Youth Basketball Practice Plan – Part 2

Youth Basketball Practice Plan – Part 2

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery


Basketball PracticeWith the new basketball season upon us we thought we should expand on one of our previous posts concerning Youth Basketball Practice Planning and provide details on how we build our practice plans.  First, we determine what areas we want to focus on in every practice.  Like many Youth Basketball teams, we have limited practice and gym time so we know we can’t be great at everything.  Thus, we narrow our focus to 3 areas. For our teams that means attacking the basket off the break, defense, and rebounding.  If we do nothing else in a practice, we are going to work on those 3 areas.  Next we like to prioritize what other areas we want to focus on.  For example, half-court offense, out of bounds plays, press break, etc.  We then build our schedule in 5 – 10 minute segments.  It is worth noting that at times when we are introducing a concept or drill, we may go longer than 5 or 10 minutes, but we strive to go no longer than 20 minutes.  Below is a sample of the format we have used that has worked well for us over the years:

Wall Time Duration Drill Notes Drill Example Coach
7:30 PM 5 Defensive Closeout (No Ball) Coaching Points Coach

Wall Time

We include Wall Time help us keep on schedule.  As much as we plan and try to stay on plan, there are times where we might get off script.  When this happens and we want to get back on schedule we use Wall Time to simply determine where in practice we need to be.


Duration is simply the number of minutes we are planning for that portion of the practice.  Again, we strive to keep these in 5 to 10 minute segments wherever possible.


The name we use to refer to the Drill.


We use the Notes section for any Coaching Points we may want to emphasize for that Drill.

Drill Example

Video link showing an example of the Drill.


Coach assigned to running the Drill.


To further illustrate we have included a complete Sample of one of our early season practice plans:

Fullscreen Mode

If you are curious to learn more about the system we use, we encourage you take a look at our Attack the Tin System. If you need more drill ideas, we recommend you visit our library of youth basketball drills.

Special Teams In Youth Football

Special Teams in Youth Football


For many Youth Football Coaches Special Teams are one of the more challenging phases of the game to coach.  In our post below we share some of the strategies and tips that we have acquired and used.


Unless we have a commanding lead, we prefer to utilize onside kicks to keep the ball away from the opposing team’s best players in space.  Below is the “A” option of our version of the “ABC” kickoff which is combination of an onside kick we learned from and Ted Seay’s “ABC” kickoff.

For additional details, check out our ABC Kickoff – Onside Kick Strategies blog post.


Kickoff Return

Over the years we have used a couple of different Kickoff Returns, but the one we favor is the Trap Return from Coach Cisar at  Below is an example of one of our teams running this return.  You may notice that there is a flag on the play that was due to an unnecessary hold.

Another return that we’ve had some success with is John T. Reed’s Off-Tackle Return.

Punt Return

For us a good Punt Return has always been a little difficult to get setup, but one that has worked best for us has been the Wall Return.  We have used it both when basing out of the Wide Tackle Six and the Gregory 6-3 defenses.  Below is an example of the Wall Return out of a 6-3 alignment.

Wall Return


Punt Block

Our Punt Block attempts to attack every gap in hopes that one of our players is able to have a free run to the Punter.  Below is an example of our Punt Block when basing out of the Gregory 6-3.

Punt Block

If your league observes ball carrier weight restrictions, but allows players over that limit to punt but not advance the ball, we like the following Punt Block.

Punt Block 2



Much like our Kickoff Return, we do not want to kick the ball to one our opponent’s best player in space.  For that reason, when we are in situations where we absolutely have to punt we instruct the punter to angle the punt to a sideline to cut the field in half and lessen the amount of space that has to be defended.


Punt Fake

Because we like utilizing Wedge Blocking, we also like to leverage it as part of our Punt Fake.  Below is an example of a Punt Fake that we employ that we acquired from


PAT Block

Our PAT Block looks very similar to our Punt Block when the Punter is over the ball carrier weight with the exception that we move our Mike inside the DE and CB on the Kicker’s plant foot side.

