At What Cost- Playing FAST in Youth Football

Written by Dave on April 18th, 2013

I see a lot of youth coaches asking their players to use techniques that often times make a youth player play slow. 14_trap_buck_

Speed and quickness are the keys in youth football at every position on the field. Sure you can out muscle weaker teams and overcome marginal teams with pure athleticism, but what happens when you play a team that matches up well with you or even is much more talented? When you are faced with teams like that, every inch and split second counts, it will be the difference in the game. Put your players in a position where they get that second foot down later than their opponents second step and your players are getting pushed all over the field. Put your players in a position where they have to think too much or where their bodies are aligned in uncomfortable positions and you have a team who will play slow and lose those games against those better teams.

There are many examples of coaches doing this, trying to overthink or outcoach themselves.  Now I’m not saying that there isn’t any merit to some of these techniques or that these coaches aren’t nice people or don’t know what they are doing. What I am saying is many times, some of these techniques and schemes slow a player down to a point where the slight technical advantage of that technique or scheme is negated by that player playing slower. One example I can think of off the top of my head is inside hand down for offensive linemen. A number of systems coaches suggest players do this for a variety of reasons that make reasonable sense. However, what happens if you have a right guard who is right handed? When a right handed player puts his left hand on the ground, even if he is not putting a lot of weight on it, it is uncomfortable.

Try it right now in your office or living room. Put your non dominant hand down and try to come out fast, try to move laterally. How does it feel? Now put your dominant hand down and do the same thing. Amazing how that works, how much faster you can play when your dominant hand is down isn’t it? Sometimes the perfect technical technique just isn’t the best when it comes to certain players or when a game moves from the chalkboard onto grass.

The same goes for scheme. Ever see a real good looking athletic youth football team who looks slow on defense? Well some defensive schemes ask players to do a LOT ot things to make the scheme perfect on paper. I’ve actually seen a defensive scheme used at the youth level that had Linebackers read through the guard to near back and depending on the backfield flow, they had to read through that to the backside back.  The same scheme had the Defensive End make a verbal call, while the play was being run as a call to the Mike Linebacker. Now this scheme may help a coach win a chalkboard battle in theory with another coach, but when it comes to a real youth football game in real life on real grass, his team wouldn’t stand a prayer.

The same goes for blocking schemes. When youth offensive linemen have to do all types of counts and make lots of calls (don’t even get me started about how simple it is to stunt and stem pre-snap to mess these guys up) in order to determine who they are supposed to block, many of them are going to either make the wrong call or play hesitantly. I would MUCH rather have a scheme that is great, but not perfect. What I mean by that is a scheme that puts my kids in a position to have success on nearly every play, but that MAY not be the perfect on paper scheme, which optimizes every situation to the nth degree ON PAPER.  A scheme that is great but gives up being perfect on paper for the ability of the players to play fast and aggressive is what I’m talkiing about. In my mind THAT scenario is a very reasonable and in fact a preferable trade off to the perfect on paper scheme.

Everything in youth football is a trade off. Think about what you want to do technique and scheme wise and then study how that impacts the speed in which your players play in real ife on grass (not the chalkboard) BEFORE you decide to implement it. This goes double for teams that lack athleticism and speed.

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