Big Youth Football Rule Changes Nationwide 2017

Written by Dave on February 23rd, 2017

Youth Football Rule Changes















Coaches have seen lots of youth football rule changes the last few years and those changes continue to come down the pike. This week the National Federation of State High School Associations, the governing body of high school sports, for all US States but Texas and Massachusetts made some changes in their rules to make the game safer. Some of the rules changes are minor and enforceable, while other change the game almost to its core.

Let’s start out with the easy ones- Onside kicks where the kicker kicks the ball hard into the dirt to get a big bounce into that first row on the kick return team are no longer allowed. Also banned were the peel back blindside block. The verbiage is now “A hit on any player who is not carrying the ball and “does not see the blocker approaching,” is now punished with a 15-yard penalty. Such a hit, Rule 9-4-3n states, “involves contact by a blocker against an opponent who, because of physical positioning and focus of concentration, is vulnerable to injury.”

A blindside hit is legal if it is initiated with “open hands”. So those crushing open field blocks will no longer be allowed as would most crack back style blocks on Defensive Ends or Outside Linebackers.

These Youth Football Rules Changes I’m Ok With

I have no issue with either of these rule changes. While I’m a fan of the onside kick and have seen many successful youth football teams use the crack back block to seal the edge, I understand why they made these changes, for player safety. I’ve personally never seen a player seriously injured due to this type of onside kick, I have seen a few kids take a nasty lick on a crack back or peel back block in the open field. These penalties will be easy to spot and simple to enforce.

As most of us have seen referees have been calling fouls already when contact is made with a “defenseless player”, or they have called unnecessary roughness, both are 15 yard fouls. This has been a point of emphasis for the last two years.

I’m No Fan of These Youth Football Rules Changes

What I’m not comfortable at all with is how a defenseless player is now defined as of this week. The rule changes uses these definitions of defenseless players:

  • A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass. I’m against this one. Sometimes the defender has left his feet or has so much momentum, that even if he tries to stop, it’s next to impossible. Referees today do a great job of protecting the QB and throw plenty of roughing the passer calls now. Leave it to the discretion of the referee like they do now.
  • A receiver attempting to catch a pass who has not had time to clearly become a runner. This one I’m against, see below.
  • The intended receiver of a pass in the action during and immediately following an interception or potential interception. I’m on the fence on this one.
  • A runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped. (wouldn’t a competent referee blow the ball dead here so any hit would be after the whistle and be worthy of an unnecessary roughness call?) But under this rule my 9 year old player has to discern if the forward progress has been stopped or is that running back going to carry the pile into the endzone?
  • A kickoff or punt returner attempting to catch or recover a kick, or one who has completed a catch or recovery and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball carrier
  • A player on the ground including a ball carrier who has obviously given himself up and is sliding feet-first. OK I’m fine with this one.
  • A player obviously out of the play or not in the immediate vicinity of the runner. NOT a fan of, see below.

These youth football rules changes if they are enforced, DRAMATICALLY change the game. We’ve already seen referees calling penalties on contact away from the play. Now they are saying any contact with a player obviously out of the play and not in the immediate vicinity of the runner can’t be blocked. What I want to know is how do my offensive linemen who have both of their eyes on their blocking target know where the ball is????? They are trained to block their assignment to the whistle- how would my offensive lineman even know where the ball was when he is in the middle of blocking his assigned target? And how would a referee know when a player is really out of a play or not? If you have a speedster player on defense and your running back doesn’t have great speed, that defensive speedster isn’t out of the play until the back has crossed the goal line.

This is another one I don’t get. Now the rule is that a receiver attempting to catch a pass who has not had time to clearly become a runner is a “defenseless” player. So when a receiver is trying to make a catch but doesn’t quite have the ball seated is defenseless. The new rule states that he can’t be contacted with anything but hands. By that definition obviously you can’t separate the ball from the receiver by contact, I’m not even sure you could contest the catch with anything other than hands.

How will this all be enforced? I envision games being stopped by penalties for nearly every snap. Two hour games, forgetaboutit, expect three. I’m all for making the game reasonable and safe, but these new rules are too much. There I said it, now throw me under the bus and call me a knuckle dragging Neanderthal.

We all realize that youth football has a perception and PR problem. The facts are any sport or activity has risks and by most accounts youth football is safer today than it has been at any point in history. Some of the ways the rules committee chose to address these issues just go too far and are nearly impossible to enforce with any degree of consistency.




Week Two Youth Football Practice

Written by Dave on February 21st, 2017





Week Two Youth Football Practice

We continue our walk through an entire season youth football season week by week to help youth coaches understand what their youth football practices should like and what are reasonable milestones each week.

Week two is still almost 2/3 individual and group work. Yes, there is a temptation to get to where it looks like “team football” as fast as you can. Some coaches do it to try and impress their parents, some do it because they think scheme, football plays, playbooks and defensive twists are more important than fundamentals.

At the end of the day, the teams that excel at, are extraordinary at the ordinary will be the teams carrying the big shiny trophy home at the end of the season. The dealio is, saying it and doing it effectively and efficiently are two very different things. Monday was Offense, Tuesday was Defense, Thursday was Offense and Saturday was Defense a little bit of Offense and Special Teams.

The Offensive Indy groups were: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wingbacks/Receivers and Offensive Line. The Tight Ends are Receivers, but they would spend 80% of their practice time with the Offensive Line at this point. The Defensive Indy groups are: Defensive Ends, Nose Tackles, Defensive Tackles, Linebackers and Defensive Backs. After the dynamic warm ups and angle form fit tackling reps which was now down to about 7 minutes, the kids were in their position groups.