PAT Block

Our logic is that since many leagues award 2 points for a kick verses 1 for a run or pass, the chances for a fake are very slim.

If you are searching for additional help with your Special Teams, we encourage you to take a look at our Special Teams (Long Snapping, Punting, EP/FG) clinic, as well as Coach Parker’s site.

Helmet Award System for Youth Football

Helmet Award System for Youth Football


Helmet Award SystemAs a youth football player, I loved receiving recognition in the way of helmet stickers.  What I didn’t like as a lineman was the disparity between awards for “unskilled” verses “skilled” positions.  One of my most vivid memories as a youth football player was our Quarterback receiving 7 stickers for scoring 7 touchdowns in one game and all I received for blocking for him on each of those scores was 1.  Because of this experience we came up with the following Helmet Award System to be more team focused and recognize the contributions of all players:



  • Score on the First Series of the game.
  • Score on the First Series of the second half.
  • Score 21 points or more.
  • No Turnovers
  • Victory


  • Every wedge play that goes for 10 yards or more.


  • Center

    • Perfect Snaps
  • Receiver/Running Back

    • Pass Catch
  • Running Back

    • Pass Completion
    • Tackled while carrying out fake.
  • ALL

    • Defender legally blocked to the ground.



  • Only allow 7 points or less.


  • Force a fumble
  • Fumble recovery
  • Interception
  • Tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

Special Teams


  • Punt Block
  • Extra Point Block
  • Kickoff return for a Touchdown.
  • Punt return for a Touchdown.


  • Force a fumble
  • Fumble recovery

If you like us love to give out Awards to your team and are looking for high quality Helmet Stickers, we highly suggest you visit our friends at

Minimum Play Tips and Tricks

Minimum Play Tips for Youth Football


Minimum PlayersWith the new season just around the corner and as a follow-up to our recent blog post concerning Minimum Play Goals in Youth Football, we thought it might be valuable to share some of the Minimum Play strategies we have picked up through the years.  Please keep in mind that the intent of each of these strategies is to maximize player involvement while still being competitive and may or may not apply to your particular situation.

Time Management

Assuming a typical youth football game has around 60 plays and you have 2 Minimum Play (MMP) type players on the field for each play, that gives you a total of 120 (60 x 2) plays to meet your Minimum Play requirements.  If you are like us and want everyone to get their plays in prior to the 4th quarter, you really only have 90 plays to work with.  Since you can’t put more time on the clock, what can you do to increase the number of plays?

Tip #1

Consider going No Huddle with your Offense.  Think about the amount of time used during a game just huddling.  There are many advantages going No Huddle and one of those is the ability to run more plays than a huddling team.  If you just increase the number of plays run during the course of a typical game by 10%, you have added an additional 9 (90 x .10) plays that can be used to satisfy your play requirements.

Tip #2

Use your timeouts at the end of the first half to stretch out the game and create more play opportunities.  At the higher levels of football, it is a sound strategy when having the ball late in the first half without much chance of scoring to run out the clock so that you don’t give your opponent an opportunity for a big play.   Unlike the higher levels, we as youth coaches are concerned with getting plays for all of our players.  For more detail concerning this tip, we suggest you take a look at Coach Dave Cisar’s Creatively Managing the Minimum Play Issue in Youth Football blog post.


Tip #3

Leverage formations to help your weaker players.  Some examples:

  • Use an unbalanced line and place your weaker players on the “Quick Side”.Unbalanced Line
  • Split a Receiver or Running Back out wide.  This will typically move a Cornerback out away from the point of attack to cover that player for fear of a pass.  Split Formation

Tip #4

If you prefer a balanced line, consider flipping your offensive line and having a strong/wall side and weak/quick side placing your weaker players on the “Weak Side”.

Flipping O-line

For more detail concerning flipping your offensive line, we suggest you take a look at our Flipping Offensive Lineman blog post.

Tip #5

Consider creating a Beast or Wedge team made up primarily of MMP players.  This is especially an effective strategy when coupled with Tip #2.


