What Offense Should Your Youth Football Team Run This Season

Written by Dave on May 26th, 2015

FNT outlaws






That’s a question a lot of people like to ask me especially right now. That question can’t be answered shortly and quickly without asking yourself some tough questions.

The first one is what can you and your coaching staff teach? What kind of experience does your coaching staff have in teaching the type of skills, blocking schemes, techniques and offensive execution of the offense you are considering? Let’s say you are considering copying the offense Concord De La Salle (DLS) High School in California runs. DLS runs a split back veer offense and combines it with a limited spread package. DLS is consistently in the USA Today Top 20, a great team. Does your offensive line coach understand how to teach veer and option type blocking schemes? Most veer teams will run a combination of inside veer, outside veer and midline option. Some will also run some gap power and counter schemes.

How about your backfield coach, does he know how to teach ride and decide or the point method for option ball handling? Can he teach the spread passing attack DLS likes to use too? How about your offensive coordinator, does he know all the if- thens of how to call plays in this offense and making the adjustments?

Do you have the type of players that are needed to make this offense run in the youth equation? DLS is a private school that regularly has over 200 kids out for football and draws some of the very best athletes in the Bay Area of California, which is over 5,000,000 people. Would you have those type of athletes in your youth program?

How is the support system in the veer community? Are there training DVDs, playbooks and clinics readily available with proven “youth friendly” versions in print? It’s been said with the right amount of time, effort and money, just about anything can be done. But how much time and effort do most youth coaches really have? Some of us can’t even get some of our coaches to attend a mandatory clinic, let alone learn something as complex as the veer. This isn’t meant to say the Veer or any other offensive playbook or system is bad.

What I’m saying is you have to choose a system that you can teach and has proven over time to work with the type of kids you expect to have on your youth football team. Personally, I’ve run the Veer it’s one of my favorite offenses. But that team had a coach on it who had run the veer at the High School level in California for a number of years very successfully. We also had a Quarterback that went on to be an all conference player who went on to play Quarterback at the collegiate level, so Veer made good sense back then. I’ve run I formation, being from Nebraska I ran a Nebraska like version of power and option football. I’ve also run the Double Wing, a rudimentary version of the spread and the Power I. The last 18 seasons I’ve run the Single Wing, because it fits the variations of talent I have to deal with coaching a non-select team with coaches of varying abilities and commitment levels.

Take the time to ask yourself the hard questions and answer them honestly. You don’t want to be that team that struggles to score and has all the parents up in arms about it.

Youth Football Onside Kick Survey Details

Written by Dave on May 13th, 2015















Ever wonder where you stack up when it comes to your onside kicks? Ever think about how that strategy works out for teams who employ it?

I did a Survey Monkey Survey to help find out where the aggregate is at. Here are the results:

What Percentage of the time did your team recover the onside

kicks you kicked last year? Average Score 23%

What percentage of the time did you onside kick last season? Average Score 74%

What age group was your team last year primarily? 11.2 years

Did you onside kick last year every time until the game was not in

doubt? 62% Yes, 38% No

What percentage of your games did you win last season?

0-10%= 6%

11-20%= 4%

21-30%= 2%

31-40%= 5%

41-50%= 8%

51-60%= 4%

61-70%= 8%

71-80%= 12%

81-90%= 17%

91-100%= 34%

 When looking into the individual responses this was the data I found:

Of the bottom two groups, teams that won 0-20% of their games- they onside kicked just 38% of the time. They recovered near the average with a 24% recovery rate.

Of the top two groups, the teams that won from 81-100% of their games- they onside kicked on average of 81% of the time and recovered right on average with a 23% recovery rate.

Does this tell us that to win you have to onside kick all the time? I’m not sure because there are a lot of factors involved. Youth football teams that onside kick may be coached by guys who just understand the youth football equation better than those who don’t onside kick much. However when I go to the big national tournaments like Pop Warner, AYF and the like, most of the teams there are onside kicking every time until they have a comfortable lead. They made it all the way to Nationals for a reason, they won a bunch of games to get there.

