How to Scrimmage With Fewer Than 22 Players In Youth Football
Many youth football teams struggle with “scrimmaging” against themselves because they have fewer than 22 players. There are a number of solutions to that problem, but before we go there, let’s talk about scrimmaging.
Think About Scrimmaging
While I agree kids need full contact to get over that initial fear of contact, but most youth football teams scrimmage too much. When you scrimmage, you have to go into a huddle, call the play, come out of the huddle and line up, run a play then figure out what went wrong and coach up your kids. The problem is, when your team does this, they get one rep in every 90 to 180 seconds. That is just 14-30 plays in 40 minutes.
In most “scrimmage” situations, you have one coach calling the plays in the huddle and a bunch of others standing around or working the defensive scout team. How can you check and make sure every single player on your offense is doing his job correctly when the rest of the staff doesn’t even know the play you are going to run? If you are running your first team defense, your offensive scout team is trying to figure out how to align and run someone elses offense against your best players. Of course your offensive scout kids are the kids that probably can’t even run your offense well, let alone someone elses.
The typical scenario is many of your players are doing the right thing on a play and many are doing the wrong thing, but most coaches can’t determine which are doing which. Most of the time if a play does poorly the coach will ask which player made the tackle to determine which player blocked the wrong player or blocked poorly. This all takes time and then you have 21 of the 22 players standing around as the coach coaches up the player that made the mistake. Boring, ineffective, inefficient and a waste of your valuable practice time.
The keys are to make sure every one of your players is coached up on every rep and to get as many quality reps in as quickly as possible. You can’t do that using traditional scrimmaging methods. We prefer fit-and-freeze rapid reps against dads, cones, dummys or a combination. Set up a set defense with dads, cones, and dads with blocking dummys at the point of attack. Always have a dad or coach at the point of attack with a small shield or stand up dummy. If you are running an off-tackle run to the right, make sure that defensive end spot is manned by a dad with a dummy, simulating the first 3-4 steps a typical defensive end does in your league. If you are kicking that player out with your fullback, the fullback freezes on the dad/coach once contact is made. Coach then makes sure that the correct blocker has made contact, his knees are bent, head up, head on inside etc before that player is released from his frozen position. On that play you probably have dad/coach holding a bag at the linebacker and corner position. Again making sure the correct player makes contact with the proper technique you are teaching.
On the line we have cones in place where defenders would normally be, empty plastic garbage cans are better. Get as many dads as you can to stand stationary as defenders. Have the offensive lineman come out on his first 2 steps, and freeze on the cone/dad/garbage can they would be blocking. We are looking for to come off the ball quickly, with the proper lead first and second step, at the correct angle, knees bent, head up, correct height, head fit on correct side and of course blocking the correct defender. The pullers of course are fitting up and freezing on their assignmentm, not stopping after 2 steps.
All plays are called at the line of scrimmage so the dads/coaches with bags can quickly align at the point of attack. No wasting time coming in and out of huddles and now all your coaches know which play is being called. If you have 5 coaches, 1 runs the “defense” the other 4 are coaching 2-3 kids each on offense. You perfect each play with every player using this method.
We sub on every rep from about 15 yards away and do one rep every 12 -15 seconds or so, adding in a conditioning component to the drill. Scrimmaging wastes so much time and often your kids get very little out of it. Fit and freeze reps are coaching intensive and get everyone in your team involved. See your execution improve exponentially when you go to this approach.
If you feel you need to get kids over that initial fear of contact with other jerseys, you could of course scrimmage another team or do half line drills. On half line you just align a defense against the side of the line you are attacking on offense, leaving off your backside players on offense and defense. Run all your plays to the right, then switch to all your plays on the left to save some time. You can also go live versus a defense just aligned against your offensive line, using no backs and no ball, just looking for perfection of your front 5 or 7 if you are in a double tight set. With the backs you can always run plays against a skeleton of linebackers and defensive backs. Remember you are getting plenty of full contact in the individual portion of your practices, team doesn’t have to be full contact all or even most of the time.
A more detailed description of how to do it both on offense and defense is in our book, “Winning Youth Football a Step-by-Step Plan”