Tip #6

Consider utilizing the Cisar Wide Tackle 6 or Gregory 6-3 where you can utilize the two Defensive Guard positions to rotate players in.  If you prefer an odd fronted defense instead, we suggest you take a look at the 73 Bandit and 7-Diamond Defenses.

Tip #7

Designate boundary and field Cornerbacks.  This strategy allows you to rotate players at the Cornerback position when the ball is either on the left or right hash where they don’t have to defend as much space.

Special Teams

Tip #8

Utilize onside kicks on kickoffs.  We suggest taking a look at our version of the “ABC” kickoff where three spots can be utilized for MMP players.

Tip #9

On kickoff return utilize the two positions on the front line nearest the sidelines for your MMP players.

Kickoff Return

As youth football coaches, it is our job to try and find places where all of our players can add value and find success.  Though each of these tips will cause more work for your coaching staff, in the end they will hopefully help make it a more enjoyable experience for your players.

Minimum Play Goals

Minimum Play Goals in Youth Football


If you have visited our site before, you know something that we feel strongly about in Youth Football is getting all our players on the field. We also strongly believe that whether your Youth Football league mandates minimum play rules or not each team should have minimum play goals.  Below is a guide that we have used based on our roster size:

Number of Players Number of Plays
31+ 8
23 – 30 10
18 – 22 12
17 and fewer 14

If you are looking for minimum play strategies, we recommend that you take a look at one or our past twitter chats where coaches shared various ways they keep all of their players engaged, as well as one of our past blog posts covering Flipping Offensive Lineman.  If you are looking for help tracking minimum plays, we suggest that you visit and check out their Minimum Play Planning Worksheet.

More Fun with Youth Football Formations

More Fun with Youth Football Formations

(Using Formations and Adjustments in Youth Football)


If you have visited our site before you know we like playing around with Youth Football Alignment Rules and Nuances, as well as Formation Adjustments to try and gain an advantage over the defense.  You will also know that we are big believers in understanding the advantages a formation or adjustment gives you while maintaining the ability to run much of your base offense.  In this blog posts we are going to explore a Single Wing formation adjustment that we stumbled upon when watching Ishpeming High School in Michigan a few years back that we believe will give youth football defenses fits.


If you are a fan of Single Wing football, you might notice that this formation looks very similar to Coach Dave Cisar’s Double Formation with the Quarterback/Blocking Back moved onto the line of scrimmage.

Formation Advantages

Besides having some of the inherent advantages of the Single Wing Formation/Offense, we believe the formation gives you these additional benefits:

  1. Is it Balanced or Unbalanced?  Many youth football defenses struggle to recognize unbalanced formations and we believe this further adds to alignment recognition challenges.
  2. There is now an additional gap to be defended between Q and the left (E)nd position.
  3. For leagues where the end man on the line of scrimmage must be under a certain weight limit (ball carrier weight), we can get a larger player at the left (E)nd position since we are covering them with Q.  This allows us to get a little more push on (F)ullback Powers or ISOs than we would get otherwise.  More about ISOs later.


Formation Disadvantages

When using a formation to gain a certain advantage you typically also introduce some disadvantages:

  1. Because Q is covering the left (E)nd position they are no longer an eligible receiver.
  2. Because Q is typically a blocker on strong side plays in our base formation, we are losing a blocker at the point of attack.

Ishpeming Power

Run to the Bubble

So we’ve seen some of the advantages and disadvantages of this formation, but how Ishpeming School appeared to use this formation is what really intrigued us.  What Ishpeming seemed to do with a great deal of success was have the (T)ailback and (F)ullback look for bubbles in the defense and run ISO to those gaps with either F leading for T or vice versa.


For those teams already running No Huddle with a Single Wing Offense/System this looks to be a simple yet powerful add.

If you are looking for more information concerning the Single Wing, we highly recommend that you visit  In our opinion there is no better or more complete Single Wing system for youth football than you will find there.  We also suggest that you take a look at our Single Wing Clinic recordings.