Playing the percentages certainly can’t hurt most teams,  but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. Last year in Reno when I was coaching an eighth grade team we played a team with an incredible kicker who could consistently kick the ball to either corner inside the 5-10 yard line. They were a very deep and athletic team who could afford to put a very athletic kick cover team on the field. For them onside kicking every time probably wouldn’t have made good sense at all. We started plenty of drives inside our 20-30 yard line against those guys. But rest assured there aren’t a whole lot of youth teams out there like that.

Note, this is not a scientific survey and I’m not claiming it is. If it was a perfect survey we would have an equal distribution of winning percentages. We don’t, 51% of the respondents won 81% or more of their games. If this was a perfect poll, there should have been just 20% of the coaches represented in that group. This means as you would expect, guys that are out there gathering information and trying to be better coaches responded at a much higher rate than the guys losing a bunch of games.

Hopefully this data is of some help to the guys coaching youth football this season. If your recovery rate was just 10%, understand that it could be much higher. If you are in the 35% range, you are doing a great job and probably topping out.






The Wham Play for Youth Football

Written by Dave on May 12th, 2015

What is the Wham play and is it a good youth football play?

The Wham play is something most NFL and College teams use today. If you watched the College Football National Championship game, the Wham was used on Elliott’s early 33 yard touchdown run for Ohio State. He ran untouched to the endzone.

In the NFL or College game, many times an H back is delivering the wham block either from the inside like in the Ohio State game, but it can come from the outside as well. What defines the Wham is not what side the block comes from, but that a Back blocks an unblocked Defensive Lineman who is purposely left unblocked to come upfield. Think of it as a trap play, but instead of a pulling guard, the trapper is a Back, usually in tight to the line of scrimmage, which allows the whammer a good angle to make the block.

Just like in trap, by allowing the Defensive Lineman to come upfield unblocked, means the Offensive Lineman responsible for blocking that Defensive Lineman can now go to the second level and block Linebacker. Like trap, this often times will slow down an overly aggressive Defensive Tackle that now will think twice about quickly and aggressively pressing into the backfield.

One of the reasons the Wham is such a good play at the youth level is sometimes you will play Defensive Tackles who won’t penetrate hard. For those cases you can usually just run your base powers and wedges and do very well. But if you play against a lazy Defensive Tackle or someone who is trying to play a two gap style scheme and doesn’t penetrate, your traditional trapper is going to have a tough time finding him and digging him out. On the other hand an H back or Blocking Back has a much better field of vision and can make that block whether the Defensive Tackle penetrates or not.











This is how we run one of our Wham style plays out of our basic Single Wing set- 14 Blast.  Instead of an H back, we deliver the Wham block with the Blocking Back. Note against a 5-3 style Defense our base GOD blocking rule with no tags will probably put the Nose Tackle into the lap of the backside Linebacker. While I’m not always a fan of all Offensive Linemen blocking Linebackers in space, in our Offense the Power Tackle is our second most athletic Lineman and the Right Tight End is an athlete, usually a second team Fullback or even Quarterback.

Think how you might add this youth football play into your playbook, it’s a good one. These plays of course are listed in our playbook and DVDs found here: http://winningyouthfootball.com/youthfootballcoachingbook.php



Youth Football Players Being Recruited as Eighth Graders

Written by Dave on May 4th, 2015

owen pappoe pics














How early is too early when it comes to offering college scholarships to players? Last week the big news was that the Miami Hurricanes made formal offers to three eighth grade youth football players.  Owen Pappoe, James Cook and  Blake Hinson were made offers for the 2019 recruiting class. But Miami isn’t the first to do this. We are only five years removed from the first eighth grade offer by Lane Kiffin at USC for  David Sills of Bear, Delaware.

What is the harm in these early offers? One of the issues is, a lot of times the coach making the offer isn’t even coaching the team when the player finally is ready to go to college. Many High School football players make their college choice based on their comfort level with the coaching staff. With the college football coaching merry go round we see today, the odds that eighth grader would be playing for the same head or position coach at that college may be pretty slim.

Are eighth grade youth football players just out of puberty really understand the criteria they should be using to determine what college makes the most sense for their needs? Heck they don’t even know what their needs are. In most cases, they probably don’t have a field of study picked out to even know if that college offers it.

