If you’ve coached youth football long enough, you are going to coach against that big beast running back that is carrying an entire team on his shoulders. He is usually at the absolute upper end of the age bracket, mature for his age (may have even started puberty early) and is usually right at the weight limit if you have one. In many youth leagues, the players weigh in just one time for the entire season. In some cases, a player may drop 10-15 lbs prior to the weigh in, don’t get me started on how wrong that is. So later in the season, those same players may be 20 lbs over the weight limit, creating some pretty sizeable mismatches.
What separates these players from others is maturity, athleticism, attitude and in many cases size. Most of us play against average or above running backs with average size and average athleticism. Every year we all see some pretty nimble, fast and athletic backs who are small. But it is very rare to play against that player who is bigger than most players in the league, but also fast, athletic, has good burst and body control and is physically mature. When you face a player like this, the biggest obstacle you will face will be the minds of your own players. We’ve faced kids who scored 30 touchdowns in a season who were more than twice the weight of 25% of the players on our team. This one 6th grader comes to mind who played in a 5-6 grade Division. He had to weigh about 20 lbs over the running back weight, as this game took place nearly 3 months after he had weighed in. He was as tall as many of our 6 foot coaches and he had a pretty thick moustache and chin whiskers to go along with his hulking frame and 99th percentile speed.
How do you stop kids like that? Focus on tackling and scheme to limit these one man shows makes a lot of sense. There is no one way to approach this, but one thing you surely won’t want to do is lose the game in the minds of the players prior to the game. Let your defense know who is going to get the ball a lot, where he is going to get the ball, the plays he is going to run and his running style, but be careful not to over-hype the man-child. The more you build the beast up in the eyes of your players, the more mythical he becomes. The more time your players have in their little minds to envision this man-child running over them and through them, the less effective your boys become on the field.
Don’t over sell the man-child. Tell your kids to gang tackle, but don’t make him out to be a beast. If you are truly facing a beast, you may want to even reconsider showing film of him to your players. Lots of youth football coaches film and have scout film to share with their players. This may be one of those cases where you don’t bother showing the film to your kids. I’ve even gone so far as to do my pre-game warmups away from the game field and not come out for the National Anthem. You do this to make sure your kids don’t have any time to see the beast and get all worked up about him prior to a game. I’m talking about little 70 lb Cornerbacks having to tackle a 135 lb Running Back nearly a foot taller than them. The more time your kids have to fret and worry about something, the worse it becomes. That 135 lb running back becomes a 200 lbs running back in their minds. Once that happens, you can expect to see a lot of ole bullfighter style tackling from your defenders.
What does make sense is to scrimmage or practice with a team who has some bigger running backs, the week or weeks leading up to this game. If your team is like mine, we rarely if ever have any big athletic running backs to practice against on our own team. You have to figure out a way to get your team some reps against a bigger player in order to build their confidence.
Often times you will see teams that have a man-child at running back do really well early on, because the other team has heard so much about him or seen him play. Many youth players get intimidated by those type of running backs. But once the defense finally makes a few tackles, they see he isn’t some superman bogey-man, but a football player. Once your kids get to that point, then you have a chance to make a game out of it. Unfortunately, many teams don’t do that until they are down by 3 touchdowns and then many times it’s too late.
Don’t lose that big game to the one man show in the week leading up to practice. Coaching youth football well means you have to play a little amateur psychologist to pick up a win against teams like this.
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