Team Sizes in Youth Football
There is an optimum size for a youth football team. If your team has too few players, a key injury or grade problem can seriously affect your teams ability to compete or even have a productive football practice. Too many players and it becomes very difficult to offer the proper coaching attention and even get the kids reasonable amounts of playing time.
There are some youth football coaches that believe �the more the merrier� when it comes to player numbers. I think many of these coaches think the more players they have the better chance that they will have that some superstar among that number will emerge to carry the team. There is a local team that carried 40-60 players on its squad and still lost most of its games, poor coaching often won�t even overcome huge talent pools. Our Omaha league saw one of our teams face a team that suited up 52 kids. Most teams in the league suit up from 22-35 players. High numbers guarantees nothing but lots of headaches for the head coach, very low numbers will do the same.
We have found the best player to coach ratio is about 5 or 6 players per coach. If you carry 40 kids on your youth football team would mean you need 7 coaches. That many coaches is hard to find to begin with and then to train and have them all on the same page would be a management miracle worthy enough to be Donald Trump�s apprentice. Teams this large rarely see players developing to their full potential, as the head coach and his assistants are spread so thin.
Teams this large often see very good players or diamonds in the rough fall through the cracks. These kind of kids often do not get noticed or develop very well on large teams. Even doing a simple fit and freeze team drill would mean all players reps would be limited, the starters and the backups would be in just half the time. Getting all the kids playing time in games would be a disaster. To get your backups time, your starters would have to come out very early and fail to develop as well as they could with more playing time. If you have minimum play rules, your best players would not be on the field long enough to make much of a difference. There is no doubt you will lose lots of players from a team like this and I wouldn�t even want to think about the parent hassles, what a nightmare. Team sizes this large are a huge disadvantage, not the advantage most people think.
The first year I started the Screaming Eagle program in Omaha, I had 36 youth football players, all on one team. We had no option of dividing into another team, because for most of the season we had one coach, myself. Later on we got a great guy to help that had not coached or played football, but was a great basketball coach. That many players with so few coaches was a real disservice to the kids. It didn�t help that all the kids were first year rookie players. While we had some rookie raw talent, our season was not as enjoyable or successful as it could have been had we had a smaller sized team.
My mistake was not cutting off the teams enrollment. The problem was this team practiced across the street from Omaha�s largest housing project and the kids had no other place to play football within walking distance. After the neighborhood kids saw our football practice the first day, more and more kids started showing up, begging to be on the team. I�m not very good at turning away kids in need, and these were kids that needed the program more than we needed them, so I took them all. The following year I had 3 teams and we got the coaches we needed to accommodate team sizes of about 25 or so.
Over time we experimented with various team sizes as my Organization grew to about 400 kids at 5 different fields. Some years we had groups that were too big for one team but not quite big enough to divide into 2 teams.
We have fielded teams as small as 17 players, but that is a very dangerous number. If 17 kids were there for every game you can make 17 work, but there are those problem games where one player is sick, another is injured and then you have one that gets held out for grades and you end up with just 14 players. You are in real trouble in our league if you show up with just 14 kids. Football practice is also a bear with teams this small, you have to run lots of half line drills and you have to cross train all your players to play other positions. Some coaches lose control of teams of this size because they feel they can not hold kids accountable to any kind of standard for fear of losing them. In this situation the inmates (players and parents) end up having the upper hand and chaos ensues.
We have found 24-25 players is the best number to start your season out with. We mix and match until we have that number now on about every team we field. On my personal teams, I usually lose 1 player before the season starts, they decide that football is not for them. As the season progresses we are usually missing 1 player per game due to injuries, sickness, grades etc. So most for games and practices we have about 22-23 kids available. To me this is the perfect number, 22 kids means I have 11 on 11 in our fit and freeze drills during football practice. We can run our football plays out against a scout defense of 11 players if we have 22 on the team.
I only need 3-5 coaches to effectively coach this group and playing time and attention to each individual youth football player is adequate. With a group this size I�m going to know what every player can do, they can each learn their football plays and there won�t be anyone slipping through the cracks. There won�t be any player that feels left out and my better players as well as my backups will get the reps and attention they need to become better youth football players.
In the rural area I now coach in, we take the first 24 kids that sign up to play, first come first served based on a flyer we send out at their school.
While many coaches have no input on team sizes, if you do have influence, do your best to lobby for a team size of 24-25. Your youth football coaching experience will be significantly more fun and productive with team sizes like this.
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