Plug 'N Play Football

Simplifying Football for Youth Coaches

Book Review: Coaching Youth Football: The Guide for Coaches, Parents and Athletes

Written By: hawkcoach - Apr• 05•11

When I was starting out coaching youth football I wanted all the information I could get my hands on.  I researched web blogs such as this one, spent time on youth football related message boards and read books.  One of the first books I read was Coaching Youth Football:  The Guide for Coaches, Parents and Athletes by John P. McCarthy, Jr.

The book starts from a really basic foundation so if you are a seasoned football coach you might be a little disappointed to be taken back to such topics as: “Major Rules and Infractions” or “The Concept for Downs.”  However, once you get past the first three chapters you’ll start learning some practice drills, formations and some very nice tips to help you be more successful.  A rookie or novice coach should enjoy the format and manner in which some deeper fundamentals and strategies are explained in this book.

Here are the chapter titles:

  1. Desire
  2. The Game of Football: History and Rules of Play
  3. Field Positions
  4. Fundamental Skills
  5. Offense: Concepts and Formations and the Coach’s Playbook
  6. Defense: Concpets and Formations
  7. Running Team Practices
  8. The Psychology of Coaching Football
  9. Fitness
  10. Coaches’ and Parents Checklist
  11. Appendix: Summary of Penalties
  12. Glossary: Talking Football

I would recommend this book for coaches or assistant coaches in their first two years of coaching or who need a better understanding of the basics and fundamentals. is offering this book at a very low price – at this price it’s a great book to read in the offseason and add to your library for future reference.

Here is a super cheap price on this book from


Do you have a great book to recommend or one you would like reviewed?  Share with us on our Plug ‘N Play Message Board

3 Keys to Having a Positive Experience with Youth Football Parents

Written By: hawkcoach - Apr• 04•11

I’m sure you’ve seen it first hand or have at least heard the horror stories. Headlines such as: “Coach, Parent Fight at Youth Football Game”, “Parents Gone Bad: Fight Breaks Out at Youth Football Game” or “Youth Coach Suspended After Verbal Confrontation with Parents” have become all too common. Parents have high expectations for their children and their children’s coaches.

What are three things you can do to have a positive experience with parents?

  1. Communicate -  Sure communicating with parents is obvious, but you can rarely over-communicate.
    • Introduction letter – At the beginning of the season pass out an introduction letter.  Introduce yourself and your staff with a brief biography.  State your team rules and expectations relating to attendance, tardiness and discipline.  Briefly explain the type of offense and defense you’ll run and your coaching philosophy.  Most importantly tell parents how you expect to handle conflict.  For example, I’ve had a rule that if parents are upset with me about a game that they need to wait until the next day before discussing with me.  I’m happy to listen to their concerns but emotions run high during and immediately after games and it gives time for everyone to cool off and be able to speak to each other with respect.  Also, make sure they understand your league and team rules about not yelling at or speaking to officials or players on the other team.
    • Email updates – Send an email out once a week and explain what is happening in practices or games.  Parents love knowing that you have an overall plan of where you are going so share with them what is happening.  Don’t focus on players but on what you are teaching in practices and how that’s important to development.  Share what you are seeing during the games and what you and the team need to improve upon.
    • Don’t ever discuss a specific players performance with anyone outside your coaching staff and his parents.  Telling Johnny’s parents that Josh can’t learn the playbook doesn’t serve any purpose.

      Communicating Parents Youth Football

      Parents Watching Youth Football Game

  2. Involve – Have times during practice where you invite parents to participate.  I’ve coached football teams with rosters ranging from 14 to 21 players but never enough to field a full offense and defense.  Sometimes you want to have your defense learn how to line up and attack an unusual offense or you’ll want your offense to have a full defense to walk through their blocking assignments.  Recruit parents to help field your scout team.  If you have a specific concept you want to teach your offensive linemen maybe you invite their parents to come on to the field and observe you teaching it so they can help you reinforce it to their child.
  3. Show Respect & Concern - If you want to be a youth football coach you are going to need to be able to control your emotions.  Sure, some parents are going to be unreasonable, but most conflict with parents comes from their viewpoint that they want what’s best for their kid.  When a parent comes to you with a concern start by listening without objecting or interrupting.  Try to see the issue from their side by putting yourself in their shoes.  If you are in the wrong, even unintentionally, admit it.  Help them to see the bigger picture and your goals for their child and the team.  If they are being unreasonable or are asking you to do something that would compromise what you said you would do at the outset of the season, politely tell them why you can’t take that course of action.  Sometimes you may have to agree to disagree with a parent but it doesn’t mean each of you can’t still show respect for one another.

