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 6. We went 12-0 in a 32 team age bracket. This post is going to cover game day and play calling strategies to help you get your minimum play players their snaps.
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. Love them or not, they are the rule in many leagues and you have to meet the standard or be forced to forfeit the game. For many teams with extremely high numbers of legitimate weaker minimum play players, getting to the correct number of plays while still remaining competitive can be a huge struggle. As mentioned in the previous post the first step is to go no-huddle, so your team gets a higher number of snaps in than most teams. This will allow the weaker players a chance to get their plays in earlier while insuring your better players play a higher percentage of game snaps than if there were fewer snaps in the game. For instance if your minimum play standard was 12 plays and there were 40 total offensive snaps in a game and your best 12 players played 27 of those 40 snaps, they would have been in just 67% of the time. On the other hand had those best 12 players played 47 of 60 snaps, they would be playing 20 more snaps almost 74% more snaps than when they played 27 snaps.
The next step if you are coaching a youth football team like this is to make sure your schemes on offense, defense and special teams are minimum player friendly. If your schemes don’t allow for the playing of weaker players without significantly impacting your team, then that’s not the right scheme for that team. Many youth coaches put their best 11 on defense and then load all their minimum play players on the offense. While on the surface that may make sense, one mistake on defense can cost your team 6 points, it doesn’t make sense in the long run. If you have say 12 legitimate minimum play players who all need 12 snaps and you choose to play them all on offense, you are going to have a bunch of 3 and outs. That is going to get you poor field position, probably be turnover prone and put your defense in a situation where they are going to be on the field for most of the game and force them to play a perfect game.
When you have strong teams you can run different schemes than when you have weak teams. When I’ve coached select ball, where I chose from over 100 players, I was able to run an attacking 4-4 defense, because I had no minimum play players. I didn’t have to worry about having to “hide” a weaker player on defense and in my 4-4 Viper Defense, there aren’t any positions I can put a weaker player in and still run the defense effectively. With my youth version of the Wide Tackle Six, I can. We rotate our 6 weakest players at the A gap Nose Tackle spots, we also get by with much less athletic Defensive Ends in the WT6, compared to my 4-4 Viper. This year we even had to add in a “Mustang” adjustment to our base WT6 scheme to make sure we got all of our MPRs their snaps. In several early games the game pace was slow and we were getting some turnovers due to our emphasis on takeaways and on-side kicks. The net is we weren’t getting enough defensive snaps and we were getting very close on our minimum play counts. The adjustment we made was we went both A&B gap MPR nose tackles using the frogging or deny technique while widening our 2 Linebackers, moving our best player to a Middle Monster position at 7 yards and playing our Monster and Corners in a Cover 3. Using some GAM style techniques, we used this defense for a handful of snaps in several games where the situation warranted it to make sure we got our snaps in. You have to adapt and adjust when your unique situation calls for it.
You have to do the same type of things on offense if you find yourself in these type of situations. Can you run your offense and be consistently productive with minimum play players in place? If you say, no problem, I can just put them at Split End and Flanker and run inside, that won’t cut it. If you do that to us or any well coached team, it isn’t going to work. They aren’t going to cover those players and they will be playing 10 against 11 or 9 vs 11 football. We just use our “Igor” call and totally ignore them. In our Semi Final game against a 10-0 team that tried to spread us our 4 and 5 wide, and splitting out 2-3 MPRs- we totally ignored them. They also tried splitting 1 way out maybe 65% of the game, we never covered them and won going away 46-12. Same goes for putting your weakest player on the O-line and then try being a zone blocking team where you put your o-linemen in a situation where they have to block in space the fastest, most aggressive, most agile, best in space defenders on our team, your Linebackers. In real life, not on paper, your weakest MPR isn’t going to make that block. If you have a high percentage of minimum play players your offense has to be able to accommodate them. Those weak players have to provide legitimate team value on every snap. We can do this very effectively using my version of the Single Wing Offense, designed specifically for the youth level with plenty of tight misdirection, power, point of attack numbers advantages, double team, down, trap and crab blocking.
Special teams is another area where minimum play players can make or break your team. Many leagues don’t count Special Teams plays toward play counts, but some do. In any event even if your league doesn’t count the plays, if you only have a handful of athletic players, that means those kids are playing a lot of snaps. Do you really want them playing special teams too? Let’s say your best Back starts at Tailback and Linebacker, he just scored a 20 yard touchdown to cap off a 75 yard drive. He is going to go right back on defense at Linebacker. Do you really want to kick the ball deep and have him have to sprint 40 yards in the open field chasing around the other teams best back on the return? Maybe it would make more sense to kick it short, on-sides to try and get the ball back and only have to cover half the field, allowing some MPRs on the backside.
So when you have an unusually high percentage of minimum play players you have to make some adjustments in order to remain competitive. Development is important, but so is scheme, base technique strategy and play calling. More on play calling in the next post. Please don’t get me wrong on this. I’m actually a fan of minimum play rules. For years I coached in leagues with no minimum play rules. I coached against teams with 52 kids where only 15-16 ever saw the field, while I was playing all of my kids a set number of plays. If you come to practice I’m going to play you. I don’t believe in equal time for all players, the kids paying attention and efforting the best deserve the most playing time. But everyone should see the field and they shouldn’t have to wait until the fourth quarter. The net was I always played everyone, while my competition didn’t. We still consistently won, but we were always at a disadvantage and those kids on the opposing teams deserved to see the field. When all the teams are required to play everyone a set amount, it evens the field and forces everyone to coach all their kids, not just the best ones. It’s the right thing to do.
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