Every position group has some every day drills (EDDs) as well as weekly rotations (drills you consistently do weekly- not daily) and either new drills or nuances to existing drills to keep the kids interested. For instance on the Offensive Line- every day we are going to do: 1 step, 2 step, 1 & 2 step, bag fits- Gap Block Fit, On Block Fit, Down Block Fit then GOD rule fits in Formation, Board Drill and Wedge fits. We add in several weekly drills and new drills to more than fill up the 80 minutes of Indy and small group time.

Our first game is just 3 weeks away, so yes you need to build to that, but not at the expense of building that rock solid foundation. To do that, we are incorporating teaching small pieces of the scheme during Indys and small group. Instead of doing GOD fits in rows, have the kids align in their positions just like they would do in a game. In a real game the play is over, the kids are in different spots on the field, they have to align on the ball and wait for the play to be called in, we are a no-huddle team. So the GOD fit drill now gets started from the mob of players instead of nice tidy rows.

The Offensive Line

Again using the Oline as an example when we teach pulling, we teach every player in the group to pull. But when we drill it, we do it from the formation, just like they would do it in a play. We teach the player from the formation and fitting or splatter blocking a “defender” on the trap, power, sweep and counter plays that you would pull on.

Offensive plays are really taught during Indy and Group, so when the team comes together there is little teaching that needs to be done with all 25 players standing around twiddling their thumbs.  Teaching and learning during Indys is much more productive than in full team.

What did we get in for the week with this group of 9 year olds with 18 rookies on it? The O-line got its base gap, on and down blocks in, understand the base rule, got to the wedge fit (not taking it downfield) and pulling. We worked some on getting off the ball faster with our cadence claps and tennis ball drills. The backs and receivers were working on their base and stalk blocks, ball security, coming off the ball downhill, acceleration into and out of contact/ball exchanges and chaser drills. Defensively every position group had now invested time in one base block destruction movement, pursuit, base read and tackling. Each group understood their alignment and base read.

On Saturday we had our tryouts for special teams and showed off a little of team on offense and defense. On Offense we had the 16 Power, 43 Counter and 18 Sweep in. We ran 32 wedge as just a fit, our linemen hadn’t had the time to take the wedge down the field. Defensively we always teach man first, so we did defensive recognition on several sets- Double Tight/Full, Double Tight/Wing and Twins. On D we only ran pursuit drills with a coach at QB and Running Back. The only true “full team” full contact drill we came close to doing was 3 Level Oklahoma- which involves 7 players at a time doing full speed to the ground block destruction, pursuit and tackling.


On Saturday we had our tryouts for special teams and showed off a little of team on offense and defense. On Offense we had the 16 Power, 43 Counter and 18 Sweep in. We ran 32 wedge as just a fit, our linemen hadn’t had the time to take the wedge down the field. Defensively we always teach man first, so we did defensive recognition on several sets- Double Tight/Full, Double Tight/Wing and Twins. On D we only ran pursuit drills with a coach at QB and Running Back. The only true “full team” full contact drill we came close to doing was 3 Level Oklahoma- which involves 7 players at a time doing full speed to the ground block destruction, pursuit and tackling. Our daily practice plans are all in the “Winning Youth Football” book. Winning Youth Football a Step by Step Plan Book

Where were we at? Just like you, a combination of angst, panic and dread when looking at what we had for kids and how far they needed to go- as well as some cautious optimism when looking at the potential and progress some of the kids were making. Yes, with pads on we did make a few moves, taking one player we had pegged at Pulling Guard to Center and a Power Tackle to Pulling Guard. We also moved a Wingback to Fullback/ 2 Back just to give us depth there since we had a rookie who was doing well at Wing and a backup who was not as strong, but was picking things up well. You rob Peter to pay Paul, no one ever has the perfect team or even close to it.

Flag Football Safety- Safer than Tackle?

Written by Dave on February 17th, 2017










There are a number of people that would like to see youth tackle football go away and one of the strategies is to substitute flag football for tackle. The reasoning is that with all the pads and the tackling, flag football would have to be safer right? Well not according to a recent study. Flag football safety is what is being sold to many as a substitute for tackle, maybe it’s not the answer.

A new University of Iowa study of 3,800 youth football players in Iowa found that flag football is actually more dangerous than tackle football. Dr Andrew Peterson from the University of Iowa Sports Medicine Program wanted to see if not allowing tackling would reduce the rate of injury in youth football players. Injury was defined as anything that kept a player from a practice of game. They studied the rate of injury for the tackle group and compared it to a group of kids playing flag in the same league in the same age groups. The researchers found that the rate of injury was low in both groups, but the rates of injury were higher in the flag group.

Flag Football Safety Study Conclusion

 The University of Iowa Conclusion and Study: “Injury is more likely to occur in youth flag football than in youth tackle football. Severe injuries and concussions were not significantly different between leagues. Concussion was more likely to occur during games than during practice. Players in the sixth or seventh grade were more likely to suffer a concussion than were younger players.


 “A total of 46,416 exposures and 128 injuries were reported. The mean age at injury was 10.64 years. The hazard ratio for tackle football (compared with flag football) was 0.45 (95% CI, 0.25-0.80; P = .0065). The rate of severe injuries per exposure for tackle football was 1.1 (95% CI, 0.33-3.4; P = .93) times that of the flag league. The rate for concussions in tackle football per exposure was 0.51 (95% CI, 0.16-1.7; P = .27) times that of the flag league.