Coaches never like to have parents who are not on board with what they are trying to accomplish.  You can make your coaching experience much more enjoyable by having a great relationship with the parents by communicating clear expectations.  The parents will be much more knowledgeable fans and give you more support if they understand what you are trying to accomplish so involve them as much as practicable.  Finally, never step outside of keeping your cool and showing respect and concern – not only to the parents but to coaches, players and officials.

Have you had any negative experiences with overzealous parents or care to share some suggestions on how to communicate with youth football parents?  Visit our Plug ‘N Play Football Message Board

Highlight Videos – Double Wing Offense

Written By: hawkcoach - Mar• 31•11

The Rogers, MN 5th grade team I coached in 2010 featured a double wing offense.  Here’s our end-of-the-season highlight video I put together using a program called PowerDirector.  PowerDirector is very easy to use and can be downloaded here:

We used the “Plug ‘N Play” system you’ll read about on this website.  The double wing system we used had 7 blocks.  These 7 blocks provided us about 50 different plays including formation shifts and motion.  We had a great group of kids who learned new plays very quickly so it was easy to install the offense.  We ran a double wing power play that hit the C gap as our primary play and it was run with a “we’ll run it until they stop it” attitude.  This set up our counter play which you’ll see provided a majority of our ”highlight reel” plays.

Choosing an Offensive System for a Youth Football Team

Written By: hawkcoach - Mar• 30•11

What exciting offense should you be running with your youth football team?  A spread-option?  A wildcat?  Pistol offense?  How about a more traditional offense like a single wing offense, double wing offense or a wing-T?

Offensive Play Call

Offensive Play Call

The best starting point would to pick an offense that best fits the grade level of your players.  Trying to teach a spread option or a pistol offense to 8 year-olds may not be the best choice.  My suggestion is to choose an offense with a running game that features multiple backs and has a blocking scheme that will be easy to teach your offensive line.  I’ve coached a double wing offense for the past three years with much success.

Unless you have a phenomenal QB, really good receivers and are good at teaching pass blocking, don’t give in to the temptation to develop a passing game at the expense of a solid running game.  Take your first few weeks of practice and install 3 types of plays.  Make sure your running game can effectively run in the A gap between the two guards.  Next choose a play that will hit the C gap between your tackle and end.  Finally, make sure you’ve got a sweep play that can run wide around either end.  Now that you’ve chosen 3 plays to hit 6 different spots make sure you practice those plays until your offense can run each one perfectly. 

The next series of plays to install will be your “trick” plays.  And no I don’t mean double reverses or statue of liberty type trick plays.  In youth football your best trick plays are counters and reverses.  Counters and reverses run at the right point in a youth football game can be deadly.   The right time to run them is rarely in the first quarter.  If you’ve done your diligence and worked on your primary three plays and can run them really well, you should be able to move the ball consistently in small chunks of yards.  Once the defense thinks they know what play is coming and they start overpursuing to stop it, then run your counter or reverse.

Three or four weeks into your season is when you can start implementing simple pass plays.  Play action works really well at the youth level.  Treat your passing game like your counter game and use it to hit a big play instead of depending on it to move the ball consistently.  Now is also a good time to add a play to the B gap.  If your team is up to the task you can also start teaching your backs and ends different ways to hit the A, B and D gaps.  The smartest way to do this is to use plays that will utilize your current blocking scheme to hit those various holes.  Keep it simple for your offensive line.

Keep your offense simple.  Be good at what you do.  Build your offense so you can easily plug in your back-up players.  Don’t try to get cute – just execute well.

