CAMDEN, Maine — As coach of the Five Town Football youth teams, Chris Christie continually stresses the fundamentals to his players.
The two teams are made up of 34 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from Camden, Rockport, Lincolnville, Appleton and Hope. The varsity team includes all the sixth-graders; all the fourth-graders are on the JV squad; and fifth-graders can play on either team.
Christie’s approach worked so well that the 2011 JV team won the Maine Youth Football League title. He sees no reason to change his approach.
“Even though we’re into our fifth week of football, we spent the entire week and dropped everything back to day one and went right back to fundamentals,” he said. “That’s something we’ve been stressing the last two or three years since I’ve been the head coach.”
The reasons are obvious to him.
“Even at the end of the season, we go back to … fundamentals so the kids are tackling correctly, carrying the ball correctly, blocking correctly,” said Christie. “So for us, we’ve had a kind of renewed focus on the fundamentals.”
Christie, who has also coached high school champions in golf and girls skiing, also likes to see the players apply what they learn beyond just a physical standpoint.
“I stress developing what I call the total athlete, which is mentally, socially and physically, so that’s my goal,” he said.
Working on fundamentals does more than build skills, too.
“Part of it is a safety thing,” said Christie. “I want the kids tackling correctly. I don’t want them leading with their helmets.
“I want them to be safe out there and I want to develop them as athletes. It’s kind of a two-fold [thing].”
Many of last year’s fifth-graders on the JV team that edged Yarmouth 28-26 for the state title have stepped into leadership roles with this year’s varsity squad.
“The sixth-graders are drastically more confident,” he said.
The same applies to the kids who were in the fourth grade last year.
“I see it, certainly, in the fifth-graders that are coming up,” added Christie.
“They’re now the support crew of the varsity team and they play an active role in that, but they’re also now the leaders of the JV team. It’s different. Those fourth-graders coming from peewee to JV, regardless of what team they’re on, that’s a big jump.”
The trophy was displayed at the middle school for a couple of weeks after the win. It may have contributed to a 10-15 percent jump in this season’s roster.
“You always want the numbers,” he said. “The numbers are good for varsity, but we saw a nice increase in the JVs, the fourth- and fifth-graders.”
Christie, a veteran of 25 years in coaching, can see the difference in having experienced kids helping their new teammates.
“The level of improvement in the kids, especially in the fourth-grade level, is so dramatic,” he said. “And improvement in every aspect, not only the skills of football, but the way they carry themselves on the field, how they’re becoming better teammates and they support each other.”
The Maine Youth Football League consists of 12 organizations with 15 teams split into two divisions. Boothbay, Camden, Freeport, Gray, Lincoln County, Medomak and Rockland in the north and Falmouth, Portland (3), South Portland (2), Yarmouth and Westbrook in the south. Rockland won the varsity title last year, beating Westbrook 8-0.
Christie is upbeat about this year’s teams.
“The new kids, they’re solid. We stress fundamentals, but we also stress discipline,” he said. “They’re still trying to find their own signature as a team, but the last couple of weeks have been great practices.”
The varsity team is continuing the hot streak it started last year.
“They have a little swagger, a little confidence, and that comes regardless of sport or whether it’s even schoolwork. When you work hard at something and you begin to see positive results then you become more confident, and with confidence comes the ability to increase your skills pretty dramatically. I’m really excited with where the varsity team is right now.”