Depth with a weak team, what depth? That’s right you won’t have any depth if your team is in the bottom half of your league in athleticism and size. Don’t fall into the trap that injuries have to ruin your season or can’t be overcome. EVERYONE has injuries, as a youth football coach you have to adapt and overcome and have plan for those probable problems. 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 (8-9 year olds) 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 10 in that series. We went 12-0 in a 32 team age bracket with a very small and less athletic team.
You can survive, but not thrive in youth football without depth. But if you have a weak team and have no depth that may not be the case. While early on In the season, you may be looking to just live to play another day, as the season progresses you will need to develop depth. To succeed with little depth you are going to have to look at playbook, scheme, cross training and amount of contact.
One of the easiest ways to develop depth on offense is to LIMIT your playbook. Don’t worry about going into game 1 with your entire playbook and all your formations and key breakers. Go into game 1 with a set of 6-8-10 integrated and complimentary plays that you are executing consistently well in practice.
If you know you will have little depth, you need to start cross training your players right away in the first week in pads. With my offense, we would usually rotate the 1 and 2 backs in for each other but this year it was our 1 and 3 backs. Our starting 2 back also learned the 3 back spot, he was better suited for that than the 1 spot. Our starting 4 back was fairly physical but the backups were more finesse players, so we just altered our play calling accordingly.
When coaching the offensive line, if you have little depth, your blocking schemes and rules will have to be very simple and easy to execute with average players. If you choose a basic man on man or zone type scheme where your weaker minimum play player backup has to block the other teams most aggressive, athletic defender in space (Linebacker), you probably aren’t going to be very successful. For me, double teams, wedge blocking, traps and down blocks are essential. We leave blocking Linebackers to our backs and pulling guard. In my blocking scheme for our “Sainted Six” and initial 8-10 plays, the Offensive Linemen with the exception of the Right Guard and Center are pretty interchangeable. The beauty of the unbalanced line is you only need 1 puller instead of 2, he is in the middle of the formation and can easily pull to either side.
Work your Offensive Linemen at multiple positions on the same side of the line after perfecting the play in group, which is lineman only. Train your best backup Lineman who is reasonably smart as a “floater” who can play both sides of the line. It may not be the prettiest of fits, but it’s something you will have to do if you want to be competitive over the duration of the season. For us our floater was our Right Tight End. While he wasn’t very big, he was pretty smart and reasonably tough. Our backup Right End was a first year player and instead of having him float, we had him replace the starter and had the starter float. You will have to play these type of chess games to maximize your equation.
On defense you will need to do the same. You rob Peter to pay Paul. Your next best Linebacker is starting at Corner, so you train him at Linebacker. Your next best Corner is playing Safety so you train him at Corner and coach someone up at Safety. We did all that and more and eventually found our backup Defensive Ends who we had slated at Corner were MUCH better in no space than in space and made very able backup Defensive Ends.
Like the Boy Scout motto says “BE PREPARED.” That motto especially goes for coaching youth football when it comes to weaker teams and depth. The net is, coaches that blame injuries for their teams ineptness rarely get that EVERYONE has injuries. The teams that consistently do well have backup plans in place from the first couple of weeks of practice. That means you coach everyone up, you go 11 in and 11 out during all of your offensive and defensive fit and freeze or recognition reps. Lastly, you have to rotate those kids into their backup positions as early and as often as you can. That means when games are safely in or out of reach, in scrimmages and on downs that can be spared. The next post is going to talk about depth in regards to full contact hitting in practice and how that relates to injuries.
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