We know that facts rarely get in the way of how policy or opinions often times made here in the USA, but these facts fly in the face of the argument for flag football as a replacement for tackle. If you’ve ever coached or watched a competitive flag or even 7 on 7 game you know what I’m talking about. The speed of the game doesn’t change and there are some chances just like in soccer where you have players going after the ball and an unprotected head of one player makes contact with the body or even head of another player.  While the injury rate was low, it still wasn’t lower than those for the tackle group.

There is a small but dedicated group of people here that would love to see the uniquely American and uniquely masculine game of tackle football to no longer be part of our American culture. They want us to move on and away from what has been a traditional pastime and even way of life for many kids and American families. While the game has legitimate injury risks for any player, every family needs to decide for themselves if their children should play or not. There are risks when you ride a bike, skateboard, ski, walk to school etc. There are also long term development risks when kids aren’t involved with other children in team environments, or don’t understand the meaning of commitment or hardwork, not to mention the health risks of being sedentary. We all want our kids to be safe, but for some to promote flag football safety as a panacea may not be the answer.

Like anything, it’s always a tradeoff. As most of us youth football coaches know, the rate of injury is almost always lower in the lower age groups. As the kids age up and get bigger and faster, the injury rates creep up. As all the studies show, the older the players, the higher the injury rates. Wouldn’t it make sense to teach kids to play tackle football at a young age where they can learn the game with little threat of injury versus waiting until the injury rate threat is higher? Wouldn’t that be safer, sending a player up to play High School football who knows how to play safely rather than trying to teach him as a 9th grader or even 7th or 8th?

For More great articles on youth football, the game, the direction of the sport and coaching tips, go here: 


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The Top 10 Things Youth Football Coaches Do to Screw Up Their Teams

Written by Dave on February 15th, 2017

The Top 10 Things Youth Football Coaches Do to Screw Up Their Teams







Back in 1999-2001 my youth football program was struggling. We were growing, in fact we had grown from 28 to about 200 kids in 3-4 years, but we had a lot of turnover and our aggregate winning percentage as a program was just in the 30s.

What I saw in our greater Metro area of 900,000+ was that certain programs consistently won and some consistently lost. I took the guy whose program and teams consistently won, Monte Ohara out to lunch one day. He willingly shared how they did things and graciously offered to host me on his sidelines for games and practices. He is an exceptionally successful trucking company owner who believes in research and repeatable systems.

Time was not an issue, after selling our consulting company I was retired and I took a year off of coaching, to help shore up our struggling program. I took in Monte’s practices and games as well as several other very successful programs both locally and out of town. While there were differences in these youth football programs, there were a lot of common threads as well.

A lightbulb came on and I thought, we might as well copy the things we see as common amongst all of these great programs- but why not study the consistently poor programs too? If we found commonality there and committed to NOT doing what the poor youth football programs did, maybe there would be value with that information as well. What I found with the consistently bad teams was eye opening, there was VERY consistent commonality between these terrible programs. And unfortunately we were following on the same failing path as most of the bad teams.

Yes, I did look like an idiot. A stranger sitting in a lawn chair at a youth football practice and games with my stop watch out and taking copious notes, is an odd sight. But I needed the data. While I tried to be discrete, if anyone asked I said I was just doing some research on youth football to help youth football coaches do a better job of coaching.

This is what we found out  in our research to be the 10 Stupid Things Youth Football Coaches Do to Mess up Their Teams:

  1. Scrimmaging too much.

Some of these poor performing teams were scrimmaging for half of the practice and did not do a single fit-and-freeze or bird-dog rep. ALL of the failing programs full team scrimmaged more than 45 minutes per practice. My personal teams do full team scrimmaging 10 minutes per week after the first 3 weeks- just like many of the programs who were winning all the shiny trophies. Why do a lot of failing youth coaches scrimmage a lot? Because it doesn’t take much planning or coaching effort to do full team scrimmaging versus individual or small group drills.

  1. Too much conditioning.

Most of these bad teams were spending 25% or more of their practice time doing non-football related conditioning type drills. These youth football teams would have been great had they been competing in a cross country meet or push up contest, but when it came to playing football, they were getting crushed every week. My personal teams haven’t done any set aside conditioning drill in over 20 years. There are ways to get conditioning done within the context of regular practice without setting time aside to do it. Again it takes little to no planning or coaching effort to set up and run a bunch of mindless conditioning drills.

  1. Poor Defenses.

Most of the poorly coached teams devoted less than 25% of their practice time to defense. These teams used defensive schemes that were designed to stop college football offenses and college or pro football players, not youth football plays or offenses and youth football players. Let’s not even get started about those that have minimum play rules and how their defenses rarely accommodate the playing of these players on defense in situations where they can execute and provide team value on each snap. Not to mention very little attention paid to block destruction, pursuit and read drills. The consistently great teams put defense first or at least gave it equal time with the offense.

  1. Lack of coaching effort.

Lack of spending even minimal amounts of time preparing for the season. Some weren’t interested in putting in any time, others thought they knew it all, but when it came to youth football- they didn’t know squat. The guys that consistently won, many had a small library of materials and went to at least 1 or 2 clinics a year. I’ve spoke at well over 200 coaching clinics, the guys in the first row are guys that are winning the big trophy every year and winning National Championships. Yes guys like Joe Cianflone who has won something like 5 National AYF Titles, Jeff Miret whose Pop Warner teams have been to Disney 4-5 times and won 2 National Titles running our stuff or Jarvis Thomas who has won countless AAU and Independent National Titles running our system. The best coaches know they can learn more, the bad coaches think they know it all or don’t bother. You don’t have to be a guru to consistently win in youth football, a little knowledge goes a really long way.