Putting out offers to eighth graders who have yet to even take a snap in a High School game, seems too early. What happens to that offer if the player doesn’t pan out or it goes to his head and he ends up not being a good fit for the college offering? Do we really want to put this kind of pressure on 13 year old kids? Do they really need coaches and recruiters with their numbers on speed dial, hounding them with calls and texts for the next five years of their lives?

Then we get into the whole camp question. Right now camps are a huge business. Many kids feel they have to go to these camps to showcase their skills and get noticed. Yes, the recruiting services will rate you higher if you attend and perform well at camps.

But do most players need to attend camps? All of the 3-4-5 star players who have been rated off their on field production and film, probably won’t need to. The camps will mean that instead of 12 offers, they may now have 15, instead of 25 offers, they now will have 30. With the information age we now live in and the widespread use of HUDL, there are fewer and fewer kids with legitimate skills that get overlooked.

Camps make a lot of sense for a kid who say lives in Wyoming, South Dakota or Montana where the population centers are small, the geography is spread out and where college recruiters don’t spend a whole lot of time recruiting. On the other hand, if you are a top player in Dallas, Texas camps probably don’t buy you much.

What I would hate to see is what often times does happen, a marginal player with no chance of making a college roster spends a small fortune in personal training and camp visits that could have went towards his college education. Yes, I’ve seen kids who were non-starters on their JV team who are under 240 lbs and running 6.4 forties go all over the country to attend these camps. I would hate to see eighth graders chasing those same elusive dreams.

Are those of us coaching youth football ready for the onslaught of unreasonable parents who will now say that we are “ruining” their sons football future because we aren’t featuring him or maybe not even playing him in the position he will play in High School? Hopefully these offers don’t signal a new gold rush for recruiting youth football players, it’s something the sport doesn’t need right now.

For the curious, here are Owens Highlights: http://www.hudl.com/athlete/3426859/highlights/142315376/v2



The NFL Draft and Youth Football

Written by Dave on May 1st, 2015




Many people who love the game of football are watching the draft today. Some are hoping their favorite teams will draft a certain player, others just enjoy the spectacle, still others are kids that hope to see themselves up on that big stage one day.

As youth coaches, we shouldn’t squelch those dreams, but in all reality, less than 1/10 of 1% of High School football players end up going on to play in the NFL. At the youth level, far less than half of our players will end up making it to play football in High School through their senior year. So for the youth level the odds of making it to the NFL are even less, at more like 1/30 of 1% , or one in 3,000 players.

Here are the Numbers: https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/Probability-of-going-pro-methodology_Update2013.pdf

Once in the NFL, the average players career lasts just 3.3 years. While they are paid well, very few of those players end up making enough money to set them for life. Some youth coaches look at their job as all about preparing their players to play DI College football or even the NFL. Playing in the NFL is a longshot at best, some lottery games odds are better than 3,000-1. Kids who make the NFL are literal freaks of nature, off the charts.

So what does that mean for us as youth football coaches? Obviously we want to encourage them to compete in the classroom and do their absolute best. They have a far better chance of getting an academic scholarship than an athletic scholarship.

For the 2,999 out of 3,000 kids who end up playing for you that won’t be playing in the NFL, make football a great experience for them. Make it something that is fun and will help mold them for their future. A future that for most of them means being a husband, father, member of the community and work force.

Our job shouldn’t be about preparing those players for the NFL by trying to simulate NFL teams, it is to develop a love and appreciation in the game so the player is inspired enough to keep on playing. Teach your kids how to be coachable, work hard, be a good team mate, be selfless, be committed, be consistent, be on time and be compassionate. These are all skills he can take to High School which will help him be successful in High School football and beyond the game, in life.

NFLDon’t look at your team as future NFL players. If a player is meant to play in the NFL,  he will separate himself from the pack in High School and College. Teach your players the basic skills they need to safely and competently play the game and more importantly those skills that help them succeed in the game of life.

