Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

The Best Football Plays in Youth Football

What are the Best Football Plays in Youth Football?

The answer may surprise you. Many youth football teams attempt to emulate what the coach has seen on TV the past week or what the head coach ran as a high school player 20 years ago. Unfortunately what works at the College or Pro level on TV often doesn�t work very well at the youth level.

The coaches high school system may have worked well for his team 20-30 years ago with 6 days a week practices and fleet running backs, but fails miserably at the youth level. The youth coaches using this philosphy to develop their offense and defense are often disappointed and frustrated to see their teams failing with their old youth or high school offense and just can’t figure out why. Invariably these coaches first reponse is to blame the kids for the lack of effort and execution.

Youth Football Coaches Charge
At the youth level our job as coaches is to teach the kids how to block and tackle safely and effectively. We teach them how to get into good athletic stances as well as the base rules and strategies. Our most important job should be to make football fun for the player so he develops a love and appreciation for the game. We are also charged to coach our teams up to their full overachieving potential.

Winning is Not a Four Letter Word
You can have fun and win at the same timem these are not mutually exclusive goals like many soccer mom types try and lead you to believe. In fact most players that play on perennial losing youth football teams lose their love for the game and quit. That is one reason I developed these coaching materials for my own 400+ kid organization, so that our coaches would be competent enough to coach the kids to their God given potential. The end result is our kids plays competitively so they stay engaged in our program. In fact my materials are filled with how to make practices both well organized and fun.

Poor Scheme Selection
Most of the plays or schemes the typical youth coach has in his playbook are not designed to the talent level of most youth football teams. I see teams with no speed often trying to run sweeps, I see teams with kids that can�t throw or catch throwing (trying to throw) 20 yard passes. I see teams running bootlegs with very slow quarterbacks. I see teams running a dive play with no lead blocker into the heart of youth defenses. I see teams trying reverses against well disciplined teams for huge losses. I see pass patterns with 3-4 and even 5 receivers with horrific pass protection. I see teams trying to get a 9 year old to read two different defenders on option plays etc etc etc.

I rarely see: well executed lead off-tackle plays, one or two receiver pass patterns, optional run/pass plays, trap plays, pulling, double teams, wedge blocking, designed plays to draw the defense off-sides, unbalanced formations, motion, and great sportsmanship.

In youth football each year is different; you will not always have a big team or have a very fast “feature back” that can outrun everyone on a sweep play. Unlike the colleges or pros, you don’t have 100s of kids from all across the country to choose from or 20-40 hours a week practice time. In youth football you have limits and constraints. Many of the kids you coach now will probably not even play High School football, let alone college football.

Luck of the Draw
In my mind the team that wins because they just happen to have the fastest kid in the league and he outruns everyone on sweeps and kick returns is a joke, a luck of the draw type lotto thing. Football in my opinion is a team game and a well coached team won�t give up sweeps for touchdowns or ever kick deep anyway. My first team defense has not given up a sweep for a score in over 6 years and in 15 years we have never given up a legitimate kick return for a score.

The Sweep
Most youth teams are set up to stop the sweep, the “holy
grail” of most youth teams. Others try to shut down the “dive” in the gaps next to the center. Many defenses overcommit and offer too much defensive strength to defend even the weakest of pass threats. Very few youth football defenses are set up to stop even an average off-tackle play.

In our Championship game in 2003 the other team was so concerned about taking away our inside �wedge� play. They put bearcrawlers in both center guard and guard tackle gaps. We started the game with 7 straight tailback off-tackle plays to our strong side and scored. The very next series they moved out to our off-tackle hole and we ran wedge for a 65 yard score on first down. Then they tried to stop the wedge play and moved 4 kids back into the A and B gaps, we ran the wedge play action pass for a 60 yard score. We were up 46-0 in the third quarter when
they finally just gave up and tried to run out the clock. Both the wedge and off tackle plays can be run well by very average skilled kids, no studs required. But the moral of the story is this was series based football , all these plays looked like each other at the outset of the play.