The consistent losers ALWAYS blamed their losses on lack of talent or numbers. The coaches blamed the kids lack of “effort” or lack of talent for the teams lack of success. Many of these coaches were “the grass in greener” guys. Any lack of success was attributed to being a ‘Jimmies and Joes” situation where their team got “out athleted”. Rarely did any of these coaches take personal responsibility for the teams lack of success, it’s always the kids, the refs, the weather, the breaks, player sick, the other team, cheating, the dog ate the homework. They never got that COACHING MATTERS in youth football.

  1. Too Big and Ridiculous Playbooks.

So many of these guys were scoring less than 10 points a game, yet had playbooks with 40-50 plays in them. These coaches playbooks often looked like the best 25 plays (or more) that the coach had seen on TV on Saturdays and Sundays. There was no complementary series basis to these offenses, most plays stood on their own and often were paired with a single odd duck formation that any good coach could spot. Other offenses included those that had no chance of succeeding unless their team had a monopoly on the best talent in their respective league. These offenses didn’t fit the talent or the age group of these respective teams. The best teams rarely had playbooks beyond 20 plays and no matter the system their core base was 10-12 complementary plays.

  1. Blocking Not Emphasized or Poorly Taught

Most of the time the head coach was coaching the Running Backs, Receivers or Quarterbacks. The teams that consistently lost did not value Offensive Line play, it was often relegated to the least experienced coach. “Block the guy across from you” seemed to be the basic approach, but of course that is not a blocking scheme or rule. None of these teams would pull, down block, double team, trap or even cross block. Most had either rules that were too difficult for the kids to understand or no rules at all- block the guy in front of you. Very little blocking done during indys or group, most was done during team.

4a. Poor Quality Control

The lack of quality control and precision was abhorrent in the bad teams. Mistakes were rarely pointed out because most of the time was spent in team and when a mistake was caught it was ignored or practice would come to a grinding halt thanks to a 2-4 minute mini lecture by one of the coaches. Meanwhile 24 kids stand tapping their toes and grinding their teeth waiting to do SOMETHING.

  1. Poor Teaching Methods

Coaching youth football is teaching, whoever teaches the most effectively and efficiently will consistently win. Many of these coaches had played football, but they had no idea how to transfer their knowledge to their players. In the end it doesn’t matter what the coaches know, it matters what the players know. These coaches had no idea how to teach in a progression and often were trying to teach players techniques with 6-7 coaching points all at the same time. You could see the little puffs of smoke coming out of the ears of these kids during their instruction time. No wonder they couldn’t retain what the coaches said. Teaching in progressions with 3-4 coaching points- all with 1 word cues is the way to go. The failing coaches were long winded TELLERS, often times using white boards to “teach” glossy eyed nodding players- while the successful coaches were SHOWERS. Breaking movements down, teaching and perfecting the movements step by step using demos they either did themselves or with players that “got it”.

  1. Teaching age inappropriate techniques.

Again we aren’t coaching High School, College or NFL players. Heck most of us aren’t even coaching select teams. Many youth football coaches are clueless as to what average kids in certain age groups can and cannot do. Many coaches get frustrated because the average youth player can’t do what coach did in High School at age 18 with 9 years of playing experience under his belt, not to mention the body maturity and year round practice schedule.  In youth ball most Offensive Tackles can’t reach block an 8 or even a 9 technique Defensive End. At the High School or College level you won’t ever see an 8 technique Defensive End. But in the sweep conscious youth game we see 8 techniques all the time- it’s a different game in many ways.  Others underestimate what can be done, yes age 8-10 kids can pull, trap, throw short passes on the run and play zone defense, but no they can’t throw 20 yard outs or reach block 8 or 9 technique defensive ends in many cases. There is a “sweet spot” for what youth players can and can’t do.

  1. Pace

The bad teams should have PHDs on wasting time. Most didn’t have their practice plans in place- they usually talked after cals about what they should do for the day, most were winging it. Wasting time setting up the drills was consistent. In my program the written practice plans are handed out to all the coaches prior to practice and all the drills are set up on the field with cones, balls, bags etc before practice even starts.

These failing guys would typically take about 24 seconds for each indy rep. That was timed by taking the number of reps during an individual segment drill and dividing it by the amount of time in that segment. Too much jogging, walking, too much time to get kids to the front of the drill line, kids not paying attention and coaches taking an inordinate amount of time going into LONG discussions or how to improve. The good teams coaches, everyone is on the run. There is a sense of purpose and URGENCY, time is RESPECTED. One or two word quality control coaching points are what the good guys use. The well coached teams were at about 12 seconds per Indy rep, my own personal teams are about 7 seconds.

When these teams would go into the rare group work, the average rep was about 30 seconds. The better coached teams spent almost a quarter of their practice time in group and their average group rep was in the 20 second area.

Full Team time was where we say the biggest discrepancy in pace. The poorly coached teams were in full team a LOT,  usually more than half of every practice and their average full team scrimmage rep was 1 rep every 2-3 minutes. On the other hand the well coached teams didn’t do a lot of full team scrimmage reps, they did more fit and freeze, bird dog and recognition drills which were averaging in the 25-30 second area. My own teams are at about 15 seconds and that is with 11 in and 11 out on every rep.

1a. Not Being Extraordinary at the Ordinary

The losing teams consistently beat themselves. They wouldn’t be able to consistently control the snap. They would have untimely unforced controllable errors like jumping offsides on critical downs or have a player out of position. They would consistently lose the ball on fumbles, interceptions and onside kicks. They would miss tackles with players in position. None of the consistently poor teams were any good at ball control, blocking or tackling. Yep the “boring” foundation of all great teams.