Share what offense you choose to run and why on our Plug ‘N Play Message Board

Simple Wrist Coaches for Offensive Linemen

Written By: hawkcoach - Mar• 30•11

Here is a cheap, creative idea for you to make sure your offensive linemen know what they are doing on each and every play.  It will work best with an offensive concept like we promote at Plug ‘N Play football which is to have “blocks” of plays that you install.  For example, you might teach your offensive linemen a wedge blocking technique.  The wedge block could be used for five or six different running plays.  The offensive linemen can learn and become “expert” at their blocking assignment so when it’s time to install plays you are really just dealing with teaching the backs and ends. 

Youth Football Team and Coach

Youth Football Team and Coach

  More specifically, you can call the wedge technique a “One” block.  Your offensive play call might sound like this: “One Rocket 10 Wedge.”  The offensive linemen only have to be concerned with “One” which tells them they will wedge block.

Last season we used 7 different “blocks” for our offensive linemen and there were a few (especially amongs the back-up players) that couldn’t remember which block was which.  We had purchased wrist coaches for our backs and ends but I didn’t have the funds to buy them for the offensive linemen as well.  Here is how we improvised:  I took an adult sized white tube sock and cut off the bottom leaving only the elastic section that goes over the ankle.  What we ended up with looked like a wrist band.  Then I took some athletic tape and made a section where the play could be written with a fine point Sharpie marker.

We made two of these improvised wrist coaches for each position – one for the starter and one for the back-up.  We wrote down the numbers one through seven then added specifically what that players responsibility was for each given block called. 

This was a tremendous help for the players in the beginning of the season and for when we had opportunities for the back-up to get some game experience on the offensive line.

If you really wanted to get fancy you could by tube socks with the athletic brand such as the Nike “Swoosh” on the ankle to make them more appealing.  I prefer a more blue-collar, lunch-pail mentality with my offensive linemen so the plain white socks worked great for me.

I’d love to hear about any ideas you have for helping young offensive linemen remember their blocking assignments. Leave a comment or discuss this topic on our Plug ‘N Play Message Board

Do Award Stickers Have a Place in Youth Football?

Written By: hawkcoach - Mar• 28•11

The 2010 season was the first one I used an award sticker system. Prior to that I was worried that award stickers would promote too much of a “me first” attitude and that only the star players would earn a sticker creating a division in the team. Working with my coaching staff, we came up with an award sticker program that focused primarily on fundamentals. I still had some reservations but the kids loved the idea and the anticipated problems never arose. I would watch game film to determine who earned the sticker by keeping a tally of tackles, blocking and other things important to our team. The awards would be passed out at the following practice.

Here is the system we used for our award stickers:

  • Offense including punt returns and kick returns
    • 1 Sticker for every 7 effective blocks- defined as blocking the right person, at least a fair block and nothing that could be called as a penalty such as holding or blocking in the back. We rounded up so if they had 16 they got 3 awards.
    • 1 Sticker for every crushing block -pancake, de-cleater, driving the person backwards 4+ yards until the whistle or for extraordinary awareness or effort on a block.
    • 1 Sticker for every 7 effective fakes – QB and RB must carry out fake and see evidence that at least someone on defense bit on fake.  We ran a double wing offense that required a lot of fakes which were  integral to the execution of our offense and this provided some extra incentive to carry out that fake.  We also rounded up when awarding stickers in this category.
    • 1 Sticker for each half of no fumbled snaps – awarded to QB and center.
  • Defense including punts and kickoffs
    • 1 Sticker for every tackle for a loss
    • 1 Sticker for each time DE properly played reverse and turned ball-carrier back inside or made a tackle.
    • 1 Sticker for every 2 tackles – awarded if they were in on a tackle they received credit for it.  We rounded up for this category.
    • 1 Sticker for successfully defended pass or interception- tipped, knocked-down, or stripped.
    • 1 Sticker for every forced fumble and/or fumble recovery
  • 1 Sticker for every win by the team
Youth Football Player with Award Decals

Youth Football Player

This system seemed to be pretty balanced between offense and defense for our team.  We had 21 players who each had a position they played for the game so it was important to us to have a system that allowed each player a pretty equal chance of earning stickers.  One of our assistant coaches worked for a company that let us print the stickers for free which was a huge blessing.  With this system we saw players earn up to 12 stickers per game but on average we saw players earn 4 or 5 per game.

