Play my best 11 in Youth Football?
On many of the coaching forums I frequent a question similar to “Should I play my best 11 or risk sacrificing wins by involving more players?” comes up often and always sparks quite a bit of discussion. Before sharing my thoughts on this question, I should provide a little background on my coaching experiences. For the past seven seasons (6 as 5/6th grade, 1 as 7/8th grade) I have coached in a league that does not have any type of minimum play rules. The first two of those seven seasons I coached on staffs where the philosophy was to always have our best players on the field until the game was no longer in doubt. At the end of season two and after our team finished with another subpar record, I started to question our approach. During this time, I kept thinking about two brothers that I coached as part of our backfield. They were always at practice. They always tried to do what was asked of them and they always did it with a great attitude. In short, they were great kids. The problem was that they were small and just weren’t as gifted athletically as some of the other running backs. Keeping with our philosophy of always having our best players on the field, these two young men got little to no playing time in games. How discouraging that must have been for them to put their game uniform on every game day knowing that they would probably not see the field. The more I thought about it the more I was embarrassed that we allowed this to happen. Though it wasn’t our intent, we were discouraging these boys, as well as others from playing football by the way we were coaching. We were doing this while not improving our results in the Win column. As I continued to evaluate our situation, I came to the conclusion that it just didn’t make sense to continue with our strategy if we weren’t winning games. Ultimately I began to ask myself the question, if you win and don’t involve all of your players, are you really winning?
If your goal isn’t to create the best experience you can for your players while striving to find areas where all of your player can contribute, I don’t believe you are winning despite what the scoreboard says. I would go further to say this type of approach is as equally damaging to youth football as the recent concussion scare. Keep in mind I am not part of “everyone gets a trophy crowd”. I believe that players earn the right to play and if they are coming to practice, listening to coaches, and trying to do what the coaches ask, they have earned time on the field whether you have minimum play rules or not. With a little work, offensive and defensive schemes can be employed to maximize player involvement while still being competitive. If you agree with this point of view, but just don’t know where to start, shoot me an email using the form below and I will be glad to share with you some of things that we have used the past couple of years.