The interesting thing is these losing programs had the same amount of practice time as the winning programs. But when the winning programs were doing every day ball protection drills, the losing guys were either doing some exotic drill they found on the internet or doing full team scrimmaging or conditioning.

  1. Poor Priorities.

And in David Letterman fashion what is the number one reason youth football coaches mess up their teams?: The recurring theme here is, the poorly performing coaches consistently had their priorities in the wrong area. They don’t understand the youth equation. They invested practice time in areas where their Return on Investment would be very low, while ignoring where their ROI would be very high. The weak teams spent most of their practice time in team while the consistently great programs spent at least half or more of each practice in individual or group position drills. These losing coaches didn’t teach the right things and if they did teach something that needed to be taught, they didn’t know how to teach it to their struggling youth players.

At the end of the day, these are all correctable mistakes that many of us, including me, made many moons ago. To put a wrapper on this story, the year after we did this study and put together an approach template we used for all of our teams, our aggregate winning percentage went from about 30%, to just over 60% and our drop rate was 50% less than the previous year. My last year in that program I had built it to serving just under 400 kids and we were the dominant program in the state with NO team with a losing record and retention rates over 90%.

Our aggregate winning percentage was upwards of 80% and we won the age 9-10 A, 11-12 A and 13-14 A age divisions in then the largest and most competitive league in the state of Nebraska. Something that had never been done before or since. Over time your results either validate that what you’re doing is working or they don’t. We made a repeatable template for all of our 90 youth football coaches to follow and that template morphed into this book and our youth football coaching clinics morphed into the DVDs we now sell to the public. Winning Youth Football Coaching Book  Youth Football Coaching DVDs

Youth Football Lessons Learned from this Years NFL Superbowl

Written by Dave on February 14th, 2017














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.

Ball Security

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.

Special Teams

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

Week One Youth Football Practice

Written by Dave on February 13th, 2017

So after that long off season, now you have your team and that first practice is suddenly not months or weeks away, it is today. What do you do?

Week one practice for a typical youth football team, is kind of like Goldilocks porridge. You don’t want it to be too hot- too much, you don’t want it to be too cold-too little, you want it to be just about right. The problem is most youth coaches, don;t understand what just about right looks like. But before you do anything, you need to have that mandatory parents meeting where you talk about expectations, positions, playing time, discipline, logistics, sportsmanship and how communication will happen between coaches and players. We did that at our two day eval camp and what we talk about is word for word in the Winning Youth Football book. It’s important to set expectations and standards, if you don’t you could have that season from hell, that drives most youth coaches back to the stands.

Practice, whether it is the first week, the 8th week or the last week is all about priorities (where you invest your practice time), progressions (how you teach), precision (quality control) and pace (how fast you do everything). The biggest mistake most failing youth coaches make is, they don’t understand what they should be doing that first week, which is priorities. They mistakenly invest time in things that have a very poor ROI or fail to do some things with a high ROI altogether. Most youth coaches have access to a wide variety of drills, but they simply don’t understand which ones should be done or for that matter an efficient and effective way to get done, what needs to get done.

Week one for us, will hopefully give you some ideas on what you may consider doing your first week. We practice four times a week in week one. Our goal is to establish a baseline standard that the kids understand about the precision, pace, effort and listening skills required to participate in our program. Don’t think this is all about discipline, or some kind of military boot camp. We have standards, but we have fun too. Look for a post soon on why discipline is important and how it can be implemented while the kids get what they want too, which is to have fun.

In a previous post we talked about the importance of the two day evaluation camp. If you do that right, the very first day of practice you can split into position groups. Too many youth coaches take a full week of doing evals before they split into position groups, that puts you way behind experienced coaches who are into position groups in that first or second day.

That is what we did, after doing our 6 minute dynamic warm up routine, which does include an angle form tackling fit small group drill along with a static two line, two step tackle fit drill. With so many rookie kids on the team, this 6 minute section was now 12 minutes. Over the next 2 weeks, we would whittle this down to about 8 minutes, week 3 you should be at 6. All these drills are in the Winning Youth Football book, which includes day by day, minute by minute practice plans for an entire 14 week season.

Too many youth football coaches, spend 20-30 minutes on warm ups and agilities when it should only be about 6 minutes. That doesn’t sound like much, but say a 14 minute savings of time- doing FOOTBALL related stuff to activate the muscles versus doing a bunch of cals, stretches and agilities, would save a typical youth coach over 560 minutes- or nearly 10 hours of practice time. Time that could be used doing high ROI activities to make your youth football team into winners.

Next we moved into tackling circuit stations where everything was done on a fit. Straight tackle 2 step fits, angle tackle fits, 5 yard breakdown fit and  pursuit angle fit. Again the best way to get your coaches on board with these drills is to do a pre-season coaches clinic. If you got your guys a day before the season started, you demo the drills to them right before practice, use cheat cards, or some guys even take the PDF portion of the book and just print out the drills and attach to clip boards for each coach. In any event, make sure your drills are clearly marked off prior to practice starting with cones, balls and whatever bags or equipment needed. This year we bought 2 tackle rings, which worked out really well for pursuit tackling drills.