Share your experiences with helmet award stickers on our community forum:

Bringing Technology to Youth Football

Written By: hawkcoach - Mar• 28•11

Video taping your football team will change the way you coach in two significant ways:

First, video taping obligates you to investing more of your time off the field.  Studying game film alone will require an additional two hours per game at minimum.  I’m not saying that it’s not worth it, but be forewarned – it’s a big time commitment.

More importantly if you’re up to the task, you will learn so much about your team that you will become a much better coach.  Is your left guard actually blocking someone when he pulls?  Is your quarterback carrying out his fakes convincingly?  What was happening to your right defensive end who didn’t seem to be in on any plays during the last game?

I would suggest assigning an assistant coach or a  parent to the job of video taping your games and scrimmages.  Ask them to film from the back side of your offense or defense so you can see all of your players as the play develops.  You should instruct them to zoom in as much as possible while still keeping a wide enough field of view to see the whole team.  Also, use your own camera, if possible.  You don’t want to find out that your videographer parent forgot their camera at home, forgot to charge the batteries, or won’t be able to transfer the files to you until the following week.

When it’s time to start reviewing the game film you’ll want to have a page with a list of all your players including enough space between so you can take notes.  You’ll watch each play up to eleven times so you can have a good feel of what each player did on a given play.  You’ll end up with some amazing information that will help you improve each and every player on your team.  If you use a helmet sticker reward system it’s appropriate to tally that information as you review the game film.  Cut and save impressive plays to a special file to use for your end of the season highlight film.

Without game film the tendency would be to coach only both extremes – the star player who you’ll automatically watch every play or the weaker player who is making obvious mistakes.  Game film will help you greatly improve your middle of the road players and the information you learn should help you to correctly coach them to huge improvements.

If you are really motivated you can video your practices as well.  This will be a huge time investment – one I haven’t  been in a position to pull off up to this point.  I’m sure those who have been able to video their practices will attest to some big advantages.  Regardless, I  would suggest video taping at least a few practices as that will provide some of the most real and touching film to add to your end of the year highlight film.

So what type of equipment should you use?  If you have a video camera there’s no reason to run out and by something special.  I really like the cameras that have zoom capability and have an internal hard drive or at least an easy USB hookup to transfer film to your computer.  If you are considering purchasing a video camera then please give some thought to buying one of the ones I’ve highlighted for you on – I’ve found some great deals and any purchases you make through this link helps support this web site.

Share your experiences with video taping on our message board:

Running a Good Youth Football Practice

Written By: hawkcoach - Mar• 25•11

If you’ve had a son or daughter in youth sports and watched practices there’s a good chance you’ve experienced this scenario before:  It’s 5 to 10 minutes after practice is scheduled to begin and the coaches are huddled together frantically discussing what to do while the players are either standing around or running around crazily to fight boredom.  I know I’ve seen it countless times.  How and why could this happen?

Let me start off by defending the coaches.  Most coaches are volunteering their time – spending precious hours in the evenings and weekends after working a full-time job.  I think very few coaches are so self-serving that they are intentionally unorganized or poor at teaching.  Yet some coaches simply have teams that year-in and year-out outperform their peers.

The next time you see a contest between two youth teams really study the body language and interaction between the coaches and players.  Regardless of who is winning or losing, my bet is that you will find one team is having more fun and is better prepared for the game.  This only happens when a coach knows how to plan appropriately for practice.  Those coaches who are poor at practice planning are also much quicker to generate excuses, blame their players and lose control of their own emotions.

If you are a new coach or someone who might be guilty of showing up and coaching without proper planning here are some suggestions:

  • Before the season starts brainstorm all the things you need to teach prior to the first game.  It can be as detailed as you want it to be or you can add detail later.  You might make a list of the plays you need to teach the backs and receivers.  There are likely some blocking schemes to teach your offensive line.  Don’t forget the work you’ll need to do with your special teams.  Start filling up the time in your preseason practices with the tasks you need to accomplish with your team.  Make sure you block time into your practice for warm-ups and teaching & reviewing fundamentals.
  • Assign specific responsibilities to your coaching staff.  I like to have 2 to 4 assistants helping with practices and games.  With 4 coaches you have enough staff members to make sure kids are getting plenty of attention, are learning and are not standing around.  Prior to each practice send the practice schedule to the coaches so they know what they will be working on with the kids that night.  If you send it early enough they can get clarification from you on anything they don’t understand before practice actually starts.  Make sure you build in time for hydration & rest - especially if you are starting your practices in hot weather where there is concern of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Plan your practices down to 10 minute or 15 minute increments.
  • Involve parents, ask them to help hold a tackling dummy or stand in as a member of a scout defense or scout offense.
  • Don’t let kids stand around!  Kids hate standing around and lose attention very quickly if they are made to do so.  Make sure you have plenty of stations with short lines so kids are engaged as much as possible.
  • When teaching a new concept tell the kids what you are going to teach them, show them, have them try it, then start repetitions with plenty of feedback.

