What makes a great youth coach? Is it their youth football playbook?
Or is it undefeated seasons? City championships? Some might think winning is the criteria.
For coaches at the high school, college and pro levels, where jobs are tied to winning, championships set the bar for greatness. But youth coaches have a much higher calling.
Your duty is to develop these young players and – even more important – leave a lasting impression with them that encourages their love of the sport.
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For a youth coach, the focus is on winning tomorrow, not today. Some coaches get caught up in running fancy offenses that they only partially understand. Some coaches try to mimic what their high school team is running.
So what is the right offense to run at the youth level? The best gift you can give these players and future coaches is to run an offense that teaches “football plays.” That means teaching the plays that are in every offense.
So no matter where your young athletes go next, they have a foundational understanding of whatever concept they have to learn.
The high school where I coach runs a flexbone triple option offense. As much as we would love the players growing up in our community learning and running these type of plays, the truth is we they will be better prepared for us by gaining an overall understanding of how and why plays work.
And the time that we as high school coaches spend on teaching the offense just can’t be duplicated at the youth level.
Whether you run out of shotgun or under center, here are some must haves in your youth football playbook on offense. Once the players understand the concept behind these plays, they will gain a foundation on which they can build their football knowledge.
6 Key Youth Football Playbook Concepts
Lead play. This is a great play for lineman to learn drive block and how to get defensive players out of holes. Your lead blocker will search out a linebacker while the ball-carrier follows through the hole, reads that block, makes a cut and gets upfield. Make sure that your receivers are involved with blocking this play as well. Have them find work and never stand around. Quarterbacks must carry out fakes to help keep defenders home.
Dive play. Similar to the lead play, this teaches basic blocking skills for linemen, who will base block and drive defenders off the line of scrimmage. Your quarterback must get the snap cleanly and have good footwork to make a quick handoff to the back. Again, even though this is a very quick hitting play, quarterbacks and receivers must do their post-snap jobs.
Counter or trap play. This teaches linemen how to down block and pull. This will take a little more time, but you will create a positive vibe for blockers and instill the pride that they can do it. Your QB and backs learn some different footwork in order to make the plays work. The counter is a great play to get a wing back involved in carrying the ball.
Toss or outside play. Getting to the edge is important. Your linemen will use an outside zone or reach step to try and hook the defender in their playside gap. The goal is to get your fastest players on the outside for a big play. Your QB will either make a pitch or a long handoff, and if the ball-carrier has a gap, he can plant his foot in the ground and cut upfield to get good yards. It is very important for receivers to be able to hold their blocks as this play takes a little longer to develop. QBs need to carry out a boot fake away from the play.
Play action pass. With much of the emphasis on running the ball at the youth level, coaches still can open up their offenses and throw a little as well. Remember, we are trying to develop these players. We want our QBs to practice doing these things now to gain confidence and experience. An easy play to set up is a fake off of any of the run plays above. The offensive line fires out, stays low and makes it look like a run play, but we must make sure they know they cannot go downfield on a pass play. Your QB needs to make a good fake and hit the receiver for a huge play. This also is an opportunity to teach your receivers a double move. Even if you only call this once or twice a game, these are important skills for players to learn.
Designed pass play. Depending on the age and ability of your quarterbacks, you should have a couple of designed pass plays in your playbook. The line works on a pass set for a simple man-on-man pass protection. Backs get some blocking work, and receivers learn routes and get more involved in the offense. Some good basic routes are hitch, slant, out and go.
By incorporating these simple plays in your youth football playbook, you provide your players a chance to contribute and learn the game.
They then will be able to watch a college or pro game and recognize that they are doing the same types of things. This fills them with confidence to continue their football careers and grow to love the game like we have.