Many youth football coaches feel they can predict who is going to win a game by watching the players in warm ups. During the Pop Warner and AYF National Championships there were quite a few coaches and parents that were partaking in this very activity. I kept my ears open, it was really interesting to hear what they had to say.
Over 90% of the comments were about the size and athleticism of specific players. When you get to this level of play there are some amazing physical specimens on most teams. After a few hours of hearing the ooohs and aaahs and “look how big that kid is”, “look how fast that player is” it became a bit much for me to endure. Along with those comments would usually be a prediction, that red team is going to walk all over that blue team, look at the size of those kids, look at number 20, no one is going to be able to stop that kid etc.
A good friend of mine whose team won an AYF National Championship this year went with me as we watched a few of these teams practice. While we would comment on a player or two, about 90% of our conversations centered around how well or poorly those teams practiced as a team. How tight were the drills, where was the coach investing his practice time in, were the kids fundamentally sound, were the kids being held to a perfect standard, how well was the team meshing as unit, how hard was the offensive line coming out, pad level, what were the base blocking schemes, what type of offensive and defensive schemes were the teams running, how was the coaching staff interacting with the players and how well was the coaching staff working together. We would watch both teams practice in the 60 to 90 minutes preceding the game and then predict who was going to win the game. The data we were using to make our predictions was much different from those we could hear making comments. The interesting thing was that I was 5 wins and 1 loss using my approach, while those we were listening to were more times wrong than right.
The facts are players make the plays to win games, however a single player or even grouping of dominant players are not going to beat better coached teams with less talent as long as the difference in talent is not overwhelming. If you are playing a team that chooses from over 2,000 kids and you on the other hand take every kid that signs up in your program and that number is 23 kids, you are probably going to have a tough time competing no matter what coaching advantage you have. However most of the advantages other teams have do not approach this level of magnitude.
This disparity in talent was evident in a number of games at the AYF Tournament. When Deon Sanders Truth Select team was playing a team from Central Florida, it looked like a High School team playing against a bunch of small fifth graders. The Truth team was a head taller and 50-100 lbs heavier than every player on the Florida team. It didn’t help that all the Florida coach did was yell at his kids and tell them “they didn’t want it.” It wouldn’t have mattered how well they were coached, the Truth team was going to roll in that game and they did. However the Truth team did meet their match later in the tournament from an Ohio team, that was smaller and slower than the Truth squad but not to the same magnitude as the Florida team. The Ohio team was also much better coached than the Floridians. Note that the Truth lost last year to a very average looking non all-star team from Naperville, Illinois team that was coached extremely well.
In another eight grade game, there was a team from Brooklyn, New York playing. They had a 6’1” 245 lb “I” back that had great body control, excellent core, big powerful lower body, very good speed, amazing strength and a lot of heart, he started on defense as well, playing both Linebacker and Defensive Tackle. The picture of him on this blog is of him standing next to a player on a team they had lost to. It’s obvious the opposing player is at least a foot shorter and about 120 lbs lighter than the Brooklyn player. On the same Brooklyn team they had a 6’5” wideout with good feet, nice coordination and deceptive speed, he was also a starter for them at Defensive End. The Brooklyn team also had some nice skill position players and a few nice sized linemen as well.
The team Brooklyn was playing was smaller and had a bunch of minimum play players they had to get snaps for, the oppositions team size was 34 players. This opposing team didn’t have any big fast backs or receivers, nothing that would make you say “wow”, look at that. What they did have was a pretty descent running game that came out of a Single Wing type attack and an efficient play action passing game. They ran maybe 12-13 different plays out of 3-4 different formations and never got too far away running the off-tackle power play. The team Brooklyn played didn’t have a single play that went for over 30 yards.
The Brooklyn team predictably tried to get the ball to their big hoss for most of the game. Lots of sweep, straight dive and some off-tackle plays for him. Rarely did they use him as a decoy and when they passed it was always on downs and distance you knew they were going to pass on. They didn’t run any Fullback traps or tight misdirection plays using the defenses pursuit of the big man against them. Their only attempts at misdirection were deep reverses and naked bootlegs, all of which went for negative yardage. Brooklyn didn’t use a single play action pass on first or second down the entire game and of course their special teams were not very special at all.
When they did try and throw to the 6’5” kid it was on obvious passing downs where he was covered by two defenders and the Quarterback was feeling heat from blitzes or stunts. The Brooklyn team did not carry out good fakes, did not come off the ball well, had poor pad level and base blocked every single play. The Brooklyn team lost this game to the amazement of many in the crowd, there were a lot of people that were not connected to either team watching this game just to watch these two kids play. Brooklyn also lost their consolation game, to finish 0-2 in the tournament. This by the way was par for the tournament, in the 15 or so games I watched there was not a single player that took over any of the games I watched. Well coached teams are not going to allow one player to beat them.
After the game I talked to the Brooklyn head coach, I’m not going to mention any names. When I asked coach the name of his star running back, he told me the boys nickname and then had to ask another coach what the players real name was, he didn’t know. He confirmed that the player was indeed 6’1” and 245 lbs, he also said the player was attending a prestigious Catholic High School the following year on a full scholarship. I interviewed the player as well and included a picture here in the blog. He was a very humble and very nice young man who has a great attitude and great grades as well. The head coach for the East All-Stars selected this player to play Deon Sanders team at the Army All American game in Florida in January. The coach also confirmed his star receiver was indeed 6’5” tall and he too was attending a Catholic High School on scholarship, but a different one than the big running back.
Players make plays, but football is the ultimate team game. The team with the best looking players doesn’t always win the game, this was never more evident than in the AYF and Pop Warner National Championships in 2010. If you were choosing winning teams based on looks alone, you would have chosen wrong in many of these games. Teams win games and good youth football coaches develop players and teams and put players and teams into positions where they can add value and execute. Don’t get caught in the blame game where you blame the other teams talent advantage for all of your losses, there are youth football coaches in leagues in every state that face this same challenge every season and succeed in spite of not having better talent. It is arrogant for coaches that consistently lose to always blame talent disparities for their losses instead of shouldering the blame themselves. Well coached and cohesive teams who trust their coaches and beleive in each other can neutralize many talent advantages in youth football.
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