    Youth Football Practice with Coach Harrison

    Coach Harrison coaching youth football team

I know first hand the commitment required of coaches and understand you might be reluctant to spend even more time planning.  If you are one of those coaches who prefer to show up and “wing it” I would like to challenge you.  Before the next season starts spend 4-5 hours either on your own or even better with your coaching staff to plan out your practices.  Then spend a half hour to an hour the day before each practice honing and updating your schedule.  My bet is that you will feel more relaxed, less frustrated and be a much more effective coach.  The extra time invested will be well worth it when it’s your team that people will be impressed with in terms of team chemistry and the way you coach the players.  Take up the challenge and be a better coach!

Share your ideas on how to organize a youth football practice on our community message board:

Highlight Videos – Defense & Special Teams

Written By: hawkcoach - Mar• 23•11

Here is a highlight reel from a team I coached in 2010 – Rogers, MN 5th Grade Panthers.

We ran a version of Jack Gregory’s 6-3 defense modified to fit our league rules of no blitzing linebackers.  We saw tremendous growth in skill as the season progressed and every member of the defense contributed.  We had 21 players on the team and everyone started and played at least one position and played the whole game.

Here’s a link to Jack Gregory’s ebook for 63 Defense: A Winnning Youth Defense

Blocking Philosophy

Written By: hawkcoach - Mar• 22•11

When I first started playing organized football in the 6th grade (first time it was offered back in my day), the offensive line was taught one type of block – the drive block.  A drive block is taking the defensive opponent across from you and pushing him backwards in the direction you want him to go.  Sounds simple, right?  Unfortunately that opponent usually has other ideas and wants to go the opposite direction.  Without very strong technique executing a drive block is a very challenging task.  It’s also usually the only block taught by new, inexperienced youth coaches.

Teaching how to drive block is a very important building block, a key fundamental, that should be taught to every player on a youth football team.  However, using the drive block as your sole blocking scheme is sure to handicap your offense.  Rather than using angles and double teams so your offensive line works as a unit, your offensive backfield depends on 5 offensive linemen going one-on-one.  If one or two of those players loses their one-on-one battle then the offensive play either doesn’t gain significant yards or gets blown up in the backfield.

Many youth offensive systems include blocking philosophies that will instead give your linemen and advantage through double teams or angle blocks.  These blocking schemes might have names like Severe-Angle-Blocking (SAB) or Track and Kick Out Blocking (TKO).  Another very successful line blocking technique at the youth level is wedge blocking.   For youth, a simple blocking scheme that gives them an advantage while having very simple rules of who to block is very important.

The overall philosophy behind Plug ‘N Play football and the materials available for download on this site is to offer  an offensive system that allows your offensive line to become very proficient at executing about 5-7 different types of line blocks.  These 5-7 blocks each have at least 5 different plays that your offensive backfield and ends can learn.  That gives you up to 49 different plays if you choose to teach 7 blocking schemes.   Let’s face it, becoming very good at blocking takes many more reps and is harder to practice than having your offensive backs and ends learn how to execute thier responsibilities.    If you get a dominating offensive line you can pretty much plug in any ball carrier who knows the  play and they’ll be successful at gaining yards.

One final word, treat your offensive line as the MVPs of your team.  They need to get the best of your coaching, the most encouragement and to hear from you and their teammates how much they are appreciated.  If you let your weakest coach handle the O-line and don’t build them up emotionally they will quickly tire of doing those same seven blocks over and over while working towards perfection.  Assign them a coach from your staff who has a lot of energy, an encouraging style and enough creativity to develop drills that teach them how to block while having fun.

Join our discussion of blocking philosophies on our Plug ‘N Play Football forum: