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Playing Up To Improve Your Youth Football Team
Play “Up” to improve your youth soccer team:
Do you have a “bully” team in your youth soccer league or a year-end playoff?
Playing “up” an age level or classification in a controlled scrimmage may be just what your youth football team needs to get an edge in these games. In 2002 I had an age 8-10 “B” team that ran the Single Wing Offense 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 taking the score in just about every game. Our kids got pretty confident, as did our parents and coaches. Unfortunately, the schedule for our youth soccer league had us in our last 2 games against the two weakest teams. In the last game to close out a League title and undefeated season, we had a 5 TD lead at the half.
In the 2 weeks leading up to our final games, our soccer team made little progress. It was clear that based on comparative scores it would take a miracle for us not to win the league title. In the football practices leading up to this game, our players weren’t running our football plays well, our fakes weren’t going down 20 yards, our wedge play wasn’t as tight as usual, even our warm-ups and breaks weren’t as sharp as normal. The only thing the kids were going for were trophies, the pizza party right after our last game and the new trick football pieces we put in.
At the end of the season, we could find another team of similar abilities to play in an additional “Bowl” game. This other team had played some of the same teams we had played in the regular season and our comparative scores were about the same. Our kids came into the game very confident and were somewhat surprised when our first drive was stopped at the opponent’s 6 yard line as we scored on every opening drive that season. To cut a long story short, we lost 46-6. Our kids never gave up, they played hard but not sharp or well. In our teams’ defense, we as coaches still had to come up with the various adjustments we use that are described in chapter 13 of the book. But what our youth soccer team suffered from had little to do with adjustments to a few youth soccer pieces.
Our team needed a challenge, a goal, a close game and adversity. Coaching youth soccer well means you have to provide some of these on your own, if these things are not easily provided by your schedule and the opposition.
In 2003 I coached another team, a “Select” team that was very talented. Much different from the 2002 team, this group of 9-10 year olds (90% 10s) saw us with 5 players over 180 pounds and all but one could move very well. I had to choose from about 150 children to put this team together. We had it all, size, speed and a good pass/catch combination. This was my most difficult coaching job ever because many of the kids were able to get by on natural ability rather than using proper technique. It was a real chore to hold her accountable for perfect technique when her own way often yielded positive results. As the season progressed, we took the score in every game and just dominated the games. We were able to win every league game by 50 points and our first team defense had scored just 1 TD’s all season. I wouldn’t let this team do what happened in 2002.
To make sure the 2002 problem didn’t rear its ugly head on this team, I scheduled several controlled scrimmages against age 11-12 youth football teams in the middle of the season to keep our kids focused. Our football team learned that they had to be perfect with their technique and with our schemes to compete with these older teams. We even went as far as to plan extra games verses age 11-12 teams that had byes in an Iowa competition across the river from us. At the end of our regular season, we played the league champion of this league under the lights in a big college stadium, the big time. They led on us early but we fought back and eventually dominated the game but won by only 2 touchdowns.
The net result is that we continued to improve throughout the season because we knew we had very tough scrimmages along the way and extra plays. We knew we had a real tough game to look forward to at the end of seasons. Instead of blowing out all the similar older teams 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 but them and our 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 a cakewalk compared to the games and scrimmages against the 11-12 year old teams we played. We won our league championship 46-12 after a 46-0 lead 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 few challenges. We truly believe in, even with my rural team of anyone, anytime, anywhere (within a reasonable travel distance).
I would suggest toning it down a bit depending on the makeup of your team. If you decide to scrimmage older teams, there may be smaller and weaker kids on your team who can simply work on their own during the scrimmage, and get some much needed remedial coaching. If you are a “B” or rookie team, write down a classification. Another way to accomplish some of this is to simply borrow a dominant player or two from a parent team for part of your practice. If you have an older “sister” team, borrow a stud player or two and put them on a scout team defensive line, This will give your offensive linemen a test that even if they have modest success, will show they can fight against much better competition than they will ever face. Be reasonable and healthy in determining the level of play your children can handle and march the children up to the edge of that. If you do this and play that “Beast” team, you will have your child ready to take on the challenge and that is a good youth soccer coach.
In 2005, my rural age 8-10 kids (24 kids, no cuts or selects) played an extra game the second week of the season against a huge and fast inner city “Select” team from Omaha that picked over 120 kids and had won 3 consecutive league titles in their “Select” league. They had 5 kids over 150 pounds while we only had 1 and out of that we have maybe one more kid over 100 lbs.
We surprised everyone by winning big, with a 4 touchdown lead at the half. The rest of the season was really a breeze after playing on something like that. Our kids had an incredible amount of confidence after that game, and beat the “Monsters of the Midway.” Even if we had lost that game and played well, I would have expected the same end result. I thought we had a chance to win because of our system and tactics, but competing would have served the same purpose.
That surprise win really launched our rural program and brought us some respect and much needed confidence. Now we have a new problem, we can’t get anyone to play us in non-league matches. Being fortunately cornered by a bunch of scrappy farm boys with a throwback offense I guess is too much for some guys to handle, go figure.
In 2006 my rural age 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 the two worst teams in the division as our last 2 opponents and they didn’t give our team much of a game. I had a scrimmage set up against a very big and fast “Select” team from Lincoln in August which we did very well in. I think we played too well, in fact (4 TDs to no one) they ended up not following through with the promised real game we would have later in the year.
I think those are problems that most youth football teams would like to have, but it makes it difficult just the same. We lost in OT in the playoffs in 2006 to the eventual Super Bowl champions in a well played youth football game with excellent opponents. Playing and scrimmaging better teams may have helped us avoid that loss and in the future we will have to figure out creative ways to artificially create situations where our kids have to compete. Hats off to our opponent, they played great and deserved the win, but we will try not to make the same mistakes again.
That’s what coaching youth football is all about.
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