Putting Your Youth Football Team in the Best Position to Win When Scouting

Written by Dave on April 17th, 2015

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Putting Your Youth Football Team in the Best Position to Win

Not all youth football coaches can invest the time to scout, but many do. Most coaches who scout don’t do it very well, they look at the base alignments and see who the best players from the other team is. That is info most guys could get just by watching the other team warm up.

In the Single Wing 303 Materials we show you how to scout effectively and efficiently. http://winningyouthfootball.com/singlewing303.php Here is a tiny morsel of what works well; instead of focusing in on the star players which anyone can do, focus on the teams weak points. Where  are they  vulnerable?  Where and how are they getting beat and where are their personnel shortcomings?

If being effective means staying away from strengths or at least putting those strengths into conflict and attacking weaknesses, why not track where those personnel weaknesses are? In youth football today about 85% of teams play with some type of mandatory play rule. Pop Warner and AYF both have it, as to most others. The minimum requirement may be anything from 4-16 plays.

If a team is in a situation where their scheme isn’t minimum play player friendly, that can be a problem. A few years ago my team played a very good undefeated inner-city team in the semi-finals of a 31 team age bracket. They ran a 2×2 Spread offense. While they were very talented, they also like most teams had some weaker kids. They played their 11 best on defense, but on offense they would rotate one weaker player in on each side of the 2×2.

We had filmed this team the week before and picked up on this by watching those same kids during warm ups. We wrote the numbers of those players down and put It on our playsheet. Whenever any of them came in, our designated coach would let me know. We would then signal in to have our Corners to not cover the minimum play player and for our Outside Linebackers and Safety to flex back inside. We were in essence playing 11 against 9 football. They didn’t know what hit them and we ended up winning the game 46-6.

If you are following my Worst to First Reality TV show project that was shot in Reno last year, you saw that is how we won our first round playoff game. When the opposing team put in one personnel grouping that included MPRs, it was most likely going to be a run and we would get into our Monster set. When they had the starters in, it was going to be a 40/60 run to pass split and we would play Cover 3. We won that game 41-30 thanks to that approach.

Should you feel bad for playing this way? It’s no different than attacking a team on the edges who has little speed. If the other team chooses to be in a system where the weaker player adds little value, is that your fault? Coaching youth football well means you maximize your equation and to do that consistently well, your systems better be able to accommodate weaker players. When the other guy can’t to that, you have the advantage. As youth coaches we should be coaching everyone up, making sure every player is getting better and finding things those kids can do to add value to the team. Penalizing a coach who just splits kids out to stand around, instead of coaching him up isn’t playing dirty pool at all.

Playoff Test- Responding to the Punch in the Mouth in Youth Football

Written by Dave on April 16th, 2015















This was going to be a big test for our youth football team who had never had a winning season, let alone played in the playoffs. The kids appeared loose and our pre-game walk-throughs and alignments went well. How would we respond when the bully team punched us in the mouth? How would we respond to a team that had mercy ruled our team for 6 straight seasons? That was the question.

It didn’t start off well, we received and promptly bobbled the snap on the second play of the series which ended up putting us in a 4th and 7 from our own 45. This team had scouted us heavily, so the fake punt was out. We boomed it down to their 10. On defense we nearly got them for a safety on a 3rd and long reverse and got the ball back at the 50, yes they had a good kicker too.

On the second drive we sputtered a bit out of our base, but managed a first down on a 4th and short. On first down we spread them out and went weak side jet sweep and scored. McQueen was trying to take away our base inside running game, squeezing everything down.

We got the onside kick back and promptly drove it down to the 6 yard line. Another bobbled snap ended up in a turnover and we squandered a golden opportunity to take a 2 score lead. Our kids were a little tight, but playing hard. McQueen came out in their second drive trying to pound the rock with their Pro I formation run game. They got some breathing room thanks to a big catch by their speedy 6’3” receiver. Then they spread us out and passed themselves inside our 5 before taking it in on a run. They hit their kick and it’s now 8-6 them.  Big swing of events. I stayed positive and encouraging.

On the ensuing drive we went Spread Single Wing for the entire drive. It was a 60 yard drive on 13 plays, scoring on the jet power keep. Now it’s 13-8 us.

We just miss covering the onside kick, hold them to 3 and out, but they boom another 60 yard punt. The important pickup was we found when they were running the ball, they would split out an MPR at Flanker and another at Split End. When they were going to throw or run wide, they usually had their starters in, they hadn’t showed that much in the film we had watched.  We drive it 70 yards in 14 plays with about 70% Spread Single Wing, the rest base. The big play was a jet counter. It’s 20-8 us.

They go back to their Pro I and hit the big kid on another deep play action route, right in front of our Corner. When they spread it out we were getting a lot of pressure with our front 5-6. So they went to 1 tight end and 2 split backs in gun. The 2 backs would stay in for pass protection and that seemed to work for them. They scored and made their PAT kick to make it 20-16.

They kicked it deep and we score in one play to make it 27-16. At this point we are feeling pretty good. They go into their 2×2 set and we move into quarters coverage to take the deep ball away. With just 30 seconds left before the half, they hit the big kid seemingly in a crowd of 3 of our kids and score a heartbreaker right before half from about 35 yards out. Score is now 27-24 us and they will be taking the second half kickoff with the momentum.

Our halftime was pretty tense, several of our coaches were right on the edge, trying to give that inspirational boost to the team. They were reaching, they were fearful of losing.  I stepped in and calmly talked about what we would do. When we saw the MPRs in we would go to Monster with the extra run support from our M back. I told the Corners to totally ignore the MPRs and move up from 8 to 5 yards to play the run.