Worst to First Youth Football Season Wrap Up

Written by Dave on April 28th, 2015

Sparks RR team














If you’ve been following this “Worst to First” story of my experience of taking a long suffering team in Reno to the semi-finals of their youth football league, thank you. This experience was one that helped me grow as a coach and from the feedback I’m getting from hundreds of coaches nationwide, helpful to many of them as well. Where will the show go? Only time will tell and who picks it up is up to the Production Company, not me. While we did have our fair share of drama, it may have been enough to attract the wider audience many networks are looking for.

Thanks to guys like the Mayor, a trusted Offensive Line assistant coach, a handful of supportive parents, assistant coaches AND winning, we were able to keep a lid on most of the conflict and drama. Let’s be honest here, winning doesn’t solve every problem, but it certainly quiets down many critics. Positive results validate the approach and we got those results.  At the end of the day, this was all about making sure those kids had a great last season of youth football, for some their last year of football. This wasn’t about creating drama, it was to get these kids to believe in themselves and that was accomplished.

While we struggled the first couple of weeks to find our footing with the coaches, players and parents, we came together and figured out something that worked for this unique equation. My biggest personal moments from the season was the tearful farewells and thank yous I got from the players and the subsequent texts and updates from them since leaving. The meeting of the minds with the assistant coach that I had the bad relationship with ranks up there, the hug we shared after the first round playoff win. Seeing all those rookie eighth grade kids finish the season, being able to joke about their initial fears and gaining from being a part of a competitive team was a big one. Seeing our kids talk about the new found respect they got from their classmates in school who were playing against them made me smile a bit. It was so much fun seeing these kids come together and believe that they could beat anyone they played and effort through to the final whistle in every game.

Many thanks are definitely in order. First and foremost, without the Mayor, this never happens. Without the Mayor the season and team crumbles. He was the ultimate people problem solver and a great sounding board for me personally. Without those daily workouts and breakfasts at his home, the whole endeavor might have been too much to bear. Many thanks to all the assistant coaches. They consistently attended practice and did their level best. They love their children and wanted the best for them and our team. For the most part they were open minded and supportive throughout a difficult process. They all chipped in with rides for kids and other odds and ends to make it all work. One coach spent a tremendous amount of time helping one of our struggling players succeed in school. Another coach had a son who was out with a season ending foot injury at mid-season, that coach never missed a practice. They were good guys trying to do their best.

It had to be tough seeing all the changes to how things were done, positions and playing time and I wasn’t always as diplomatic as I could have been. The former head coach was a class act, he is a real man in so many ways off the field. The parents were the Mayors responsibility, so my interactions with them were limited. Several initiated contact, were very positive, encouraging and liked the changes. On the other hand there were detractors as well, thank goodness we had several strong parents who stood up for the needed changes. So hats off to those parents which included the Mayors wife, one of our staunchest allies.

The players surprised me a bit, they were great kids. I hadn’t seen any film or met them prior to that first practice. They were pretty open to the new approach. Like most of the youth football teams I’ve coached, they struggled early on to understand the high level of precision and pace that was possible. Many kids latched on to the new way right away and thrived, others it took a while. The net is, these were great kids who were willing to work hard and they wanted to get better and win. There was little to no problems with attitude, effort, or accepting coaching with the all but a couple of players. While this was considered a tough “thug” area, these were great kids and we only had a single player who dropped due to grades.

Sparks High School was all in supporting us, making the journey much easier. From letting us store our dummies on site, to practice and game field access, these guys were top notch. When we had to go inside due to smoke from forest fires, they took care of us. When we needed lights to practice at night, there for us. Need kids to help simulate your upcoming opponent, sure glad to help. They even came to our games and got their cheerleaders to cheer for us for a game. They broke a 30 game losing streak last year and have a very good Freshman coaching staff, my hope is the kids they are getting from us can help make them competitive again.

Special thanks to the outside coaches that offered help and advice. Joe Cianflone my buddy from Florida was a sounding board for most of the season and then late in the season offered some hands on advice on defending the Wing T and Pistol, which ended up with us improving a lot of basic fundamental skills. Joe even watched some of our Hudl film and gave me hard expert feedback. Dan Schlager from Florida came down for 2 days early in the season to help on bringing the team together, I wish I could have gotten more of his time. I ran into Chuck Tremain a starting Nose Guard in the University of Nebraska early National Championship days. Chuck came down and offered some help late in the season and became a trusted friend.

