We are volunteer youth football coaches and we don’t have unlimited hours to spend on coaching. However, youth football is pretty much the most coaching oriented sport there is, in other words the coach can be the difference in winning and losing more than any other sport. So you must do the following to win games and give your team the competitive advantage it needs. The following game process takes about 3-4 hours on a Sun. night.
Step 1. You need the game film from your opponent’s previous game. There are usually no high bleachers at youth football games so get an endzone view of the teams offense. Always film behind the team you are scouting so you can see exactly what they are doing. Make sure you can see all the players and their numbers on every play.
Step 2. Watch the film and diagram every single play the team runs including repeats. I usually use cardstock. Write down the play number and the down and distance to the best of your knowledge and a caption for each play i.e. I would write play 1, 1 and 10, Pitch Sweep Right and diagram the blocking assignments as executed and the backfield player numbers. For a playoff game I would take the extra time to write down every player’s number.
As you diagram the plays you will learn their playbook and start to get an idea of the coach’s play calling philosophy. This is the most time consuming part of the process as you have to keep pausing and rewinding to get all the blocking assignments and the plays drawn up correctly.
Step 3. Watch the film again with your diagramed plays in front of you. Now you are looking for nuances that can help you. I look for weak and strong offensive lineman, who their best runners are, how well can their QB throw the football, who is playing receiver that can catch the football and who can’t.
Step 4. Look for tells. Some teams will have multiple formations and only run one or two plays from a particular formation. For example a team will always run out of a double tight formation and always pass out of a four wide formation. There are always 3 or 4 of these teams you will play each year. You should crush them unless they are better than you at every position. Some teams in the aforementioned category will even substitute their QB on passing downs. If you don’t notice something that obvious you deserve to lose. A slightly harder to see ploy is flipping the best linemen to playside, you can often get away with this if the other team has not scouted you. On film it’s pretty easy to see a linemen changing sides every play.
There are tells that are slightly more difficult to spot, but are very common in youth football. For instance, when a back is substituted into the game are they looking to get the ball to him right away? When a new player is put in to the TE or WR position, especially when that player is a starting back, you can be pretty sure they are looking to throw him the ball. When a team spreads a kid way out to the sideline far away from the QB, you can be pretty sure they aren’t going to throw him the ball unless the QB has an absolute cannon. Even then if it isn’t one of their two or three best players the kid probably won’t catch it. If the starting TB goes real wide, respect it; if not, don’t.
Line splits are another thing to keep an eye on. They mean different things to different teams depending on their schemes, however in youth football; wide splits usually mean run and tight splits mean pass. Some linemen will give away the play based on where they line up. The linemen and backs will also often give away a play by the weight of their stance and where they are pointing.
Teams that run unbalanced a lot are easy to beat. They usually only have one or maybe two plays to the weak side of the unbalanced formation and they are poorly formulated and just there to keep you honest. Make sure you have a player or two ready to stop that particular play and have everyone else committed to their unbalanced side.
Passing is hard to do in youth football because pass blocking is suspect and there are usually 7 or more rushers. In addition to this, the kids are poor route runners. Unless they drill constantly they are never in the same place or running at the same speed twice. For these reasons you can bet in most instances there aren’t a lot of passing route combinations being employed against you. Teach your DB’s to sit and/or jump the opposing team’s favorite routes, especially on third or fourth and long. You can also jam the receiver in question on the line of scrimmage as long as possible, sometimes I will have one player jamming and another one waiting to cover him. I know which player to do this too, because I have scouted the team and I know who is a threat and who isn’t.
If you are playing a wishbone option team or a double wing team make sure you can stop the dive first, then their offense falls apart. This can be accomplished with inside blitzes or interior defensive linemen using goal line or short yardage techniques. If you are playing a team that relies heavily on the pitch sweep or jet sweep work heavily on contain defense. If they run a full house backfield (3 backs) make sure your contain man gets to the deepest blocking back and make sure you have at least an 8 man box and don’t have your corners way outside and your safeties really deep being useless.
Step 5. Draw up your game plan and write it out simply so that your players and other coaches can understand it. I have a playbook software program now, but I used to just use MS Powerpoint. Now that you know their offense and their tells, make your game plan accordingly. If you see a formation you know they are going to run from hammer it, if you see a formation you know they are going to pass from get your inside line stunts and blitzes going.
When you practice have the offense run the opponents plays as a scout team using the plays you have diagrammed. Make sure your team can recognize the formations and knows what you want them to do on every given play and knows every tell that you spotted in the film.
Now you can beat a team with superior talent because you are ready. If you found this article helpful look for my upcoming book on winning in youth football, my offensive spread playbook and my upcoming youth football defensive playbook all available on http://www.ythfootballforum.com.