Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Playing "UP" To Improve Your Youth Football Team

Playing “Up” to Improve Your Youth Football Team:

Do you have a “bully” team in your youth football league or a year end playoff?

Playing “Up”  an age level or classification in a controlled scrimmage may be what your youth football team needs to gain an edge in these games.


In 2002 I had an age 8-10 “B” team that was running the Single Wing Offense for the first time. We had the youngest and smallest team in our division, but slowly and surely we developed into a very dominant team. By mid season surprisingly, we were naming the score in about every game. Our kids got pretty confident as did our parents and coaches. Unfortunately the schedule for our youth football league had us playing the two weakest teams in our last 2 games. In the last game to wrap up a League Title and undefeated season, we had a 5 TD lead at the half.

During the 2 weeks leading up to our last games our football team made little progress. It was evident that based on comparative scores it was going to take a miracle for us not to win the league title. In the football practices leading up to this game, our players were not running out our football plays well, our fakes weren’t going 20 yards downfield, our wedge plays weren’t as tight as usual, even our warmups and breaks weren’t as crisp as normal. The only thing the kids seemed to be fired up about was trophies, the pizza party immediately following our last game and the new trick football plays we put in.

At seasons end, we were able to locate another team of similar abilities to play in an extra “Bowl” game. This other team had played a few of the same teams we had played in the regular season and our comparative scores were about the same. Our kids came into the game very confident and were a bit surprised when our first drive got stopped on the opponent’s 6 yard line, as we had scored on every opening drive that season. To make a long story short, we lost 46-6. Our kids never gave up, they played hard, but not crisp or well. In our teams defense, as coaches we had yet to devise the various adjustments we use that are detailed in chapter 13 of the book. But what our youth football team suffered from had little to do with adjustments to a few youth football plays.

Our team needed a challenge, a goal, a close game and adversity. Coaching youth football well means you have to supply some of these on your own, if these things are not being readily supplied by your schedule and the opposition.

In 2003 I coached a different team, a �Select� team that was very talented. Much different than the 2002 team, this group of 9-10 year olds ( 90% 10s) saw us with 5 players over 180 pounds and all but one could move very well. I got to choose from about 150 kids to put together this team. We had it all, size, speed and a good pass/catch combination. This was my most difficult coaching job ever, as many of the kids could get by on natural ability rather than using proper technique. It was a real chore holding them accountable to perfect technique when their own way often yielded positive results. As the season unfolded we were naming the score in every game and just dominating the games. We could have won every league game by 50 points and our first team defense had just 1 TDs scored on it all season. I was not going to let what happened in 2002 happen to this team.

To make sure the problem from 2002 didn�t rear its ugly head on this team, I scheduled several controlled scrimmages against age 11-12 youth football teams in mid season to keep our kids focused. Our football team learned that they had to be perfect with their technique and with our schemes in order to compete with these older teams. We even went so far as to schedule extra games verses age 11-12 teams that had byes in an Iowa league across the river from us. At the end of our regular season, we played the league champion of this league under the lights at a big college stadium, the big time. They lead early on us, but we fought back and ended up dominating the game, but won by just 2 touchdowns.

The net result is we continued to improve all season because we knew we had very tough scrimmages and exrtra games schedueld along the way. We knew we had a real tough game at seasons end to look forward to. Rather than just blowing out every similar aged team in our league, the challenge of playing older teams made this team much better. Our kids were on a mission to do what no one but them and us coaches thought they could do. It made them better players and gave them a great sense of accomplishment. As to our regular league rivals, the games against them were a cake walk compared to the games and scrimmages against the 11-12 year old teams we played. We won our league championship game 46-12 after leading 46-0 in the third quarter. We all agreed it was better to play an older tough team and lose than have an undefeated season with few challenges. We really are believers in, even with my rural team of playing anyone, anytime, any place (within reasonable traveling distance).

I would suggest you temper it a bit depending on the makeup of your team. If you decide to scrimmage older teams there may be smaller and weaker kids from your team that might just work on their own during the scrimmage, getting some much needed remedial coaching. If you are a “B” or rookie team, scrimmage up a classification. Another way to get some of this accomplished is to just borrow a dominant player or two from an older team for a portion of your practice. If you have an older �sister� team, borrow a stud player or two and put them on a scout team defensive line, This will give your offensive linemen a test that even if they have modest success, will show them they can compete against much better competition than they will ever face. Be reasonable and sound in determining the level of play your kids can handle and march the kids right up to the edge of that. If you do this and play that “Beast” team, you will have prepared your kids to meet the challenge and that’s being a good youth football coach.

In 2005 my rural age 8-10 kids (24 kids, no cuts or selects) played an extra game the second week of the season against a huge and fast inner city �Select� team from Omaha that chose from over 120 kids and had won 3 consecutive league titles in their �Select� league. They had 5 kids over 150 pounds while we had just 1 and from there we may have had maybe one more kid over 100 lbs.

We surprised everyone by winning big, with a 4 touchdown lead at the half. The rest of the season was really a breeze after playing up like that. Our kids had an incredible amount of confidence after that game, beating the “Monsters of the Midway.” Even if we had lost that game and played well, I would have expected the same end result. I thought because of our system and tactics we had a chance to win, but competing would have served the same end purpose.

That surprising win really launched our rural program and got us some respect and much needed confidence. Now we have a new problem, we can�t get anyone to play us in non-league games. Getting soundly trounced by a bunch of scrawny farm boys with a throwback offense I guess is too much for some guys to handle, go figure.

In 2006 my rural age 8-10 teams suffered the same fate as my 2002 Omaha squad. My 2006 team won big in our league games, scoring 3 touchdowns in the first quarter of 9 games. Unfortunately we had the two worst teams in the division as our last 2 opponents and they didn’t give our team much of a game. I had set up a scrimmage against a very big and fast “Select” team from Lincoln in August that we did very well in. I guess we played too well, in fact (4 TDs to none) they ended up not following through with the promised real game we were supposed to have later in the year.

I guess those are problems most youth football teams would like to have, but it makes it difficult just the same. We lost in OT in the playoffs in 2006 to the eventual Super Bowl champs in a well played youth football game with excellent opposing coaches. Playing and scrimmaging better teams may have helped us avoid that loss and in the future we will have to figure out creative ways to artificially create situations were our kids have to compete. Hats off to our opponnent, they played great and deserved the win, but we will try not to make those same mistakes again.
That’s what coaching youth football is all about.

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