How do you prepare your kids to be youth football giant killers when over the last 6 years they have struggled to beat even average foes? We had 3 practices to get our kids ready mentally, physically, fundamentally and scheme wise. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First” I took an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area.
The first and most important part was preparing the kids mentally. I sent out an e-mail about the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team. Like the US Hockey team, we were in the semi-finals playing against the undefeated bully of the league, Reed. You would be surprised at how many young kids have never heard this story. It’s about the improbable run to winning the gold medal by a team most people considered less than average. Coach Herb Brooks takes a group of young college kids and molds them into a team that plays for each other. Beaten by the Soviets in an exhibition game 10-3 the month before, no one gave the US team much of a chance against a Russian team that was 27-1-1 in Olympic competition since 1960. Even NHL all-star teams were getting pummeled by the well-oiled machine of the USSR team.
Herb sold his kids on his game plan and on the fact that his kids didn’t need to beat the Russians 10 out of 10 times or even 6 out of 10, they just needed to win 1 time and it was their time. I followed the same template and it felt like the kids were buying in. Coaching is coaching it doesn’t matter the sport, it doesn’t matter if I’m coaching youth football, basketball or baseball, the US Hockey story was relevant.
The kids got right down to business on Tuesday, there were no distractions, it was a 100% work day. On defense our Defensive Ends now Outside Linebackers looked great in individual drills when we taught them our approach for this game. Our Defensive Tackles, who were now in Defensive End roles looked good, they were adapting to their new responsibilities and alignments well, the only new technique we worked on was getting depth and width on reach block attempts.
Linebackers had always been an issue for us. Our best Linebackers were playing Corner or Monster because we were so thin at those positions and what we had left over were better suited at Linebacker than they were as Defensive Backs. We worked hard to stop the Reed option play where the QB in the Pistol reads the end man on line of scrimmage on a give off tackle, then keeps to the outside. Only Reed now would be optioning to that same side with a Bubble Screen.
To make matters worse, they also would throw the go route to the Wide Receiver who would fake his stalk block for the Bubble and go deep for a really big play. So not only did we have to stop the 2 biggest open field take it to the house on every play kids in the league on the option, to the playside we had to stop their big lanky 6’1” smooth speed demon at the slot and a very capable and tall Wideout. Our goal was to stop it in the backfield and never allow it to get started, because Reed got into the open field, we were toast.
We did invest time in team pursuit and bracketing drills to help our kids keep leverage. So many times during the first game our kids didn’t trust their speed and in an effort to try and make plays, overran the plays. Thanks to our paid staff of 5 high schoolers on scout, our kids were getting a good look.
Since we were averaging 44 points a game and had scored 26 against Reed in game 1 and left 14 easy points on the field in that one, we would spend 2/3 of our time on defense. The rest of our practice time would be evenly split between special teams and offense.
Offensively the only tweak we added was our youth football playbook was Buck Series and an adjustment to our 16 pass play. Later in the game Reed and slid their best player, their QB to an Outside Linebacker position instead of him playing a deep safety. Then they took that speed demon Running Back and deepened him to about 8 yards and widened him out at Corner. So the middle of the field would be open, with just the weakside Corner wide and at about 6 yards. Our Left End had dropped all but 1 of the 7 passes we threw to him, so the 16 pass far wasn’t there, but our Wingback could catch and with the middle of the field open we could just dink it into the open space basketball style for a nice gain. So this wasn’t a new play for us, it was a youth football play with a small adjustment for a specific opponent.
How were our kids responding? They were doing well, accepting the coaching and getting the work in. While I have always tried to stay away from long winded lectures, it was important for the kids to buy in to the approach and as we made some of the adjustments I shared with the kids why. In school the Reed players were being very respectful. With 5 of our former players on the Reed team, they had been humbled a bit in the first game with us leading for a good part of the game and moving the ball nearly at will. We had Reeds full attention.
As we wrapped up the week of practice we talked about the US Hockey team and the game plan and how their situation was very similar to ours. I would be slowing the game down, we would attack the middle and open it up some in the second quarter. The only chink in the Reed armor was at weakside Corner and we were going to take a few shots down the field against him once we had reasonably good field position. The 16 pass to the Wing would be unveiled in the second Quarter too, once we conditioned Reed to respond aggressively to the run.
The kids were as ready as they were going to be. The coaches, kids and parents couldn’t wait for game time.