Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Creatively Managing the Minimum Play Issue in Youth Football

Playing time management is important in youth sports but in championship level games it may even be the deciding factor. In the Pop Warner and AYF National Championships, some teams got pretty darn creative in meeting those standards. In over 80% of youth football leagues there are minimum play rules. These are not guidelines, but set in stone rules that require a coach to play his players a specific number of plays. The number of plays is typically a sliding scale based on the number of players on each team. Some leagues specify that special teams plays do not count, others allow it. Most leagues allow you to sit a player based on attendance or disciplinary issues. There is a very wide spectrum on how this is addressed and in some leagues it isn’t addressed at all.

An interesting tactic was used in the 2010 Pop Warner Midget semi-final game between Port St Lucie Florida Pirates and a team from Connecticut pictured above. The Pirates started their drive on their own 22 yard line with 15 seconds remaining until the half. Pirate coach Jeff Miret sent in his backups on offense and ran an off-tackle play. He them called time out with .6 seconds remaining so he could run one final play with that same group, another off-tackle run. So in the matter of 15 seconds Jeff was able to get his backups a few more plays in the first half, in a situation many coaches would have overlooked.

Jeff is an excellent coach and a master at getting his minimum play kids their plays, in every game I’ve seen his teams play, they had their plays in before halftime. That included very tight games where his teams have trailed. It is something he game plans for and practices for. In his practices everyone is subbing in and out like Chinese Firemen, you won’t find his backups standing around picking their noses. He also uses the clock to squeeze every play he can out of every game. Jeff makes sure to get those non starters in as early and often as he can and during his practices I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone coach up his minimum play kids like Jeff does.

A number of games at the Pop Warner and AYF National Championships came down to a final drive. Some of those games you saw teams scrambling to get their minimum play kids their final snaps and subbing them in on those drives, while the guys that had managed the game well were able to put their best 11 players onto the field. In Pop Warner if you don’t have the minimum players snaps in by the end of the third quarter, you have to start them all at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

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. Eric

    We ran two squads on offense and defense and alternated every other series. Using the single wing allowed me to “hide” less developed players so that everyone got roughly the same amount of playing time without a big let down in competitive play. We never ran into a situation where a kid who might be considered “minimum play” cost us anything. Having the squads equal allowed us to develop plays and scenarios to feature our best players when we needed them; everyone felt a part of the scores, setbacks, wins and losses.

  2. Jimmy Benham

    I began playing football at an early age and fell in love with the game. As a player, I never came off the field, led teams to championships, and was favored by coaches. All that is not to brag or talk about my personal achievements; rather, it’s to preface my question / comment, so I dont sound like a disgruntled underachiever.

    I am coaching my son’s 7 y/o YAFL team this year, and doing all I can to educate myself on all aspects of the game. As a 1st year football coach, I am learning just how much I don’t know about this great game. I am a fierce competitor, and I dislike losing more than most. However, I love children more than I hate losing. It seems to me, we shouldnt have to have minimum playing time rules. Rather than talking about strategies on beating min. play time rules and sneaking the less talented players into the game, shouldn’t our focus be on developing these less talented players, especially at a young age. I realize it sucks to lose, but it seems like can’t see the forest for the trees. We do have a limited amount of prep time to teach all aspects of football, but I thought that was the whole purpose behind efficent practice organization. I think you understand my point, and I really do want feedback on these opinions/questions. Respectfully, J

  3. Dave Cisar

    Coach J

    The goal of minimum play rules is to make sure everyone plays. If it weren’t for minimum play rules, many unscrupulous youth coaches wouldn’t play some kids at all. I once coached in a youth league with no minimum play rules. We played against a team with 52 kids suited up, but only 18 ever saw the field. In the meantime my 24 kids all played a minimum of 12 plays. This put our team at a considerable competitive advantage. I’m going to play my kids no matter what, but minimum play rules even the playing field by forcing everyone to play and COACH UP their weaker players.

    Maximizing the number of plays those minimum play players play while still maintaining a competitive balance is what managing the minimum play equation is all about. In no way does it mean we coach or care about these players less. In my practices every player recieves the same number of reps on team offense and team defense. Unlike many we feel coaching up the minimum play player is the right thing to do as well as key in making sure our teams are competitive. This isn’t communism, those that practice harder, listen better and are more consistent deserve more playing time than those you don’t. Score is kept for a reason.

