That last youth football practice before game one is filled with a few last minute details that can help your youth football team or cost you dearly. As we review my 2015 season PLEASE STEAL as many ideas as you can. The goal of this exercise is to help you become a more effective youth football coach.
Last Practice Before Game One
With the exception of the 6 minute dynamic warm up and about 15 minutes of group tackling, we jumped right into team, something we NEVER DO, with the exception of game one. The league we are in mandates that we have to play a league game after just 3 weeks of practice. I’m not a fan of this, but I don’t make the rules.
We could have had a Saturday practice but I don’t like to go more than 4 days a week, this Thursday practice would be in before Game 1 on Sunday. We started with putting the wrist coaches on and teaching the system used to relay the plays in and how to align after a play. Yes it is that simple, it doesn’t take more than one practice to teach. Then we ran fit and freeze plays on air with coaches at the point of attack. We did this on a real field, with a coach acting as a referee and putting the ball in play about 10 yards up the field after each play. On every play instead of subbing in 11 new players every snap like we normally do, we only subbed one or two and sometimes none, simulating a real game.
We also practiced our “poison call” which is used once a back or receiver is safely in the clear. When a player hears the word “poison” he puts his hands in the air and stops blocking and stops running towards the play. How many times have you seen a touchdown in a youth football game called back because of a totally unneeded block in the back? Referees today are also calling unnecessary roughness on blocks away from the play when the action is more than 15-20 yards away. I know- I’m WITH YOU, our kids should be able to block to the whistle, but it is a new point of emphasis at every level of football and it is being called. The poison call needs to be taught and drilled just like anything else.
We spent at least 30 minutes on team Defensive Recognition and team pursuit drills with coaches at the backfield spots. Special teams also got about 40 minutes of practice time. You can steal or blow these early youth football games due to special teams snafus.
We played against a very experienced coach, who has been coaching youth football for more than 20 years. He has no kids playing but is one of those great guys who always fields competitive teams, is on the Board and knows his stuff. I used to coach with this guy in my program in Omaha back in the late 90s. I’ve coached against him in our present league 6-7 times. He has my book and DVDs and knows our system inside and out, as always it would be a tough game against him.
We started off with an onside kick that wasn’t well executed but got a 3 and out on defense. Right out of the gate their offense tried to outflank us with a trips alignment to the wide side that our kids aligned on perfectly. Then they came back off-tackle with twins to the short side where we were set up right. On third down they went trips and unbalanced, again we lined up right and shut them down. All those Defensive Recognition drills payed off- see how we do that here: Defensive DVD/e-book
On offense of course they aligned perfectly to our unbalanced alignment and held us to two short gains. No luck on getting them to jump on the hard count, but we were able to squeak out a first down off-tackle strong. We came right back with an off-tackle strong play and were able to score from about 60 yards out. Our PAT kicks had been pretty poor, so we went for 1 and got it to make the score 7-0.
We missed again on our onside kick and they went another 3 and out. Off-tackle, Dive and sweep, basic plays, nothing there. We were aligning, block destructing, pursuing, reading and gang tackling just like in practice. On offense this series we were trying to establish our wedge play. The wedge blocking was pretty good, especially for a first game, but our 3 back, the player running the ball, was stopping on contact. This was a second year player playing Running Back for the first time in a real game. A good athlete who practiced well, but who went into statue mode once into contact. Once that contact was made, then he would start to fight for yardage, but after losing his momentum, he couldn’t break any tackles or get much additional yardage.
We bogged down due to this issue and gave it up on downs. Now our opponent was trying to make something happen by going deeper into their playbook. They started out in trips but ran a reverse away from strength, we stopped it for a big loss. Then they went play action and missed, we almost got the sack. On third and long they went with a double reverse and we got them for another big loss. Our backside Defensive Ends and Corners slow play everything, so reverses usually are a pretty poor play against our defense.
On offense we were now in a bit of a bind. Like 85% of youth leagues out there we have a minimum play rule. This game had gone REALLY slowly. In game ones MOST referees are going to be a bit forgiving with the 25 second clock. While we were no-huddle and aligning quickly, our opponent was taking forever getting in and out of the huddle on offense AND the referees were not allowing us to play as quickly as we could. In most games I would ask the referees to adhere to the rules, but I’m not pushing it in a game one with kids at the youngest age group, 3&4 grade. Doing that won’t make you any friends, for game one, I get where they are coming from.
Since we had run just a handful of plays and we had already gone through the first quarter, I had to start getting my MPRs some of their mandatory plays. With a roster of 23 kids of which 15-16 were brand new to football, that can be a challenge. With our struggling 3 back hurting our wedge play and having to get our MPRs in, we bogged down again after picking up just 2 first downs. Thankfully we were consistently getting 3 and outs on defense.
Back on offense we subbed in for the statue 3 back and his replacement fumbled the ball. Defensively we held, but when we got the ball back we didn’t have enough time to get another score as we struggled to make sure all of our MPRs got their required first half snaps. In this league at this age group in non mercy rule games we had averaged about 62 offensive snaps a game, but in the first half of this one we had just 20, it is what it is.
I kept positive at halftime, we talked about the game being filmed and reminded the players that they would be watching the game later that day on Hudl, to make sure to effort to the whistle. The other team started off with a well executed on-side kick and recovered. They finally got a couple of first downs, but we held.
Going back to just running off-tackle, reading the Defensive End, then running Sweep and a few weak Power/Counters we put together a long drive and scored to make it 13-0. That is how it would end. The other team couldn’t establish their base plays and ended up in full panic mode, going to their passing and misdirection game which didn’t work at all. The other team had aligned really well, tackled extremely well and pursued great. They were a very well coached team. We had given up 2 turnovers and got none ourselves.
We were fortunate to win this one. There was lots to work on, I had invested all of my own practice time with the Offensive and Defensive Linemen. Our backs were attacking at correct angles, but our Running Skills with the ball needed a lot of work. Losing the turnover battle was a big red flag too. We were happy with week one win, but we would need to get a lot better to win this “Top Gun” 17 team age bracket. More on how we addressed these issues this week.
For more information on how we run our offense- check out our Implementing the Single Wing Offense DVD : Implementing the Single Wing Offense for Youth Football DVD