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Zone Blocking For Youth Football Teams
There are many differences between youth football players and college, pro and high school players. To say the difference is night and day doesn’t do justice to how different they are. It would be like the beauty differences between Miss America at the state fair and a woman with a 1,000 pound beard.
College, pro and even high school athletes practice 6 days a week and play their games on the 7th. Most of these kids practice 20-30 hours per week, while youth football teams practice 4-8 hours per week. Pro, college and high school players have played the game for 7-25 years, they have the basics, they know the game. Youth soccer players have 1-2 years of experience and many youth teams are made up of mostly kids who have never played before. Most youth football players do not know the difference between the 3 technique and the footstool. Pro, college and high school kids, ages 16-35, can move faster, have better body control, and retain and process more information than youth football players. Pro, college and high school teams cut weak players, they are the best of the best. Every day the pros and college teams cut kids who were the best players on their respective youth and high school teams. High schools also cut weaker players, sending weaker kids to JV or reserve teams.
Pro, college and even some high school athletes are being taught by coaches who coach for a living. Most people put in 50-70 hour weeks to learn their craft, and most have 10-15 years of experience playing the game. This compares to the amount of experience and time a young coach can invest in developing themselves as a coach, which most don’t have time to attend a coach clinic in a single weekend or buy a single coaching book or DVD. . The difference in coaching skill level is simply too great, yet is a young coach with no experience in complex zone blocking going to teach others?
In short, pro, college and even high school teams are made up of better players than the average youth football player who may never play high school football, let alone sniff college or pro football. Youth teams are made up of very limited players, you can’t send kids to the JV, reserves or frosh teams and you can’t cut them down. In fact you’re going to play them, some will probably start on your offensive line. I’ve been blessed with talent on some of my teams, while others have had offensive lines that look like characters from “Land of Misfit Toys.”
By the time young kids reach high school, most real underdogs have already quit, realizing that football isn’t their game. But these kids are still playing on your youth football team today, still trying to figure out how to play and if it’s their game. At the youth level in most leagues, everyone has to play something, and often you’ll have some uncharacteristic players playing offensively. They are not playing, being cut or sent to another team.
While pro, college, and high school teams don’t require all of their kids to play, most youth teams require everyone to play for at least a handful of plays. Are these less athletic kids then playing a position that has a huge impact on every play (offensive line) and are going into zone block? Well, that’s great if I’m the defensive coordinator for another team, but if I’m a running back or the father of some poor running back on a zone blocking team, that’s terrible.
This is how great youth football players fizzle out and quit, becoming part of the 70% of youth players who never play high school football. It’s a real shame and the main reason I wrote the book, did all the clinics and developed the DVD. With so many good kids running away from playing football because of poor coaches and terrible schemes, it’s no wonder that many high school and youth football programs have a love/hate relationship.
On the technical side, the cornerstone of zone schemes is the “combo” block, where the offensive lineman is initially pushed to the defensive lineman, then comes out of the block after a good move, then to block the linebacker. This block mind blocks you based on the type of defensive line the offensive lineman sees and recognizes, often including line calls. That might be asking too much from a 9-year-old to play his first game. Most kids that age are still struggling to make sure they remember how to make a sound drive block on a player within 1 foot of them and block on offense and tackle on defense.
Most high school teams can’t zone block well even with spring football, year round football workouts, great offensive line coaches and 6 days a week practice. And are you going to do that successfully with young players? With a team size of 24-25 for many teams, your worst players are playing offensively. So you’re going to ask this weaker player to properly identify the front, make the correct line call, make an effective double team block, move on the double team block, at the same time scout the linebacker, then know when to peel. Block a fast and strong linebacker “in space” at the perfect time and run on the same play?
So after one of your least athletic guys engages the other linemen the fastest and most athletic player on the other team (the linebacker) will spy in open space and track them down and block? Wow that would be as much of an achievement as making a nuclear bomb out of some leftover juice cans and some old mothballs, good luck pulling it all off. If you can teach it at the youth level, you have a select football team, play in the national championship game and coach the O-Line in the NFL. Zone blocking takes excellent coaching, plenty of time, great athletic linemen and savvy smart veteran football players who can recognize leads and have impeccable timing, none of which are in abundance at the youth football level.
Blocking using angles and overwhelming numbers in limited space works within the confines of youth football and is what we teach in the book and DVD. Zone blocking will fail and kids and coaches will get frustrated. I wasn’t surprised that the suggestion to block this zone came from one of the young coaches every time, such a one-dimensional failure-who used failed and useless tactics like “attack the center”. Maybe uses the famous “hit somebody” phrase and runs kids to death at football practice, then wonders why his teams can’t win any games.
No doubt he blames it all on lack of talent (every year) or “kids just don’t want it bad enough” when these guys’ teams lose. Geez I’m tired of people like that, they ruin so many kids and teams. Unfortunately we see too many coaches like this in our sport and it’s a shame it’s a major reason over 70% of youth football players never play high school football.
When coaching youth football, your job is to choose a plan that works with the talent level, athleticism, maturity, practice time and coaching ability you have available. Playing a youth football team that tries to zone block would be like shooting fish in a barrel, poor running back, horror, horror.
For 150 free youth football coaching tips and coaching ideas, please stop by: Coaching Youth Football
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