The Wishbone Offense For Youth Football Teams

Written by Dave on August 13th, 2007

The Wishbone Offense for Youth Football Teams.

Many youth football coaches grew up running a variety of offenses either in youth football, High School or College. In most cases the offense that the youth coach used in High School is the offense he uses for his Youth Football team. Be it a lack of time or interest in learning something new, or being a �true believer� the Youth Coaches old High School offense usually becomes the offense of choice for their youth football teams.

Is this a good idea? And what about using the Wishbone Offense for a Youth Football team?


You have to know and beleive in what you teach, so if you only know one offense, and that is the Wishbone, maybe that is the offense you should teach. However there are a few things to consider first.

The Wishbone Offense for Youth Football Teams.

One offense that was very popular in the 70�s and 80�s was the Wishbone. The Wishbone was developed for the college game by Emory Ballard, the Offensive Coordinator at the University of Texas. Bellard came to Texas after winning several Texas High School State Titles running option football. Texas was very successful with the wishbone, after tying and losing their first two games, they went on to win their next thirty straight games, leading to two National Championships.

During this era, many of the College Football elite adopted this offense, including Bear Bryant at Alabama and Barry Switzer at Oklahoma. These teams combined to win 7 National Titles running the offense, while countless others had success as well like Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Army, and Air Force. Oklahoma set a number of scoring and rushing records at that time running the offense to perfection and with very good athletes.

Today there are just a handful of college teams running the wishbone and it’s close cousin the wingbone or Flexbone. The wishbone’s reliance on execution and discipline make it a favorite to this day of programs that routinely play opponents with superior size and speed, such as the Air Force Academy.

Today Air Force and others like Navy run the closely related offense, the Flexbone or Wingbone that has both halfbacks in tight wingback positions rather than in tight behind the tackles. There are still a bunch of High School teams today that run the offense all over the US. Here in Nebraska of all places, Waverly High School saw a 180 degree turnaround with their program since coach Mike brought the Wishbone in about 7 years ago.

What does this mean for youth football teams, is the wishbone offense a good offense for youth football teams?
Yes and no. The option attacks your coaches grew up on or remember watching on TV or is practiced by Air Force or Navy would be a terrible choice for 99.9% of youth football teams today. Those option based attacks rely on the offense not blocking 2 players on nearly every play, having the quarterback make split second reads of the unblocked players, then make decisions with the football that often puts the ball in the air on pitches.

While the very well trained and well disciplined Air Force and Navy kids can make these decisions and make them consistently well, the youth player can�t. Remember, most Air Force, Navy and the old OU quarterbacks had several YEARS of running the offense under their belts before they were every given the reins to run the offense. These QBs also were 18-23 years old, with mature bodies and minds that had played football for 10-14 years already. Most youth players on the other hand are new to football or have 1-2 years of experience. Remember too that the college player is practicing or playing 7 days a week and in most cases involved with his team year round. Youth coaches see their kids for 2-3 months and 2-3 times a week instead of 7 for the College teams.

Putting the game in the hand of a 9-10 year old kids decision making and ball handling capabilities just doesn�t make sense for most youth football teams. With so few players on the youth team, you also have to have a very good backup or two ready to go as this offense takes a toll on the quarterback. So in reality, you need 2-3 supermen at the youth level to make this work over an entire season. Don�t forget your linemen will be forced to block a lot of linebackers in this offense as well as lots of one on one blocks. You are going to need a bunch of nimble athletic linemen and running backs that can consistently catch pitches on the run. You can�t make this offense work without a bruiser at fullback either. Remember out of the traditional wishbone with double tight ends or one wideout and all three backs in tight, it is nearly impossible to outflank the defense unless you have great speed.

Now what is doable at the youth level is running the Power Wishbone or Power based Wingbone/Flexbone, not the Option Wishbone that many youth coaches grew up with. This would be power off-tackle runs, inside counters, fullback traps, lead sweeps and play action passes. As long as the plays were integrated in series format, this would be a viable youth football offense. If your heart is set on a Wishbone like offense, the Wingbone or Flexbone probably makes more sense at the youth level. With these offenses at least you have the ability to outflank your opponent with simple pinning blocks by your wings on the defensive ends. This in comparison to the Wishbone where on sweeps a reach block or log block is required, the most difficult of blocks to execute well at the youth level.

While many of us have very fond memories of great Wishbone teams running up and down the field at will, there are so many better choices at the youth level. Other offenses offer so much more power and deception and are much easier to execute than even the skinnied down Power Wishbone attack. There are many other choices that do not require athletic linemen, inordinate amounts of practice time, or QB phenoms like those required in a Wishbone option attack offense.

I love watching this offense being run today by teams that do it well, it is a thing of beauty. I stay up late to watch the Air Forces and Navys on TV, and even have a Navy Football cap. Heck I even wacth the Navy rerun Games I’ve already seen once or twice, Paul Johnson is a genius. Navy is my second favorite college football team behind my beloved Cornhuskers. One of my life goals is to see an Army Navy game.

However, the Wishbone no matter how much I love it, makes little sense at the youth level.

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Posted In: Offense

2 Responses to “The Wishbone Offense For Youth Football Teams”

  • Keith Garwick says:

    Great break-down of the wishbone. I went to West Point 1984-1988 and watched in awe as we destroyed dreams and hopes of rival football teams using this formation. I recommend that ANY team attempting to run the triple option keep three other essential factors in mind:

    1) The wishbone is great for munching up yards (and the clock), but SUCKS inside the red zone – just not enough room left over to spread out the free safety. So, you have got to have an awesome field goal kicker who can sip a soda at 35 yards while kicking in 3 points ALL DAY LONG!!

    2) Defense!! A wishbone team cannot afford to get behind on the count, I cannot stress this enough – the triple option will not allow the offense to play catch-up ball on the score board. The defense must shut down the drive and get the ball back to the good guys.

    3) Special Teams players need to be true freaks of nature, keep everyone guessing – even if just for fun.

    Go Army – Beat Navy

    Keith

  • I was always a big fan of Barry Switzer’s wishbone and coached little league in Oklahoma for 6 years. Here are the things I learned about running the Wishbone with fifth and sixth graders.

    1. Tight end reverses with a triple option look can give you fifty yards! Just have to teach the Tight end to not run into the quarter back and to run under and not around the defensive end outside containment. On our team it helped to have a Center that could pull to lead block on this play.

    2. Counter Traps usually gave us 80 yard touchdowns!

    3. Throw to the Tight End, doing a five and out, on a toss sweep or quarterback roll out with all backs lead blocking, it is beautiful.

    Doing these three plays usually kept the defenses honest and without them you will have a long Saturday Morning.

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