The Breakdown Stance
(Teaching Fundamentals in Youth Football)
By Coach Alvin Poole
So, here are a couple of scenarios to consider. The first one goes like this: It’s third and long. Your defense is on the field and you really need to stop the offense on this play so you can get the ball back and hopefully score quickly. The offense lines up in a one back set. When the ball is snapped, the quarterback drops back and all the receivers go out on their designated routes, occupying all of your defensive backs. While the quarterback is looking downfield and your defensive line is attempting to apply pressure, you notice the back making his way out towards the near sideline. All of a sudden, the quarterback turns in his direction and throws him the ball on a swing pass/bubble pass. You now see that your trusty middle linebacker saw this and has drawn a bead on the running back. The running back catches the ball and turns up field. Now, you know that your linebacker is going to make this tackle, but to your horror, you watch your linebacker leave his feet four yards away from the back in order to make that “killer”, big hit. Unfortunately, the running back takes one step sideways like a champion bull fighter dodging a charging bull and all your linebacker comes up with is a mouthful of grass. The running back goes up field gaining enough yards for the first down and then some, before the other defensive backs manage to bring him down.
Or . . . consider this: You are on offense and it is third and short. You know your offensive line has been dominating the defensive line, so you call Iso right. Your lead back comes out of his stance standing straight up, and hits the hole running way too high. The linebacker reads the play and steps up to meet your lead back and because the linebacker is lower than he is, stuffs your lead back into the hole causing your ball carrier to get stopped short of first down yardage.
You reevaluate to discover what happened in these two scenarios. You conclude it was the correct defense called. You called the right play on offense. However, you realize that your players have a bad habit of blocking/tackling too high.
Fundamental techniques play a very important role in youth football. It’s always the fundamentals that separate the champions from the could haves/should haves. The breakdown stance is one of those fundamentals for me. As a matter of fact it is THE most important one for me. It is THE most Fundamental of all the fundamentals. It is so important, it is the first thing I teach on the first day of camp or practice. I also continue to teach it and go over it every practice and pre-game warm up. Breakdown stance is the basic fundamental stance that almost every sport is played. Think soccer, basketball, tennis, well . . . maybe not golf. But definitely football.
Breaking down Breakdown
When I begin teaching the breakdown stance, I break it down into four different phases. I use USA Football’s terminology. We start with “Feet”. When I yell out feet, the players check their feet to make sure they are shoulder width apart and pointing straight ahead. Second, I yell out “Wings”. This means their chest is out with shoulder blades squeezed together, arms straight and behind back with palms out. Third is “Sink”. This tells them to bend hips and knees to 45 degrees and head up. Knees should be straight, not bowed in or out. Finally, I say “hands”. This means bring your arms forward, with elbows bent and tucked in to the sides of the body and hands up and open with thumbs touching and fingers spread apart.
In the beginning we do this several times to get the players used to the progression. At each progression we fit and freeze so coaches can check proper position and technique. Eventually we progress to just yelling out “Breakdown” and the players snap to the position. We may give a “ready” call prior so the kids can get their feet in position. Finally, we can give the single command of “Ready, Breakdown!!” Once in this position, I commonly have to correct those players who become lazy and don’t want to bend hips and/or knees to “sink your hips”.
Muscle Memory and Muscle Strength
Try this experiment. Stand up, if you are not standing. Now, relax your knees. As you can see, you are able to maintain a standing position with your quad muscles in a nearly complete relaxed position. Just take your hands and poke or squeeze your thigh muscles while standing up. They are pretty loose, aren’t they? Standing does not require that much firing of the leg muscles. Now, put yourself in the perfect breakdown stance as described above. Now, feel your quads. Here’s the challenge. Hold this position for ONE MINUTE!! This is what we do to our team first, on the first day of practice and every day afterwards for several reps each day. This accomplishes two things. First, it helps us as coaches determine which players have weak leg muscles, so we can address this during our practices (somewhat). Secondly, freezing in this position for prolonged periods, creates muscle memory. Youth ball players don’t take to this position naturally. That’s why you see linebackers and defensive backs standing up straight, or in what I call the baseball player stance – knees straight, bent at the waist and hands on knees. Weak legs is why you see a lot of youth linemen in horrible three/four point stances – butts high in the air or in a frog stance. They cannot maintain the midrange muscle position that the proper 2/3/4 point stance requires. Also, you must remember having weak legs (quads and glutes) is the main culprit in poor blocking/tackling habits. So, work on that leg strength. Create muscle memory. Fit and freeze in breakdown. Spend a few minutes every day in practice on this.
