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Playing Up To Improve Your Youth Football Team
Play “up” to improve your youth soccer team:
Do you have a “thug” team in your youth football league or year-end playoffs?
Playing “more” at an age level or classification in a controlled scrimmage may be just what your youth soccer team needs to get the upper hand in these games. In 2002 I had a “B” team of 8-10 year olds running a single wing attack for the first time. We had the youngest and smallest team in our division, but slowly and surely we developed into a very dominant team. By the middle of the season, surprisingly, we were scoring in almost every game. Our kids have become quite confident and so have our parents and coaches. Unfortunately, on the schedule of our youth football league, we played the two weakest teams in the last 2 games. In the last game to complete the league title and undefeated season, we had a 5 TD lead at halftime.
During the 2 weeks leading up to our final games, our soccer team made some progress. It was obvious that based on the comparative results, it would be a miracle if we didn’t win the league title. In football practices leading up to this game, our punters didn’t run our plays well, our fakes didn’t go 20 yards down the field, our punt plays weren’t as tight as usual, even our warmups and breaks weren’t as sharp as usual. The only things the kids were excited about were the trophies, the pizza party right after our last game, and the new football tricks we introduced.
At the end of the season, we were able to locate another team of similar ability to play in an additional “Bowl” game. This other team played several of the same teams we played in the regular season and our comparative results were about the same. Our kids came into the game very confident and were a little surprised when our first drive was stopped at the opposing 6 yard line as we had scored on every opening drive that season. Long story short, we lost 46-6. Our kids never gave up, they played hard but not sharp or well. In our teams’ defense, as coaches we have yet to come up with the various adjustments we use, which are detailed in Chapter 13 of the book. But what our youth football team suffered from had nothing to do with adjusting a few youth football games.
Our team needed a challenge, a goal, a close game and adversity. Coaching youth football well means you have to provide some of these things yourself, if your schedule and opposition don’t provide these things easily.
In 2003, I coached another team, the “Select” team, which was very talented. Much different from the 2002 team, this group of 9-10 year olds (90% 10) saw us with 5 players over 180 pounds and all but one could move very well. I have about 150 kids to choose from to make this team. We had everything, size, speed and a good pass/catch combination. This was my hardest coaching job ever because many kids were able to get by with natural ability instead of using proper technique. It was quite a task to hold them accountable for perfect technique when their own way often produced positive results. As the season went on, we scored in every game and just dominated games. We could win every league game by 50 points and our first team defense only had 1 TD scored on it all season. I wasn’t going to let what happened in 2002 happen to this team.
To make sure the 2002 problem didn’t rear its ugly head on this team, I scheduled a few controlled scrimmages against 11-12 year old youth football teams in the middle of the season to keep our kids focused. Our football team has learned that they have to be perfect with their technique and with our schemes to compete with these older teams. We even went so far as to schedule extra games in verses for the 11-12 age groups that had a bye in the Iowa league across from us. At the end of our regular season, we played the champion of this league under the lights in a big college stadium, a big way. They lead early but we battled back and ended up dominating the game but winning by only 2 touchdowns.
The bottom line is that we continued to improve all season because we knew we had some very tough games and a schedule of extra games along the way. We knew we had a tough game at the end of the season. Instead of just knocking out every similar team in our league, the challenge of playing older teams made this team that much better. Our kids were on a mission to do what no one except them and us coaches thought they could do. It made them better players and gave them a great sense of accomplishment. As for our regular league rivals, the games against them were torture compared to the games and scrimmages against the 11-12 teams we played. We won our league championship game 46-12 after leading 46-0 in the third quarter. We all agreed that it was better to play an older tough team and lose than to have an undefeated season with a few challenges. We really believe that, even with my rural team playing anyone, anytime, anywhere (within reasonable distance).
I suggest toning it down a bit depending on your team composition. If you choose to fight older teams, there may be smaller and weaker kids on your team who can just work alone during the fight, getting some much needed remedial coaching. If you are a “B” or novice team, go to the classification. Another way to achieve some of this is to just borrow a dominant player or two from the senior team for part of your practice. If you have an older “sister” team, borrow a player or two and put them on the defensive line of the scout team, this will give your offensive players a test that, even if they have modest success, will show them that they can compete against much better competition than they will ever face. Be sensible and reasonable in determining the level of play your children can handle and march the children to the edge of it. If you do this and play with those “Beasts”, you will prepare your children to face the challenge of being a good youth football coach.
In 2005 my country kids ages 8-10 (24 kids, no cuts or picks) played an extra game the second week of the season against a huge and fast “Select” team from Omaha who picked from over 120 kids and won 3 straight league titles in their “Select” league. They had 5 kids over 150 pounds while we only had 1 and from there we may have had another kid over 100 pounds.
We surprised everyone with a big win, leading by 4 touchdowns at halftime. The rest of the season was really easy after that kind of play. Our kids had incredible confidence after that game, beating the Midway Monsters. Even if we had lost that game and played well, I would have expected the same end result. I thought because of our system and tactics we had a chance to win, but a competition would serve the same purpose.
That surprise win really kicked off our rural program and gave us some respect and some much needed confidence. Now we have a new problem, we can’t get anyone to play us in non-league games. I guess it’s too much for some guys, realize it’s a bunch of skinny farm boys running over you with a backlash.
In 2006, my rural 8-10 teams suffered the same fate as my 2002 Omaha team. My 2006 team won big in our league games, scoring 3 touchdowns in the first quarter of 9 games. Unfortunately we had two of the worst teams in the division as our last 2 opponents and they didn’t give our team much of a game. I made a fight against a very big and fast “Select” team from Lincoln in August which we did very well. I guess we played too well, in fact (4 TDs to none) in the end they didn’t follow through on the promise of the real game we were supposed to have later in the year.
I imagine these are problems that most youth soccer teams would love to have, but it also makes it difficult. We lost in OT in the 2006 playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champions in a well played youth football game with great opposing coaches. Playing and fielding better teams may have helped us avoid that loss and in the future we will have to come up with creative ways to artificially create situations where our kids have to compete. Hats off to our opponent, they played great and deserved to win, but we will do our best not to repeat the same mistakes.
That’s what coaching youth soccer is all about.
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