Youth Football Plays- Which Work and Don’t Work Against Quality Teams
One of the things I found very interesting while watching over 60 different youth football teams play at the Pop Warner and AYF National Championships was observing trends. One of the things that was very evident early on and was very consistent in these tournaments were the type of football plays that didn’t work. Since every team that got here was the bully of their own league and came into the tournament with 14-0 or 13-1 records, each team had a few kids that could play. But since each team had a few athletes and most of the teams were coached pretty well, there were no one man army teams dominating games. In fact many of the plays you see run in your local leagues didn’t work here at all.
You didn’t see teams scoring with the sweep. In fact in the 20 plus full games I watched, I saw just 4 sweeps go for scores. Less than half of the sweeps I saw went for more than 2-3 yards. In many games I saw teams run just 2-3 sweeps for the entire game. Most of the deep outside reverse plays I saw went for negative yardage. Coaches have to remember that most of the teams playing in this tournament didn’t get this far by having players play out of position or undisciplined. Even most of the bootlegs I saw were negative yardage plays at this level. One memorable play came in the Pop Warner Midget game on Tuesday where Port St Lucie Florida was playing West Haven Connecticut. West Haven was a very good Wing T team, who like most good Wing T teams has a nice bootleg “Waggle Pass” as part of their offense. The first time West Haven tried running it against Port St Lucie, the Pirates had 3 defenders all over him and they lost 7 yards, their Defensive End wasn’t fooled for a moment by the fake and he had the speed to run down the Quarterback as well. From the film I saw on West Haven, this had been a big play for them all season long.
I was very disappointed that I didn’t see much option football down here at all. Being a dyed in the wool Nebraska guy, we love seeing the option run out of any type of offense. You would have thought one of the 60 plus teams I watched would be on option team. I guess it’s back to watching Navy and Georgia Tech on TV. I didn’t see a single team run true triple option and saw just a handful of teams running “double” or called option. Even the Wishbone teams in this tournament were power Wishbone teams, with little or no option game. The Spread teams here ran a handful of speed option plays and some zone read option, but for most of them the zone read was not a read, it was a called play. You could tell based on the blocking scheme, most were getting an extra blocker at the point of attack toward whoever the predetermined runner was going to be.
On the other hand, in every game I saw, the teams that won were able to establish the off-tackle run. It didn’t matter if it was an I Formation, Spread, Double Wing, Wishbone or Single Wing team, all the winning teams were able to run the ball off-tackle. Most of these same teams had some success with some type of inside counter play as well, not a reverse, a tight, quick hitting counter play with some misdirection.
In over 85% of the games I watched, the winning team had a legitimate passing threat. I’m not talking about going Air Raid and throwing the ball 80% of the time, I’m talking about having a 35% plus chance of a pass play going for 20 yards or more on any attempt. While this may not be the most efficient way to move the ball, the legitimate threat of the pass was integral to the overall success of vast majority of teams playing at this level. In later posts I will break down some of the passing numbers- you may be surprised by those.
None of this surprised me at all. Most good youth football coaches aren’t going to allow themselves to get beat by sweeps, reverses or bootlegs. Most teams aren’t going to allow themselves to be beat by a one man team or by a youth football team with no legitimate passing threat either. In the big tournaments there may also be a number of beast players, but none of them dominate. Good football was in abundance.
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