I was driving with my wife and family on Sunday discussing with my her some of the conversations I had with youth football coaches over the phone this week. In many ways she is much smarter than me and looks at things through perspectives I rarely consider. She astutely recognized that youth football players have no clue if the scheme they are being taught is fundamentally sound, age appropriate or is being taught correctly. In most cases they look up to their coaches because of the position the coach holds and views him as the expert. In the youth football players mind, if they are failing with the scheme and or technique it is because they are not a very good football player and never will be. But the truth is when they fail, it is often because the scheme makes no sense for the age, practice time, coaching expertise and skill level of the player and team. How would they know?
Something like a zone blocking scheme where the youth player has to read the defensive front, make line calls, double team block the first level, come off the block at the exact right time to then go block a moving linebacker is impossible for 95% of youth linemen to do. The youth football player has no idea or perspective that what the coach is asking him to do is impossible at his age, experience level and with his athleticism. He most likely thinks he is not good enough, never will be good enough, won’t have much success in football and he quits. He becomes part of the 70% of all youth players who NEVER go on to play High School football per a Michigan State study. Most kids are going to determine if they feel they can play the game in their first season or two. If they feel they can’t compete, most often they move on to something else, in today’s world there are MANY choices.
In all likelihood if the player is playing on a youth football team using something like a zone blocking scheme, his team is losing most of its games. My research has shown teams that consistently lose also have significantly higher drop rates than those teams that are competitive. Add up the two and you have a recipe for lots of kids not going on to play “at the next level”, the supposed goal of many of the guys using this type of scheme.
Help your youth football players stick with the game by wisely coaching the game. Pick schemes that allow your players to have some success even if they aren’t great athletes. Heck, pick schemes that don’t require great athletes so your teams can succeed and even thrive. Zone blocking and spread offenses are some of the main culprits of getting kids to quit in youth football. If a player can’t taste some individual success and some team success, in most likelihood he won’t be playing the game very long. If this is your team, as a youth football coach you will have failed in performing one of your most important jobs, retaining kids and getting them to fall in love with the game of football.
Put the kids in schemes that anyone can do, like great angle down blocks, wedge blocks, double teams and with a simple and easily to teach blocking rule. Don’t use complex blocking rules that require kids to recognize fronts, make line calls and block players they have no chance of making a block on. Doing so will only frustrate the kids and you and lead to unnecessary turnover on your team. You will have failed in what I consider your main duty.
Everything we suggest in the books and DVDs is time tested and has been successful with a wide variety of youth football teams. Some teams had players, many had very few, some teams had experienced coaches and many had rookie coaches. That is one of the main reasons I coached 5 different teams in the last 6 seasons in different leagues, with 4 different coaching staffs. It didn’t matter, it worked with them all.
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