Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Youth Football Plays That Don’t Work When Playing Good Teams

Youth Football Plays- Which Work and Don’t Work Against Quality Teams

One of the things I found very interesting while watching over 60 different youth football teams play at the Pop Warner and AYF National Championships was observing trends. One of the things that was very evident early on and was very consistent in these tournaments were the type of football plays that didn’t work. Since every team that got here was the bully of their own league and came into the tournament with 14-0 or 13-1 records, each team had a few kids that could play. But since each team had a few athletes and most of the teams were coached pretty well, there were no one man army teams dominating games. In fact many of the plays you see run in your local leagues didn’t work here at all.

You didn’t see teams scoring with the sweep. In fact in the 20 plus full games I watched, I saw just 4 sweeps go for scores. Less than half of the sweeps I saw went for more than 2-3 yards. In many games I saw teams run just 2-3 sweeps for the entire game. Most of the deep outside reverse plays I saw went for negative yardage. Coaches have to remember that most of the teams playing in this tournament didn’t get this far by having players play out of position or undisciplined. Even most of the bootlegs I saw were negative yardage plays at this level. One memorable play came in the Pop Warner Midget game on Tuesday where Port St Lucie Florida was playing West Haven Connecticut. West Haven was a very good Wing T team, who like most good Wing T teams has a nice bootleg “Waggle Pass” as part of their offense. The first time West Haven tried running it against Port St Lucie, the Pirates had 3 defenders all over him and they lost 7 yards, their Defensive End wasn’t fooled for a moment by the fake and he had the speed to run down the Quarterback as well. From the film I saw on West Haven, this had been a big play for them all season long.

I was very disappointed that I didn’t see much option football down here at all. Being a dyed in the wool Nebraska guy, we love seeing the option run out of any type of offense. You would have thought one of the 60 plus teams I watched would be on option team. I guess it’s back to watching Navy and Georgia Tech on TV. I didn’t see a single team run true triple option and saw just a handful of teams running “double” or called option. Even the Wishbone teams in this tournament were power Wishbone teams, with little or no option game. The Spread teams here ran a handful of  speed option plays and some zone read option, but for most of them the zone read was not a read, it was a called play. You could tell based on the blocking scheme, most were getting an extra blocker at the point of attack toward whoever the predetermined runner was going to be.

On the other hand, in every game I saw, the teams that won were able to establish the off-tackle run. It didn’t matter if it was an I Formation, Spread, Double Wing, Wishbone or Single Wing team, all the winning teams were able to run the ball off-tackle. Most of these same teams had some success with some type of inside counter play as well, not a reverse, a tight, quick hitting counter play with some misdirection.

In over 85% of the games I watched, the winning team had a legitimate passing threat. I’m not talking about going Air Raid and throwing the ball 80% of the time, I’m talking about having a 35% plus chance of a pass play going for 20 yards or more on any attempt. While this may not be the most efficient way to move the ball, the legitimate threat of the pass was integral to the overall success of vast majority of teams playing at this level. In later posts I will break down some of the passing numbers- you may be surprised by those.

None of this surprised me at all. Most good youth football coaches aren’t going to allow themselves to get beat by sweeps, reverses or bootlegs. Most teams aren’t going to allow themselves to be beat by a one man team or by a youth football team with no legitimate passing threat either. In the big tournaments there may also be a number of beast players, but none of them dominate. Good football was in abundance.

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

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    1. davecisar


      Good question
      From Nebraska- I ran option football for MANY years at the youth level, until I found that my success was directly related to talent. The years I had a smart QB and good TB, or two, I had good seasons. The years I didn’t have those kids we weren’t very successful. Also with the limited roster size AND the limited practice time, we aren’t running true triple stuff.

      In Single Wing 303- we DO run double option with the Spinner 26 Power and Burst 26 G as well as a short side option play. BUT we only do that with kids that have experience AND both the Spinner 26 and Burst 26 are GREAT plays without even thinking about the option pitch.

  1. Coach Parker

    Great article Coach. Would love to see the passing stats in your future posts. In Dallas / Fort Worth we are seeing a ton of good passing at the 10+ year levels. Much more so than I saw in Denver a few years back.

    In your future articles about passing I would like to see info on the successful passing formations, downs and the routes they ran and also the ones that did not work.

    Did they do anything unique on Special Teams too. More onside kicks or deep? etc

    Coach Parker

    1. davecisar


      Over 90% of the kicks were onside- just like last year. There was excellent execution of both onside kicks and those trying to countermeasure the onside kicks. We only saw a handful of well executed deep directional kicks, Deion Sanders all star Truth team out of Dallas and Mint Hill, NC both 8th grade teams did an excellent job.

      As to passing there wasn’t a single spread team that moved the chains with the controlled passing game. What we did see were some spread teams who ran the ball very well and hit either play action passes deep or got a mismatch and threw deep on a basic drop back pass. With the exception of Mint Hill, I didn’t see a team consistently run the screen game well. Waggle type passes out of various sets seemed to have a nice completion percentage for several teams when run as a true run pass option play. I was disappointed that I didn’t see some of the Air Raid type passing game we run out of our Spread Single Wing, some smash, no Shallows, very few Sticks and even less Mesh.


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