As promised I’m going to try and help coaches who inherit athletically challenged and small youth football teams by sharing my story from coaching my 3-4 grade team in 2013. Hopefully you can use some of the ideas to apply to coaching your youth football team, should you end up in the same situation. This will be told over several posts. This is Post 5. We went 12-0 in a 32 team age bracket. This post will talk about the development and play of our minimum play players.
Over 85% of youth football leagues have some type of minimum play rules. Minimum play rules are rules that require a youth football coach to play every player a certain number of plays. Every league is a bit different about the number of plays and what constitute plays. Some leagues don’t count special teams plays while others use a sliding scale to determine the number of plays, some leagues even require teams to play a player for an entire quarter. Some teams who play in non-minimum play rule leagues will set their own minimum play standard, I know I did that for all my teams in the years I coached in a non-minimum play rule league. The net is we all have minimum play players in one way or another and in order to have a successful team we have to coach them up and figure out ways to get them onto the field while maintaining the competitiveness of your youth football team.
Let’s first start by defining what a minimum play player is. He isn’t a player who is in the bottom 20% of your team when you do evaluations. If that was the case, if you had a team made up of kids who on a scale of 1-10, were all players are ranked 7,8,9, 10s, all of your players would be very good. You would only be separating the best from the very good. A minimum play player is a player who because of his combination of athleticism, aggressiveness and size ranks in the bottom 20% when compared to other players in your league for those attributes. I realize many youth football coaches don’t have a frame of reference and that makes total sense. However I’ve been coaching for about 25 years now and in the same league for the last 9 years, I know what a minimum play player is.
The first step in making your minimum play player situation work is to embrace it. We all have minimum play players, some situations are just more challenging than others. Embrace the challenge as a coaching staff. As a staff we put our heads together and recognized and talked about what a difficult challenge this season would be. We reinforced our commitment to make sure all these kids had a good football experience and that we would figure out a way to make it work. We talked about being creative and to think out of the box, nothing was going to be off-limits (other than obeying the rules) when it came to solving our problem.
To restate the issue we had, of our 25 players on paper we had just 1 player over the striper weight of 85 lbs. A striper is someone that due to his weight would have to play in-between the tackles. Most of the teams we would face would have from 6-8 stripers and most teams would have multiple players above 100lbs with several teams having as many as 4 kids over 120lbs. Our only player over 90 lbs cried at 3 of our first 4 practices and looked completely lost. When we did our athleticism evals like Hawaiian Rules Football, the game never got off the ground because the first 4 laterals or short tosses were all dropped on a consistent basis. When we did our QB camp in mid summer our QB coach ranked our projected starter as a 1 on scale of 1-10 and our QB coach is a very experienced youth coach who has the years of experience to do accurate rankings. He was right, the first time we ran 18 sweep pass in practice, we completed 1-16 of them.
Back to what we did, number one as always we focused on development. We knew we had 13 kids who could safely play, but our season was going to depend on this group of 12 minimum play players, especially if we were able to make it to the playoffs. This is by far the highest percentage of MPRs I’ve ever had on a single team. We didn’t relegate them to standing around, holing bags or scout team duty. No, for the most part, especially early on the MPRs got just as many reps on offense and defense as our starters. We do a lot of 11 in 11 out on team offense and team defensive recognition drills. We were able to get to 1 full rep with subbing 11 in and out every 15 seconds. That means in a 30 minute fit and freeze team segment, we would run at least 120 plays or defend 120 “plays.”. During individual drills which usually make up about 50-60 minutes of every practice, these same players were getting the same number of reps as the starters, they were being aggressively coached up in small groups and were getting lots of reps. In indys some reps are done everyone at once and some are done 1 player at a time in small groups of 6-8. At a pace of 1 rep every 6 seconds in a 50 minute indys segment, every player will get 100-120 repetitions of whatever skill building drills are going on. So concentrate on inclusion and pace as a starting point. Does it slow down what you can put in? ABSOLUTELY, but if you are in a dire situation like this and don’t slow down and limit what you do you will fail.
The next step was to find something that every player could do reasonably well. Could he go in motion and carry out a fake?, could he crab block?, could he frog into a gap? , could he stalk block?, could he get into a wedge block?, could he carry out a run fake?, could he stand firm on a hard count? Yes, it was a struggle but every player had to develop several of these type of skills to make sure he could add team value on every snap.
The next step was game planning. The first step in this process was to go no-huddle with wrist bands. By going no-huddle we were able to average 34 offensive snaps per half this season when the game was not in mercy-rule with a running clock. In our playoff win against Omaha Roncalli, we had 46 offensive snaps in the first half. It did help that we got 2 onside kicks back in that game, more on special teams later. But contrast our average of 34 offensive snaps in a half to the typical 24 snaps most youth football teams get. The more snaps, the more chances you have of getting those minimum play players their plays. Going no-huddle is a no-brainer, especially if you have a lot of kids to get snaps to. The math is the math and it’s so easy to do. We used the wrist bands for just a single practice prior to the first game we used them, simple stuff and detailed in the “Winning Youth Football Step by Step Plan”, book.
Making this work requires commitment and a multipronged approach. More on our game day strategies in the next post.
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