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Should You Run the Triple Option in Youth Football?

Triple Option and Coaching Youth Football

How beautiful is it to see a well executing triple option team? If you are like me, it is like poetry in motion. I’m a big fan of Navy and Georgia Tech, just because of the way they run the triple so well. As a Nebraska native and fan, I was raised on option football and ran it in High School. Of course when I got my first youth football coaching job back in 1986 or so, I went back to what I loved and knew, option football.

What many people don’t realize is youth football and the College game are much different animals. While they are both played on the same field and use a similarly shaped ball, there are many differences that significantly impact the ability for the College game to be replicated on the youth field. We wont even get into the advantage NCAA rules give option teams versus NFHS rules which 48 of the 50 states use as a basis for their youth football rules and includes both Pop Warner and AYF.

Most people don’t even realize that many of the option plays they are seeing on the College field is NOT triple option football, in spite of what the so called television “analysts” tell you. Did you know that highly touted option guru Tom Osborne’s Nebraska Cornhuskers never ran the triple option? Read Tom Osborne’s book, everything they did was a called double option, no true triple. The reason Osborne didn’t coach the triple is he said he felt he didn’t have enough practice time. Mind you, that was with a group of 18-22 year old young men who practiced 6 days a week, played a game on the seventh and had spring practices as well. On the other hand, most youth teams are practicing 3 times a week, about half as much time as the college kids. Once you add in the spring practices, film and classroom sessions, the youth player is practicing about 20% of what a College player practices.
Note that many of the option plays you see on television on Saturdays are NOT triple option plays either, they may look like triple option plays but when was the last time you saw a pitch on an inside Veer play? So much of what we see on Friday nights and Saturdays are double options, like what Nebraska did in their option heydays and 3 National Titles in a 4 year timeframe.

There are other things to consider, in college football, the offensive players only play on the offensive side of the ball. Those option Quarterbacks for Navy and Georgia Tech aren’t starting at Lienbacker or Corner, like they are for your youth football teams. Those great option Quarterbacks and Running Backs aren’t returning kicks or kicking PAT”S like the kids on your team.

 There simply aren’t many two way players anymore and very few of the starters play on the special teams. In the youth game, all your players are going to have positions on offense, defense and in most cases special teams as well. In College football the offensive players, especially the skill players are practicing on the offensive side of the ball 90% plus percent of the time. At the youth level those skill position players are your best players, they are going to play both ways and on special teams, they may never leave the field. Those kids are practicing offense, defense and special teams, obviously much less specialization than the College players. When you factor this into your effective practice  time equation, the youth skilled position player is now getting from 7-10% of the offensive preparation as the College player. We get that by taking the 20% rate and multiplying that times the amount of offensive practice time one might get in a typical youth practice which would be 35-50%.

At the College level, all of the players have experience playing the game, most of them have reasonably good fundamentals. While fundamentals are key at all levels of football, most College kids have a base level of competency and have overcome their fear of contact. In youth football, that certainly isn’t the case. At the College level, there are no minimum play standards, goals or requirements, at the youth level for most programs there are. At the youth level we are spending an inordinate amount of time teaching fundamentals and how to play the game, not to mention getting kids comfortable with their gear and over their fear of contact. At the youth level we have to invest time that the College coach never has to worry about.

In youth football, the squad sizes vary from about 17-30 kids. In College football the teams vary in size from 105-180 players. In youth football you hope you get a single durable Quarterback and Running Back as a couple of competent average backups. In College football, most teams are carrying 5 scholarship Quarterbacks and 5-10 scholarship running backs, all of which were probably the superstar of their respective High School team. At the College level, when one player goes down, most teams have a good backup who can step right in and do the job. In youth football with the small squad sizes, we simply don’t have that luxury. Even with very good coaching the difference in talent level from a first team Quarterback and Running Back is usually pretty dramatic when compared to the replacement. In youth football, if you decide to run the triple, you better have at least 2 very good and durable Quarterbacks that don’t ever get sick, injured or have academic problems, same goes for your Fullback and main Running Back threat.

I coached option football out of the I Formation and Veer for seven years. Even running  just double options or midline option is a HUGE investment in time if you are going to get very good at it at all. When we had very good Quarterbacks, good Fullback and a stud Running Back AND we stayed injury free, we had good seasons. When we didn’t have that stud Quarterback, solid Fullback and stud Running Back, we didn’t have very good seasons and my teams were running double options, not triples. My Quarterbacks were making just a single read, not two reads within the span of 2 seconds or so. That’s a lot to ask of a College Quarterback according to Tom Osborne, not to mention a youth Quarterback. At the College level the triple option is seen as an equalizer type offense, at the youth level and even at the High School level to an extent it is not an equalizer. The reason is, these are two entirely different sets of equations with different boundaries.

Are you enamored with the idea of running the triple option at the youth level? Consider all of these factors before you commit to it. Think about your constraints and where you are going to steal all that practice time you are going to need to get reasonably proficient at the option game and what that is going to do to your team on the other side of the ball. I found out the hard way many moons ago and didn’t want my seasons to be totally dependent on whether God dropped a bunch of great skill position players on my doorstep that season or not.

Now don’t label me an option bigot or fuddy-duddy, I still love option football, just not for my own teams.

Copyright 2011 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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2 Comments

  1. Doug Darroch

    What are your feeling on a run first West Coast offense (Jim Harbaugh at Stanford) and the Single Wing Spread aka Wildcat (Arkansas, Miami Dolphins etc.) for youth teams?

    Reply
    1. davecisar

      Coach,
      Not a fan at all of the West Coast offense for non select youth football.
      Sure Wildcat/Single Wing is a proven winner, no need to add a zone, stretch based West Coast running game to it. You have WAY more than what you need just with the Wildcat/Single Wing

      Reply

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