Thanks to the SYFL league for all the hard work they do to make it possible for kids in the Reno area to play. Yes they get criticized a lot and their district attendance policy is abused, but it takes a lot of effort to make a league work.  There was no overt over the top poor sportsmanship displayed by any group of coaches, parents or players, with exception of our second game- the 5 unsportsmanlike penalties. The scheduling, the officiating and game fields were all of high quality. It certainly could have been much worse.

So thanks to all of the people mentioned above, the season was a huge success by many standards. Would I do it again? Commuting back and forth weekly from Reno to Nebraska was difficult and replicating all the positives Reno had into another environment would be tough, but I would be open to it under the right circumstances. Obviously the second time you do something, you know so much more about the situation and process, in many ways it is easier.

Hopefully by detailing the season, this helped other guys in similar situations. Can every bottom dwelling team be turned into a championship team overnight? No, but there are a lot of really bad teams that can become 5-5 teams with the right coaching approach. There are a lot of 4-6 teams that can be competing for league championships. Coaching matters, don’t let the naysayers tell you it doesn’t.

What I Would Have Done Differently Coaching Youth Football in 2014

Written by Dave on April 27th, 2015












For those of you that have been following along on my 2014 “Worst to First” youth football coaching odyssey, we had an amazing season. I took an eighth grade youth football team that had won about 6 games in 6 years and took them to a first ever winning season, first ever playoff win in a 13 team bracket, first ever semi-final berth, increased scoring from 104 to 413 points, beat several teams that had mercy ruled this team every season, several 30-40 and even 50 point turnarounds and 5 kids scored their first touchdowns ever.

But the season wasn’t without its challenges. We all need to look back at our seasons after the dust has settled to see what we might have done differently, in hindsight. This was a tough assignment and we did a lot of things really well, but there were things I could have done differently that would have improved the end result.

Arrive two weeks earlier to build numbers.

I should have gotten to Reno 2 weeks earlier than the start date in order to recruit players. The first step would have been going through past years rosters and contacting all the Running Back or Receiver types that had dropped out in the past. Step 2 would have been meeting with our players and parents to get their help in recruiting additional players from their family and friend network.If we were still short kids, there were plenty of apartment complexes and playgrounds in just a 1 mile radius to our practice field, we could have went door to door with fliers. This team was short on skill position players that had been recruited away by other teams over the last 6 years.Had we been able to fill our roster with athletic local players, our team may not have had all of the small non district rookie MPR players assigned to our team by the league. While I was glad to have them and they all made it to seasons end, 66 and 81 lb rookie eight grade players didn’t help our competitiveness. In my defense, the final team selection didn’t happen until July and I had a lot of loose ends to tie together before I could leave Nebraska.

Take the time to proactively develop personal relationships with all the coaches.

We had a coaching staff of 6 including me. I had very good relationships with “the Mayor” who was instrumental in bringing me to Reno and my Offensive Line and Nose Tackle assistant. The Mayor also coached Defensive Ends. The 2 coaches I worked with the most and spent the most time with away from the field were my most trusted and loyal coaches.Why was that? Because we knew each other. One coach I had breakfast with and worked out with 5 days a week, the other would often times give me rides to practice. I took an interest in his new career path and his family. Both coaches could confide in me and express their concerns in a reasonable and positive way. Both coaches desperately wanted to win and were totally open minded about how to get there. They were 100% committed and had bought in.The relationships with the other coaches was not close. It wasn’t that I was standoffish, we just didn’t develop a bond on a personal level. I made several gestures, but it wasn’t consistent and the relationships didn’t progress past the “tolerant” level until the last few weeks. It was on me for not making those relationships happen, instead I went to where my comfort level was, my 2 strong supporters.

Should have invested more time on the defensive side of the ball.