If you are interested in checking out some of our past posts concerning youth football formations, see the links below:




Youth Football Drills

Youth Football Drills

drillsIt’s that time of year that many of us youth football coaches are deep into planning for our upcoming season by working on our practice plans and thinking about what drills we will use.  Over the last several years we have been able to compile a list of quality football drills.  Our list includes drills for Offense, Defense, and Special Teams.  We have even included some Flag Football drills.

The Breakdown Stance in Youth Football

The Breakdown Stance 

(Teaching Fundamentals in Youth Football)

By Coach Alvin Poole


Coach PooleSo, 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 Fundamentals

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,  For the past thirteen seasons, I have been affiliated with the AAYFDT Westfield Cowboys and Cowgirls, ( 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:

You Can Do More!

You Can Do More!



We are always on the lookout for quality Coaching Resources to share and recently we came upon  Below is a brief introduction of Coach Jeff Floyd and his site.

Jeff Floyd has been a teacher and coach for over 30 years with experience at all levels, coaching Pop-Warner to Professionals.  He has been an assistant middle school coach/teacher, and a head college football coach…. and pretty much everything in between.

Coach Floyd has experience training men and women athletes in all sports, including swimming soccer, football, wrestling, basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, and track and field.

Here is how he explains his blog….

“In all my years coaching, I cannot recall a single time, that when asked, coached, and motivated, an athlete I was working was not willing to do more…. Another rep, another lap, a faster split, etc. I, we, as coaches, are more likely to ask, to demand too little rather than too much. Hence the name of this blog… You Can Do More!

Coach Floyd uses his forum to share systems, knowledge, tips, techniques, data… essentially everything that is at his disposal …to assist interested athletes and coaches.

Several of Floyd’s posts have garnered national attention, including his series on defensive game planning, and the college recruiting process.

Zone Blocking in a Youth Football Option Offense

Zone Blocking

(Youth Football Option Offense)

By Coach Jim Adam

Youth Option FootballFor the very first time this past season I taught zone blocking to offensive linemen running an option-based system. I was pleased with the results, and thought it would be a good blog topic. Some of this post is in the nature of How We Did It. But I will use the beginning of the post to take you through some Why We Did It – and that takes a little background information.



I’ve taught option football to many different teams, in a few different offensive systems, and for a variety of player ages.  My youth football coaching curriculum vitae is getting longer by the year, and probably depressing for my wife. But it’s all been great fun for me.

In all the years previous to 2015, offensive linemen that I coached would learn ‘rules per play.’ For example, the left guard learned that for Midline Left he had to

  • identify the ‘dive key’ (being the first defensive lineman to the left of our center) and then
  • block the dive key down if
    1. the dive key lined up in the A gap OR
    2. the dive key crossed his face into the A gap
  • OR, if the dive key was head up or wider, to rip past him to the middle (or closest playside) linebacker

Those have been our rules – we always “protect the mesh”. Not everybody does it quite that way, but that has worked for us pretty well for fourth graders and older.

Last year I was asked to coach a group of 2nd graders, and this fall I just finished up my second season with them. As 2nd graders, they were the absolute youngest kids I’d ever coached in tackle football.   I’d spent the fall of the previous year (2013) introducing a couple of 8th grade teams to the flexbone offense they would be running in high school. That was really fun, because those 14-year-old kids could grasp new ideas very quickly. It was a humbling experience to suddenly start over with 7-year-olds in 2014.

I did my best to simplify things in the backfield that year by running from wishbone formation instead of flexbone (no motion necessary); and running far fewer plays. The only option play we really tried to run for 2nd grade was midline. In spite of those changes though, we really didn’t have much success running the option.  We were able to execute a good outside pitch option in practice a few times – but I was never confident enough to have us try it in a game. Our team was OK – we were about .500, though no scores were officially kept for that grade and the games were more like controlled scrimmages. But we certainly wanted to be better.

As I examined the season after the end of 2014, I noted three offensive problems.  First, neither of our QB’s were quite proficient enough to run an option system. The first was a really good athlete that turned the wrong way from under center too often. The other kid wasn’t quite courageous enough to run with the ball. Those are both pretty important qualities for a QB.

