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Playing Up To Improve Your Youth Football Team
Game “up” to improve your youth soccer team:
Do you have a “bullying” team in your youth soccer league or final playoff?
Playing “Above” an age level or classification in a controlled scrimmage may be what your youth football team needs to gain an advantage in these games. In 2002 I had an 8-10 year old “B” team that ran a Single Wing Offense. First. We had the youngest and smallest team in our division, but slowly and surely we developed into a very dominant team. By mid-season we were surprisingly posting the score in every game. Our kids were pretty confident, as were our parents and coaches. Unfortunately, according to the schedule of our youth football league, we played the two weakest teams in the last 2 matches. We had a 5 TD lead at halftime in the last game we finished with the league title and an undefeated season.
In the 2 weeks leading up to our final games, our soccer team made little progress. It was evident that based on the comparative scores, it would take a miracle for us not to win the league title. In the football practices leading up to this game, our punters weren’t running our footballs well, our fakes weren’t going 20 yards downfield, our lap plays weren’t as tight as usual, not even our warmups and breaks. as sharp as normal. The only thing the kids seemed to be excited about were the trophies, the pizza party right after our last game, and the new trick football games we introduced.
At the end of the season, we were able to find another team of similar ability to play in an extra “Bowl” game. This other team played several of the teams we played in the regular season and our comparative scores were about the same. Our kids came into the game very confident and were a little surprised when our first drive stalled at the opponent’s 6 yard line as we had scored on every opening drive that season. Long story short, we lost 46-6. Our kids never gave up, played hard but not sharp and well. In defense of our teams, we as coaches have yet to come up with the various adjustments we use, which are detailed in Chapter 13 of this book. But what our youth soccer team was suffering from didn’t have much to do with fixing a few youth soccer games.
Our team needed a challenge, a goal, a balanced game and adversity. Coaching youth soccer well means you have to provide some of those things yourself if those things aren’t readily provided by your schedule and your opponent.
In 2003 I coached another team, the “Select” team, which was very talented. This group of 9-10 year olds (90% 10s) set us apart a lot from the 2002 team and saw us with 5 players over 180lbs and all but one could move very well. I had to choose from about 150 kids to put this team together. We had everything, size, speed and a good pass/catch combination. This was my most difficult coaching job ever because many kids got by with natural ability rather than using proper technique. It was a real chore to hold them accountable for perfect technique when their own journey often yielded positive results. As the season progressed, we dictated the score in every game and just dominated. We were able to win every league game by 50 points and our first team defense only had 1 TD all season. I didn’t want to let what happened in 2002 happen to this team.
To make sure the 2002 problem didn’t rear its ugly head on this team, I scheduled some mid-season controlled scrimmages against the 11-12 year old youth football teams to keep our kids focused. Our soccer team has learned that they have to be perfect with their technique and our plans to compete with these older teams. We even went so far as to schedule extra games for the 11-12 year old teams that had byes in the Iowa League across the river from us. At the end of our regular season we played for the league champion of this league under the lights in a big college stadium, that was big time. They lead early but we battled and ended up dominating the game but only winning by 2 touchdowns.
The net result is that we’ve been steadily improving throughout the season, knowing that we have very tough scrimmages and other games ahead of us. We knew we had a really tough game at the end of the season to look forward to. Rather than just blowing out every similarly aged team in our league, the challenge of playing older teams made this team that much better. Our kids were on a mission to do what no one but them and us coaches thought they could do. It made them better players and gave them a great sense of accomplishment. As for our regular league rivals, games against them were a breeze compared to the games and scrimmages against the 11-12 year old teams we played. We won our league championship game 46-12 after leading 46-0 in the third quarter. We all agreed that it is better to play an older tough team and lose than to have an undefeated season with a few problems. We really believe in playing anyone, anytime, anywhere (within reasonable travel distance) with my country team.
I would suggest toning it down a bit depending on your team composition. If you choose to scrimmage older teams, there may be smaller and weaker kids on your team who could work on their own during the scrimmage and get some much needed remedial coaching. If you are a “B” team or rookie, shorten the classification. Another way to achieve some of this is to borrow one or two dominant players from the senior team for part of the training. If you have an older “sister” team, borrow a stud or two and put them in the scout team’s defensive line. This will test your offensive lines so that even if they have modest success, it will show them that they can compete against much better competition than they will ever face. Be sensible and reasonable in determining the level of play your children can handle and push them to the edge. If you do this and play for the “Beast” team, you will prepare your kids to face the challenge that is being a good youth football coach.
In 2005, my 8-10 year olds from the countryside (24 kids, no cuts or picks) played an extra game in the second week of the season against a huge, fast, inner-city Omaha “Select” team that was picking from over 120 kids and won 3 consecutive league titles in his “Select” league. They had 5 kids over 150lbs while we only had 1 and from there we could have maybe one more kid over 100lbs.
We surprised everyone by winning big, leading by 4 touchdowns at halftime. The rest of the season was really a piece of cake after playing like that. Our kids had an incredible amount of confidence after this game and defeated the “Monsters of the Midway.” Even if we had lost that game and played well, I would have expected the same end result. I thought we had a chance to win with our system and tactics, but competing would serve the same purpose.
This surprise win really kicked off our rural program and earned us some respect and much needed confidence. Now we have a new problem, we can’t get anyone to play us in non-league games. Getting soundly beaten by a bunch of scrawny farm boys with recoil insult I guess is too much for some guys to handle, go for it.
In 2006 my 8-10 year old rural team met the same fate as my Omaha team in 2002. My 2006 team won big in our league games scoring 3 first quarter touchdowns out of 9 games. Unfortunately we had two of the worst teams in the division as our last 2 opponents and they didn’t give our team much of a game. In August I set up a scrimmage against a very large and fast “Select” team from Lincoln, in which we did very well. I think we played too well, in fact (4 TDs to none) they ended up falling short. the promised actual game we were supposed to have later this year.
I think those are problems that most youth soccer teams would like to have, but it still makes it difficult. We lost in OT in the 2006 playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champions in a well-played youth football game with outstanding opposing coaches. Playing and fielding better teams may have helped us avoid this loss, and in the future we will have to come up with creative ways to artificially create situations in which our kids will have to compete. Hats off to the opposition, they played brilliantly and deservedly won, but we will try not to repeat the same mistakes.
That’s what coaching youth soccer is all about.
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