Lesson #2 from a Youth Football Coach
Lessons from a Youth Football Coach
By Coach Ronnie Atkinson
I’ve coached many youth sports over the past few years, but nothing near the magnitude of a tackle youth football team. I learned a few valuable lessons in year one that other rookie coaches could surely benefit from.
My priorities for our youth football team are the following:
To accomplish #1, we would create a safe environment and coach sound fundamentals. To accomplish #2, we would give as much exposure to as many kids as possible. I would achieve this by choosing the best systems for our team.
I started with defense because “Defense wins Championships” and if our opponent cannot score on us, we can’t lose. I needed a simple defense so I could focus my defensive teaching time on tackling fundamentals and so I could spend more time on offense. After some research, I decided that the Gap, Air, Mirror (GAM) defense was a very simple install that encourages aggressive play.
As it turns out, it was a great defense for a first year tackle youth football team. The GAM is great at defending the sweep. At the younger levels, if you stop the sweep, you win (most of the time). Only one team scored on us all season long. They would not have scored on us at all if not for a few breakdowns that I will discuss in future lessons.
For offense, I needed to keep it simple and wanted to limit our playbook to 12 plays. I wanted an offensive scheme that was run focused (because passing is not very effective at the younger ages) and I wanted to give as many players as possible an opportunity to carry the football. Realizing that most teams rely on the sweep and as such, the better coached teams will be able to stop the sweep, I wanted an offense that did not rely on the sweep to be effective. I researched extensively in this area and for my goals and the talent I had available, I chose the Double Wing offense.
Of our 19 players, about six of them were quality ball carriers. Of those, I selected the one that stayed calm under pressure as our Quarterback. He was also one of three kids on the team with any previous tackle youth football experience. I used speed as the deciding factor for my starting Wingbacks and Fullback. The Quarterback choice was great, but two of the three others were not as good. You see, the Double Wing offense is about gaining 5 yards per carry by powering through the defense via the Super Power and/or the Wedge. One Wingback and my Fullback had a tendency to hesitate and dance around in the backfield rather than follow their blockers.
Overall our offense was great as we led our league in scoring. Using the Wedge, I was able to give every single weight eligible player on the team an opportunity to carry the ball into the end zone accomplishing goals #2 and #3 above. The kids had a blast!
Next season I will choose my starting backfield based on their tendencies to NOT hesitate or dance around, but rather trust and follow their lead blockers. I will also introduce drills like the Chaser Drill that will hopefully train runners to hit the hole more quickly. I will also choose to master a smaller playbook before moving on. I learned that 12 plays was too much to truly master at the very young age levels.
There are several youth friendly Offensive and Defensive Systems available. I recommend these over a non-system offenses and defenses. The more popular offenses are Double Wing, Single Wing, and Wing T. The more popular defenses are the Wide Tackle 6, 6-3, 3-3 Stack, and the aforementioned GAM. Choosing a particular offense or defense will not guarantee your youth football team victories, but they will give you an edge when all other variables are equal.
Coach Atkinson coaches a 4th Grade team in Edmond, Oklahoma.