Our second problem was a general lack of athletic athletic ball carriers. We had only three. In a wishbone or flexbone system for kids, you need four to six athletic runners – four that start for you, and at least two more for depth.

Finally, I was not satisfied with the way our linemen were getting off the ball. I thought that some of that problem was due to the complexity of the rules that the linemen were expected to follow. There were just too many conditional statements to process for a young kid before the snap. I knew that all our offensive linemen were actually pretty good, and that they should have been better than they were. So that really disappointed me, because that meant their struggles were really MY fault.

In the spring of 2015 I started planning how I would do things differently. Specifically

  • What would I do if I had only two good runners? Both the QB’s I’d had I knew were moving out of our area, so that was an open position and we were down one athletic runner to start – would we have new guys that were athletic enough for all the backfield spots? Or would we need to run from an I formation? I planned for that eventuality, re-aquanting myself with Power, Blast, ISO, and Speed Option from I formation.
  • How could I get our offensive linemen to be faster to their blocks at the snap, and more sure of their responsibilities?

Pre-Season Thoughts

I found out during the summer of 2015 that of our sixteen 2nd grade players, three had moved out of the area, and four had chosen to do other sports (three soccer, one fall baseball.) It isn’t unusual to have some turnover from first year football players, but having 20% move out of area was pretty bad luck.  In addition, three of our four assistant coaches were now out of the area or otherwise unable to coach. However, we added eight new kids to roster, and two of them came with dads that would help coach. In e-mail exchanges and at the pre-season meeting I held, we all talked about our goals for offense, and my desire to get our O linemen faster to their blocks and more certain of their assignments. We determined that our backs would likely be better than they’d been.

In our meeting I told the assistants about an e-mail conversation I’d had with another youth coach about zone blocking. He’d written to me because he’d always taught zone blocking because it was so relatively easy, but he wanted to run the option. He was going to give it a shot, using some of my system and some of his.  The easy part he described intrigued me, so I had started reading as much as I could about zone blocking. I looked here. And here. And here. And probably a lot of other places that I can’t remember now.  Lots of the ideas I took away were great, but most of them were still too complex for my purposes.

So I did what I usually do, and simplified it down to make up my own system. I wanted our linemen to be sure of what they were supposed to do, and get there quickly and aggressively. From day one we began describing just four blocks to our third grade linemen:

  • Zone Right, which we would call Zorro
  • Zone Left, which we would call Zulu
  • Outside Right Zone, which we would call Oreos
  • Outside Left Zone, which we would call Olives

Instruction During the Season

Teaching these blocks would require our guys learning four general topics: Direction, Responsibility, Step, and Target.

The Direction for the block was pretty simple, because we used the direction in the words for the blocking assignment itself. In the huddle in the early part of the season we’d say “Zone Right, Zorro.” Later on we were able to shorten that to just “Zorro.” The direction part is in the name, and the kids picked up on the left and right aspects of the naming pretty well. None of the guys had any problem with the left and right direction of the blocking, even later on when we used only the shortcut words.

Responsibility (which man to block) was taught using pictures, repeated instruction from ready stances on the line, and drilling. Below are the pictures that we used that showed the responsiblity priorities. Our players were told to imagine themselves as the filled in circle player, and that their teammate on the line would be the open circle player. We drew that teammate just as a landmark.  The numbered boxes represented where opponents might be lined up, or might show up in the first step after the snap. The most important opponent to block would be #1 – but if no one was there, and no one suddenly showed up in that space at the snap, then the opponent to block would become #2, then #3, and then finally #4.

Zone Left PictureZone Right PictureZone LeftZone Right

Outside Zone LeftOutside Zone Right

Outside Zone Left PictureOutside Zone Right Picture
The drawings are pretty close to what we taught. The only added information had to do with the third and fourth options on each style of block. First, if on Zorro or Zulu our blocker has only #4 to block, then he is encouraged to combo on from there to any linebacker that shows up in the 1 or 3 area.  For the Outside Zone Blocks, if the teammate stepping in front of you gets to #3 first, OR you can’t get to your target in four steps, then climb to the #4 area and cut someone off.