Cocked and Ready to Fire!!
While you are doing your own personal experiment with breakdown on yourself (it works really well in front of a mirror), and your quads are screaming and burning like fire, poke your quads with your fingers or try to squeeze them. As you can tell, your muscles are fully engaged and are firing at 100%. Your muscles are now ready to literally SPRING and EXPLODE into action when it is time to move. When your muscle fibers are relaxed, they first have to “cock” into firing position before they can go into action. This takes time. It’s just like a revolver handgun. If the hammer is already back in the cocked position, it takes less effort and time to squeeze the trigger and fire the gun. However, if the hammer is in the relaxed position, it’s harder to squeeze the trigger and takes more time because the hammer has to “cock back” and then go forward to hit the bullet in the chamber. The same goes for your ball players. When they are in the proper breakdown or 2/3/4 point stance, it takes less time and effort for them to get off the ball!! Also, they will have more power generated at the point of contact.
Although we hardly ever see the “Perfect” block or tackle, as coaches, we should always set perfection as our standard and goal. Also as coaches, we need to work really hard to make sure every player on our team can do a perfect breakdown stance. From there, we should strive to make sure our players can perform a perfect 3 or 4 point stance. Remember, Fundamentals is the key.
Breakdown for the Tackle
In the first scenario above, the linebacker actually left his feet and the RB did the perfect ole`. But what if you as the coach had trained him to “breakdown” on the tackle? When a player is able to run up to an opponent then breakdown, bringing his body under control, the tackler or blocker, will be able to adjust their position “under control” to what the ball carrier or blocker is about to do. Therefore, your player has a less likely chance of missing at the point of the attack.
A Case In Point
Back in December, I went with my family to watch the last two Texas High School State Championship games at NRG stadium, here in Houston. The last game pitted a local powerhouse, Katy High School and another powerhouse Austin Lake Travis. Both teams were undefeated on the season. However, Katy proved to be the better of the two mainly because, in my opinion, Katy is both fundamentally sound and very physical. A very rare combination. During the course of the game, the Katy quarterback threw an interception. The defensive back who made the pick was making his toward a pick six, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the quarterback (of all people) made the most perfect tackle I had seen all year at any level of football. He came up, broke down, made contact and exploded through the ball carrier. They replayed it on the jumbo tron a couple of times to the delight of the Katy fans. As I said, Katy is a powerhouse in Texas. They don’t have a lot of superstar athletes, but they have made back to back to back to back trips to our state’s championship game. They have won several championships (eight I think) in recent years and routinely go through the regular season undefeated.
Take The Time
As a youth football coach, I know how tempting it is to jump right into the x’s and o’s of your playbook. However, execution of said plays is highly dependent on proper technique. As a coach, I set very high but attainable standards for my players. I make sure they are able to accomplish whatever task I give them by equipping them with the proper tools. The Breakdown stance is one of those tools. If I discover that our players are having problems with the breakdown stance, because they have weak legs, we do things to build leg strength and power, like free standing squats, mountain hiking, froggers or bunny hops, lunges, all during conditioning camp. During the season, we may do more sled work if one is available. But we still fit and freeze in breakdown. If you, as a coach ignore this, it causes bigger problems down the line, like poor 2/3/4 point stances. Poor blocking and tackling technique and a host of other bad habits. So, take the time as a coach to focus on fundamentals. It pays off in dividends in the long run.
So, now everyone, get your feet ready, aaaannnnndddd . . . BREAKDOWN!!!
Coach Poole’s Bio:
I live on the north side of Houston, TX in the Spring area. Professionally, I am a Physical Therapist Assistant and work in a hospital in the Spring area. I have been coaching youth football for the past twenty years. I coach in the All American Youth Football and Drill Team (AAYFDT) league, www.AAYFDT.org. For the past thirteen seasons, I have been affiliated with the AAYFDT Westfield Cowboys and Cowgirls, (www.WestfieldCowboys.com) as a coach or board member. I have two kids. My daughter, who is a high school senior this year, and my son who is a high school freshman, and one heck of a football player!! My wife of twenty years, Kandi, is a high school choir director in a nearby district. We both love working with and mentoring the kids in our community. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at: email@example.com