Serbia: Panthers Juniors - The Best U19 Program In The Region

We know a great U19 program when we see one. Pancevo Panthers have one of the best U19 programs we've seen! Dedication and hard work of the coaching staff is flawless. We asked Bojan Kovacevic of Pancevo Panthers to share his secret with us - the formula for developing a great youth program.

First of all, I want to thank TDEU for recognizing our efforts in working with juniors which brought us fine results these last couple of years.

This was the fifth season of junior championship in Serbia, and our junior program started from the beginning.  
We were not that good in the beginning. Our first season - we didn't reach the playoffs. Second season we lost in semi-finals. Three remaining seasons were great for us, reaching 3 consecutive finals and losing only 2 games in three years. We needed the time to figure out the way to make our program work. 

What is the formula of great junior program in Serbia? Probably not everyone will give the same exact answer, but I will give it from my point of view. 

Like imports in senior national championships, very skillful, and more important, properly coached, young guys makes the difference on the field at junior level. We were blessed to have very talented athletes coming our way at the age of 13 or 15 few years ago. We formed our first flag team of these guys and I believe they are pioneers of the „real“ american football in Serbia. For example, it is interesting watching our QB Vojislav Milenkovic throwing a football for his teammates now, by his former flag coaches who were teaching him how to do it.

Those guys, as I said, are making a big difference on the field, and every club that would like to do it, has to have good, homegrown athletes. Coaches should TURN THEM into real athletes from the very beginning  and the best time to do that is at flag level.

We all know every American football team needs to practice if they want to be a good team. Guys of this, young, age have lots of distractions, and they need to be motivated to practice, especially during the summer break from school (e.g. that's when we have the preseason in Serbia). 

I motivate my guys telling them that they are doing something special. Because they do! While other guys of their age are spending their free time playing video games, drinking, going to the pool and chasing girls, my guys are working hard to be a good football team. 

Also, I make a clear difference between a „good“ team and „great“ team a.k.a THE CHAMPIONS. That is what we put as a goal in front of us. In junior championship there are no imports, no money, no facilities and no age difference  There is only a team that works harder than the others to be a champion. Putting that goal in front of us as a team, we know what we need to do, as well as why we are doing it.

We, „Panthers“, are not declaring ourselves just as a football club, we like to think of us as one big family. Same thing is for our juniors. When they are preparing for the season, many of our seniors help with the practice. When juniors are playing, their „older brothers“ are cheering for them from the stands. Knowing that all in the club are there for them, and that they are a part of the big Panthers family, guys are giving that extra effort because they know it means something for all of us. 

We are teaching our young players to give respect, because it’s the only way to be respected. What kind of respect? 

Respect for the game, respect for the club they are playing for, respect for the coaches who coach them and, most importantly, the respect for each other. There are some rules that we put for our team and one of them is a penalty for swearing and calling out a teammate by using bad names, even when joking. 

These four elements are what I believe is necessary to work on if one club wants to have a good junior program, which will make great homegrown football players. 

Anyone who is reading this can see, I was talking about mental issues only, nothing about tactics or technique. This is not because I do not want to share some of my modest knowledge about coaching juniors. It is because I firmly believe that, if you do not work on these four things with your junior team, no tactics/technique knowledge will help you create and have a good junior program, no matter how big it is. 

You might want to turn down your volume before playing the clip

Bojan Kovacevic
AFC Pancevo Panthers, Serbia