In the past I’ve always been about a 50/50 guy when it comes to practice time on offense and defense. Defense is just as important as offense and deserves half the practice time.That is what we did in Reno. But we averaged 41 points a game on offense, while on defense our first team defense gave up almost 20 points a game. While our team was woefully behind fundamentally on both sides of the ball, the offensive side was much easier to fix than the defensive side. Because of our lack of depth with skill players we defended poorly in space, we needed to devote more time to defense. While the scores may not have showed it, we did get better defensively the last 2 games, thanks to devoting 2/3 of that practice time to defense.

Should have spread myself thinner in position groups.

I always coach the Offensive and Defensive Lines and take great pride in helping to develop those players to their full positional. That is where I invested the majority of my time. We were struggling a bit at Defensive End, we just didn’t have 2 kids who could play that position well and had no other alternatives personnel wise, so I spent more time there than I usually do.

This was the Mayors position group and often times he was off doing his peacemaking thing, which had to be done. On the other hand my trusted Offensive Line assistant picked things up quickly and I totally trusted him, he was also coaching the Nose Tackles. I could have left him alone more and invested those minutes elsewhere.

My Linemen were on-board and we had little to no issues with their motivation, effort and buy in. I had good relationships with the line and with several kids very strong trust bonds. Those relationships were not as strong with the skill position kids. There was less trust, there because I hadn’t spent the time there.

In an attempt to let the coaches with the most experience, coach their position groups, I kind of took a back seat when it came to Linebacker and Defensive Back individual training on defense and Running Back and Receiver training on offense. Yes, I did coach them some in Indys and obviously in team, it was far less than the linemen group.

I should have come into camp in much better shape.

When it came to the 30 minutes of time I had with the Backs by themselves at the end of our practice, I had already been on the field coaching extremely hard for 120 minutes. I was worn out from coaching my position groups hard and bouncing all over the field trying to keep an ultra high tempo pace up for everyone. Over the course of my nearly 4 months in Reno I got into excellent shape, working with a personal trainer and dropping 18 lbs, I needed that energy early on.

Should have been harder on the coaches for coaching their positions on game day.

Since my personal relationships weren’t strong with several of our coaches and politically I needed them, I had a difficult time holding coaches accountable for game day coaching. Many of them were watching the game, not coaching the game. Unfortunately they would often times get chippy with the officials.The officiating was done by High School refs and they did a good job, we got the benefit of the doubt, more than we didn’t. While the behavior did improve some, it should have been much better.Since I was coaching the offense, defense and special teams, calling out the offensive formation/defensive alignment, calling plays and managing a pretty tough MPR playing time equation, I couldn’t coach all the position groups on game days. This hurt us, especially in the first Reed game loss.

Should have recruited a kicker and kicker coach.

While the local High School was in the middle of a 30 game losing streak, their soccer team was tops in the state and they practiced right next to us. Our PAT kick was worth 2 points in this league and we weren’t very good at it. I should have approached our team and that soccer coach with our need for a kicking specialist and asked for his help.

Looking back there were some other things here and there I would have done differently. There were some things we added in halfway through the season when it came to snaps and ball security, that I should have went to on the first day.

I should have started a kid “D” at Left End on offense instead of  favoring a kid who was showing a lot of improvement, efforting well and being obedient. “D” didn’t respond well early on to my coaching and had missed a couple of practices, but improved. The starter was already starting at Defensive End, I didn’t rectify this until the last game.

I shouldn’t have made a negative comment aloud about how the High School team was practicing. That was uncalled for and hurt the feelings of one of our coaches. The High School bent over backwards to help us and later in the season even let us use the lighted field at night and sent over their cheerleaders to cheer for us in our big game against Reed.

At the end of the day, it’s all on us as coaches. You get what you coach and while we did well, I felt I left some meat on the bone. We lost 2 kids during the season, we didn’t retain them all. We won 7 games and scored 413 points, we mercy ruled a team 41-6 that they had lost to be over 40 the previous year, we won a playoff game against a team that had mercy ruled these kids every season that they had met, but the top 2 teams we couldn’t quite get over something that looked like a high jump bar, rather than an attainable high hurdle. .

Semi Final Matchup Game Time- Worst to First Youth Football

Written by Dave on April 23rd, 2015

sparks reed












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.