Last Week of Practice for Your Youth Football Team
Many youth football teams are wrapping things up at this time of year. Most of us are in either playoff runs or at least want to make the last game a competitive one. When coaching youth football you always want your team to progress each week, which means your last game of the season should be your teams best. At the same time you want the last week of practice to be special. We all want to top off the season with some fun and hopefully wet the appetite in each of the players to come back and play the following season. How do we accomplish both goals, have fun and yet be prepared for that last big game?
At this time of year we are down to two football practices per week. Many youth football coaches either don’t do anything fun that last week or they turn that last practice into some kind of circus. I’m all for making it fun for the kids, but by making the last practice all fun and games you often plant the seed in your players minds that the season is already over.
We like to do our “fun” practice on that first practice of the week. During that first 30 minutes we may do things like play Hawaiian Rules football or do a live scrimmage with running backs playing on the line and linemen playing running back. We often just do things that the kids on that specific team have taken to heart, like deer hunter or the towel game. This year our first practice of the last week got rained out, so we were in the gym, We played Dodge Ball and Capture the Flag for the first 30 minutes of practice, the kids had a blast.
During team we talked about our goals for the week and our goals for the individual members of our team. The players know that the end result won’t be known for 20+ years. Hopefully by then the seeds we had planted during this season will have sprouted and matured. We let them know these are seeds of persistence, hard work, teamwork, sacrifice, accepting criticism, accepting guidance, humility, compassion, respect and reliability that will help each player be better sons, husbands, fathers and providers, While youth football isn’t a cure all for all of societies ills, for many kids it is a very important part of their development. As an employer, I can always tell if a person has played competitive sports or not. The competitive sports player is often innately more competitive, they accept coaching better, they work harder, get flustered less, work better with others and overcome obstacles better than their video game playing counterparts.
While that first day of the week practice may be a bit fun and reflective, we get back into “football mode” the last half of that practice. If the parents want to do something special, this is the practice they do it at. Later in the week at that very last practice we get back down to “business”. In addition to our regularly scheduled individual development periods, we would be repping on-air team offense, team defense and special teams. At this point in the season you will see many youth football teams pulling out all the stops. This means you need to spend some time on aligning and alerting your team about special formations like the Swinging Gate/Lonesome Polecat or severely unbalanced sets. We also see things like wall kick returns, starburst kick returns or throwback kick returns at this time of year. Another thing we often see in this last game are “trick” plays like QB throwbacks or even illegal plays like the “wrong ball” play,
One way to prepare your youth football team for these situations is to set up your defense or special teams against a “scout” team of your coaches and remaining players. Align everyone up in positions and have everyone take a knee. Discuss the play and walk your scout team through the play as the defense observes. Then jog your scout team through each of the trick football plays you need to prepare against. Once you have demonstrated 4-5 of these football plays to your defense, go back and huddle up and run the plays live or to thud (not taking the ballcarrier to the ground). We always have the coaches at the skill positions here to give quality reps to the defense in a short amount of time.
While you may never see any of these “trick” plays or formations, it is something new for the kids. Quite often football practice is getting a little stale at this time of the year for youth football kids, it’s natural. Doing things like this keeps the kids attention and gives them a new and interesting approach to learn. It can also be a difference maker come game time.
We may even have a few trick football plays of your own up our sleeve at this time of the year. But we do it primarily for the novelty of it rather than depending on the play to score. We do it to keep the kids interested and may not run the play at all or run it as an extra point play, only to be used when comfortably ahead.
Nothing is more disheartening to a youth football team than having their super secret trick play that they KNOW is going to go for a touchdown, stuffed for no gain or a big loss. What the other team is counting on when they run something like this is a lack of preparation on your part. They expect panic, poor alignment, confusion and of course success. This happened in the last game of the season for my age 10-11 team. The opponent tried the illegal “wrong ball” play. For more info on that play and even a video clip, do a word search on “wrong ball” on this blog and see it being run.
The week prior to our last game we had instructed our team on the “wrong ball” play, We had discussed it, demonstrated it and even run it against our defense. Our defense knew that no matter what the players or coaches of the other team were yelling out, that if anyone picked up the ball after being set to play, the ball was live and the person with the ball needed to be tackled.
Well the score was 14-14 in a very evenly matched youth football game, as both teams were 7-1 coming into the game. The other team had the ball, driving for what appeared to be the go ahead score. After the ball had placed down and the whistle had sounded for the ready to play, one of the players for the other team threw up his hands and started acting confused and was jogging to the sidelines, the coaches for this team in the meanwhile were telling him to come off, get off the field. In the meantime the ball was snapped to one of the remaining backs while the linemen stayed frozen in their tracks. Well, our kids weren’t fooled, we had practiced this very same play in our last football practice of the season. Our most aggressive linebacker crushed the ball carrier in his tracks, he fumbled and we recovered. The shock of having that play stuffed completely really caught this team off guard. We scored in 3 plays, onside kicked and scored again right before the half to take what was a very close game and put it out of reach. Our kids gained so much confidence from stopping that one play, The kids knew they had been prepared well and seemed to just take over the game after that play. We also intercepted a QB throwback pass in this game that was run back to the 3 yard line, just like in practice. We went on to win 46-26.
The moral of the story: don’t waste your valuable time practicing against every conceivable threat before your first game, But for your last game or two spend a reasonable amount of time teaching your players how to respond to some of the more “common” trick plays. It may help you in that big game and at the least kids love seeing trick plays and learning something new. Make that last week of practice special, but make sure to get the kids back into “game” mode during that last practice.
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