Youth Football Lessons Learned from this Years NFL Superbowl
Did you get a chance to watch this years Superbowl? Better question, did you watch the whole thing or did you shut it off at halftime and chalk the game up to an Atlanta win? If you did watch could you find any takeaways you could use coaching your own youth football team next season?
Well after a short nap at halftime, I finished watching what turned out to be a very exciting game. All successful youth football coaches get that the NFL game is MUCH different than the youth game. But if you took a step back, there were a few takeaways that all of us could gather up. There’s got to be something there right? I mean no team had ever come back from a 14 point deficit in over 50 years of Superbowls, let alone a 25 point lead.
First of all let’s be in agreement here, these NFL coaches know more than any of us will ever know about the game. They are at the pinnacle of their profession so I won’t be standing on some pedestal grandstanding.
Calmness in the Storm
Bill Belicheck never panicked. As the Falcons added to their lead which got to 25 points, he calmly wrote things on this play sheet. His players never saw him sweat.
When you are coaching youth football, your players feed off of you. If you are pulling your hair out, yelling at coaches and players, things are not going to turnaround. Belicheck’s players saw someone that was calm, focused and intent on figuring out what he needed to do to get his team back in the game. He had confidence in his players and coaching staff to right the ship or at least he APPEARED to be.
For all we know, what he was writing on his play sheet was stay calm, confident and positive. Maybe he had no plan, but the players thought he did. Players feed off that confidence and steadiness. An inconsistent team gets too high off of big plays and too low when things aren’t going well. The Patriots were even-stevens. This goes double for youth players who typically don’t have the maturity to think long term. As a youth coach, do your best to exude confidence and calmness, yes better said than done sometimes.
As is the case with any level of football, ball security was key. The Falcons turned two first half Patriot turnovers into touchdowns.
At all the clinics I do, one question I always get is- Coach Dave, you’ve coached over 200 games with this approach, what defense gave you the most trouble in those 27 losses? The answer is, the one that created the most turnovers. In those 27 losses, in 23 of them we had more turnovers than our opponents and in 20 of those losses, we had 2 turnovers more than our opponents. One scheme over another hasn’t been a problem, it’s always been turnovers.
Note that the Patriots didn’t have a single turnover in the second half and got a short field and score thanks to a Falcon fumble deep in Atlanta territory. Doing the ordinary extraordinarily well is what consistently wins games and championships in youth football, not a bunch of trick youth football plays.
Not beating yourself with turnovers at the youth level is even MORE important than in the NFL. The average NFL game has about 126 offensive snaps, while the typical youth game has just 80. There are fewer possessions in youth games, hence every possession is MORE important in youth football than the NFL games.
Team Chemistry and Culture Matter
The Patriots never panicked. The Patriots players were focused and supportive of each other even when they were down by 25 points. There wasn’t any finger pointing. Their culture and confidence was on full display and it shined. They believe in each other, they believe in the coaching staff and their relentless effort chipped at the big Falcon lead.
An Answer for Every Question
Now I’m going to go a little sideways on this one. The Patriots were ready for every obscure situation. They scored on two separate two point conversions, both were critical plays. The Pats scoring on both of those plays had the Falcons thinking this was not going to be their day.
The first play was the old fake fumble play, short snap to the up back. Everyone was expecting a Brady pass, what they got was a short run up the middle, virtually untouched. The Pats hadn’t run that play all season long, but the first two point play of what ended up being a standard gap blocked running play had just enough deception for the Pats to have an advantage on the play.
How about the last play before the end of the half? The Pats were on what their own 30 with about 5 seconds left. Not enough time to get yourself more than one play to get into field position for a field goal. Too long to try a Hail Mary and then have the ball intercepted and run back for a score. What did the Pats do? They got into Victory Formation and short snapped the ball to a back who ended up getting a 20 yard gain. Hey, a missed tackle and a nice block downfield and you might even score on something like that. Zero risk play, that gives you an outside chance at scoring. No panic with the Pats, just great coaching and crazy good preparation.
Does that mean as a youth coach you have every scenario covered by game one? NOPE, not at all, you don’t have the time for that. What it does mean is by the end of the season, you have a prevent defense in, maybe a couple of versions of it. You have a low risk last play of the game play in and a high risk last play in as well. You have a hurry up or no huddle package in. We need those for the end of the first half and that rare case end of game scenario too. One season back in I think 2010 my 10-11 year old kids scored in the last 30 seconds of the first half 3-4 times and on the last play of the half twice. A real back breaker. We also won a tournament championship driving 80 yards in 8 plays in less than 2 minutes at the end to win the game.
To win championships in competitive youth football leagues, your special teams need to be special. The Pats consistently pinned the Falcons deep in their own territory with deep directional place kicks, great coverage and excellent punting.
Mange the Clock
I’m not going to pile on the Falcons coaching staff for this error. With just under 4 minutes to go and with the chance to make it a 2 score game from the Pats 22, the Falcons decided it was best to go for the jugular and a touchdown instead of the almost as effective field goal. As we all know the Falcons got sacked, had a penalty or two and threw a couple of incompletions which took them out of field goal range and left plenty of clock for Mr Brady and his gang to score the tying touchdown.
In the youth game, MOST youth teams have a real tough time going 80 yards in a short time frame. Most do not have a hurry up or no huddle offense in place (we are 100% no huddle hurry up 100% of the time). Most youth teams do not pass as effectively or efficiently as NFL teams. So letting someone have the ball at the 20 or closer, makes it a tough one for most youth football teams.
If you ever find yourself at the youth level with a 1 score lead and on the other teams 22 yard line with less than 4 minutes to go and second down? Consider running the ball for 3 more downs. Take the clock down to less than 2 minutes to play or at least make the other team burn all of their timeouts. Unlike the NFL guys, a field goal from the 22 is next to impossible for most 10-11 year old kids. So unless you have a huge wind at your back, never get a field goal blocked and have a beast of a kicker, the 3 runs may make sense.
At the end of the day the Patriots won due to their team chemistry, coaching, preparation, protecting the football and excellent special teams. These are all things those of us coaching youth football need to do to consistently win ball games.
For more free youth football coaching tips or materials to help your teams consistently win football games- go here Winning Youth Football Site