From ‘ready’ stances on the line, we’d put defenders out in all the places they might block, call out the block (i.e. “Zulu”) and then see if the linemen could point out to the coach who they’d be blocking. We did these ‘identification’ drills at each practice. Those would be followed by live drills – the same exercise, but step and block on the snap count.

Each block had a different style of first Step. The drawing below is from one of the articles I linked earlier.

ZBS footwork
Zone Blocking Footwork Image
For our purposes, we only used the B step and C step. The Zorro and Zulu blocks used the B step. The Oreos and Olives blocks used the C step. We worked on the two B steps and the two C steps at every practice. When we did the step and block drills at practice, we’d start with one step, then go to two steps, then go to live blocking. During the one-step and two-step drills we would work on stances, get off, and body position at the step. We worked on six inch first steps, and how wide to open that first foot. For Zorro and Zulu, the distance of the second step would vary based on the Responsibility. For Oreos and Olives, our second step could cross over if we hadn’t reached our responsibility yet.

Target means our aiming point for blocking contact. For Zorro and Zulu the target is the Direction half of the defender (as we look at him) struck with the opposite hand. For example, in Zone Left (Zulu) if our lineman identifies based on Responsibility that he will probably be blocking jersey #61, he aims for the 6 on the front of the player’s jersey, and tries to get it with his right hand. For Oreos and Olives, our linemen are trying to get the far side shoulder of their opponent with their own near side forearm, make contact, and then (in most cases) climb. So for Oreos (Outside Right Zone) if our right tackle has identified a six technique to his right as his likely block, then he is trying to get his own left forearm on the 6 tech’s outside shoulder to pin him inside. We teach that if he can’t get to him in four steps to pin him, then to just drive him on in the direction that he is running away.

Putting It All Together

By teaching these four blocks as the basis of what we were doing, I could shorthand every lineman’s responsibility for every play. For 3rd grade we ran Midline Lead, a couple of different off tackle Power plays, and a couple of different Sweep plays as our most prevelent plays. We had a lead ISO dive for the fullback that hit the B gap that we called Bazooka, which used a split zone concept and a lead A back blocking through the split. We ran an Outside Veer Triple option out of pistol successfully several times as well, though didn’t use it as much as we eventually will. The matrix below shows each lineman’s responsibility on each of those plays. The slight variations of the normal zone blocks have an asterisk and are described below the matrix.

Play / Player Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
Midline Lead Right Zorro Zorro Zulu Zulu * Zulu º
Midline Lead Left Zorro º Zorro * Zorro Zulu Zulu
Power (16, 36) Right Zorro Zorro Zorro Zorro Zulu
Power (17, 27) Left Zorro Zulu Zulu Zulu Zulu
Sweeps (Rocket 38, Jet 38) Right Oreos Oreos Oreos Oreos Oreos
Sweeps (Rocket 29, Jet 29) Left Olives Olives Olives Olives Olives
Bazooka Right Zulu Zulu Zulu Zulu Zorro
Bazooka Left Zulu Zorro Zorro Zorro Zorro
Veer Right (OSV from Pistol) Zorro Zorro Zorro Zorro Zorro **
Veer Left (OSV from Pistol) Zulu ** Zulu Zulu Zulu Zulu

* Playside Guard’s first Step for Midline is toward the center, but he dips shoulder to skip a head up dive key if possible. If head-up crosses inside we block him down.
º Playside Tackle has a Zone block inside – but skips the B gap player if he is the dive key.
** Playside Tackle’s has a Zone block on any head up player, but he skips the closest outside overhang, who is the dive read for this play.

There’s much more to all of this, but I was pretty pleased with the results. We had better backs this season, but our linemen improved a lot. Of 13 teams in our league, only two were better than us, and one other was about even with us. We ended up 6-2 on the year, and we’ll be getting better!

Below is the first of two planned videos about some aspects of our season:

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