When they went Spread and the big guy was split out to one side, we split our Defensive End to that side with him. The Defensive End was a very smart kid who we could trust. His job was to disrupt the big kid off the line of scrimmage for 3-4 yards, then get into his zone. We played our better Corner to that side and played full Cover 3, not Monster when they had the better kids in at Receiver.  That meant we would move one of our Linebackers to Safety and the M to Linebacker. The Linebacker to Safety kid had played DB for us and was better in coverage. The M was in just his second year of football.

All week we had practiced getting hands on the Tight End on the opposite side on every play as well as getting our Linebacker to that side to collision on pass reads. We were doing that well, no catches for him so far, with the exception of a short arrow pattern. I asked the kids to focus on protecting the football, staying focused and just playing hard. I let them know about the tells McQueen was giving us and that this would be what would put us over the top. We also practiced the best play in football- the kneel down. This was because a team on TV that day had fumbled a kneel down and lost the game, I was preparing our kids for the win. The ploy was more mental imagery than anything else.

As we expected they came out in Spread and we shut them down. Now I was taking our time a bit, I was in no hurry to help them get their MPRs their 8 snaps. We went Spread Single Wing and attacked the edges, then came back with the counters and wedges to drive it 65 yards for the score in 11 plays to make it 34-24.

This time they drove it 60 yards for a score. The big play was on off tackle run that was cut back right into the teeth of our defense. We had 5-6 kids with at least one hand on the runner, but we couldn’t make the tackle. Our kids were trying so hard they had over run the play. The good news was we had slowed down their passing game, the bad news is now it was now 34-31.

We take the ball and drive it to their 30 but get called for a legit holding call and we stall out without scoring. They in turn spread it out but we have the big kid bracketed and we get an interception near midfield.

This drive would be it. McQueen had so much confidence in beating this team so often, they were going to go right down and take the game from our kids if we didn’t score now. MCQueen had now added some speed at the Outside Backer spots and had everyone within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage. The Spread stuff wasn’t to be had. We got the ball at our 45 with 9:12 left. We took all but 1:08 off the clock by running various Power plays, every formation and blocking scheme we had for Power- On, Level, Hit was used along with a  few 14 Wham style plays and a couple of wedge plays. No sweeps, just 1 counter and we scored to take a very emotional 41-30 lead, Our kids and crowd went bonkers when we scored.

The team had taken on my personality a bit as the season progressed and we didn’t celebrate after scores, this one was different. Lots of fist pumping and jumping around after this one. We wrapped things up with a quick interception and ran the clock out using the best play in football, something we had practiced earlier that night.

I was so proud of this youth football team and even our coaching staff. The guy who I had the most problems with was my designated MPR scout and told me every time they sent any in, which in turn determined which defense we would be in. He had done an excellent job.

The tough part now, get past the jubilation of this hard fought win and try and win the whole thing.

Preparing for the Playoff Round One Worst to First

Written by Dave on April 15th, 2015

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This week would be our teams very first experience in the playoffs.  This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First”  I took over an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. One of the cameramen asked the kids how they felt about being in the playoffs. One player laughed and responded that he didn’t know, this was the first time he had ever been in them. In the previous six seasons by this time they had already turned in their gear and were looking forward to the banquet.

How do you get ready for a situation like this? First of all we didn’t take any time to dwell on the last game or pat ourselves on the back for making the playoffs, we had to get ready for McQueen. McQueen was one of the leagues bullies, they had mercy ruled our team every time we had played them in the last 6 years. McQueen fed into McQueen High School, which had often times been ranked in the USA Today Top 20 for High School teams. They had a very big and nice stadium at the base of the mountains with fieldturf and lights.

I had met their head coach over several film trades. He had been coaching youth football for more than 10 years,  knew his stuff and didn’t have any kids on the team. He was the real deal. They had 32 kids on the team, a full roster, 30 cheerleaders and a whole stadium full of very enthusiastic fans. While we owned the home field advantage, our High School field wasn’t available. The High School we fed into had won just 1 game, their season was over and their field was closed down. We would be the “home” team in their stadium, go figure.

What would we be facing? Another 6-2 team that knew how to win, was confident and classy. They wanted to line up in the Pro I and run the ball, then play action for big plays. They had a huge 6’3” receiver with great feet that they liked to get the ball to along with a big fast and strong Tight End that snagged anything close. They had blown out our team last year thanks in part to 3 touchdown passes to the Tight End.

McQueen would also spread it out in a 2×2 set and they would run some jet and throw off of a 21 personnel shotgun set. Their Quarterback wasn’t really big or fast, but he went through his progressions well and was able to complete the long ball pretty consistently. They were big, physical and had enough speed to make us plenty nervous. They had an outstanding kicking game, they could do it all, punt, PAT and onside kick, something you expect from all well coached teams. This was going to be quite a youth football game.

As always we focused on the fundamentals that week in practice. I spent my defensive indy time with the Defensive Backs and Defensive Ends. That meant some open field tackling drills where we focused on maintaining our inside or outside leverage depending on our positions. We worked than mainly as a fit in order to stay healthy, but did a handful of live reps in all of those drills.  I also added a reach block to our tool bag. Our offensive line was really executing well and I thought we could add it this week and be fine.  McQueen really liked to pack it in when teams went double tight, we may need that extra blocker on the edge if we reached instead of just sealing with a Wing.

In order to correctly simulate McQueen, we hired several High School kids to run their plays. With all the bubble screens, slant/wheels, jet sweeps and deep play action patterns they ran, we just couldn’t give good looks to the kids and coach at the same time. We would probably be able to slow their run game down, which meant we would probably see a 50/50 run to pass ratio in the game.

While our kids were in fine shape in this first week of November I sold them on the idea we were going to be in better shape than McQueen as we diligently worked on going 11 players in and 11 out on every offensive and defensive team rep. Since we were doing this from 15 yards out, the kids got plenty of conditioning in. We also continued with our “20 things I like about” process with the rest of the players after each practice.

Something I did notice from the film, McQueen had about 32 kids and unlike the other 2 top teams in the league, they had 4-5 smaller kids who looked like they were legitimate minimum player types. This league has an 8 play rule. While those kids weren’t as small as my 66, 76 and 81 pound kids, they weren’t a whole lot bigger and when those kids were on the field, they didn’t bother running near them or throw them a pass. Those kids all got in on offense or special teams and that was going to help us come Saturday.

The next post is going to spell out what happened in the big game, win and we had another week. Lose and that plane trip to Nebraska on Sunday was going to be a one way trip this time. The game would be a nail biter.

Playoff Bound or Not? Youth Football Worst to First

Written by Dave on April 8th, 2015

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Going into this game we felt fairly confident even though we had identical records. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First”  I took an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area.

This would be game 8, the hay was in the barn, we had practiced well and with the exception of being able to practice a bunch of much needed open field tackling due to numbers and injury issues. While they had speed and athleticism, they didn’t have it all over the field and they had small numbers, just 20 players. If we held onto the ball with our backup Center at the helm and the kept up the fast pace, we should be in good shape against an evenly matched team with the same record as us. But who really knows, when you are coaching youth football teams that have won just 6 games in 6 years, you don’t know how the kids were going to react to the pressure.

Fallon received and started out in a pro-style one back look with trips or twins. They drove the ball inside our 10 on a 13 play drive evenly divided between the run and pass,  but we held as they tried to counter and bootleg on the last 2 downs of the drive. We promptly drove the ball down the field using our base attack and an extremely fast pace. We scored in 7 plays, using up less than 2 minutes off the clock.

Fallon took the lead at 8-6 after moving right down the field. This time spreading it out and hitting their speedster on a couple of bubble screens before finding the same player on a post wheel. But unlike what they showed on film, they hit the post instead of the wheel and our Safety was late to the play. We turned around and drove the ball and scored in a quick 8 play drive to make it 12-8.

This didn’t deter Fallon, they drove the ball into the red zone again using both the fly sweep and some well times slants and bubble screens to roll right down the field. Our Achilles heel, the open field was being exposed, they had scouted us well. We stopped them on our 5 yard line as they ran out of some of the room they needed to run some of their passing concepts, we also put a little pressure on them via a seldom called Linebacker blitz

On defense they were now squeezing everything down inside, so we went Spread Single Wing and promptly scored in 5 plays to make it 19-8.  After Fallon fumbled after running off a couple of snaps, we scored on an 8 play drive to make it 25-8.

Fallon wasn’t in deep trouble now, but they were forcing it. On the next series they quickly threw a deep interception into double coverage. Then on defense, they moved everyone within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage and were now sending at least 2 Linebackers every play, they were desperately trying to make a big play. We hit them with a spinner wedge play and scored in just one play. We are up 32-8 now and beginning to feel the rout may be on.

On the next series we widened our substitution pattern a bit to get our backup, now starting Center to sit out on Defense. Fallon went to the inside game, using quick orbit motion and a very effective crossfire backfield action to take the ball right down the field and score in a very patient 7 play drive. Their great kicker hit it again and now it’s 32-16, a two score game. They onside kick right into the chest of our our minimum play players and recover. They proceed to march the ball down using a combination of play action passes and their newly found inside running game to score and make it a 32-24 game.

On the ensuing kickoff we were VERY fortunate to recover. On offense we spread the field again and scored in 7 plays off a jet motion sweep. On the ensuing drive with less than 40 seconds left, Fallon moves the ball from their 40 to our 30 on a hook and lateral. On the very last play of the half we went to quarters coverage and watched their best player make a huge play catching the ball between 2 of our kids to make it 38-30 at the half. That was the same thing they had done the week before in their squeaker against McQueen.

Our goal of wearing them out wasn’t kicking in just yet. It was a cool night and they were scoring almost as fast as we were. On defense we made a couple of adjustments, we went to cross keying their backs when they went into their crossfire alignment and we put an Outside Linebacker over their speed demon when he was flanked to disrupt his pass patterns.  This was a youth football game, this wasn’t a blowout, Fallon came to play and we were both fighting for our playoff lives. They were pulling out every stop to try and win this one and their kicking game was lights out. Our play was to continue the fast pace, hold onto the football and disrupt the few things they were doing well on offense.

We took the second half kickoff and scored in 6 plays to make it 45-30. Fallon tried to score quickly but this time we stepped in front of the post on the post/wheel and got the ball back at midfield. This time it was a bit more difficult, as Fallon went away from everyone close in and called off the blitzes. Facing a fourth and 6 at midfield, I used the fake punt to maintain the ball. There is no way I was going to give up possession of the ball with just a 2 score lead and with their offense and special teams playing the way they were.

We drove it in to score on a 10 play drive to make it 52-30. But we weren’t out of the woods just yet. They proved they could score quickly and their onside kicks were nearly perfect. Our onside kick finally worked and we scored on a 6 play drive to make it 59-30. On their first offensive play of the ensuing drive we stepped in front of a well timed bubble screen and returned it into the end zone to make it 65-30. We had scored 20 points in less than 2 minutes to take the game away from them.

The fourth quarter saw us sub everyone in, but Fallon wasn’t willing to throw in the towel. On defense they committed all 11 to within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage, they were hell bent on stuffing our offense, even if it was mostly our backups and we were going max slowdown. That meant we would score twice more and the final was an almost embarrassing 77-38. While the game was MUCH closer than the score indicated, Fallon had made things worse by throwing the ball late and continuing to stunt and blitz.

We had survived the challenge and were going to be in the playoffs for the very first time in the 7 year history of this team. No major injuries, no bad snaps, no turnovers and just 2 penalties. I slept well on the fight back to Nebraska early the next morning.

Game Eight Playoffs or No Playoffs? Worst to First Youth Football Reality Show

Written by Dave on April 3rd, 2015

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As luck would have it, during the bye week the team we were playing in our last regular season game in order to make the playoffs was playing what we thought would probably be the three seed in this 13 team league. I got to scout both teams at once on a very cold and windy November night. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First”  I took an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area.

I fully expected the three seed McQueen to win this one against Fallon and maybe even going away. McQueen was a perennial youth football power. They fed into McQueen High School which had in the past been a national power, appearing in the USA Today High School Nationwide top 20. This program was a blue blood football power and their youth teams were always top notch. They played at a beautiful huge stadium up in the hills overlooking Reno and had a new fieldturf field. I didn’t know much about Fallon other than they were 5-1 coming into this game and had beaten our kids the year before as seventh graders.

The game was much different than I had imagined. Fallon came out on fire and dominated the first quarter. They were a 50/50 run/pass mix and they had very good speed in the backfield. The Quarterback was solid, could scramble a bit and they had a very fast and shifty slot, that was causing McQueen issues. Fallon got an onside kick back and they never missed on the two point PAT kicks.

In the second quarter just as McQueen started to exert their control, this fast slot from Fallon scored a touchdown on a deep post wheel combination route from about 40 yards out on the last play of the half. Fallon led by 8 points at the half. Fallon had speed and could throw the ball and space wasn’t our teams friend, this wasn’t looking good for us. I didn’t want Fallon to win this one and come into our game with a bunch of momentum and confidence. At the half, Fallon looked like the better team.

Fallon only suited up 20 kids, they had 3 who were on the sidelines with no pads on. McQueen had 32 kids dressed and that ended up playing a part in this game. In the third quarter it went back and forth, but in the fourth quarter McQueen pulled away thanks to a solid running game a very nice play action passing game with a 6’ 3” receiver and some very solid special teams play. McQueen’s coach was one of those guys whose been around forever, well past when his sons played. McQueen didn’t panic, their quality youth football coaching shone through and they found a way to win.

This weeks practice was going to be all about defense. Our offense was averaging right at about 40 points a game and we had even moved the ball consistently against the best team in the league. We had to get better at pursuit, tackling and defending the pass. We would add in a couple of stunts using our Monster back who last year had played Defensive Tackle and was the leading sack master on the team. While I’m not a big fan of blitzing, because we have a fundamentally sound defense that doesn’t require big plays to be successful, I wanted something in the tool kit to develop pressure on the Quarterback if we were struggling to defend the pass.

We had some fun in our bye week, now it was time to get back to work with purpose. Our entire season would be riding on this weeks game. Tuesday would be 60 minutes of defensive indys, 20 minutes of defensive group and 40 minutes of team defense- primarily defensive recognition and team pursuit. Wednesday was 40 minutes of offensive indys, 20 minutes of offensive group, 30 minutes of team offense fit and freeze and 30 minutes of special teams. Thursday was 40 minutes of defensive indys, 10 minutes of defensive group, 40 minutes of defensive team defensive recognition, 15 minutes of team offense- fit and freeze and 15 minutes of special teams. We worked on our PAT block, this game could come down to that. We installed both a middle stunt block and an overload edge block.

This weeks practice went well, we had one let down day on Wednesday where we lost focus a bit. We reeled that back in with some jump up 20 sprints. The kids got that this was not the time to lower our standards, you run 100% of the time on the field in practice or we run after practice, always your choice. But this time we did some running in the middle of practice, point made. We continued with the nightly what I like about player X sessions and stressing how important it was to play for each other. Progress was being made on that front, we really came together strong in that bye week.

The good news was we had everyone back healthy, the bad news was my starting Center cut his hand badly requiring seven stiches, he wouldn’t be able to play in Saturdays game. While he had it taped up and wanted to play, we just couldn’t risk it. He was one of our most responsible and hard working kids, so we would work around it and he would be a team captain this week. While we did have everyone back, our now back starting Quarterback got hurt during an open field tackling drill and couldn’t practice in pads or run much on Wednesday and Thursday. This was the same player who I felt had laid down on us early in the season. While I felt we could make it work on offense, on defense we just didn’t have anyone to replace him. In the end I felt he would probably recover at game time like he always did and I was right.

I acted like losing our Center wasn’t any big deal in front of the kids, but it was. Thankfully we had prepared a second player to play Center. Every practice during our rule blocking fits and in team, the second teamer had gotten some snaps. The second teamer was our first team Right Tackle on offense, so that created a bit of a domino effect. I made sure to get the new starter plenty of snaps and prepared a third teamer just in case. In any offense the Center is important, but in our short shotgun offense where we snap to three different players, his job is critical.

Youth Football Bye Weeks Worst to First Youth Football Experience

Written by Dave on April 1st, 2015

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What do you do during bye weeks when you are coaching youth football? What made sense to me was to take a day off. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First”  I took an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. Unlike most seasons where we practiced just 3 days a week until game one, then went 2 days a week thereafter, I couldn’t do this with this team. The kids were just so far behind fundamentally and I was spread so thin, we had practiced the full 5 days per week until school started, then went 3 rather than the allowed 4 practices per week thereafter.

The bye week allowed our kids to get a well-deserved day off and got me an extra day in Nebraska with my family. Commuting back and forth was tough, with 5 days in Reno, then 2 days in Nebraska. When I got home I was scrambling to get everything I could done to reconnect and care for my family, it was always a whirlwind of activity.

When we got back to it in Reno on Wednesday our goal was to have fun, take a step back and bond as a team. Much of what we worked on was building team unity, via things like tire flip relays, pass catching relays, dummy tackling relays, dummy carry relays and Hawaiian Rules football.  We worked about 60 minutes of individual, group and team, then spent 60 minutes on fun stuff and getting to know and trust one another better. Every night for the last 2 weeks we were doing the 20 things I like about player X exercise. By the end of the season we would cover every player. We also did a birthday thing with cakes and mini roast for one of our players, the one I had problems with earlier in the season. Celebrating players birthdays is a good thing as long as the player is someone that is efforting and adding value.  Often times that helps keep things fun and will help with the bonding process.

It was also time to improve our coaching. For most of the season our coaches had watched games, not coached them.  It didn’t matter much that every coach had a wrist band and knew the plays, they still weren’t coaching much. They were watching more than they were coaching and when they did coach, often times it was shouting things at kids that weren’t even in their position groups.

I had tried to solve the problem, but it wasn’t getting much better. These guys continued to yap at referees and be more fan than coach. I put my foot down harder than ever. I let the coaches know that they could either coach their position group and be silent with the referees or to stand up in the stands on game days. Youth football coaching and being a fan are two different things. The film showed major alignment and technique problems that were never addressed. In the Reed game, our Monster never made a single tackle. He wasn’t playing downhill and was too concerned about dropping into the hole, rather than aggressively responding to his reads, like we had practiced all week long. Our Linebackers coach was watching the game, not coaching it. There were situations like that going on with nearly every position group.

Unfortunately I had been forced to call both the Offense, Defense and Special Teams, something I hadn’t had to do in over a decade. I had to look at the big picture, manage the game and of course watch the Offensive Play keys.  I was very blunt on our Hudl film about the mistakes we were making and put it back on the coaches. When the kids make a mistake it’s  OUR fault. If the player is in your position group it’s YOUR fault. You get what you coach and what you accept, you tolerate and deserve. The encouraging atta boys now included a heavy dose of frowns, hard looks and “that isn’t acceptables”, directed at the coaching staff. Had they made progress? Yes, but it wasn’t good enough and it wasn’t enough to make a championship run.

As a head coach, you can’t do it all. You need input, good intel, good data from your assistant coaches and players in order to optimize your opportunities on game days. I wasn’t getting that. So now I turned my focus on pressing the coaches and players for that intel. This made them think, it forced them to look at what I wanted them to look at and it forced them to coach. When the film didn’t add up to the intel or in some cases guesses they provided, I called them out on it. Is shame a good way to get adults to do things? No, but I had run out of options and I was tired of walking on egg shells or having to frame words to make sure no ones feelings were going to be hurt. This is the intel we needed, this is why it’s important and we aren’t going to be successful if you choose not to do the work to provide it.

In this down week I devised a set of signals several trusted players would use to get me some of the intel I needed on offense. I won’t share all of them with you, but one included the alignment/first move of the Defensive Tackle over the Power Tackle, another was the alignment of the Linebacker closest to the Center.

This week was also full of film study and scouting. Our upcoming opponent would be playing what was most likely the 3 seed out of 13 teams. If we won our next game, there would be a very high probability we would face that 3 seed in the first round of the playoffs. As luck would have it I could see both teams play at the same time in the weeks just leading up to our game. Yes the schedule had been very kind to us.

We were able to do a couple of film trades to get film on both teams. By the end of the week I had play cards and scouting reports prepared on both teams and stayed the weekend to take in their game, instead of flying back to Nebraska a little early.

By the end of the week I could feel we were a closer youth football team. The coaches had started to come around. We weren’t clicking on all cylinders, but we still had some time and we had an even money chance to win that next game and make a first ever playoff appearance.

Friday Night Tykes Youth Football Season Finale Show

Written by Dave on March 25th, 2015

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This weeks Friday Night Tykes youth football reality television show focuses on the Texas TYFA State Championship game between the San Antonio Outlaws and the Mission Mustangs from the Rio Grande Valley.  Before we get to the title game, the show takes a peek at the year-end banquets of the Broncos and Colts.

The Broncos finished up just 1-7 after suffering through a horrific 2013 season that saw Coach Charles Chavarria suspended for teaching targeting. Seeing the Broncos under the covers rightfully scared a lot of parents off. The new coaching staff did a great job of being positive, engaging the kids and teaching safe tackling methods, but they weren’t very good technical football coaches. Thankfully they didn’t hand out trophies to their team. I’m fine with participation trophies for kids aged 7 and under but for 5th and 6th grade kids, not so much. It’s great the kids made it through the season, the bags were a good gesture, but trophies are for excellence, leave that for the YMCA soccer leagues.

The Colts had a positive banquet as well. Coach Mareques Goodloe took time to bring every player on stage and say a few positive and personal things about each one of them.  At the end of the banquet Goodloe stepped down as President and Head Coach of the Colts. This didn’t surprise me in the least, it’s something I could see happening from the very first show. Mareques is an outgoing “relationship” guy who hates telling people no. He also is an aggressive recruiter. That makes for a lot of people one has to answer to and make happy. It can wear on a person, especially someone with the personality of a Mareques.

The kids love and respect Goodloe and he does a lot of very positive things, but you could see Coach wasn’t enjoying himself this year. Youth football parents can be one of the most unappreciative entitled group of human beings on the planet.  That shtick wears out a lot of guys coaching youth football, that’s one of the main reasons you don’t see guys coaching more than 4-5 years. The kids are great, but there’s a reason why being head coach of an orphanage team is a widely coveted job.  Goodloe would make an outstanding assistant coach somewhere, especially if he was paired with someone who could help him keep his language in check. Goodloe does just that at the end of the show by announcing to the Outlaw coaching staff that he will be joining them next season. I guess if you can’t beat them, join them.

The Outlaw-Mustang game starts off with the Mustangs missing two of their two-way starters. Yes, the players are running late to the State Championship game, supposedly because they are lost. This is the second time we’ve seen this from a team on the show. Coaching point: ALWAYS hand out paper maps to your game location along with several e-mails reminding parents of the route, time and penalties for being late. In my program every minute late equals one lap on Mondays practice and a loss in playing time. You hate to punish the players for the sins of the parent, but sometimes that’s the only way you can solve the problem. For the ultra undependable parent, make arrangements for a coach or another parent to take their child to the game. You hate to have to treat grown adults like children, but that’s reality when you are coaching youth football in 2015.

The Mustangs are limited in what they can run, due to their starters being out, but they move the ball and score on the Outlaws on a well executed pass play. They come right back with a beautiful onside kick and look to open the game up. But wait, now their two late kids come sprinting in from the parking lot and the Mustangs take a timeout to rush them into the game. The problem is, they first have to be certified and time almost runs out as they rush onto the field. In the confusion, the snap is bad, the Quarterback doesn’t field the ball cleanly and he throws a terrible outlet pass and it’s a pick six.

This was a HUGE momentum changer, the Mustangs had the Outlaws on the ropes. There was no need to rush those kids onto the field, the ensuing chaos, made the Mustangs make a massive mistake they wouldn’t have made under normal circumstances. The Mustangs score again late in the third quarter to make it a two score game at 16-6.  As we get into the fourth quarter the Outlaws open it up but face a 4th and 15 in their own territory. If the Mustangs hold, the game is probably over, but the Outlaws heave up a long pass and score to make it a one score game. The Mustangs fail to convert and the Outlaws take over at their own 7 yard line with just over 3 minutes to go in the game. The Outlaws go 5 wide again and throw it right down the field again to take an 18-16 lead with just 1:40 left. The Mustangs drive it the length of the field to the Outlaw 12 yard line, but just miss winning the game as the clock winds out.

The Outlaws without any shadow of a doubt had more talent than the Mustangs, that isn’t debateable. However the Mustangs were better coached, fundamentally and scheme wise.  They threw the ball on time and in rhythm, not throwing desperation bombs to athletes outrunning coverage. I liked the precision, finesse and accuracy of the passing game AND the playcalling on the Mustang side. When they scored their second touchdown, the Outlaws were all set to sack the big number 42 in the backfield on a Power I power to the blocking back side, but the Mustangs faked that and ran an Iso to the Blocking Back away from the power side, great call.

The Mustang Quarterbacks, pocket presence and movement was well coached, he wasn’t scrambling for his life and just being an athlete like the Outlaw Quarterback. However the Mustang Head Coach was NOT very good with his team. His nervousness and willingness to fiercely criticize his players using improper language was wrong and counterproductive. He was so tight and seemingly unhappy prior to the game. That manifests itself in your team. When they get into a tight spot, they concentrate on not trying to make a mistake, instead of going out and trying to make plays.

That is what won the game for the Outlaws. Their kids were confident in their team and their athleticism. They overcame poor offensive coaching to pull out the win. Why a team with so many amazing athletes would feel like they had to power teams, when they can create so many mismatches all over the field in spread just boggles the mind. When you have the athletic advantage with so many weapons over another team, space it your FRIEND, not your enemy. When the Outlaws late in the game finally decided to spread things out and go 5 wide, they moved the ball at will.

Hats off to both teams, we saw good sportsmanship from the players and a heck of a youth football games. Hopefully we all learned from the experience and can take what we learned not to do and to do into our next youth football season.

Worst to First Youth Football Coaching Show- Game Seven

Written by Dave on March 24th, 2015

sparks after game handshake















So how did game seven shake out? The game wasn’t without a little youth football coaching drama.  This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First”  I took an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. The starting Corner and backup Fullback  who had been held out by mom with all the “health” issues didn’t play again. He fell down riding his skateboard and had a couple of stiches in his lip. During our final practice of the week, he sat next to his mommy under a blanket instead of engaging in practice- which I ended after looking on in disgust. A split lip isn’t an excuse for not engaging in at least walk through mental reps.

We had instituted a very strict, you don’t attend practice, you don’t play policy, and that included injuries. The only excused absence was missing school because of illness. Again, these kids weren’t used to commitment and follow through. I wasn’t going to let the parents bully me into playing their kids just because we were so shorthanded. I had told the parents and players in a team meeting I would gladly lose every game, rather than reward them for a lack of commitment and follow through.

We talked about not letting their teammates down and of course all running had to be made up prior to being allowed back into practice. This player was hard to reach, thanks to an overprotective mom and he hadn’t bonded with his teammates. In this players place I started the former head coaches son who weighed a whopping 76 lbs. This would be a great spot to give him his first start. To discourage teams from running his way I switched and put our huge Defensive Tackle with good feet to his side and instead of going strong/weak, put our more athletic Linebacker to his side as well.

The coaches son had been a two way starter in previous seasons, but he couldn’t/wouldn’t tackle, was a poor blocker, couldn’t catch and while fast, he refused to trust his speed. He also had a past history of fumbling and he did some of that in practice too. He was a likeable kid, who gave reasonable effort, but he wasn’t a very good football player. On any other team, he wouldn’t play much at all.

But the head coach was a good guy. He had for the most part supported me even though it had to be hard for him. Here I come in the last season this team would be together, take over and accomplish something he couldn’t get done. All in all, he took it pretty well, but I could tell he didn’t like the fact his son was no longer a starter. To keep the wolves at bay, I made sure to start his son on all the special teams and got him in early on offense on plays we didn’t really need a Wingback. When we got up by four scores I would immediately get him a carry. In this game I was going to “bank” some goodwill and start him at Corner.

The game was in one of the most beautiful youth football venues I’ve ever coached at. The game started as the sun was setting over the base of the Sierra Mountains in a very nice High School stadium. The game started with us on defense, they went three and out of the Double Slot Pistol, running power, an orbit sweep and a play action pass. We scored in five plays on a run pass option. They got a first down on a penalty, then went three and out. We score in seven plays, as they bunch up to stop our inside running game. They go three and out on offense and are getting desperate, a half back pass and double reverse are snuffed out for losses. We go to Spread Single Wing and score on one play on a Jet Sweep. We recover an onside kick and score in three plays off a Spread Single Wing Wham style play off of Jet Sweep action, the rout is on. The next series we see them try a flea flicker and a double pass, both stopped in the backfield.

At the end of the first quarter we are up 28-0 and start emptying the bench. With the game well in hand we put all the backups in on defense, many on offense too and go into halftime with a 42-6 lead. At the half I talked to the starters in the backfield and asked them to take a dive if they got inside the one. We got the coaches son and another kid who had never scored a touchdown that way, putting them in at Quarterback and running power from the 1 yard line. The  opposing team finally figured out our weakness at the one Corner spot and got us for a couple of scores there. The final score was 54-19. We banked a bunch of playing time for our backups as they ended up getting as much playing time as the starters in a game we could have easily scored 80-100 points.

Our first team offense had scored on every possession but one. We had two turnovers, one by the first team, another by a kid who was a lineman and wasn’t used to carrying the ball. We got two turnovers on defense and were called for three penalties.  The former head coach saw in real time what a huge liability his son was on the defensive side of the ball, point made.

At 5-2, this set up game eight against a team with an identical record for a chance to play in the playoffs for the very first time in this teams long suffering history. The other team was at our game filming our game, even though doing so is against the league rules. When confronted, they went over to the opponent’s side of the stadium and sat in the top row, then left. Game on.

Coaching Youth Football the Week of the Weak Opponent- Worst to First Game Seven Week

Written by Dave on March 23rd, 2015

sparks practice reno



When coaching youth football what do you do the week you are playing a bottom dweller?  There can be long term repercussions when you play a weak team and use all the coaching clichés like playing one game at a time, any given Sunday, or build up that weak team as someone that can actually beat you. You lose credibility with your team, credibility you are going to need later on in the season when you DO play that mediocre team, that you DON’T match up well against. Cry wolf and the kids will get it and not respond well when there IS a legit threat. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First”  I took an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area.

When coaching youth football you will eventually play a team you match up really well against and will most likely blow out unless you have a catastrophic once in a millennium blow up. What do you practice on that week? Should you invest a lot of time defending their offensive scheme and game planning or take that valuable time and invest it where you will get a long term return? What’s more important, beating that bottom dweller by 62-6 rather than 42-14 or strengthening areas of your game or maybe bringing your team closer together?

The youth football team we were facing this week would end the season with just 1-2 wins. Yes, if this was 2013 instead of 2014, scheme would have been important. In 2013 this game would have been a dogfight, but in 2014 our kids were much more fundamentally sound, confident and playing together. Had this weeks opponent run something we hadn’t seen yet like a true triple option or Markham Double Wing team, investing a little time on scheme would have probably made sense. But our opponent ran a lot of Power I, then they ran some Double Slot One Back stuff using a Rocket Orbit Sweep series of plays. This wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before and they were very average in space. If we protected the football we should be able to name the score.

The goal was to get fundamentally better during the week, work some on improving the passing game, improve the reads and consistency of our Defensive Tackles, consistently gang tackle and build depth. We wanted to have plenty of momentum going into our last regular season game against a team with the same record as us, which would determine if we made the playoffs or not.

The remaining two practices were tough, we amped up our pace. During full team offensive and defensive recognition drills, we were running 11 kids in and 11 kids out on every rep and were getting about 1 rep in every 15 seconds. Defensive recognition covers all the formations and alignments we would see during the season and many of the base play concepts. We actually tilted some of the recognition towards our last regular season opponent which with the bye we wouldn’t see for three weeks. While we were still trying to build depth, this team was so weak we had every descent athlete playing both ways. We had a lot more flexibility on the line.

How would it end up? Next post will tell all.


Friday Night Tykes Season Two Episode Eight

Written by Dave on March 18th, 2015

outlaws ravens









This episode featured the Outlaws, their athleticism and their mismanagement. As mentioned in previous posts, they just have too many coaches and they continue to get in each others way. Even in the semi-final game head coach Fred still doesn’t have down who is supposed to be calling the defense or have a chain of command communication structure in place.

In the Outlaws first playoff game their opponent, the Steelers come out in several empty sets with five receivers split out. The Outlaws struggle to align correctly and Fred tries to get a timeout as we see seven or eight coaches all frantically yelling out alignment instructions to the confused Outlaw defenders. Fred doesn’t get the timeout and the Steelers make a big play. It looked like Keystone Cops, not a championship caliber youth football coaching staff.

On defense, the defensive coordinator is the only coach who should be making the formation, defense, stunts or coverage calls. The rest of the defensive alignment in youth football should be simple enough and been practiced enough during defensive recognition that there should be no need for the other eight or nine coaches to be screaming out instructions. This doesn’t really surprise me though, when we see the Outlaw practices they are full of full contact hitting drills, I have yet to see a full team defensive recognition drill. Their alignment instructions are a lot of long one on one talks and descriptions instead of just aligning and showing the various offensive alignments and sets and having the defense quickly realign. So much wasted time in the practices leading up to these playoff games.

If there IS a need for further instruction it should come from ONE position coach for each group, the Defensive Tackles, Defensive Ends. Linebackers and Defensive Backs. The problem is you have eight, nine or even ten coaches seemingly all coaching all the kids instead of each coaching their own position group. Even when coaching a position group, only ONE coach from that position group should be in a position to speak onto the field during the game. Those instructions should be one or two word, key word instructions, not the long sentence gibberish we see from the Outlaw coaching staff. They all yell over each other and the kids are obviously confused.

After struggling a bit early alignment wise, the Outlaws sheer athleticism overwhelms both opponents and they win both games, not in blowout fashion but with just enough of a cushion to be pretty comfortable and confident. The Outlaws are flawless open field tacklers.  Last years star Running Back Mizell Miller, who hadn’t even been featured so far, comes up with two monster games to lead the Outlaws. Yes, they are that deep. Several star players from last years teams are now backups, yet play key roles in both games.

This causes some heat in the Outlaw camp. Defensive Coordinator Tony Coley’s son Lucas Is kind of left out in the cold. After suffering a wrist injury earlier on the season he returns to action. But instead of starting at Quarterback or Defensive Back he is now relegated to a backup role on the defense. Early on I said Coley should have been the starting Quarterback and move Daiboo Johnson to a Running Back spot. But after returning from the broken wrist injury I totally understand not playing Coley at Quarterback in a semi-final playoff game, especially with the three backs the Outlaws have in their backfield. Any of them would be the feature back on any other team in the league. More on that in another post.

Tony gets frustrated with his sons lack of playing time. Early in the game he encourages his son to keep his head up and stay engaged. As the game progresses and Coach Fred takes over the defense and tells all of his coaches to quit instructing on the field, Tony has less to do and he starts making sarcastic comments about his sons lack of playing time. We don’t see everything, but it looks like the Coley kid does get some playing time on defense later in the game, but he’s no longer a starter or star like he was last season. At the end of the game Tony walks off the field in frustration with his son in tow, prior to the teams post-game meeting.

We don’t see everything that has transpired this season but I said in previous posts that this youth football coaching staff was poorly managed and was ready to blow. It did blow and now we have an assistant coach who has been integral in helping build this team, quitting on this team as they head into the State Championship game. With just one game left in the season, Tony shouldn’t have quit, especially if the majority of his frustration flows from his sons lack of playing time.  Personally I’m not one that feels one year should carry over to another or that a player never loses his position because of injury. Injuries change things, players progress and regress, that’s part of life. No matter the reason, Tony should have sucked it up for one more game, then moved on the following season.

We get a quick scene with Coach Mareques Goodloe from the Colts. He talks about why it was more important to attend the funeral of one of his players caregivers than it was to be focused on winning a game last week. You have to take your hat off to Mareques, he totally got that one right. If coach reigns in his language he could be one of the most valuable assistant coaches of all time. Very few people connect with their youth football players like this guy.

On the other side of the bracket the Austin Ducks lose their Semi-Final playoff game to a team from the Valley, Mission. I’ve done a LOT of coaching clinics in Texas and the Rio Grande Valley gets the least amount of respect in the state as far as football goes. From the youth to High School level, no one respects the Valley, their teams always lose big in the playoffs.

The problem as I stated before is the Ducks have little team chemistry and I predicted they would fall apart because of it. Their star player #1, Mckutchin is a specimen no doubt on both offense and defense. However he lacks heart, selflessness and is a poor teammate. He trash talks in practice and games and it finally catches up to him. Missions star player #42 catches several balls right over the top of Mckutchin, so #1 starts turning on his teammates who have made mistakes. The kids look up to their star player for leadership and he shows none. The Ducks get behind, panic, turn on each other and lose to a team with less talent that is better coached.

The Ducks head coach is up in the stands thanks to an altercation he had after a game with one of his parents. What a shame, great talent and poor leadership doom this team from the start. Everyone including the Ducks coaching staff were already looking at playing the Outlaws in the Championship game. The head coach didn’t even think the game would be competitive, NO ONE thought this game would be close, let alone a Mission win. I wasn’t surprised in the least. Next week is the Championship game between the big bad Outlaws and the upstart Mission team.