non-profit joint-venture of the NFL and its players association.

The day featured instruction by the manager of USA Football’s West Region, Coach Bucky Brooks, and St. Monica’s own defensive coordinator, Coach Christian Gascou, on everything from big-picture practice organization to the minutiae of teaching fundamentals.

“Great coaches are excellent at communicating with their players and staff,” Coach Gascou says. “Not only do they teach football concepts and fundamentals in a clear and concise way for even the most novice player to understand, but their philosophy is conveyed in such a way that the entire team — players and staff — adopts it and follows it almost without even knowing it.”

Of course, dealing with the X’s and O’s are only half of a coach’s job. The other half is dealing with overbearing, sometimes inappropriate behavior from parents. Coach Gascou recommends sending a letter home at the beginning of the season saying, “We will not discuss playing time.”

In addition, he says it’s a good idea to give parents a list of qualities or characteristics that will lead to playing time in order to better quantify what it will take to get their kid on the field. His philosophy is to “try to establish clear lines of communication from the outset based on mutual respect.”

“I believe it’s very important to establish some guidelines at the very beginning of the year so that the parents know what to expect from the program and us as coaches … because the parents are a key component of the team,” he added.

For high school coaches like Gascou, there is also the issue of recruiting.

“The players know that this is a team game and everyone has a role to play that is equally important whether they are being recruited or not,” he said. “Privately we may talk with the player and try to answer any questions that he may have about the recruiting process.”

For the coaches at the school, scouts probably won’t be an issue. Despite all the hard work they put in getting their teams and their players prepared, there is no expectation of success. In fact, the general assumption was that on any given play, there is no telling what any given player might actually do. After all, they’re just kids there to have fun.

As one coach put it, “if they’re not having fun, they’re not coming back.”