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The Secret to Beating Teams That Are More Athletic Than Your Team in Youth Football
Playing in space is a key concept.
We’re not talking about playing football on the moon, zero gravity would make us rethink the game a bit.
“In space” means playing with distance between your players and the other team. If your team is bigger and more athletic and can handle other teams’ players 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 in the space between them and the opponent. If your team is made up of faster, bigger and more athletic kids, they will dominate the one-on-one matchups. That’s why you see teams with a lot of big speedy receivers do very well in “spread” offenses where they isolate weaker defenders very wide against these dominant receivers, of course you have to have a QB that can throw it in these cases. If that stud receiver can just get the ball “in space” he will have a chance to score in most cases.
On the other hand, most youth soccer teams don’t have a player who really dominates the league. Most of us just have an average group of kids, and some of us will have that odd group of kids that 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 kids and the opposition.
Just think about your tackle drills, when you have a problem solving drill done in close circles, say a 1 yard square box, most of your kids even non-athletic kids can often make a tackle. But turn that scrimmage drill into a 20 yard by 20 yard square open field scrimmage drill, how many of your less athletic kids can now make a tackle in that drill? The same goes for blocking; very athletic kids can make blocks “in space” less athletic kids can’t.
Less athletic teams almost always do better if they tighten their lines, double team and pull to have huge numbers at the time of attack. Less athletic teams must run traps and other close running plays like the wedge to keep more athletic teams at bay. Less athletic teams have to make a lot of mistakes to keep the defense away from the play while running it between tackles. A series of spinners in kryptonite for supermen in these teams. There are just some plays that MAKE NO SENSE against teams like this, moves, back passes, deep turnovers, those are going to be negative yardage plays.
The good news is with a single wing offense, less athletic teams can compete with very athletic teams. Often referred to as “phone booth football,” spinners and traps prevent very athletic teams from having a hard time getting to your base plays. Double team blocks, wedges, and drags give your team a numerical advantage at the point of attack, so even smaller or weaker linemen can have success. Tight splits, misdirection and linebacking help even very average backs put up big numbers in this offense.
In 2002 we had a very average sized back named JA with average speed. For our 8-10 year old team he weighed 81 pounds and when we ran our trial races he was about 6th out of 25 kids. JA was a very obedient player, he was a patient runner, he always kept his feet moving and always looked for an opening, but nothing special. In 2002 he played fullback for us and only played 2 games that year, wedge and trap. He scored 31 TDs for us in FB games alone, of course we had a very weak backfield that year and he had a lot of fun. If we had a spinner series it would be even better.
As for beating bigger or more athletic teams: In 2003 my Omaha 8-10 year old team was undefeated in league and put up some very great numbers. We scored at will, went 11-0 and won our league title 46-12 after leading 46-0 in the third quarter. We beat two league champions from other 11-12 age leagues. In 2004 I started a new program in rural Nebraska in an area where the existing youth program had won a total of 4-5 games in the 5 years before I got here. The first year we had all the starters there with the exception of 2-3 bench warm up pitches from another team in town. We only had one player over 100 pounds aged 8-10. Slowly but surely we improved every week and by the end of the season we were starting to look pretty good. We played a very big and fast team from Lincoln from Lincoln that year with the Salvation Army. They hadn’t lost a game in 3 years, we were outmatched, outsized and had less speed, but we beat them by one TD en route to an 11-0 season.
Our biggest win in extreme verse match 2005 Omaha Select Black. That 8-10 year old team had over 150 kids to choose from, had at least 5 kids over 150 lbs and was undefeated in 3 years in Omaha’s “select” league. They were a very aggressive Inner-City team with plenty of speed and confidence. I, on the other hand, only had 25 country kids show up, not cuts or picks and a lot of younger kids at that. Long story short, we had this team for 4 TDS in the first half and could have determined the score. Needless to say, the team, their parents and our parents were shocked. The good thing is that you can compete with anyone with this offense, the bad news is that once you do, it’s hard to get more out of league games. Big Inner-City teams like North Omaha Boys Club won’t even play us on their home courts, it’s embarrassing to beat much smaller and slower teams, I’ve been turned away twice in the last 2 years for extra games we both had open dates at the end of the season.
Single Wing offers some flexibility if you have that stud player you want to isolate “In Space”. We added the mesh series in 2005 to accommodate players we thought would make sense to put “in space”. When we went against weaker opponents, the “mesh” series worked very well, nobody could handle our stud. When we played against equal or lesser competition, we had to go back to our tight split offense to move the ball consistently.
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