  4. Jacques

    Coach Dave,

    I just ran into this, I am an assistant coach for a youth football team, and I was in charge of substitutions (this is my first year coaching by the way) and we ran into a situation where all of our non-star players did not get in, if they were backups they were pretty much kept on the bench.

    Throughout the season I was incharge of substitutions but for the playoffs I was told that the head coach, OC and DC were in charge of subs from now on. I was upset when kids were bawling on the sidelines because they were not getting in and winning was more important. Anyway I was wondering what kind of advice you could give to someone who is in a league where there is no minimum play rules, and what someone like I could do? The Head coach will not be back next year, but the one who will be taking over is more than likely worse because he does not want to give up any points to the other team so he won’t play many players if he doesn’t have a mandate requiring it.

    Thank you for your time and help.

    1. davecisar

      Coach Burnett,

      That’s a tough one. It will be up to you to convince them WHY is makes sense to have a “deal.”

      The deal is if you come to practice for every practice for that week, you get to play X number of plays. It improves your player and parent buy in, improves attendance and attentiveness at practice and it improves your team. It’s also the right thing to do.

      I’m not advocating playing everyone the same number of plays, but saying if you come to practice you can count on playing X number of plays in a game. I’ve coached many seasons in leagues with no minimum play rule, so I set my own standard.

      You will have much better practices, less drops and far less parent problems if you adopt this approach.

      I ALSO think that the Offensive and Defensive Coordinators SHOULD be responsible for subbing players in and out. BUT they need a set plan in place on how they plan on doing it so everyone gets their snaps. THEN you have to practice subbing as you would do so in games. You have to be machines at subbing to do it well. I can tell you very proudly that this is an area we excell at.

  5. Coach Rob

    Hi Dave

    I implement a policy on my Team of all kids play the same amount or as close to the same as possible. I even have every kid carry the ball every game.

    Mind you that is just a K / 1st grade flag team.

    But here is the situation I have with my other Son’s team which I do not coach but is a tackle team in the same league.

    In the last game – which is really the same as the first 4 games all season – they have only had a few players sub. With a couple of players making up the majority of the time on the bench. A core group of players have never been on the bench.

    Per the last game one Player played a total of just 22 plays out of 70 – meaning he sat for 48 plays – more than twice the number he played. And that included one stretch of 16 straight plays on the sideline (over 35 minutes real world time).

    And this is when they only had two subs – and one of the other boys only played 24 plays and sat out for 46 plays. And only 6 boys came to the side line at all – and 1 of them was an injury. So 2 boys sat out for 94 of the 140 slots on the sideline that game. That is over 2/3rds of the sideline time by just 2 of the players.

    Now here is where this gets me really confused / upset – this is for 2nd Grade Boys football. Yes 2nd Grade.

    Am I wrong to think the situation above is wrong?

    I have tried talking to the coach – to no avail. Do you think as a coach in the league – I should take this to the head of the league. I hate as a coach to “Rat” on another coach – but I just see him crushing the spirits of those players on the side lines and it kills me inside to do nothing.

    Note our league rules are kids just have to play a min of 15 plays. So 22 plays is more than 15 – but it just seems so extreme. Oh and the team above is 0-5 so it is not like he is even winning.

    Would love your thoughts on the situation above.


    Coach – K/1 Flag football

    1. davecisar


      This is a difficult and sensitive issue for many.

      When it comes to K-1st grade flag football, where you really don’t practice much at all, your approach makes sense. Playing everyone equally and getting everyone the ball should be the goal, along with teaching some basics, having fun and getting kids to like the game.

      Once a player gets into tackle and starts practicing regularly, my opinion may change a bit. Should a player who misses a bunch of practices or doesn’t effort or pay attention well play the exact same amount as a player who attends every practice, pays attention well and efforts really well? I’m not sure the communistic approach of unequal inputs and equal reward is teaching anyone much about life. I do like minimum play rules in youth football and when the non starters are getting 22 snaps in a 70 snap game, it’s possible that this is a very fair and reasonable amount of playing time.

      Without knowing what is happening at practice and the dynamics of the team, it’s difficult to have much of an opinion. At that age group we should always try to engage the kids and do our best to get them into games on a consistent basis, not leaving them sitting for long stretches of time etc Also there are very few 0-5 teams that should be 0-5, so there is probably a coaching issue.

      Best of luck


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