Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Game One The Youth Football Coaching Verdict

carson score board












How did our team play in game one? How would we respond when we got hit in the mouth? This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. I took an 8th grade team that had won about 6 games in the last 6 years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada. We never really found out what it was like to be hit in the mouth. When you are coaching youth football, you can’t pick your opponents, you play who they tell you to. Our team came out fast, aligned perfectly and executed just like we were playing against coaches with shields. We played well, but it wasn’t anything to get ecstatic over. We beat a weak team with subpar coaching going away.

We won the toss and as always, asked for the ball. I practiced the coin flip with our captains, we went through it three times so there wouldn’t be any issues. After returning a deep kick to the 50, we scored on a three play drive that took less than 60 seconds. Running no-huddle rapid pace when you execute well can be a real bear to defend, especially early in the season.

After a failed onside kick, we held them to three and out on defense. They ran power, speed option and the expected counter on third down and had to punt. We drove the ball to their 20 on a 6 play drive, then our Blocking Back failed to field what looked like a reasonable but not great snap and we lost the ball.

On their second possession, they got in trouble early on the bootleg waggle pass and lost 10 yards. One of the things our style of defense does extremely well is stop counters and reverses. After another three and out, we got the ball at their 40. Right now we were just running our base 6-7 plays with a few adjustments. We scored in two plays and were able to get a very well executed onside kick back. As Carson moved to a 5-2 Monster style look and crowded the line of scrimmage with their Corners and Safety in tight, I called a spinner counter play with an outside tag calling for a log block and we scored in one play.  We had scored two touchdowns in the span of about 20 seconds.

Our sidelines and stands were going nuts. They had never scored points like this and of course they had never mercy ruled anyone. Now as the first quarter came to a close, we were up 20-0. Our kids were on fire, the defense couldn’t wait to get on the field and was playing with a lot of confidence. After another three and out we got the ball back at our own 30 and scored in five plays, which took less than two minutes off the clock. At this point, we are peppering in some of the non-starters on offense and subbing out about half the starters on defense.

Carson gets desperate and runs a double reverse, that ends up on the ground, which we recover. The big 300 lb kid from Carson was now out on defense, we had gassed him. We score in 3 plays off an inside wham play with a nice counter fake behind. There was blood in the water and our kids were acting like hungry sharks. We called timeout and subbed the entire defense out, which allowed Carson to score. We scored on all of the ensuing offensive possessions and were holding our own on defense.  At halftime the score was 42-6 and we had the ball at their 10 as we graciously chose not to run another play with 20 seconds left in the half with our third team Quarterback at the helm.

At halftime the kids were giddy, like a bunch of 9 year old girls at a slumber party. I congratulated them on their effort and talked about what we did right and wrong and our goals for the second half. They were: no penalties, no turnovers and great effort. I talked about gaining momentum for game two, by finishing strong in game one, to not get sloppy. That happens a lot in blowout wins.

The second half was played under a running clock. We started our second team defense and Carson scored to make it 42-14. The first team offense started the second half and promptly scored as we expanded the playbook and threw three passes in the first drive, completing two of them. The second team defense played most of the second half after we got some of the starters reps at their secondary positions. Remember, we were very thin at the skill positions so everyone had a primary and secondary position on both sides of the ball. In the second half, our backups got a lot more playing time than the starters.

The final was 54-20 and it could have been much worse. We had 5 different kids score touchdowns and 11 different kids carry the ball. On the negative side, we had 1 fumble, 3 bobbled snaps and an interception. We never punted, scored on every possession we didn’t turn it over on and the first team defense only gave up 2 first downs. We got 2 turnovers and had 4 penalties against us. While we hadn’t hit all of our goals, it was a good way to start the season.

In the post-game I congratulated them, but didn’t show a lot of emotion. I let them know I was proud of their effort, but that the team we played wasn’t very good. We had a lot of work to do and this was just the first step. How prophetic those words would be in what happened in week two, a youth football coaching nightmare.

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  1. James

    Great job Dave, I’m getting into this story, I’m anxious to see how it all plays out. I like how you handled the pre-game.

  2. Yosi

    Coach Cisar:

    Greetings. Thanks for your posts and your work with these kids.

    Would you please comment on the final score? Obviously, we as coaches want to win. As OCs, we want to score on every drive. In the interest of sportmanship, I don’t think we want to “destroy”, “humiliate”, or “blow out” our opponents. You have previously discussed a “special play” on defense where you want the other team to score, so you are tracking this issue as well. What are your thoughts on this?

    Thanks for your time.

  3. davecisar


    Note our goals for the first half were score on every drive. That was discussed, that wasn’t the goal in the second half per our halftime talk.

    We let them score on purpose on one drive in the first half to stay under the mercy rule. With a halftime score of 42-6, it’s very obvious we let off the gas. We were on their 10 with 20 seconds to go with our 3rd team QB in and chose not to run a play. With 11 different kids handling the ball 54-20 in this case was very sportsmanlike.

    I assure you we could have won this one 70 or 80- 0 had we chosen to go that route. Which we didn’t, our backups played as much as our starters.

  4. Yosi

    Coach Cisar:

    Thanks for the response. Maybe I misspoke. I didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t sportsmanlike. I just want to know, as a coach with less experience than you, when is a good time to call off the dogs? When do you make that decision knowing you’re not throwing the game for your team but allowing the other kids and coaches to have a little fun and not get destroyed. Also, when we are trying to teach kids to always do their best, how do we let off the gas without betraying that message?


  5. davecisar


    It depends on who we are playing and how the game is unfolding. I could see very early on, we weren’t going to have any problems with this team. We were better fundamentally, we matched up really well and they weren’t coached very well.

    We were dominating from the opening snap on both sides of the ball. So I started subbing in early and often. When we were up by 4 scores I called time out and subbed in mass on defense. We quit kicking onsides and I held back on the most optimum play to call on offense.

    We never tell kids to let up with exception of the 1 play- special play. We can always control the score via personnel and play calls.


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