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 3
The first 2 days of practice aren’t padded and we use that time to develop enthusiasm, teach a few basics, set the pace and precision standard and to determine where the players will be slotted into the various position groups. As always we use the Sainted Six evaluation games and drills to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each player in relation to his peers. The reveals help us map each player to the positions that makes the most sense for him and the team. The problem was we had so many small and unathletic players that didn’t map into enough positions for us to field a full team. We had a bulk of players mapped to a number of positions and none to other positions.
Sure we had 10-12 kids we could say would be reasonable fits at certain spots, but even then we were doing a lot of juggling, putting kids in positions that wouldn’t be their traditional position, but would help us maximize the team potential. Early on we set the table with our parents and players that this was a team game, that in youth football every position was of equal value to the team and that players would be assigned a position based on maximizing the team potential.
We shared with the players and parents examples of players who had played for us in the past at one position, who went on to excel for us or even the High School at another position. Our first Character Theme of the Week was “Selflessness” from the Winning Youth Football Chemistry and Character Program. The story was all about players who played a position they didn’t want to, to benefit the team. We even had a local High School star come and speak to our kids and parents about his experience of doing just that with our team and how it ended up being a huge benefit to his development as a player. The net is we had no drama from our parents or even the kids when it came to positions, thanks to our expectation setting and follow through. We had what should have been Blocking Backs playing Tight End and Right Guard, we had what should have been Tight Ends playing Tackle, we had what should have been Wingbacks playing Tight End, we had what should have been Corners playing Defensive End, we had what should have been a Linebacker playing Defensive Tackle and what should have been a Corner playing Linebacker. Yes this was a rousing game of musical chairs to the untrained eye, but it was the only way we were going to make it work. Come back for post 5 about the hoops we jumped through to make sure we got our MPRS their minimum plays, THAT was a challenge.
The net is, when you have a very small and less athletic team, you have to be FLEXIBLE and think outside the box when it comes to positions. Nothing is sacred when it comes to youth football positions, you do what you can to maximize the full team potential, not what makes a particular parent or coach happy. You HAVE to set position setting expectations and sell the importance of selflessness to your coaches, parents and players.
For us, that meant our best Receiver was now our starting Blocking Back. For our scheme the Blocking Back plays the key blocking role in about 2/3 of the plays. The best Blocking Back we had, we had to move him to Right Guard. In our scheme we need a fairly aggressive and smart kid at Right Guard, he leads the wedge and is a critical blocker on pulls in about 2/3 of our plays. We didn’t have anyone who could do that other than this kid, so when we robbed the backfield to pay the line, we had to rob the Wingback position to feed the Blocking Back position. We did this over and over again, until we got to the point we had a starting point going into the first day of pads. You just put every player on the white board at a multitude of positions and keep juggling until you have the lineup that best maximizes what you do have with a bit of projecting improvement into the mix based on what you pick up at practice.
Of course you can’t do any of this without detailed position descriptions of every position. These position descriptions spell out what you are looking for in the position from the perspective of: athleticism/body control, speed, physicality, power, intellect, aggressiveness and quickness. The Winning Youth Football book has descriptions of these for every position and maps them into our Evaluation Games. Without that level of detail, your coaches are clueless and often times will revert to what a player “looks like” to put him in a position instead of looking at the specific skills needed to play the position.
Did we feel panicked and a little depressed about the prospects of the season? Absolutely, no one wants to have an awful season and at this point we were all pretty convinced the season would be quite a struggle. No one had any visions of making the playoffs, let alone playing for a Super Bowl with 32 teams to beat out.
The next post will deal with the first 2 days of contact in pads. That will conclude the first week. The key element on those first 2 days of pads was to ease our kids into contact, to get the less aggressive kids over their fear of contact and develop a base of perfect contact fundamentals. More on that in the next post.
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