You make your own luck in youth football, luck isn’t the difference between a 10-0 team and a 2-8 team. However a little bit of luck can be the difference between a 9-1 or 8-2 team and a 10-0 team. As promised I’m going to try and help youth football coaches who inherit athletically challenged and small teams by sharing my story from coaching my 3-4 grade team (8-9 year olds) in 2013. I’ve coached youth football for about 25 years now and this was one of the most challenging situations ever. Hopefully you can use some of the ideas to apply to coaching your youth football team, should you end up in the same situation. These coaching tips were told over 11 posts, this is the last post in the series. We went 12-0 in a 32 team age bracket with a very small and unathletic team.
As I’ve mentioned before we play in an unlimited weight league for linemen and running back weights have to weight under a certain amount. This team had no size and our largest player at the end of week 1 was 90 lbs. However on my roster there was a player who didn’t have a weight listed. He was gone on the first week of practice due to a family vacation. Since I don’t selectively recruit, I had no clue who this player was or how big he was. My hope was that he was over 90lbs and an average player. No one knew who this player was, his family homeschools their children, a fast growing phenomenon in the US since about 1990.
We had no size and we were desperate for linemen. Very good linemen can be made from average players if you have the right scheme and teaching methods like the Winning Youth Football System utilizes. When the missing player showed up in week 2 we were pleasantly surprised. He weighed in at 113 lbs and more importantly he had good feet and was very smart. Since we had a very small but aggressive pulling guard already in place, the new player was better suited to play Center and Defensive Tackle. He was a difference maker, not a totally dominant player, but a very consistent and good one. While I’m the biggest fan of team football, my guess is without this late comer we would have been a 11-1 team instead of 12-0, it is what it is. In youth football Coaching matters the most, but if you are extremely weak in an area, one player can help you get over that hump.
Another stroke of “luck” were matchups and scheduling. I’m not on the League Board and have nothing to do with scheduling, so this can be attributed to luck as well. We were a very small, young, fragile and unathletic team early on and we benefited by playing our first 2 games against teams that weren’t very good. This allowed the kids to gain a little bit of confidence before we went to that Out State Tournament. The tournament also helped us, playing against teams that had no clue of what we run and playing a very strong and well coached defending league champion.
The playoffs are another area where luck shined down on us. In this 32 team age bracket, there were several teams we didn’t matchup very well with at all. In the Semi-Final game we played against an undefeated inner-city team who was very big and slow on the line and average to small, but very fast in the backfield. In the Super Bowl game, we got a favorable matchup. In the semi-finals, the team we thought we would play in the Super Bowl lost. They had 2 very big and fast running backs, that this late in the season had to both be well over 90 lbs. This team did a very nice job of putting a defense in conflict with the ability run inside, outside, counter and play action pass. However they were beaten by our Super Bowl opponent thanks to a timely fumble recovery deep in their own territory and a recovered onside kick. They did something they hadn’t done all season, they made a few mistakes.
The team we played in the Super Bowl game was very big and very physical along the line, but their backs were in the 70-80 lb range, very similar to us. They ran hard and had good speed, but they were not going to be the huge problem in space like the team we expected we might play.
In any event, coaching youth football ISN’T about luck. Last year I thought my team would end up playing and possibly winning the Super Bowl. This year I wasn’t sure we would even make the playoffs, let alone make it to the Super Bowl. We know luck does exist and sometimes it is the difference in a game or two. As coaches we just have to accept it for what it is. Last year we lost in the playoffs in a game we lost the ball 5 times, after only giving up 2 turnovers the entire season to that point. Instead of 12-0 we ended up at 10-1, it happens. Over time it evens out for most.
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