Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

The Passing Game in Youth Football

 The Passing Game in Youth Football, Love the Play Action

Many coaches either misquote me or misunderstand me when I talk about passing the ball in youth football. I have nothing against the pass and in fact make it an integral part of my offensive threat. What I do think is based on statistical fact, most (not all) non-select youth football teams will have a difficult time passing the ball to consistently  move the chains and get first downs. Can some teams do it? Yes if they have a phenom QB, some great receivers and lots of practice time. Rarely however does this combination exist and rarely are these type teams championship caliber teams that consistently win league titles or the big tournaments.

We Love the Pass

Remember my example from previous posts? In the last 11 seasons my personal teams have had just 1 season where the opposition completed more passes than we got interceptions. Yes, in nearly every season the opposition completed more passes to us than they did to themselves.

In the Pop Warner National Championships in Orlando this year the Pee Wee level game pitted the best 2 teams in the country ( Pop Warner) at age 10-11 and Older-Lighter age 12’s. These teams were no slouches, both 15-0 entering the championship game, winner of their league, region and having beaten some pretty heavy competition to get to the title game. This is the best of the best of thousands of teams. Guess what their pass completion percentages were in this game? Less than 25% and these were great teams, not run of the mill doormats.

Does that mean I think you shouldn’t have a passing game in youth football? Not at all, far from it. While I don’t think you have to be able to consistently move the chains with the pass, you have to have the appearance of having a passing threat to compete and win against the best in youth football.

Championship Level Teams Must Have a Passing Threat

You don’t want to have to play against 9 in the box against your base run plays, which is what will happen if you do not have a threat of a passing game. See how I use the word, threat. Threat doesn’t mean you will complete every one of those passes, it means you may throw and if you do, there is a reasonable chance at a significant gain on the play.

When you have a passing threat the defense has to make a choice, are they willing to gamble that the passing threat you have is worth the risk of ignoring it. What trade-off are they willing to risk for the ability to overwhelm you with numbers?  Some teams may scheme for that based on down/distance or on tendencies, while others may sell out the entire game.

Passing In Series

Every series of plays in our playbook includes at least one play action pass in it. This is a series of plays that has similar backfield action, but uses different blocking schemes so we are able to hit nearly every point of attack from the same series. The play nearly always starts looking the same as the previous, but we hit a different area. Of course one of the most deadly plays in those series is the play action pass off of the base backfield action of the series.

These passes are short high percentage passes that are often big gainers due to yardage after catch. With the exception of one waggle type pass, most of these pass plays are very quick developing, allowing us to avoid sacks. Our goal in nearly every one of these football plays is to take advantage of a defender we will place in conflict. If the cornerback has both a run and passing responsibility, we are going to run a play over and over at him so he is used to seeing it and responding to it. Once we see him reacting in this way we flip the switch and run the complementary pass play which looks exactly like the aforementioned run play with a very slight adjustment. You won’t see any of our receivers running a traditional corner route etc on these type of plays.

The Results

While my teams don’t pass as much as many do, we probably led our leagues in touchdown passes 8 of the last 11 seasons. Last year alone my age 7-9 kids passed for 11 touchdowns in 9 games. We threw just 1 interception for the year, now that’s efficiency. Part of our success had to do with the success we had in developing the base run play in the series so the opposition would often get to the point where they were selling out or over reacting to the base play in the series. In other cases these teams were scheming based on down and distance and our playcalling caught them off guard.

We perfect the base series which is 5 running plays and 1 passing play, we do so by perfecting the 5 runs first, then the pass. Same for the next series of 4 plays, the 3 runs first, then the pass. While we may not throw a bunch, the other team knows we will pass and must respect it; otherwise a big pass play will ensue at some point in the game.

Other Options

Even if you don’t have a consistent passing threat, consider throwing the ball anyways. If you are at 2nd and 1, think about going deep, telling your QB to just throw the ball past the coverage. If he can’t throw that far, have him throw the ball outside coverage. The goal is to show the defense you MAY throw. You still have 2 downs to get your first down, but now the defense is thinking, hmmm maybe they are going to throw, I better not jump those base run plays like I’ve been doing. I know one very successful youth coach that would always throw a deep bomb either the first or second play of the game, those passes were always way over everyones head. In most of those games it would be the only throw they would make, but he usually got the defenders thinking pass which was his only goal for the play.

These are some concepts any team can apply to their offensive attack and March is the time to start thinking about making those changes for next season.

Copyright 2009 Cisar Management, all rights reserved. Republishing allowed if links are kept intact. For 400 Free Youth Football Coaching Tips or to Subscribe to Dave’s free Youth Football Coaching Tips Newsletter go to : //winningyouthfootball.com

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  1. Nate

    What do you think about age 5-7 year olds throwing the ball?
    What do you think the best offence for this age would be?


    1. davecisar


      Well it has never been done consistently well or even well by a handful of teams at that age group.
      Most of the teams at that age group who do very poorly usually try and spread it out and pass. What can work IF you have a player who can consistently throw the ball and another who can consistently catch it in a real game with pads on and opposing players is play action. Of course play action only works well when you establish the run.

      LOTS of guys on the internet give lots of info on coaching youth football and they do so in areas they’ve never coached. Ive only coached 6-8 year olds and 7-9 year olds, about 10 seasons of those age groups. Ive never coached 5 year olds in real life. For the age groups Ive coached at the younger levels, what you are looking for is: simplicity, commonality of implied intent (series based attacking all areas of the field with many plays looking alike, but they hit different areas of the field), ability to get everyone the ball, accomodates both weak and strong talent and is a very proven winner at that age group. For me, that is the SIngle Wing offense all the way.

      Best of Luck

      Dave Cisar


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