The Spread Offense For Youth Football? Not If You Are Coaching Non-Select Kids

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The Spread Offense For Youth Football? Not If You Are Coaching Non-Select Kids

Make sure your data is real world when deciding on an offensive direction

I attended a “youth soccer” session at a coaching clinic in the last 3 months which still bothers me. We will not go into where the clinic was or who the speaker was, that is not important, what is important is the issue of how we as coaches interpret data that is presented to us. At this clinic, the data was completely false and flawed, making the speakers believe that “ALL” youth football teams could be running his system incorrectly.

There are many very talented youth soccer coaches who know their stuff. They may have coached youth ball for decades and clearly understand what average kids can and cannot do. They understand that even with the best coaching on the planet and even practicing 4-5 days a week, there are certain things that most average skilled kids just can’t do.

Decisions, Decisions

On the other hand, there are also plenty of fathers who are pressed into coaching youth football who are not sure what to get from the typical grouping of unselected football players. Some of this group sell the kids short and don’t get as advanced as they should, but many others think that their kids are mini NFL players and put them in systems and techniques that the average player has very little chance to succeed with . The good coaches with all the experience are usually in the middle of these two extremes and put their children in a system that is the right “fit”.

Clinic Sales Job

Now back to the coaching clinic, the speaker seemed to be a very articulate, well-educated, well-intentioned person who knew the game well. He played Division I football and had a pretty well organized presentation, he had credibility. His topic was the spread passing game for youth football. His starting point was that anyone could run a spread past game down to 9 years old and be successful with it, all it took was a commitment and a lot of practice. He preached it and the first time 9 year old head coach sat in front of me, nodded his “amens” and bought it hook line and sinker.

The presenter demonstrated some well-thought-out foundations for youth quarters and even had a nice film of an impressive 10-year-old passerby. The coach did admit that he had coached this player since he was 7 years old, including extensive off-season individual training in the off-season. Now I don’t know about your teams, but I just don’t have year-round access to my players or the time to aggressively coach my kids individually year-round.

Here’s where it gets tricky

The presenter also showed extensive team film clips that not only showed some very well executed spread passing plays, but some very nice zone blocking runs as well. The unusual thing about these clips was that each player was wearing a different colored helmet.

Not a fair comparison

When I politely asked him why the helmets were different colors, he said because this was an all-star team and each player used his own teams helmet. They were also clips from 13-14 years old. Come to find out, the players on this all-star team were chosen from a cast of thousands.

He didn’t have minimum players to find playing time for, he had the best player on 40+ teams. Imagine what you could do if you had the best player on every team in your area. Or imagine if you could clone your best player and make 40 more of him. What could you run then? What 13-14-year-olds can do is also somewhat different from what 9-year-old rookies can do

The Real World Not Fantasy Land

Not only does the average youth coach have to find some playing time for every player on our teams, but we probably have to start several kids on our offensive line who are best described as minimal players. In zone blocking one of the key premises is for your offensive linemen to get movement on a double team, come out of the double team and block the near linebacker in space.

Now I don’t know about your league, but in the 6 that I have coached on the other teams, the best, fastest and most athletic kids play linebacker. In zone block my minimum play player (least athletic player on the team) offensive lineman is going to block the other teams best player, in space, on the move after getting the move on a double team? Really, in real life, not in an imaginary well-intentioned parallel universe? Not on your typical unselected youth soccer team on planet earth. Do we have children who can make that block? Certainly, but not very much that can do it consistently and zero of my even most aggressively coached minimum play players.

Be careful

Be careful what data you use to determine what you should and shouldn’t run in youth football. Don’t fall in love with clips of some football plays performed well by a bunch of hand-picked “studs”. All-star teams selected from casts of thousands are not the example most youth coaches can teach. I only coached “select” football for one year, in 2003, it’s a different animal, but even then we only selected from about 150 kids, not thousands.

Almost anyone can put together a series of highlights if they coach long enough. That’s why we sell full season DVDs of my teams. Unselected kids, every snap of every game for the season so you can see for yourself what average kids (and minimal players) can do with average amounts of practice time over the course of an entire season.

Let me say that I don’t think this coach is evil or meant to intentionally mislead coaches into doing something that had little chance of succeeding, he just doesn’t clearly understand the boat most of us are in. Please don’t misquote me, I’m a big believer in the pass, my teams have often led the league in passing touchdowns. Heck my age 7-9 team threw for 11 touchdowns last season in only 9 games. What I am saying is that it is extremely rare for non-select youth teams to consistently move the ball with zone blocking and spread passing without a “freak” grouping of players.

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