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The Secret to Beating Teams That Are More Athletic Than Your Team in Youth Football
Playing in space is the key term.
We’re not talking about playing football on the moon, weightlessness would force us all to rethink the game a bit.
“In space” means playing with the distance between your players and the other team. If your team is bigger and more athletic and can handle players from other teams one-on-one, you want space, that’s your friend.
However, if you don’t have bigger and better athletes than the other team, space is your enemy.
Playing “In Space” means exactly what it says, putting your players with space between them and the opposition. If your team is made up of faster, taller, and more athletic kids, they will dominate in one-on-one matches. That’s why you see teams with a lot of big, fast receivers that do really well in “spread” offenses where they very much isolate the weaker defenders from those dominant receivers, of course you have to have a QB that can cast it in these cases. If that cleat receiver can just get the ball “into space”, he will have a scoring chance in most cases.
On the other hand, most youth football teams lack the player who truly dominates the league. Most of us are lucky enough to only have an average group of kids and some of us will have this odd group of kids who are just smaller and less athletic than the teams we face. In these cases, you want to have as little space as possible between your children and the opposition.
Just think about your tackle drills, when you have a tackle drill performed up close, say a 1 meter square box, most of your kids, even non-athletes, can often do the tackle. But turn that tackle drill into an open field tackle drill of a 20m by 20m square, how many of your less athletic kids can now tackle in this drill? The same goes for blocking; very athletic children can do blocks “in space” while less athletic children cannot.
Less athletic teams almost always perform better if they tighten their line split, double down the team block, and shoot to have overwhelming numbers at the point of attack. Less athletic teams must run traps and other close running plays like the corner in order to keep more athletic teams at bay. The less athletic teams have to execute a lot of false directions to keep the defense out of play, while executing it between tackles. The kryptonite spinner series to the supermen of these squads. There are just a few plays that make NO SENSE against teams like this, sweeps, back passes, deep backhands, these will be negative distance plays.
The good news is that with Single Wing Offense, less athletic teams can compete against very athletic teams. Often referred to as “football in a phone booth”, spinners and traps prevent highly athletic teams from heading into your base plays. Double team blocks, wedges, and the draw give your team advantages at the point of attack so even smaller or weaker linemen can have success. Tight splits, poor direction and shooting linemen help even very average backs put up big numbers with this attack.
In 2002 we had a very medium sized back named JA with medium speed. For our 8-10 year old team he weighed 81 pounds and when we held our evaluation runs he was about 6th out of 25 kids. JA was a very obedient player, he was a patient runner, he always kept his legs moving and always looked for an opening, but nothing special. In 2002 he played Fullback for us and only ran 2 games that year, wedge and trap. He scored 31 touchdowns for us on FB corner plays alone, of course we had a very weak backfield that year and he got a lot of carries. If we had the spinner series, it would have done even better.
As for beating bigger or more athletic teams: In 2003, my 8-10 year old Omaha team was undefeated in the league and put up some very showy numbers. We scored at will, went 11-0 and won our league title game 46-12 after leading 46-0 in the third quarter. We then beat two league champions from other leagues aged 11-12. In 2004, I started a new program in rural Nebraska, in an area where the existing youth program had won something like 4-5 total games in the 5 years before I came here. The first year there, we had all rookie players except for 2-3 playoffs from the other team in town. We only had one player over 100 pounds when he was 8-10 years old. Slowly but surely we got better every week and by the end of the seasons we started to look good. We faced a really big, fast team from downtown Lincoln that year, the Salvation Army. They hadn’t lost a game in 3 years, we were understaffed, outsized and had less speed, but we beat them in the blink of an eye by a single TD en route to an 11-0 season .
Our biggest victory in an extreme overmatch with in 2005 against Omaha Select Black. This 8-10 year old team picked from over 150 kids, had at least 5 kids over 150 pounds and hadn’t lost in 3 years in Omaha’s “select” league. They were a very aggressive downtown team with a lot of speed and confidence. On the other hand, I only had the 25 country kids who showed up, no cuts or selections and a lot of younger kids. Long story short, we had this team by 4 TDS in the first half and we could have named the score. Needless to say the team, their parents and our parents for that matter were shocked. The good thing is that with this attack you can compete with anyone, the bad news is that once you do that it’s hard to get more league matches. Big downtown teams like North Omaha Boys Club won’t even play us on their grounds it’s embarrassing to be beaten by much smaller and slower teams they’ve turned me down twice in the past Last 2 years for additional games we both had open dates at the end of the seasons.
The single wing provides some flexibility if you have that stud player you want to isolate “in space”. We added the mesh series in 2005 to accommodate a player we thought would make sense to put “into space”. When we faced weaker opponents, the “mesh” series worked very well, no one could handle our stallion. When we were playing against equal or lesser competition, we had to go back to our tight-division base offense to move the ball consistently.
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