Play calling strategies for minimum play players. 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 7. 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.
Play calling can be very important if your team has an unusually high number of minimum play players. Some coaches will panic when they are faced with this type of team and will often times put all of their minimum play players on one team on offense and have those kids run a handful of plays. The problem is when playing most well coached teams, the other team recognized when you trot in your minimum play team, they set up to defend those handful of plays and the offense goes 3 and out. When you sacrifice entire drives to the other team it puts a lot of pressure on your defense to perform, plus your MPRs only got the 3 plays, they will need to get more, which means you will sacrifice additional possessions. Another problem is kids and parents don’t like to be assigned to the MPR squad and made to feel inferior as a group to the rest of the team. Being assigned to the MPR squad is viewed by many to be like being selected to go to a leper colony. I’m not a fan.
A much more difficult but more effective approach may be in adjusting your play calling a bit and subbing in players from the opening gun. I don’t need a great player at the 1,3 or 4 back spots when I run 22 wedge or Mouse 22 Wedge or burst 26 G. I don’t need a great player at 1,2,4 back or Right End or Power Tackle when I run 31 Trap, Mouse 31 Trap or Spinner 31 Trap. I don’t need a strong 1,2 or 4 back when I run 32 Wedge, Mouse 32 Wedge, Spinner 32 Wedge or Rocket/Lazer 32 Wedge. I don’t need a strong 4 back when I run 16 Pass, 16 Power Switch Omaha, Buck 23, Buck 27. I don’t need a strong Left End on all the 16 plays, 14 Power, 18 Sweep, 18 Sweep Pass, 12 Iso. I don’t need strong players anytime I run a No-Play. You get the picture, we all have plays where a position or positions don’t play critical roles.
The tough part is making sure you put those players in during the heat of battle and not being totally predictable. It’s MUCH easier to do if you go no-huddle, which will allow you enough time to get multiple players in and out on every snap and still have enough time to get all your snaps off. More about how to do that in our book “Winning Youth Football a Step-by-Step Plan.” The keys to coaching youth football this way are you have to have all your backups standing right behind the play caller. Then you have to be thinking ahead. It’s first down on the first play of the game and you want to see how the defense aligns and responds to your base power play to the strong side. So why not start a weaker player at the Weakside Tight End spot? On second down if we got more than 6 yards and the Edge Count is a total of 5 or more I’m probably going to run some type of 32 Wedge play, so I don’t need strong players at 1,2 and 4 back spots, so I may sub 1 or 2 kids in and leave my Weakside Tight End in for that play. If the Edge Count is less than 5 then I may run a sweep to the strong side and now I can sub in a weaker player at the Weakside Guard position for a snap.
The net is you can sub in a grouping of players 1-3 at a time on every snap and still be reasonably productive on offense if you call the right plays. When you sub a player or multiple players on every snap the defense has a real tough time picking up tendencies. This is VERY easy to accomplish. In practice we do 11 on 11 off on every snap of team offense and defense and can do 4 reps a minute when doing fit and freeze reps, again all covered in the book. We practice subbing 11 new players in on every team rep we do, the kids are GREAT at subbing because they sub in hundreds of times every week during practice. Of course we are all going to coach our players up and help them develop a skill they can execute and add value. For some of these kids on offense, you might tell them to crab block instead of trying to drive or down block. You might put them in when you run Wedge type plays where 1 on 1 blocking isn’t required.
When you use this type of strategy on offense you also get the MPRs involved early into the game. The MPRs aren’t sitting on the bench or being a distraction like you see many kids who aren’t engaged. They feel they are part of the team, not some type of blocking dummy or cast off. This is good for the MPRs and your team.
Make sure you have a game day strategy mapped out to get your MPRs their snaps. What works well is having a depth chart with every players amount of playing time assigned. I like fractions telling the coaches how much of the game each player will play and with the MPR kids, the number of plays they will play. This tells your assistants where every MPR is going to get his snaps. This year we had it figured that if the other team got 22 offensive snaps and we got 24 offensive snaps in the each half, we would be fine with our base substitution plan. If we had less snaps on either side of the ball, then we would have to make adjustments to that base substitution plan.
You always have to have contingency plans. For us that meant our “Mustang” defense which put 4 MPRs in rather than 2 in our base defense. Mustang wasn’t just adding 2 additional MPRs, it was a very different defense with different alignment, assignment and base technique changes, which allowed us to add 2 additional MPRs to the defense without significantly weakening how we could defend certain things. On offense that meant I would be running a set of 4-5 plays with backups in at 6-7 spots. Instead of choosing from 20 plays, you’re choosing from 4-5 plays from your playbook.
As always making sure to go rapid pace, running a play within 3 seconds of having the ball spotted on change of possessions and also using all of our timeouts. In one game we had the ball at our own 30 with just 16 seconds left before the half and 2 timeouts. We ran 3 plays in those 16 seconds with all of our MPRs on the field.
Have a plan, practice the plan, think ahead and be creative. That will help your team compete when you are in a tough spot with a lot of MPRs. of course these subbing plans all go out the window once you get up by 21-28 points and you sub everyone in. The next post will be all about ball protection and getting turnovers.
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