Onside kicks are often the difference between average teams and good teams in youth football. They are especially important when your team is less talented than those in your league.
Why Onside Kicks?
I’ve been a firm believer in onside kicks for the last 11 seasons for a variety of reasons.
#1) Why put the ball in the hands of the other teams best player in space. Why do exactly what the opposing team wants you to do?
#2) In 11 seasons of using the onside kick nearly every time ( until we are up by 3 scores then we kick deep) we have not had an onside kick returned for a touchdown.
#3) We have also been fairly adept at recovering onside kicks, recovering anywhere from 12%-33% of those kicks with our first team over the past 11 seasons.
Last weekend at the LA clinic a youth coach from Yorba Linda California shared with me his teams onside kick experience from last season. His age 10-11 team was down 32-6 at the half and had to kick-off to start the second half. They onside kicked and recovered, then went on to score a touchdown on the ensuing offensive drive. They repeated this same picture 3 more times in a row to pull out an amazing 34-32 win, now that’s coaching.
No Better Way to Turn Games Around
There is simply no way they could have turned the game around had they not executed their onside kicks to perfection. This coach told me that like my teams, they only practiced the onside kick and they put a lot of time into perfecting it. It wasn’t one of many kicks they practiced it was the ONLY kick they practiced. We do the same thing and simply don’t bother spending valuable practice time on deep kicks. The only time we kick deep is when we are up by 3 scores, at that point we let anyone kick and just instruct them to kick it as hard as they can. At that point in the game we don’t really care if the opponent gets good field position.
Most youth football coaches don’t fully recognize the value of onside kicks and the value of denying the opposition the football. Another huge benefit is the change in momentum and psychological edge a team has over an opponent whose offense is sitting on the bench. After an onside kick recovery or two the other team often has a “defeated” attitude, you can see it in their faces and demeanor.
In many games my personal team has scored a touchdown on the opening drive, onside kicked and scored again before our opponent has even touched the ball for a single play on offense. The game in essence is usually over at that point.
I’m always willing to give up the delta of 10-15 yards of field position for the safety of knowing the kick will not be returned for a touchdown and the 12%-35% chance my kids will recover the football. Something to consider as you ponder your special teams strategy for next season. The book covers both onside kick schemes we use as well as the coaching points etc.
Pop Warner National Championships
FYI obviously other youth football coaches are “getting it”. In the 2008 Orlando Pop Warner National Championships, all four teams in the Pee Wee Division Championships onside kicked EVERY time. Not only did they onside kick, but they were simply outstanding at it. Port St Lucie Florida had the best onside kick scheme and coverage I have ever seen in youth football.