How Should You Teach Your Youth Football Players How to Recover Fumbles?
When you are coaching youth football, should you teach your kids to scoop the ball on the run and take it the other way or to safely cover?
In the 20 plus seasons I’ve coached youth football, I’ve only seen 5 scoop and scores in the games I’ve personally coached. On the other hand I have seen well over 100 instances where one player had fairly reasonable possession of the ball after the fumble and then lost it in the end to his opponent in the mad scramble for the ball. Does this mean you should only cover safely when you see the ball on the ground? It really depends on a number of factors.
Over the last 14 seasons running the system we use now, we are scoring on over 80% of our offensive possessions. We’ve never been shut out, we’ve led the league in scoring 12 of 14 seasons and only lost 17 games during that stretch. We feel extremely confident we are going to score if we gain possession of the football. In that case the statistics and my personal experiences tell me it probably makes a whole lot of sense to just safely cover instead of risking losing the ball using a scoop and score approach. On the other hand, way back when before the Single Wing I had several teams that were ok defensively but we were REAL spotty on offense. We weren’t confident at all we could score, so we took a few chances, which meant scoop and score was the order of the day. Did it make a difference? Not really, in 5 seasons we had just 2 scoop and scores for a TD.
The choice you make may have to do with what kind of players you have on your team. It’s HIGHLY unlikely that I’m going to teach any of my age 7-9 teams to scoop and score. Howevr, lseason I had a 7th-8th grade team that was very heavy on experience. We had 1 player who had the speed to take the ball all the way on a scoop and score and a couple of others who were ok in space and were pretty heady ballplayers. We gave 4 of those kids permission to scoop and score IF they saw the ball on the ground in space (no other player within 2 yards of it) and they were in a position where they felt VERY confident they could gain possession and grab it on the run.
Don’t think just because you are teaching “cradle” recovery methods that you are going to get the ball back every time the ball is on the ground, you have to teach it and practice it. It’s important to teach a proper “safe” cradle recovery. We ask our kids to use their backs to shield the ball from their nearest opponent. They need to have their backs turned toward their nearest threat to the football. We want them approaching the ball from the side, secure the ball with both arms around the ball deep into the stomach, then bend the legs up tight around the ball in a fetal type position with their head tucked in. Teach this by having the defensive player in his regular stance, throw a ball in front of him along the ground at about 5 yards distance away from the player. Have the player run to the ball diving with his head tucked at a point just outside the football, with his body perpendicular to the imaginary line of scrimmage. You don’t want your player diving on the football, it’s too easy to squirt out and when the pile ends up on top of him, he is going to get the wind knocked out of him. The next progression is to line 3 players up side by side in their stances. Toss the ball out on the ground about 5-7 yards in front of them. Let the 3 players fight this one out for the ball. Use a whistle to signal when the “play” is over. This is a competitive drill you will need pads and helmets on for this one.
Often times we don’t teach anyone on the team the scoop and score fumble recovery method. But if circumstances call for your team to empliy this method, this is something that has to be taught and practiced as well. The player must approach the ball under control with his fingers in the same position as we teach below the waist catches, pinkies together with hands outstretched and with the finger tips just off the top of the grass. The player must bend his knees and widen his feet a bit as he approaches the football to insure he gets a grasp of the ball on his first pass. Once he has the ball in his possession, the ball needs to be secured high and tight with the end of the ball covered by his hand. The player then has to accelerate to regain his speed.
Just line your kids up in a 2 point stance and roll the ball out about 5 yards in front of the line, you want the player gathering the ball while the ball is still moving. Once the player gains possession he has to take it upfield to a cone about 20 yards away at full speed. The next progression, have a coach stationed about 5 yards from where the ball is going to be tossed. The coach can either stay in place or move towards the ball as it is rolling. If the recovery attempt is threatened, the player uses the safe cradle recovery. If the coach isn’t close to the ball, the player can safely scoop and score and uses that recovery method. Teach your players how to make the right choice.
Whichever choice you make, make sure your players are proficient at recovering the ball. That includes when you are on offense or defense. Any offensive play with the ball on the ground is a live play even when you are doing drills or running plays on air with no defenders. Turnovers are a top 3 determining factor in youth football.
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