In other games teams were set up to stop the sweep and wedge plays but again were giving us the off-tackle play. We run no-huddle so we get many more snaps in than most
youth teams. In one game we had 71 snaps, of which 51 were off-tackle strong plays. We were getting our 4-5 yards every time, nothing real big, but we did get some very big gains and touchdowns from blocking back traps, wing reverses (2 TDs) and TB run pass option (pass for TD). So we scored 5 touchdowns and out of the 5, 4 were in excess of 20 yards, we were only stopped on downs once and we fumbled once too. We were 2-2 passing for 56 yards and a TD. Now how much fun was that for our 3 tailbacks that shared duty at the tailback position that day and for our pulling guards? They had a blast, so did our place kickers, and the 4 other kids that had TDs playing non-tailback positions, not to mention our defense that could play with abandon since we were moving the ball at will on offense.

I’ve coached youth football for about 15 years and one play that we have always been able to run effectively regardless of the size or talent of the team I’ve had: the lead off- tackle power. It can be run by out of nearly any formation, I love it out of the Single Wing with 4 lead blockers and a double team block at the point of attack. While it isn’t a terribly sexy play, it gets you 4-5 yards every down in most cases and sets up “home run” complementary plays like the trap, play action pass or wing reverse.

The net is, the off-tackle play at the youth level is the hardest play to stop, yet few teams try and perfect it despite the fact it takes little talent to run the play. In my offense with the Single Wing, we practice that play more than any other. We block it a variety of ways so we know it will work regardless of the defensive front we see. Our kids can run it in their sleep. We often start our practices with the �Power Hour� as Steve Calande calls it. We run our off-tackle strong power for 30-40 minutes on air, fit and freeze and then with players holding hand shields going 100%.Of course during this time we are practicing our set adjustments on the play as well. Yes, just one of our football plays often makes up half of our offensive practice time.

Trick Plays
If your team is doing poorly, you don�t need a trick play or a new offense (what most coaches panic and do), you need to get perfect at running the off-tackle lead power play. We know we are in for a battle when the oppposing team comes out and tries to establish the off-tackle play right off the bat and stays the course. Of all the videos I�ve seen from youth teams from all over the country, regardless of the offensive set or personnel, the very best teams always have a good off-tackle play. It isn’t sexy, but it does the trick and it sets up everything else in your offense.

In the end, is it more fun for the kids to run a pro style offense with a bunch of trick plays and score infrequently or would they like it better if they scored nearly every possession running a series based attack?
In the end the series based attack will yield you plenty of chances to use counters, traps and play action passes that will work off of the base action. Once you are ahead, sure it’s fun to run a “goof” trick play for grins. But if you have to resort to them in desperation to move the ball, your offense and team are in trouble.

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Youth Football Plays Copyright 2007 Cisar Management. Republishing this article is allowed if this paragraph and links are incliuded.

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1 Comment

  1. Willie Austin jr

    hi i really enjoyed the colomun. what i been preaching to peers and coleagues about youth football was when you mentioned about having fast kids out running everybody and coaches rely on that.The league where i participate seems not as a whole focus a lot on fundementals.yes havin faster kids help but what about the coachin part, i see alot our league lacks as a whole. I coached the pee wee league this past year 7-8 and i changed my coaching aproach from previous year and saw a difference the play of my kids with most of my kids being first timers and i had 4 returners. My son is one of my running backs i saw dramatic difference in the learning curve from one year to other with keepin things simple but with different looks I just enjoy the points you made through out and i feel more confidence now knowing the thoughts and ideas i had were on the head based on what you talked about. i trying to move to the small fry league 9-10 i am more excited now than ever cause at the end of the day you are right it about the kids havin fun and understandin what to trying to do. i like the multiple look but keepin the plays in the same sequence as you suggested and maybe add a few blocks different i just want our league over all to a better league. what could be the best way to start teaching plays any particular sequence or anything.most of the teams will be playin a 5-3 front
    may want to try to develp a simple passing attack here and there maybe at the most 3-4 passes a game if needed or possible


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