Lots of youth football coaches are unsure if they should play man or zone coverage for their youth football teams. While man coverage is the ultimate accountability tool and is fairly easy to teach, zone has its advantages as well. Your players can do either.
Let’s not get caught up in how you may want to play your man. Some defenses call for a press man approach. I prefer an off-man approach where we are at varying distances to the offensive player based on our scheme, the matchup and the other teams tendencies and abilities. Those distances can also be adjusted by down, distance and if you are playing to the boundary or field.
We have run both coverages in the same season as young as age 8-9, but we always start in man. Why is that? Because at the end of the day, once the ball is in the air coverage ends up being man. Man coverage also allows you to match up when teams try to overload a zone or do lots of different overloaded formations to get numbers at the point of attack. You can easily attack most zone teams by using multiple trips or quads type formations to get numbers advantages.
Man also allows you to match up your best man to their best man. In youth football most teams don’t have lots of weapons, they have one or sometimes two who are threats to take it the distance on any one play. If you are playing zone, those studs will just run to the zone with your weakest link and make big plays. You want your “dudes” on the other teams “dudes”. That is one of the best arguments for man.
Man also helps you adjust appropriately to motions and shifts, to insure you have numbers. On the flip side of that coin, man will often times allow the offense to motion or shift your better players away from where they want to attack.
The problem is in man your man is on their man. Your defenders eyes are on the player they are covering. Yes you can teach different types of reads, but if that player runs a pattern, your guy has to go with the receiver. That means your defender can get run off without even being blocked.
Some man cover teams will ask their defenders to peek into the backfield. The problem with that is, that often times will lead the average athlete to get bit on a simple play action concept. Your better athletes might be able to get away with it, but the average ones, not so much.
Teaching man is up to you and again I like both. We run both man and zone schemes and even some Man Free type looks where we run man under a deep safety or a defender playing over the top in zone over the best teams player. You have to decide for yourself what makes sense for your specific equation. More on coaching youth football with zone in the next post.