Each station was timed at 11 minutes, those same drills would be at just 7 minutes. Teaching the drill for the first time, with the progressions, one word coaching points for each progression would mean the first time through, would take longer. This was a defensive day, defense goes in first, so the position group breakdown for the last hour of practice would be broken down into these groups: Defensive Tackles, Defensive Ends, Nose Tackles, Linebackers and Defensive Backs. With now 23 kids, 4 coaches and a helper we were at the sweet spot of a 5-1 player to coach ratio. Not too many, not too few.

Each position group started out by breaking things down to the atomic level. Starting with the correct stance. Then adding the correct first and second step. Then adding a SINGLE block destruction method which again is usually broken down into 3-4 steps, each with it’s own single word coaching point. Why single word coaching points? To clarify and have a standard method of teaching, quality controlling and coaching up base techniques without getting into long drawn out conversations. On the next defensive day we would add pursuit and tackling fits to the progression.

The last 10 minutes of practice was for our conditioning, disguised as a game. We still didn’t have a 100% read on a couple of kids, so we played Hawaiian Rules football and payed particular attention to the kids we were still a little unsure about. Having you or one of your coaches as all- time Quarterback and getting those question marks the ball is a big help in figuring out where those kids should be placed.

After a short 2 minute encouragement talk for the kids and a quick review of the day, the coaches got together to share information about kids that might be slotted incorrectly. We had just one, a player who was fairly athletic but had a tough time with changing directions, he was moved from Defensive Back to Defensive End. More on the rest of week one, on the next post.

For more detailed information on daily practice plans, drills and methods to successfully get you past week one- go here: Winning Youth Football Book

Youth Football Pre-Season Camp

Written by Dave on February 8th, 2017

Our Pre-Season Youth Football Camp  








This is the story of our 2016 season, with the hope you can take away some things to help your own youth football team this coming season. Again, this is a fourth grade team with 8 returning players and 16 kids new to football. This was the remnant of an undefeated 3-4 grade team that is now playing in a single “A” team bracket.

We weren’t able to do any speed training prior to the season, something we have been doing for the last few seasons. About 40% of our kids had consistently participated in past seasons, but due to some consulting projects I had in the books, there was no way speed training was an option. If you can make speed training work for your team, I HIGHLY recommend it. If rules are a problem, make sure to make it an open training deal- yes we’ve had players sisters and non players as part of our speed program.

The week prior to the August 1, first day of practice we decided to do an overnight camp. The goal was to do a two day evaluation camp while bonding as a team and have some fun. We rented out a Christian Camp that had dorms, a huge meeting room and some fun activities. They had a water slide, archery tag,  obstacle course, canoeing, basketball and a lot of open space for the kids to be kids.

It was extremely important for me to see these 16 new kids and determine where they would play prior to day 1 of practice. I didn’t know any of them from Adam. For the coaches of my other 4 teams, they needed to see their kids too. Our single grade third grade team had 25 brand new kids. The older teams had only a couple of new kids, but kids do change a bit from year to year. Some get better, some stay the same and others get passed by, it happens. You can’t go into every season thinking all of your youth football players made the same geometric progression, especially for those kids on the edge of or into puberty.


This wasn’t about putting in football plays, or going into our youth football playbook. Another goal of the camp was to help the new players understand how to interact with their coaches and what our standards are. While we wanted to make sure everyone had fun, we also wanted everyone to understand the level of: attention, listening skills, effort, precision, pace and discipline were going to be the standards for them to participate in our program.

We started with the good old standard kickoff talk detailed word for word in the Winning Youth Football- book. We talked about paying attention using the ready- focus approach and the standard. I calmed down the new kids by letting them know how all the other rookie players felt when they were in their shoes and how everyone was going to enjoy being apart of something special and bigger than themselves.


As always, we started with dividing up by age group, but all together in one mass 100 player dynamic warm up routine. This would include our dynamic routine as detailed in the book and Practice Organization DVD, which typically takes 4 minutes or less. Today, with all the new kids, it was about 15 minutes because as part of the cadence/high knees drill we were teaching about 45 kids stances for the very first time, using progressions. After that we did one and two step tackle fits, then angle form tacking fits. Normally this would all take less than 10 minutes, doing it with all these rookies took us about 25 minutes.

Next was water. Prior to the camp starting, I had placed all the cones, balls and dummys in various stations and assigned coaches to each station. Each coach was given a cheat card for his drill and we rotated stations every 10 minutes. Cheat Cards Here


Our goal was to determine FOOTBALL playing skills, like: body control, athletic explosiveness, football speed, ball skills, football aggressiveness, tenacity and leverage/strength, not how fast someone could run in a straight line for 40 yards. So we did the following “drills”: Deer Hunter Game, Sumo, Hawaiian Rules Football, Towel Game, Pro Agility Races, Dummy Relay Races and a Tackling Station with doughnut dummys.

All of the coaches we issued clip boards with their rosters attached and pens. All of the teams were broken into two groups, bigger kids in one, smaller in the other. All of the players had their names taped to their chests. Players were graded from 1-9 on each drill, representing an educated guess as to where they fit percentile wise compared to their peers in that drill. With two or more coaches working each drill, the guys were pretty close in their assessments. The 5 head coaches of course stayed mostly in the Deer Hunter and Hawaiian Rules  football stations or followed their 2 groups through the stations.

After the event all the kids cooled down with some time in their huge water slide contraption or had some watermelon. The team moms organized water, pizza and fruit for dinner, then the kids fanned out to play archery tag, basketball and the rest.

After Hours

The coaching staffs got together to trade notes. I had about 20 of my kids slotted, but still was on the fence with 4, so on day 2, we concentrated on evaluating those 4 kids. After everyone got showers we watched “Rudy” in the big room and played some bottle flipping games before turning in for the night. We were all getting a feel not only for what the kids could do on the field, but who the “alpha males” were by seeing them interact off the field.

Day Two

Day two was more of the same. We had a big buffet breakfast at 6:30 prepared by the moms. The evals were similar to day one, but we added some ball catching relays and varied the tackling drills on bags, while taking full advantage of the camps obstacle course. The day ended with a HUGE water balloon war between the teams and a parent pick up.

At the end of the day we got what most guys coaching youth football want: an ACCURATE understanding of where each player should play on each side of the ball. The kids also knew what we expected AND they had a great time. The parents loved seeing the kids having a great time at the end with the water balloons, lots of smiling players AND parents.

Consider putting on a pre-season youth football camp for your youth football team this year. Don’t get bogged down with doing player evals for a whole week like many failing teams do. On day one of practice be ahead of the curve, in position groups and gaining ground on your competition- not bogged down with a bunch of old fashioned assessments that waste time.

All of these drills are in the “Winning Youth Football” book and Practice Organization DVD. Winning Youth Football Book

Why I Hate The Clap Snap for Youth Football

Written by Dave on January 26th, 2017









Hating the Clap Snap

Hate is a strong word, I don’t hate anyone, but I do severely dislike some actions. One of the actions on that short list is the clap snap. You know when a College or NFL team has a Quarterback that claps his hands together when he wants the Center to snap the ball ? Yep that’s the one, it aggravates the heck out of me when I see youth football coaches using it.

Why do NFL and College teams clap to signal in the snap? College or NFL football players are usually playing in front of crowds from 60,000 to 100,000 people. Those are usually rabid fans who are paying $60-$250 for the privilege of cheering their favorite team onto victory. Many of these fans have been looking forward to that game all week and go with friends.  Many imbibe in libations in the hours leading up to the game, helping to catapult themselves into a fever pitch come game time.

These fans are LOUD. They pride themselves on being able to disrupt the game with their noise. As we all know a well-timed delay of game or offsides penalty can be a drive killer and crowd noise can help make that happen. It’s really the only way a fan impact the game and they love doing it.  NFL and College teams will practice with the stadiums loudspeakers blaring crowd noise on, so they can simulate these situations.

That’s why teams came up with the clap snap. Wideouts couldn’t hear the cadence and sometimes in extreme cases the Linemen and Running Backs couldn’t hear the cadence either. They can however hear and of feel the vibration of the Quarterback clapping. The backs and wideouts can see when the Quarterback claps- but so can the Defenders. Some College and NFL teams will also fake a clap to see how the Defense will be responding to the snap of the ball. The Quarterback can often times pick up blitzes or identify coverage disguises by seeing how Defenders respond to what looks like a snap.

I see youth football teams trying to copy what they see on TV by going to a clap snap. Before we all jump on the bandwagon, let’s examine a typical youth football game. Most teams rarely have more than 200 people at a game, some have far less. In any event, while we can hear the parents yelling behind us on occasion, rarely does the noise reach the point where the kids can’t hear the cadence from the Quarterback.

When you have a clap snap, the Offensive Linemen are moving on ball movement, the very same thing the Defensive Lineman are moving on. There is no advantage to the Offensive side of the ball when both the Offense and Defense are responding to the very same cue. When you have a verbal cadence, the Offensive Linemen know the cadence and are anticipating it, the Defensive Linemen are working on ball movement. The Offensive Lineman and for that matter ALL of the Offense has a huge advantage knowing the snap count. We teach our Offensive Linemen to anticipate the cadence and go a millisecond before. By the time their brain tells their body to move, the snap is on the move. Speed and establishing leverage are the MOST important thing when it comes to the Oline, getting that second foot established before the defender does, with leverage is key. Getting off before the defense does, helps you do that, knowing the cadence is a huge tool to help you do just that.  See our cadence clap count drills in the Offensive Line DVD and e-book.

Why would you want to give that advantage up in order to look like an NFL or College team, when the primary problem the NFL and College teams are trying to solve with that snap DOESN’T EXIST IN YOUTH FOOTBALL? Want to see how to spot a well-intentioned guy who consistently loses coaching youth football? Look at someone who tries to copy the NFL or College teams without understanding that in MANY ways, the youth game is a different animal, a different equation.

For more information on how to better understand the youth football equation, how to win in it and some tips on how to get your linemen out of the gate quickly go to 

Were Back at Winning Youth Football

Written by Dave on January 26th, 2017

2016 4th Grade Team 

The 2016 Season- We Are Back

Yes, I’ve gotten hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from you guys who have been missing my blog posts for the last months. The good news is we are fine and the blog will be consistently updated for the foreseeable future. Yes I was coaching youth football in the 2016 season and yes I still run a middle sized program in Lincoln, Nebraska with about 120 kids. I am continuing to do clinics, consulting and of course mailing out the books and DVDs. A huge consulting project took up a lot of time, but we are back on track.


The 2016 season was a challenge as we expected. The goal of sharing our season info with you is to help you, many find themselves in similar equations. We offer some solutions to those problems with the hope it can help your youth football team as well. This season I coached a single grade team of 4th graders. We play in the largest youth football program in the state of Nebraska with over 100 youth football teams. Everyone thinks their situation is special, but just take the time to see where you see your issues are the same as mine, we all have a lot more in common than we don’t.

For just the fourth time in my 20 plus years of coaching, I coached one of my sons, my youngest who is an Offensive Lineman. Our league switched from a double grade format to a single grade format and just like you we had to adapt, leagues change formats and rules all the time. You can whine all you want, at the end of the day you play the cards you are dealt.  Our 2015 Championship team lost 15 of our players to the upper grade team including all the backfield starters, all the backfield backups with the exception of one player who just got his minimum plays as well as all the starting Linebackers, Defensive Backs, Defensive Tackles, Pulling Guard, Center and Strong Tackle. We had just 8 kids back with playing experience, 1 was a 2 way starter, 2 were on Oline starters only and another started a single game on the Oline.

It was a rebuilding job to say the least, having zero starters or even kids with any tackle experience at all in every backfield position was going to be tough. Unlike previous years we also didn’t do any speed training over the summer, due to my consulting work load. Since we don’t selectively recruit and I personally don’t recruit anyone, we had no clue what we were getting this season.

To make a long story short, we finished 6-3, losing two one point games to one loss teams and getting beaten pretty handily by the league champs. Had we been able to turn either of those one point losses into wins, the team I was coaching would probably have been playing for a league title for the third year in a row in this league. Slowly but surely we got better every week and we played our best ball in the last two games against pretty good opponents, winning both by mercy rule.Every week I’m going to post one coaching tip that all of us can use to improve our teams. You will also get another post that week on my teams season, the issues we faced and how we solved for them. So if you have had or will have a very inexperienced team lacking bandwidth in regards to athletic players and have a minimum play rule to deal with, you are going to want to keep checking back and take a few notes.

This season was a wild one filled with challenges, injuries a bunch of new coaches and much more. I may be the ONLY youth football coaching “guru” who still actively coaches and is fully transparent on our results. You would be shocked to see the real results/ track record some “top” advice givers have. Here are our results over the last 19 seasons:

2 Comments | Posted In: 2016 Season

Outsmarting Yourself as Youth Football Coach

Written by Dave on March 29th, 2016

blocking team

Outsmarting Yourself as Youth Football Coach

What is outsmarting yourself in youth football and does it happen? The answers are yes it happens and outsmarting yourself is: instead of doing what will most likely give your team the best opportunity to succeed, instead they will do something cute, totally out of character or something that has little to no chance of success.

If that sounds like something you’ve done, don’t sweat it, it happens at the college level too and I will give you an egregious example of it later in this article. Some coaches feel like they have to be the “smartest guy in the room” or do something totally off the wall. Why do they do this? Sometimes they feel it’s the only chance they have to succeed even if the odds are long.  Sometimes these coached just want the accolades of doing something totally off the wall and succeeding, if they were by chance lucky enough to pull it off.

What are examples of youth football coaches outsmarting themselves?


Putting in an entirely new offense in one week to “change it up” in a week 9 game

Running a bunch of trick plays that have never worked in practice

Running the ball consistently 4-5 yards a crack right down the field. With first and goal on the 5, they throw the ball for a pic 6

A core group of plays is consistently working, yet the coach continues to dig deep into the playbook for plays that consistently don’t work

A team onside kicks and pooch kicks all year. They score the go ahead touchdown with 15 seconds left and decide to kick deep, the other team of course returns it for a score.

With one weeks practice a team adds in the true triple option to their playbook

Deep into the season a coach forgoes nearly all of its individual and group practice time in lieu of scout offense and defense team time

The problem often times is that “plays are there” if you count the box or look how teams are aligned, But NONE of that matters if you can’t execute the plays that are “there”.

Don’t feel like you have to use your entire playbook or go away from what is consistently working. Even if you see something that is open, it may be more effective to dance with the one that brung ya, ESPECIALLY if other plays in your playbook haven’t consistently worked in practice.

Do you really want to throw that throwback screen at the opponents five yard line when you’re only completing 3-10 in practice? It doesn’t matter how “OPEN” it is, don’t play smartest guy in the room,

This actually happened to one of the teams in my program. Back in 2010 one of our teams was winning a close game and just took a 2 score lead late in the third quarter. They had onside kicked very effectively all season and the opponent knew that. The opponent had moved their second line in close and their single deep guy was only at the 30. So the deep kick was “open”. You guessed it, we kicked deep, the other teams best player retreated to pick up the ball and viola he returned it for a touchdown. Our kids had never even practiced covering a deep kick. The other team grabbed the momentum from the kick return score and ended up winning the game. It happens.

Share YOUR smartest guy in the room story with us, if you’ve seen a real good one.

Even the College Guys

You don’t have to go any further than my Nebraska Cornhuskers to see these same type of problems at the collegiate level. NU played a very poor Illinois team this season. NU was ahead by 6 with just 51 seconds left to go in the game. NU was on the Illinois 27 and it was 3rd and 7. Illinois had NO timeouts left. All NU had to do was either get the first down, or run 2 plays, or run 1 play and punt it. If the ball had been run on both plays, there would have been just 10 seconds or so left for Illinois and the ball would have been downed inside their 10 with NU’s All American Punter. So they would have had to go 90 yards in just 10 seconds.

Well it didn’t quite end up like that. The NU offensive coordinator was having one of those “smartest guy in the room” moments. Despite it being windy and NU only passing for 10-31 for 105 yards, he called 2 passes in a row. The clock stopped after each play and Illinois got the ball back with 41 seconds instead of 10 and they subsequently completed 3 passes to win the game 14-13.

The “smartest guy in the room” who probably saw a couple of plays that were open on paper, saw his team lose a game that he gave away. He went from Einstein to the biggest goat in the state. Don’t be that guy, don’t overthink things. Do what works, don’t be cute to be cute and end up being the goat.

WYF Book Picture
For more information on how not to fall into that trap- look here: Winning Youth Football