Zone Blocking- Maybe Not in Youth Football

Written by Dave on July 8th, 2007

If you want to score lots of points and have a fun and successful season do not use �zone� blocking for your youth football team. I had an age 8-10 coach with very little experience tell me this week he got talked into �zone� blocking by a local youth football “expert.”

Most coaches have no idea what zone blocking is. They hear that many pro and college teams are using it and then mistakenly think that if the pros and college kids are using it, it must be great and they should be using it at the youth level. The Zone blocking system may be great at the college or pro level, but youth football players are not College or Pro football players and never will be, zone blocking fails miserably at the youth level.


There are many differences between youth football players and College, Pro and High School players. To say the difference is night and day would not do justice to how different they are. It would be like the differences in the beauty of Miss America and the 1,000 pound bearded lady at the State Fair.

College, Pro and even High School players practice 6 days a week and play their games on a 7th day. Most of these guys practice 20-30 hours each week, youth football teams practice from 4-8 hours every week. Pro, College and High School players have played the game for 7-25 years, they have the basics down, they know the game. Youth football players have 1-2 years of experience and many youth teams are made up of a majority of kids that have never played before. Most youth football players don�t know the difference between a 3 technique and a footstool. Pro, College and High School kids are 16-35 years old, they can move faster, control their bodies better and retain and process much more information than youth football players. Pro, College and High School teams cut weak players, they are the best of the best. The pros and college teams cut kids every day that were the best players in their respective youth and High School teams. Even the High Schools cut weaker players, they also send weaker kids to JV or Reserve teams.

Pro, College and even some High School players are being taught by coaches that coach for a living. Most devote 50-70 hour weeks to learning their craft and most have 10-15 years of experience playing the game. This compares to the amount of experience and time a youth coach can spend on developing himself as a coach, which for most doesn’t even allow for the time to go to a single weekend coaches clinic or the purchase of a single Coaching Book or DVD. The difference in the levels of coaching expertise is just huge, yet a youth coach with no experience with complex zone blocking is going to teach it to others?

In a nutshell Pro, College and even most High School teams are made up of great players athletically compared to the typical youth football player that will never play High School football let alone even sniff at College or Pro Football. Youth teams are made up of a very limited amount of players, you cant send the kids down to JV, Reserve or Frosh teams, and you can’t cut them. In fact you are going to play them, some probably will even start on your offensive line. While I have been blessed with talent on some of my teams, others had offensive lines that looked like the characters from the “Land of Misfit Toys.”

By the time the youth kids get to High School, most of the real weak players have already quit playing, realizing football is just not their game. But today on your youth football team, these kids are still playing, still trying to figure out how to play and if this is their game. At the youth level in most leagues, everyone has to play some and most often you are going to have some unathletic players playing offensive line. Thast playing, not being cut or sent down to another team.

Pro, College and High School teams are not required to play all their kids, most youth teams do require you play everyone at least for a handful of plays. These less athletic kids are then playing a postion that greatly impacts every single play (offensive line) and they are going to zone block? Okay, that’s great if I’m the defensive coordinator of the other team, but terrible if I’m the running back or the dad of the poor running back on the zone blocking team.

This is how perfectly good youth football players get soured on the game and quit and become part of the 70% of youth players that never play a down of High School football. It’s a real shame and is the main reason I wrote the book, do all the clinics and developed the DVDs. Too many good kids get run off of playing football by poor coaches and terrible schemes, no wonder so many High School and Youth Football programs have love/hate relationships.

On the technical side, the zone schemes cornerstone is the �combo� block, where the offensive linemen gets an initial push on a defensive linemen, then comes off the block once good movement has been made, to then block a linebacker. This block mind you is blocked based on the type of defensive front the offensive linemen sees and can recognize, often involving line calls. This would be quite a lot to ask from a 9 year old youth player maybe playing his first game. Most kids that age are still struggling to figure out how to make a sound drive block on a player within 1 foot of them and making sure they remember to block on offense and tackle on defense.

Most High School teams can�t even zone block well with Spring Football, year round football workouts, excellent offensive line coaches and 6 days a week practice. And you are going to do it successfully with youth players? With team sizes of 24-25 for many teams, your worst athletes are playing offensive line. So you are going to ask this weaker player to recognize the front correctly, make the right line call, make an effective double team block, get movement on a double team block, spy the linebacker at the same time, then know when to peel off at the exact right time and block the speedy and strong linebacker “in space” on the run on the same play?

So one of your least athletic kids is going to spy and track down and block in open space the other teams fastest and most athletic player (linebacker) after engaging another linemen? Wow that will be quite an accomplishment akin to building an atomic bomb out of a few leftover juice cans and some old mothballs, good luck pulling that all off. If you can teach that at the youth level, you have a Select Football team, should be playing in the National Championship game and as a coach should be coaching O-Line in the NFL. Zone blocking takes GREAT coaching, lots of time, excellent athletic linemen and savy smart experienced football players that can recognize fronts and have impeccable timing, none of which is in abundance at the youth football level.

Simple rule blocking using angles and overwhelming numbers in limited space is what works within the constraints of youth football and is what we teach in the book and DVDs. Zone blocking will fail and frustrate the kids and coaches. It did not surprise me that this zone blocking suggestion came from one of those one-dimensional fails-every-time youth coaches that uses such failed and useless tactics like �attack the center�. Probably uses the famous �Hit Somebody� phrase and runs kids to death in football practice, then wonders why his teams can�t win any games.

No doubt when this guys team loses, he’s the one that blames it all on a lack of talent (every year) or “the kids just didn’t want it bad enough”. Geez I tire of these kind of guys, they ruin so many kids and teams. Unfortunately we see too many coaches like that in our game and is one of the main reasons over 70% of youth football players never go on to play High School football, it�s a shame to see.

When coaching youth football, it�s your job to pick out a scheme that will work with the talent levels, athleticism, maturity, practice time and coaching ability you have available. Playing a youth football team trying to zone block would be like shooting fish in a barrel, the poor running backs, the horror, the horror.

For other youth football coaching tips and football plays please sign up for Dave’s free youth football coaching guide at: Youth Football
Blogger-content thieves: Copyright 2007 Cisar Management and http://winningyouthfootball.com Republishing this article without including this paragraph in its entirety is copyright infringement and is punishable by a $250,000 fine and other penalties per US Law.

Leave a Reply