Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Observations from the Pop Warner and AYF National Championships

Over the next 40 days I’m going to share with you many of the observations I made at the Pop Warner and AYF National Championships in the Orlando, Florida area. Hopefully, these observations will help you improve your youth football team, no matter your league affiliation or interest in winning a National Championship.

Pop Warner is a nationwide youth football program that has teams in 44 states and had about 400,000 kids participating from ages 5-15. Pop Warner has very strict age and weight requirements for each age group that has worked for them for decades. Kids with higher weights are not allowed to play at all. Here are the age and weight categories for Pop Warner: //www.popwarner.com/football/footballstructure.asp

AYF has teams in all 50 states and over 600,000 participants age 5-15. AYF has both a weighted and age structure similar to Pop Warner, but they also have an unlimited weight division as well. The AYF Tournament is held in Kissimmee, Florida at the same time as the Pop Warner Tournament. The two venues are about 20-25 minutes away from each other. I spent 3 days at the Pop Warner Tournament and 3 days at the AYF Tournament, nights were spent huddling with coaching staffs from North Carolina to California. It was a very long week, youth football from dawn to well beyond dusk. I watched 19 complete games and parts of about 20 others, so I got a really good look at 38 teams and a nice peek at 40 additional teams. The Pop Warner Tournament hosted 64 teams, while the AYF Tournament had about 120 teams in it, as the AYF has both weighted and unlimited divisions.

To make it to Florida in either tournament, your team has to win your home area League Championship as well as Regional Championship. That means most of the teams that get to Florida have records like 13-0 and 14-0, with many having some very gaudy numbers to go along with their impressive records. I can’t remember how many times I heard coaches say they had only been scored on 1- 2 times all season. Yes the teams here are the big gorillas of their local areas, many of which have dominated wire to wire. Some dominated to their own detriment, more on that in later posts.

Both tournaments are played on multiple field venues. AYF plays at Austin, Tyndale Park, which has 7 fields. There are nice 10 row grandstands, all the games are filmed by professionals and there is a well done trophy presentation area sponsored by Under Armour. There are free video game and skills development areas to keep the kids busy during breaks. There are plenty of food and souvenir vendors in-between fields for the players and fans as well. To bring home the “National Championship” feel there is signage everywhere from both AYF and it’s multiple sponsors. A day pass is $10, weekly pass is $25.

The Pop Warner Tournament is held at Disney’s Wild World of Sports complex on the Disney property. There are 6 fields and all games are filmed by professionals. You can buy a DVD of any game for $30, just like at AYF, so all coaches have accurate scouting material of their future opponents. At this tournament, you have many choices for food and drink as well as for souvenirs. There are probably twice as many vendors at this location compared to AYF. The cheerleading competition is also held here inside, so you will see thousands of little cheerleaders walking around in the complex. All of the games are also shown delayed with commentary on TVs in the restaurants and public area of the complex courtesy of ESPN. They give a real professional feel to the games, like NFL or College games. The “TV” field is field 17, those games can be seen live in the restaurants and public area TVs. Highlights of the games with commentary are continuously being run on those screens. The cost for a 1 day pass at Disney is $13.50, for the week it is $40.00. 

While obviously the Disney venue is much more fan friendly and gives you places you can sit down and eat a good meal and watch the games on TV, both places have a “Championship Feel” about them. There are lots of smiling faces in both camps and both seem to be run very well.

Keep checking back to the blog, we will get to the football observations that will help you coach youth football more effectively. Some of this data will probably really surprise you. It will include commentary and pictures on specific teams and coaches as well as macro and hands on observations that will help your youth football team next season. We will also share some information on the teams running my Winning Youth Football system at the tournaments, to see how they did.

Copyright 2010 Cisar Management, all rights reserved. This article may be republished but only if this paragraph and link are included. //winningyouthfootball.com

About The Author

Related posts


  1. davecisar


    The quality of play in AYF and Pop Warner varies by area. Where I live the Pop Warner league is primarily made up of programs that couldn’t compete in the unlimited leagues.

    I’ve now done over 180 coaches clinics and team camps worldwide. I’ve also attended 6 Pop Warner and AYF National Championship Tournaments. There is great youth football being played in both leagues. I can say with GREAT confidence, that when you compare the two leagues and look at the teams side by side, there are plenty of Pop Warner teams that would win National Championships in AYF and there are plenty of AYF teams that could win National Titles in Pop Warner. Quality varies by area and both serve their intended purposes.

  2. Coach Ken

    I have no doubts that your assessment is more accurate. Was just stating that in my area the level of at between Pop Warner and AYF is considerable. I don’t mean to lure you into a debate on older lighter vs unlimited weight divisions yet…the more I think on it, the more I fail to understand why PWLS doesn’t just deep six their
    Model and move to unlimited weights / age based play. All of the studies and statistics show that all things are equal and age is really the determining factor. Heck, you’ve said that yourself in your book that age > weight.

  3. Dave Cisar


    There is value in both weighted and non weighted leagues. My teams have played in unlimited weight leagues for the last 18 years.

    AYF has both weighted and non-weighted leagues. There is room for both, especially when many people PERCIEVE there to be dangers in playing.

    I the real world it doesn’t matter what the injury facts are and the fact playing against bigger kids doesn’t produce more injuries. The perception is smaller kids equal less injuries. So in the end, it makes sense to have both options available.

  4. Ann Hallead

    I was wondering if you an updated opinion on Pop Warner vs. AYF? We recently joined AYF and see on their website that they are a growing organization. Pop Warner, at least in our area is losing membership at a rapid pace. I would be interested in you opinion on this. Also, I know that pop warner national just changed their weight limits. I am wondering if these increased weight limits with O/L players is a safety concern. Love to hear your thoughts.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *