Semi Final Matchup Game Time- Worst to First Youth Football

Written by Dave on April 23rd, 2015

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The Big Game

It was a cool cloudless November evening, a great day to be playing or coaching youth football. There was snow on the mountains but it was a nice 40 degrees at kickoff.  We were playing at Reno High School at a beautiful venue, the grass looked great for being this late in the season. The crowd would be our biggest with a lot of interested league people in the stands wondering how our Sparks team had gone from the bottom to a first time ever playoff birth, now playing in the semi-finals,  scoring over 400 points and challenging first seeded Reed for league dominance.

The Reed team looked confident and loose, team intact. All week we had stressed defense and special teams. Reed had a kicker who had gotten hot at the end of the season and was hitting everything. So we worked hard on our PAT block and punting game, my guess was this game would come down to turnovers and the kicking game.

Our kids were pretty tight prior to this game, but nothing overwhelming, just not as loose as in previous games. I didn’t make an impassioned speech, just a few words about how proud I was of them and to just play as hard as they possibly could, to play within themselves and to protect the football.  I couldn’t help but be proud and a little emotional about how far this team had come.  Our mantra for the last month had been “there is no tomorrow.” We had practiced and played like that for the last 30 days. The last 3 plane tickets I bought were all the more expensive refundable type, because I didn’t know if those flights to Nebraska each week would be one way if we lost or round trip is we won. My youngest daughter was hoping we would lose so she could have daddy back 7 days a week instead of just two.

We received and proceeded to drive the ball right down the field a few yards at a time. We stalled out at the Reed 20 yard line thanks to a bobbled snap negative yardage play we couldn’t recover from. On defense we held Reed to a 3 and out! Something we were only able to do in the previous game. They boomed a punt to our 40. This time we drove it down to their 25 before stalling out again, but by going max slowdown we were really milking the clock.

Reed got a first down on the ensuing drive, but thanks to a holding call and good defense we held them to just that one first down. Without the option- bubble screen, us not over pursuing and going max slowdown we were holding our own. The first quarter ended in an unlikely 0-0 tie.

On plan, I opened it up a little in the second quarter. We went Spread Single Wing and were able to complete a nice pass to the weakside on a go pattern against their weakest link- who was still a very good player. After picking up another first down we ran our first jet sweep of the game, Reed bumped their Linebackers down and ran the exact same stunt we ran against them in game one and just like us, they made a big play. Our Running Back got drilled by their Outside Linebacker in the backfield before he really got started. Our man fumbled and they returned the ball 75 yards for the score, it’s 8-0.

I was really struggling to get all of our minimum play kids their snaps in this game. With Reed being in the Pistol Spread and with a Center that had pulled extremely well in game one, I couldn’t get away with putting our weaker players in the A gaps and frogging. We could only rotate a single player there instead of 2 and we were going max slowdown as well. Unlike other games I had to rotate most of them in on offense. Every time I put our rookie 66 lb 8th grade Wingback in or the 76 lb kid, the defense would compress for the inside run. There was no way either of those kids could block the best Corner/Running Back in the league who was on their side and cheating up whenever they came in. Neither of the little guys could catch a cold, let alone block a 160 lb athletic Defensive End or Linebacker.  With 5 monstrous and athletic defensive linemen, we struggled with penetration at the weakside Tight End spot as well, this league didn’t allow crab style blocking. So our defense had improved at the expense of our offense, but we had little choice, rules are rules and this is how we were going to roll this time around.

We fielded the ensuing kickoff at our 40 and drove to their 20 before our starting Quarterback took a helmet to the knee. This wasn’t a lay down injury, he was limping pretty badly and had to come out on both offense and defense. We gave the ball up via fumble-bobbled snap on an inside running play that looked like it had room. On the very next play Reed throws a long pass to the zone our now benched Cornerback had vacated and now we are down 16-0.

With the ball at midfield, the 16 pass to the Wingback is wide open the way the defense is aligned. Unfortunately our QB is still on the sidelines with a bad knee and the only kid that can consistently catch the ball for our team is also the backup Quarterback, he can’t throw the ball to himself. Our backup Quarterbacks are also slots in our Spread Single Wing, so when we move one to Quarterback, we are pretty limited to only going in one direction and the other team knows that. We pick up a first down and then give it up on downs.

We hold on Defense, get the ball back and hope to make it a one score game going into halftime. Our starting Quarterback re-enters the game and we start moving the ball again. We go to the 16 pass to the Wingback, it’s there, but his knee doesn’t hold up and he just doesn’t have enough spring in his step to threaten the line of scrimmage to make the play work and he gets sacked. Ball is on their 40 facing a fourth and 12 with 2 minutes left to go. In the previous game we had got them on the fake punt so now they don’t even put anyone back AND our punter had been striking the ball extremely well.  The thought is our big play threats are limited, they won’t get a return,  keep them deep, don’t let them score and regroup at the half. The snap is good, the punter fumbles the snap, the punt gets blocked and they run it back 55 yards for the score.

Now it’s 24-0 and our kids heads are hanging. We are playing good defense, just one mistake on special teams and not so well on offense. The pass is there, but our only throw catch combination that works isn’t in the game. Our kids are giving great effort, but we have to play our best game to win this one.  Our plan is to use our QB as a handoff machine in the Spread Single Wing, which will limit us some and use that jet sweep stunt against them. We would attack that Weakside Corner some with the pass. Lots of sad faces in that halftime, as the hopes of a big upset look to be squandered away thanks to 3 big plays. At the half we probably have out yarded Reed by a 3-1 margin, but had nothing to show for it.

Our onside kick just missed but we got a break thanks to a Reed fumble on a botched option play. We set them up with a Jet sweep, then come back with a jet counter to get close enough to punch it in to make it a 24-6 game. Unfortunately now our chink in the armor is exposed with our starting Corner out at our already weakest position. The reshuffle puts us weak at Weakside Linebacker and now we have no options at Safety when we go to Cover 3 from Monster.  Reed moves the ball right down the field and scores on its only sustained drive of the day to make it 32-6.

At this point, it’s going to be nearly impossible to pull off the upset. I remove our ailing Quarterback but we go up tempo to show the kids we aren’t giving up and drive it down to the Reed 4 before turning it over on downs. The kids play really hard for the entire game, not losing their cool, but visibly disappointed. We give up a late score and limp out with a 40-6 loss.

The other team played their starters to the end, but were great sports otherwise. We wished them luck in the finals in the handshake line and our now heartbroken kids improbable season was now over. We had given up 5 touchdowns, but just 3 on defense. On offense we had scored 26 points in game 1 and were inside the 10 twice and didn’t score. In this game we only scored 6 points and were inside the 20 three times and didn’t score. To win this one we needed our best game on all 3 sides of the ball and that didn’t happen.

Preparing For Goliath- Youth Football Playoff Prep

Written by Dave on April 22nd, 2015

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How do you prepare your kids to be youth football giant killers when over the last 6 years they have struggled to beat even average foes? We had 3 practices to get our kids ready mentally, physically, fundamentally and scheme wise. 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 first and most important part was preparing the kids mentally. I sent out an e-mail about the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team. Like the US Hockey team, we were in the semi-finals playing against the undefeated bully of the league, Reed. You would be surprised at how many young kids have never heard this story. It’s about the improbable run to winning the gold medal by a team most people considered less than average. Coach Herb Brooks takes a group of young college kids and molds them into a team that plays for each other. Beaten by the Soviets in an exhibition game 10-3 the month before, no one gave the US team much of a chance against a Russian team that was 27-1-1 in Olympic competition since 1960. Even NHL all-star teams were getting pummeled by the well-oiled machine of the USSR team.

Herb sold his kids on his game plan and on the fact that his kids didn’t need to beat the Russians 10 out of 10 times or even 6 out of 10, they just needed to win 1 time and it was their time. I followed the same template and it felt like the kids were buying in. Coaching is coaching it doesn’t matter the sport, it doesn’t matter if I’m coaching youth football, basketball or baseball, the US Hockey story was relevant.

The kids got right down to business on Tuesday, there were no distractions, it was a 100% work day. On defense our Defensive Ends now Outside Linebackers looked great in individual drills when we taught them our approach for this game. Our Defensive Tackles, who were now in Defensive End roles looked good, they were adapting to their new responsibilities and alignments well, the only new technique we worked on was getting depth and width on reach block attempts.

Linebackers had always been an issue for us. Our best Linebackers were playing Corner or Monster because we were so thin at those positions and what we had left over were better suited at Linebacker than they were as Defensive Backs. We worked hard to stop the Reed option play where the QB in the Pistol reads the end man on line of scrimmage on a give off tackle, then keeps to the outside. Only  Reed now would be optioning to that same side with a Bubble Screen.

To make matters worse, they also would throw the go route to the Wide Receiver who would fake his stalk block for the Bubble and go deep for a really big play. So not only did we have to stop the 2 biggest open field take it to the house on every play kids in the league on the option, to the playside we had to stop their big lanky 6’1” smooth speed demon at the slot and a very capable and tall Wideout. Our goal was to stop it in the backfield and never allow it to get started, because Reed got into the open field, we were toast.

We did invest time in team pursuit and bracketing drills to help our kids keep leverage. So many times during the first game our kids didn’t trust their speed and in an effort to try and make plays, overran the plays. Thanks to our paid staff of 5 high schoolers on scout, our kids were getting a good look.

Since we were averaging 44 points a game and had scored 26 against Reed in game 1 and left 14 easy points on the field in that one, we would spend 2/3 of our time on defense.  The rest of our practice time would be evenly split between special teams and offense.

Offensively the only tweak we added was our youth football playbook was Buck Series and an adjustment to our 16 pass play. Later in the game Reed and slid their best player, their QB to an Outside Linebacker position instead of him playing a deep safety. Then they took that speed demon Running Back and deepened him to about 8 yards and widened him out at Corner. So the middle of the field would be open, with just the weakside Corner wide and at about 6 yards. Our Left End had dropped all but 1 of the 7 passes we threw to him, so the 16 pass far wasn’t there, but our Wingback could catch and with the middle of the field open we could just dink it into the open space basketball style for a nice gain. So this wasn’t a new play for us, it was a youth football play with a small adjustment for a specific opponent.

How were our kids responding? They were doing well, accepting the coaching and getting the work in. While I have always tried to stay away from long winded lectures, it was important for the kids to buy in to the approach and as we made some of the adjustments I shared with the kids why. In school the Reed players were being very respectful. With 5 of our former players on the Reed team, they had been humbled a bit in the first game with us leading for a good part of the game and moving the ball nearly at will. We had Reeds full attention.

As we wrapped up the week of practice we talked about the US Hockey team and the game plan and how their situation was very similar to ours.  I would be slowing the game down, we would attack the middle and open it up some in the second quarter. The only chink in the Reed armor was at weakside Corner and we were going to take a few shots down the field against him once we had reasonably good field position. The 16 pass to the Wing would be unveiled in the second Quarter too, once we conditioned Reed to respond aggressively to the run.


The kids were as ready as they were going to be. The coaches, kids and parents couldn’t wait for game time.

Youth Football Playoff Week Two- Facing Goliath Again

Written by Dave on April 21st, 2015

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So our “Davids” are now in the Semi Finals, one game from the youth football promised land, the finals.  What do we do this week? What we didn’t do was dwell on the past. This team had won about 6 games in the previous 6 years, had accomplished its first ever winning season, first ever playoff appearance and won both the play in game and round one game in dramatic end of game fashion and were now 7-2 in league play.  In these 9 games we were averaging 44 points a game.

First and foremost I didn’t even bother posting the game film on Hudl. It was a great game, but we needed to look forward and not back. I didn’t want this youth football team to feel satisfied.  The McQueen first round win had been a very emotional win, we had to dig deep to beat a team that had mercy ruled these kids in every season they had played. Tuesday was get back to work day.

What were we facing was an undefeated team averaging 51 points per game. More impressive was that their first team defense had only given up 40 points all season and we had scored 26 of those points in our first meeting. So their first team defense was giving up just 4 points per game. They were a pistol spread team that ran both trips and double slots. They had the most athletic Quarterback in the league with a good arm, he was a threat from anywhere on the field. Their Running Back had scored on runs of 97 and two runs of more than 40 yards in game one. While all 4 of their receivers had scored more than 2 touchdowns in individual games, their best slot had scored on us twice in game one, once from over 50 yards out.

We got beat on the toss sweep cutback, quarterback scramble, inverted veer option, bubble off of inverted veer option, speed option away from jet and the bubble/go concept. In essence, we got beat pretty badly when we were in space. How would we address that? Lots of detailed film study and a few small changes thanks to some input from 5 time AYF National Champion Joe Cianflone from Florida.

First off we ditched our stunt off of jet motion. It had worked great for a 5 yard loss the one time they ran jet, but in previous games they had run jet 5-8 times a game. Against us, once they saw us bump down and send a Linebacker off the edge, they just went short motion, stopped the jet back, had him seal the Defensive End inside and then ran speed option to that side. Nice call on their part.

Secondly we split out our Defensive Ends to outside shoulder of the slots. We also made some changes, putting our best Corner at Defensive End and in a very radical move putting our tallest Defensive End at Corner. We had our best DE now aligning on same side as their best slot #10 and that DE who was now a very week Corner was on the same side as their Wide Out, their weakest but still very capable #4. We found that when pressed, this team didn’t like to go deep to the #4 but would often times try and get it to #10. We had those DEs who were now Outside Linebackers to get hands on the slot in press coverage before retreating to their zones, we were not going to let them run bubble screens or smoke screens under any circumstances. Last time our DE/Outside Linebackers just couldn’t get there by playing half way and off the line of scrimmage.

We did HUNDREDS of reads for the bubble and the option run bubble combo as well as every one of their pass and run concepts. But this week we had hired 5 High School kids to run scout, so we were getting a MUCH better look than we gave our defense in game one.

We drilled our Defensive Tackles to death with pressing down on any tackle run-throughs to the Running Back on option and making sure we got width and depth on any reach attempts. These kids were now playing 5 techniques, on the outside shoulder of the Offensive Tackle with no Tight Ends. So in essence they were now Defensive Ends.

All of these changes were coached and drilled in Individuals, Group and Team. At Linebacker we had both of our two best options healthy and starting. If you remember from past posts the best choice I had at one of the Linebacker spots I had held out due to missing some early practices and laying down before a big game. Slowly “CH” had worked his way back into the starting lineup and not had a single missed practice in previous weeks.

This game we would roll with someone different at Monster than we had in game one. In that game our Monster didn’t play downhill at all and seemed to be sitting on the pass too much. That player had been moved to Corner, our best DB, this week he would now be playing Outside Linebacker. This week the kid we had been playing at Monster for most of the season would again be at Monster. He was very green, just a second year player playing his first year as a Linebacker/Monster. He had a real problem reading pass, so we were going to ask him to play very aggressively on the run and when we felt like it was going to be a passing down we would go to Cover 3 and move him to a Linebacker spot and take CH to Safety. CH had played both Corner and Safety for us and had played Defensive Back in years past.

While it may sound like a lot of changes, it was and it wasn’t. When you are coaching youth football with a weaker deck you have to make some adjustments. We were very short of skilled position players all year, so we had been cross training kids since the very first week of practice. So we had to make some changes in order to match up better AND we had to get better fundamentally. The goal was to win it all, not make the game close. While we were averaging 44 points a game on offense, our first team defense was average giving up 18 points a game. We were fine with teams that tried to run at us, but against spread teams with multiple legitimate weapons, we struggled.

In game one we had moved the ball almost at will, scoring 26 points, stalling out at their 3 and 10 and then losing the ball 2 times. We had left 14 easy points on the field. If we could play mistake free, get those 14 points back and score 40, I liked our chances. With 3 days of practice this week we would go 2/3 defense and the rest special teams and offense.

sparks practice dummysHow would the big test turn out? We surprised a lot of people.

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. 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.