I had to share with you some real world lessons I relearned this week when it comes to scrimmaging other teams in youth football. While scrimmaging other teams IS important so the kids can get a feel for what it’s like to make contact with a player from another team, scrimmaging is a trade off that can hurt your team as well.
Last week my 3-4th grade team scrimmaged on our first practice of the week. At that point we were 4-0 and had won all of our games by mercy rule. The previous game had not been much of a challenge, we were ahead 34-0 at the half. While we play in the largest and most competitive league in the state, we have yet to be seriously challenged.
So to get the kids into a situation where they might be in over their heads a bit, I set up a scrimmage. I chose a team from another league where they do things a little differently. It is a year round program with an indoor facility, they practice 4 times a week. This team was the defending league champions and had won their first two games 48-0 and 46-0. This is an all 4th grade team, where my team is made up of both 3rd and 4th graders. When we showed up to play this inner-city team, the other team was very ready and very confident. They did a bunch of loud chants and stomped their feet as they watched us warm up. Their striper rules are heavier than ours, they were very athletic and their 3 interior linemen towered over our kids.
I will spare you the gory details, but we went 10 on offense and 10 on defense then rotated for a total of 40 snaps. We started from the 40 and drove in, if you lost the ball, you had to start at the 40 again. We scored 4 times, they didn’t score. They might have gotten 2 first downs with their Spread Offense. You could see they were both surprised and frustrated, but were good sports in the end, sending us off with a team cheer.
This was good for our team because we got to play a team that ran an offense that was a little different than some of Spread systems we’ve seen. It also let our kids know they can compete against anyone if they do their jobs correctly.
HOWEVER, there are downsides to scrimmaging as well. Since we weren’t able to practice on Tuesday due to the scrimmage, we were behind for the week. Our Tuesday practice is usually all about defense and special teams. On Thursday, to stay on schedule we had a few additions and adjustments to add in on offense and defense as well as review special teams. We simply had to give up something. The something we gave up were our fundamental skill development drills and full contact group drills. We worked more scheme and responsibility in team with no indy and little group work.
The net result was in the game on Sunday, we didn’t play to potential. We played a middle of the pack team and beat them 34-0, however I’m not sure we made any progress for the week, we probably didn’t get better. Our consistency was poor, we weren’t as physical as we normally are, we missed blocks we almost always make and we missed 6-7 tackles, something we rarely do. Our first team defense gave up a season high 5 first downs. Our execution wasn’t where we should be, less than potential. I chalk it up to the scrimmage and that taking us off of our normal practice schedule and plans.
In the end, over the long haul that scrimmage will probably do us more good than harm. It could have really hurt us had we played a team that was as competitive as ours. I’m always perplexed by the guys who schedule 3-4 scrimmages before their first game. While the kids DO need the opportunity to see how it feels to play against someone with a different colored jersey on, how does that team get better? Sure it’s good to see where you are, but 3,4,5 scrimmages, really? It’s really hard to get better and develop fundamental skills or perfect your execution in full speed scrimmages against other teams.
Games are won during practice, not by playing more games. Perfecting your base fundamentals and execution are what win you championships, not puffing your chest out and showing off in a scrimmage. Worse yet are the guys who can’t wait to scrimmage before they have some reasonable execution of the basics. They go to that first scrimmage and get blown out 7 touchdowns to 1 and now the kids doubt what he is doing, the assistants and parents do too. Sometimes situations like that spiral out of control and can destroy an entire season.
Scrimmages, a double edged sword. Be careful, use them wisely.
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