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Simplifying Football for Youth Coaches

Establishing a Surprising Defensive Line

Written By: hawkcoach - Mar• 22•11
Youth Football Team

Coach Harrison and staff with 2008 Gold Youth Football Team

I recently wrote an article called ”Minimum Play Players” which discussed some options on how you could best utilize your MPP.

Some of the most satisfying moments I’ve experienced as a youth football coach have come as I watched a small, inexperienced player, whom others may have written off, suddenly start wreaking havoc in the opponent’s backfield. What better way to instill a love for the game of football in a player who might be the last one picked in a playground game than to coach him to be a difference maker?

Here’s the problem I see with the way many youth coaches approach their team: they spend 80% of their time working on making their studs incrementally better. What if even half of that time was re-allocated to focus on improving your weaker players? Some focused coaching and instruction on technique and skill development with your MPP will likely pay much bigger dividends for the time you invest as a coach. Let’s also not forget that you will help your MPP gain confidence and develop a love for the game.

Here’s my blueprint for playing 2 or 3 MPP on your defensive line.

•Determine through drills on your first day or two who your MPP players are. If your pre-season practice schedule is like most leagues you likely don’t have much time before your first game so you’ll have to start slotting players to positions rather quickly. After a couple of practices you should meet with your coaching staff to determine positions. Sometimes it’s easier to slot your MPP to a position first. Larger, slower MPPs could play offensive line. Someone who’s not a great open-field tackler but can catch might make a good offensive end. Smaller, faster players who aren’t timid tacklers but need their technique refined might find a home in your defensive backfield. Finally, the smaller, more timid players often fit best on the defensive line.
•During your pre-season practices you will be so focused on teaching defensive assignments, improving tackling fundamentals, and installing your offense that you likely won’t be able to spend a lot of time teaching your MPP techniques to play the defensive line. I will often start the beginning of the season with my MPP defensive linemen bear-crawling gaps. Their first and primary job is to not get blown off the line and open a huge hole for the opponent’s running game. Many youth offensive linemen won’t get low enough to move the bear-crawler so you can effectively take away the inside running game with this simple technique. Make sure you coach the bear-crawl so the player keeps his eyes up and his hands in a fist as he crawls forward. You don’t want him to drop his head and risk a neck injury nor do you want him getting his fingers constantly stepped on.
•Here’s where the temptation to stop teaching your MPP defensive lineman first appears. You’ve clogged the middle of the line so you might be tempted to spend all your time with your stud linebackers or defensive ends instead. But put yourself in the shoes of your MPP defensive lineman. He’s on the field half of the game doing the same thing over and over and doesn’t get any attention from the coaches during practices or games. If you give him some more tools he’ll likely surprise you with what he can do. One of the next techniques I’ll teach is how to fly low and fast through a gap. Again keeping his head up is important to avoid injury and see the ball carrier as he bursts through the line. He’s no longer bear-crawling, now he’s rushing the backfield.
•Next you can get creative and have him line up in different techniques in the gap or heads up on the offensive lineman. You can create stunts. You can teach him why it might be better to plug an inside gap on a short yardage situation and shoot that gap on a 2nd or 3rd and long situation. I can guarantee if you coach him correctly he’ll start disrupting the backfield and getting some tackles for loss.
The look of pride on his face when he comes off the field and you congratulate him for sacking the QB or recovering a fumble will be well worth all the time you invest. If that alone doesn’t make you feel like you’re coaching for the right reasons then watch as he meets his parents after the game and recounts his achievements to his proud parents. That, my friends, is what coaching youth football is all about.

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Minimum Play Players

Written By: hawkcoach - Mar• 22•11

Many youth football leagues have rules that dictate each player must play a certain amount of plays or a certain amount of time which is where we get the term “minimum play players (MPP).” In other words, we are describing the weaker players on a team.

Many leagues allow coaches to play their MPP less than a quarter of the game. I have a hard time grasping why any youth football coach, especially at the youngest levels, wouldn’t allow every player to play at least half of the game. Every player and parent has invested in league sign-up fees and equipment, not to mention significant time for practices. In my opinion, the only reasons to not allow at least half-game playing time would be:

  • Disclipline issue – if practice-related then it should be discussed with player and parents before the game, if game-related then a discussion with the player and parent should be held after the game.
  • Attendence issue – in this case, rules regarding practice attendance/tardiness and playing time in games should be clearly communicated at the start of the season.
  • Psychological issue – I’ve never had this happen on a youth team I’ve coached but some good coaches I know had a player on one of their teams who was having panic attacks during games. The coaches and parents developed a plan which included reduced playing time to help the player gain more confidence.

What positions should your MPPs play?

Youth Football Player Waiting to Play

Youth Football Player Waiting for His Chance

The answer depends a lot upon the reasons why you’ve determined a certain player is one of your MPP or weaker players. Probably the biggest category of MPP players I’ve had are those players who are afraid of contact. If one of your players consistently shies away from contact during practice drills then you are setting them up for failure if you put them on your defense and expect them to make open field tackles. Here’s the four best places to put your MPP players so they will most benefit the team while gaining confidence and having fun:

  • Offensive Line – Obviously you need a player with enough size and aptitude to be able to block but I’ve seen kids who will turn and run the other way when asked to tackle someone become very serviceable offensive linemen. It seems that being asked to block someone a couple of feet away is a lot less intimidating than making an angle tackle on a shifty tailback.
  • Defensive Line – I’ve had great success with undersized kids who aren’t good at open field tackling on the interior defensive line. Their smaller bodies slip under the larger offensive linemen who tend to stand straight up. Properly coached, they will cause disruption shooting the gaps and it’s much easier for them to make a tackle before the ball carrier gets up to speed in the open field.
  • Offensive Ends – Another safe place for your MPP players to have fun and gain confidence is at tight or split end. With the right offensive scheme the ends can help with double team blocks or stalk block. Practice time spent working on blocking techniques will pay off and if you spend time working on their pass catching skills you can truly incorporate them into your game plan.
  • Defensive Backs - I would only suggest this at the youngest levels and only with players who at least display a little aptitude for open field tackling. Once you reach the level where the passing game is a legimate threat, you’ll want some solid players in your defensive backfield.

On the next post I’ll focus a little more on how to utilize your minimum play players on the defensive line.

How do you use your minimum play players? Join our discussion on the Plug ‘N Play Football message board