Thursday, November 19, 2009

Survey Says

I have tabulated the results of the survey. We received 33 responses and many comments. Thank you! If you don't know or didn't see, we passed out a survey at the banquet Monday night. The key was:

5 = Strongly Agree
4 = Agree
3 = Neutral or Don't Know
2 = Disagree
1 = Strongly Disagree

The survey had ten statements and space for comments. Below are the results and my impressions of what they meant.

Statement: My child had fun playing football this year. Average Answer: 4.78

Strongly Agree: 25
Agree: 7
Neutral or Don't Know: 1
Strongly Disagree:

97% of the parents thought their son had fun playing football, with one TBD. Since goal number one was to Have Fun, we feel pretty good about that outcome.

Statement: My child became a better player this year. Average Answer 4.59

Strongly Agree: 21
Agree: 10
Neutral or Don't Know: 2
Strongly Disagree:

94% of the parents thought their son became a better football player. Since goal #2 is Get Better, we feel pretty good about that outcome too. And from a coaching point of view, I thought the numbers were probably 38 out of 38 players. I can point out something about every single kid that improved versus the beginning of the year, though it may be harder to see from the bleachers.

Statement: I enjoyed the experience of being a football parent this year. Average Answer 4.66

Strongly Agree: 23
Agree: 8
Neutral or Don't Know: 2
Strongly Disagree:

94% of the parents had fun. As long as we're all out there together, I'm glad that we all had fun too.

Statement: Two squads with the same coaches was better than dividing into separate teams. Average Answer 3.72

Strongly Agree: 8
Agree: 15
Neutral or Don't Know: 3
Disagree: 2
Strongly Disagree: 4

I thought this was the most difficult question on the survey to answer. The parents that disagreed with the way we did it had comments like "Combining the teams to practice together in my opinion was very non productive" and "I would like to see the squads practice as separate teams and then scrimmage each other." One parent that liked the way we did it offered "It seemed better for practices, it allowed more per player play time; It may have decreased coach player time during practice" and "The two squads allowed for newer guys more time I think. It seemed to work out better for us as first year people." We had 23 responses (about 70%) that favored the way we did it. About 20% didn't care for it, and 10% were neutral. I had hoped that it would be a little more clear than that, but it is still a pretty substantial majority that thought it was a good system.

I have many more thoughts about this system and what worked and didn't, and I will write an entire post about it shortly. I want to meet with the coaches first to de-construct the season and get their impressions.

Statement: I liked the way my son was coached this year. Average Answer 4.25

Strongly Agree: 17
Agree: 10
Neutral or Don't Know: 3
Strongly Disagree: 2

27 out of 32 liked the way their son was coached. That's over 84%, and there were many kind comments about our efforts. Thanks for those. It appears that the two that didn't like "the way my son was coached" were not thrilled with the one team, two squads system. One of them even wrote "Thank you for your time & support. You're all great. But I didn't like the 2 teams." There were a couple of critiques as well about the offense - "The wishbone was a little too complex in the blocking schemes to have success in achieving long drives" and, more directly put, "I would like to see them run a different offense!!" But other than that, people seemed generally pleased.

In my view, our offense was decent for the black squad, and below average for the blue squad. I don't agree that the blocking schemes were too complex. Some boys totally understood them, and some boys struggled. I did study the 'long drive' comment, using the black squad, which was a middle of the pack team in their division. Looking back at the long drives for the season (and I will characterize a long drive as one of more than 50 yards) our black squad had seven drives of over 50 yards. Our opponents had only four. It is possible that the comment was alluding to long, multi-play drives that were absent of big plays. And most of our long drives did have a big play or two. But the long drives against us were similar.

Drives of 50+ against ONW Black
Olathe East - 70 yards, two 25 yard plays were big
Olathe East - 74 yards, a 57 yard TD was the big play
Gardner - 53 yards, a 53 yard TD play was the only yardage
Olathe South - 53 yards, a 53 yard TD play was the only yardage

Drives of 50+ for ONW Black
Blue Valley West - 80 yards, a 75 yard option pitch for TD
Olathe South Masters - 70 yards, big plays were 19, 26, & 21 spread between five other plays
Olathe South Masters - 54 yards, big play was 49 yard option pitch for TD
Gardner - 50 yards, big play was 43 yard option keep
Gardner - 71 yards, big play was 67 yard option keep for TD
SMNW - 51 yards, big play was option keep for 42
SMNW - 54 yards, 12 plays, longest was 18 yard pass

So while I agree that our offense did not have very many long, multi-play drives, I would argue that nobody does in youth football. Another way to measure the driving capability of the offense is to measure first downs plus touchdowns. Considering only the six similar opponents for the black squad (eliminating over-matched SMW and Olathe South Masters) our first downs plus touchdowns were virtually even. We had 31, while our six top opponents managed 34.

Statement: My son was placed on the appropriate squad based on his ability and experience. Average Answer 4.63

Strongly Agree: 23
Agree: 7
Neutral or Don't Know: 1
Strongly Disagree: 1

30 out of 32 thought that placement was correct, for 94%. One probably thought that son could have played on either team (likely) and the parent that strongly disagreed was one that did not care for the 1 team, 2 squads system.

Statement: I would have liked for my son to get more playing time. Average Answer 3.19

Strongly Agree: 2
Agree: 5
Neutral or Don't Know: 11
Disagree: 9
Strongly Disagree: 4

This was a tricky question to answer too. If you want more playing time for your son, then you would agree with the statement - but only 2 of 32 strongly agreed. The five others that agreed weren't adamant about it, and I would suspect recognize the difficulty of the numbers. For the same reason many of us put neutral or don't know - that is, sure, it would be nice if my kid got to play more, but he didn't have to. The score for this answer was the closest to neutral of all the questions.

Statement: I wish my son could have played a different position. Average Answer 2.78

Strongly Agree: 2
Agree: 5
Neutral or Don't Know: 13
Disagree: 8
Strongly Disagree: 4

This statement was also fairly close to neutral. If a parent answered neutral or disagree, then I took it to mean that they were at least comfortable with the position their son played. So that worked out to 78%. The other 22% would have liked to have seen their sons play a different position, which may also mean playing on another side of the ball - I don't disagree with that at all, but once again, roster numbers tended to reduce our ability to do that and still have fun.

Statement: I would like for my son to play football again next year. Average Answer 4.84

Strongly Agree: 29
Agree: 2
Neutral or Don't Know: 1
Strongly Disagree:

This statement garnered the most positive reactions on the survey. 97% of you parents would like for your son to play football again next year. I deliberately left the statement vague, i.e. what position, what coach, what team, etc. I wanted to make sure that we hadn't ruined the game for anybody, as that would be really disheartening. So far, so good.

Statement: Football is expensive. Average Answer 3.52

Strongly Agree: 7
Agree: 5
Neutral or Don't Know: 12
Disagree: 4
Strongly Disagree: 1

The one that strongly disagreed with this statement probably pays for premier soccer. I think football is a little bit expensive, but when I compare it to some other sports, it actually becomes somewhat reasonable. Nevertheless, I ask this in part to communicate to the FCCJC board that costs do matter, and to let our sponsors know that every little bit helps.

Thank you all so much for your responses and insight about our program!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Two Plays

Great effort this weekend by both squads.

Our Blue squad won against SMN - an experienced team that already had two wins against teams that had wins over us. Great job Blue squad!

Our Black squad played the other 3rd place team, Shawnee Mission Northwest. The Cougars had given BVNW their only division loss and had the most points in the National division. Two plays made all the difference.

The first play was our touchdown play. If you option out to the right often enough, then start that way one more time you can wrong-side the linebackers. Watch all three of SMNW's linebacker's end up on the wrong side of the umpire.

The other play was 4th and goal for SMNW, in their overtime period. They'd managed to get to the 1 inch line in three plays, and this was the whole ball game. Coach Lee was pretty excited.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Time Change Again

Fall has begun! On a cloudy day, we can't see at 7:30 p.m. any more, so we have moved the start time for Monday and Wednesday practices to 5:30 p.m., beginning this Wednesday, 9/23. We will still start at 5:00 p.m. on Friday nights.

Beginning Monday October 12th, all three practices will begin at 5:00 p.m.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Early Friday Practice Times Begin This Week, High School Football

With the advent of the high school football season, our Friday practices will now begin at 5 p.m., and end at 6:40 p.m.

Monday and Wednesday practices will still be from 6 p.m. until 7:40 p.m.

The Olathe Northwest Ravens High School Team will play their first game this Thursday night at CBAC against the Shawnee Mission East Lancers. The game is at 7 p.m. Hope to see you all there.

Another great matchup will happen on the same field on Friday night. The Olathe East Hawks will play the Lawrence Free State Firebirds at 7 p.m. The two teams tied for 3rd in the pre-season Sunflower League coaches poll. Free State is my dark horse to win the league - if I'm allowed to call a team picked 3rd a dark horse - and I'm a huge fan of their dynamic quarterback Camren Torneden. He's not a very big guy, but in football, you do have to actually touch a guy to have a chance to bring him down. In Torneden's case, that's easier said than done.

Now that Free State is finally absent graduated fullback Chucky Hunter, expect most teams to spread out defensively against them, stay in their lanes, and force Torneden to be a pocket passer. Mind you, he can pass just fine - but he'll kill you with his legs.

If you're staying in on Friday night and Metro Sports is in your cable package, watch the Hutchinson Salt Hawks and the Rockhurst Hawklets instead. Question - can speed and talent on defense really shut down the triple option? My guess is yes - but as an option fan, I'll root for Hutch!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cut Blocking - Teach it or Reject it?

Want to see a great block? Watch this video of the right guard and center, on our nose tackle (the defender right over the ball).

But now watch this video, focusing on the same guys (right guard, nose tackle, and center) and what starts out to be the same sort of block.

So what is an offensive youth coach to do? You want your guy to block well. The nose tackle just made a play on that same series, and you don't want him to stop you any more.

Both of these blocks are legal by the way, as far as I know. Everything is just simultaneous enough, the blocks happen in the free blocking zone, and football is a physical game. The risk for injury is there on every play.

Some coaches don't teach this type of blocking at all. Some coaches teach the blocking shown in the first video, but the kids themselves will accidentally (or on purpose, if they're pissed off) end up with a high low as shown in the second situation.

(By the way, the kid was fine - no harm this time.)

Personally, I'd like to see this type of blocking outlawed, at least at the youth level, and probably at all levels. See this article for an NFL version of this controversy. Here are my reasons we should do away with it in FCCJC and the Blue Valley League, and CYO for that matter.
  1. If the other team is doing it, and you're not, you feel like you have to do it too in order to give your team a better chance to win.
  2. If the other team does it and you don't like it, you retaliate in kind - players and coaches both.
  3. The retaliation escalates, and pretty soon your blocking purposes are not just to advance the ball - they're to hurt somebody.
Kids are pretty flexible, so this may not be as bad a problem as it seems to me. But if I were running the youth league, this would be illegal. Basically, the high school chop block rule would be amended in youth leagues to remove the 'delay' requirement. That's it. You could still cut block - you just couldn't do so at any time that the player you were cutting was being blocked by another player. Or put another way, both the blockers on a double team are responsible for staying high.

I think that would be simpler to teach than trying to warn and teach defensive players about avoiding and defeating high-low blocks - which is what we have to do these days.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Practice Canceled Tonight

Due to the line of thunderstorms, the practice tonight (Wednesday 8/19) has been postponed until tomorrow, same time, same place. Yvette has sent a text, and I have sent an E-Mail regarding the same.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Still Tinkering

The chief challenge for the coaches this year has been the size of our team. With 38 players, we're the size of some high school teams.

Some youth coaches might think it would be great to have 38 players and two squads playing games, because you'd always have a scrimmage partner. There is that. And it is a great thing that we'd anticipated and it's been wonderful.

The downside is mathematical. There are 22 players active on any given play. We have 72% too many for one scrimmage, and only 86% of what we need for two scrimmages. We figured that last little bit out last week when we tried to set up two separate scrimmages and very quickly had quarterbacks playing guard and cornerbacks playing tackle, with 8 v 10 on the two scrimmages such as they were. It wasn't quite what we'd hoped.

So after a few E-Mails back and forth, the coaches hit on having three teams per night. On offense nights we have two offenses of 11 or 12 and a scout defense of 14 to 16. The offenses take turns running plays. Between plays they listen to coaching points about their execution and performance. The scout defense lines up in the particular formation we believe we will be encountering that week, shifting as needed to demonstrate each offense's opponent. We flip that on defense nights, to have one scout offense and two defenses. The scout offense draws plays in the dirt, mimicing the opponent's offense as best we can.

That seems to be working reasonably well, though I have the same problem that higher level teams have - not enough reps for the depth chart. For example, the boys on the scout defense are pretty much the #2's on their respective squad's offenses. Especially in the backfield, the players can develop a timing that is hard-earned. That may be a rough spot for us until we find a proper mix. But we're still tinkering.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hits and Misses

Pads popped for the first time last night, and a few of our guys were wide-eyed.

Half the boys have played tackle football before. The other half just strapped on for the first time, so a little uncertainty and a bit of timidity weren't entirely unexpected.

We did have two guys get a little teary. One hurt his arm on a facemask. Another couldn't really tell me what hurt, but it must have been something. Getting 'dinged up' is a normal part of the game. We are trying to introduce hitting in a slow and somewhat measured way - but with 38 kids and all levels of ability, there are occasionally spots where things happen.

The 'splatter' tackle drill that we did over the tackling dummies was designed to get kids over the fear of falling, or taking themselves and others to the ground. It provides a soft, safe landing space for both players. For the version of the Oklahoma drill we did, we limited the space and speed between the collisions to three yards acceleration from a prone position. This is the gridiron equivalent of a fender bender - potentially painful, but generally unlikely to be too big a problem.

Football is a violent game. Sometimes it is difficult to think of 4th graders as violent, but the game encourages a certain amount of blunt trauma. Helmets and pads protect our boys for the most part. But another surprising source of protection, fully on display last night, is actually the player's attitude about hitting and being hit.

I probably can't explain this very well, so let me pour out a stream of consciousness, and see if you can tell what I mean.

I noticed two new players last night - they'd never played tackle before - that seemed to enjoy the hitting. They were hit, and they made hits. They didn't win every battle, but they won a few. One is a decent-sized guy that may be a good interior lineman. The other is kind of small, with some nice speed. But last night I got to see the way they attacked and faced attack. I appreciated their body lean, their posture, their head position - you could probably call it body language.

I watched another really good experienced player, big, fast, and strong, just light up a kid on the splatter tackle. This player knows what he's doing, and he likes to hit. When we got to the Oklahoma drill, he missed a player that he should have tackled. He knew it, I knew it - he tried to blast that kid.

We talked a little, and I gave him a bigger challenge against an even smaller, quicker kid, to see if he'd learned his lesson. I bet myself big money that he had, and now I'm richer, because he stepped up. He went into the tackle a little more cautiously, not terribly worried about making a crushing hit - but determined to make the play. The attitude he used I would describe as 'smart first, aggressive second' instead of the other way around - but aggression will always be a part of his game, and he finished his tackle by driving a really good player three yards back.

And some of you that watched may have noticed the battles royal that we staged at the end, between matchups that we all wanted to see. Peyton and Brayden had a classic, on the first night of pads. 61 pounds vs 65 pounds, and either one of those kids will happily take on any size kid on our team or in our league. They have ferocious attitudes about how they will play the game, and kids that they go against will often outweigh them by 30 pounds or more. Trust me, it won't matter.

And then there were the eight or ten brand new guys that hesitated going into tackles, or carrying the ball.

Understand that these are clearly very smart young guys, applying ration and reason to a physics problem, i.e., if I slam into that guy, it may hurt. Unfortunately, football can be a little cruel, and despite their best intellectual efforts, the slamming happens anyway. But now they themselves are slammed, instead of being the one doing the slamming. And very often this type of wreck will happen just as the slammee exhibits a state of semi-rigid tension. This is a perfectly understandable physical reaction to the feeling of alarm that precedes an accident. Unfortunately, it is sort of like becoming the anvil to another kid's hammer.

Been there, done that. No shame in it, and it is a part of the process. Sadly I was 11 when I learned these hard lessons, and 12 before I understood enough to do a little teaching myself. It takes time, and we saw the evidence last night.

Different kids will accelerate through these first few weeks of pads at different paces. I've already seen two new kids light the hitting light bulb. Others, MANY others, will 'get it' before the end of the first game.

And as pleased as I am with all our hitters' attitudes, the other coaches and I are really excited to help a whole lot of other guys get there.

Monday, July 27, 2009

1 Down, 45 to Go

We had a great start tonight. We have a lot to do, and a lot to learn, but I was generally very pleased with the first practice. Administratively, I did forget to hand out Dick's sporting good store coupons from the league. I have a few, and I will get more in a couple of weeks.

I was very happy with the lesson plan that Coach Lee put together, and the pace at which he drove the practice. He's the hardest working guy out there. I was also very pleased to see Coach Bill and Coach Scott jump right in and help. The coaching they gave was correct, appropriate, and delivered with really nice temperament and instruction style. They are both going to fit in very well. And having six coaches this year will really help with this many players.

I'm working hard to get to know each of the boys. I tried to learn each name and pronunciation tonight. Might take a couple of practices, but we'll all get there. And I really want to meet each and every parent, and get to know you better. One of the most fun things for me over years of coaching has been getting to know and become friends with so many parents. But it was a little intimidating to look over at the sideline and see just how many names I will need to learn. Coach Bill said I should have encouraged more errand-running during practice. I think he was kidding.

Tomorrow night our practice will focus on position names, alignment, formations, hole numbering, and stances in our offense. Lee and I are making a best guess as we split the boys into line and backs groups, and it will change over time as we get to know them better. Last year we moved one player from guard to fullback, and another player from halfback to guard, both about ten days before the first game. Both players had great seasons, so don't worry too much if you think there is a misplacement tomorrow night. We'll figure it out eventually.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Parts of our Offense at a High Level

Some of our offense will be run from the flex formation. I thought you might like to see some highlights from Georgia Tech University, where they run it very well.

UGA fans, please forgive the ending. But the football stuff is cool. We're going to have a lot of fun.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


To play tackle football in FCCJC, you need tackle football equipment.

Most players rent their shoulder pads and helmets from the league. I recommend that approach as being no more expensive and generally safer than buying that equipment. A single pair of youth-sized shoulder pads can range from $50 to $150. If your son grows - and all his coaches hope that he will - he will probably need a new set for every season of youth football. And he will probably outgrow his helmet from year to year too, necessitating another $60 to $150.

Shoulder pad and helmet rental for the season at FCCJC is $60. Buying the cheapest helmet and shoulder pads you can get, and replacing them even every two years, which may not be possible, would save you only $20 over four years versus renting. That is a bad risk, both financially and protection-wise.

You will need to purchase a mouth guard, football cleats, football pants with appropriate padding, and an athletic supporter.

The league requires a molded, colored mouthpiece - it can't be clear. I recommend the kind that has a plastic loop that goes around the face mask with the mouthpiece running back through, rather than the one with the disconnect-able attachment. If the attachment is disconnected this year, even if the mouthpiece is in the mouth, we get a penalty.

I recommend football cleats instead of soccer shoes or tennis shoes - though all three are legal. Football cleats usually have more traction than soccer shoes and always have more traction than tennis shoes. Being fast or strong really doesn't matter if your feet slip.

There are two types of pants. Lots of kids have the traditional kind that hold a set of seven snap in / slide in pads (pads are about $15 a pack at Dick's Sporting Goods). Color doesn't matter for practice. Here's a link to those pants. Some kids (or moms) seem to favor the pants with the built in pads. They're more expensive but less trouble I guess. Here's a link to a sample of those. For games our players will need black football pants, no stripes. My son has black for both games and practice - that way in a pinch he could wear either one, and sometimes one pair is actually clean.

My oldest son plays for the high school team, and he uses a 'girdle' under his pants rather than the snap in hip and tail-bone pads. That is a matter of personal preference, but all the pants must ultimately have the two thigh pads, two knee pads, two hip pads, and the tail-bone pad.

I highly recommend some type of athletic supporter and cup. Something like this is what many kids use, but this would work too. Some of the cups are 'soft', and seem like a cut-down knee pad. But other kids want the harder plastic cups. I never liked those very much because you could get what was called a 'cup ringer' - you'll just have to use your imagination for that. But that's all they had back in my day.

Whether or not you have a "practice jersey" is up to you. Some players get a nice mesh jersey for the hot days. But it is perfectly OK to wear some previous year's game jersey, or your dad's T-shirt, or even your mom's sorority sweatshirt on a cold day. When I was in the fifth grade I may have been the only Chi Omega playing tackle football. Whatever fits over the shoulder pads will work just fine.

If you have questions about equipment or what you'll need, just drop me a note or leave a comment.

Friday, July 3, 2009

First Weeks of Practice Coming Soon

The first practice for 2009 starts on July 27. There will be a very important parent meeting starting at 5:30PM before practice on the first day as well.

The first week is NON-CONTACT and players should only wear their helmet along with athletic shorts and a t-shirt. The first two weeks will consist of Monday through Thursday practices from 6:00PM to 7:30PM. Saturday Aug 1 at 9:00AM will be set aside for a makeup should weather be a factor or players miss a practice that first week. It is important that your son make all the practices the very first week as they are required to have 6 hours of non-contact conditioning prior to full contact starting in week 2. We need all the boys to be at the same starting point going into that 2nd week and further as we make decisions on teams. Practices are tentatively set to be at OLATHE NORTHWEST High School.

"Normal" practice weeks will consist of practice on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6:00PM to 7:40PM and Fridays from 5:30 to TBD.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Win or Develop?

Youth coaches always have an interesting choice to make as they prepare their teams and players. As Americans, we're culturally driven to win in competition, and coaches do play some determining factor in those wins and losses. As parents, we're anxious to get the best possible instruction for our children, and to see them develop in the most advantageous circumstances. But if we're honest, we'd also prefer that happen in a winning environment.

Dozens of coaches and educators have blogged about the tension between these goals. Try a google search "winning vs developing", and you'll see what I mean. In soccer, where I have a long (inglorious) background, the debate rages fiercely. Coaches at the high school, college, and national level all decry the win-at-all-costs mentality of youth coaches, and the resultant scarcity of skillful players.

Then of course, those coaches turn around and try to win at all costs. They know that is their level at which development must now take a back seat to winning.

Personally I bring eighteen years of coaching youth players to the debate. That's more than some, less than others, but probably seems a lot of time to many of you. (That's because you are young, and I am old, and yes, I resent you for it.) Anyway, I don't think of myself as win-at-all-costs guy, but those of you that know me, know that I am conscious of the scoreboard, and that I am trying to win, to some degree.

In the spectrum of the win/develop debate, I happily straddle the fence. I'll shoot you a few examples, describe my position, and sum it all up with my reasoning at the end.

Consider the issue of playing time. The choices at the extremes are
  • Play everyone the same amount of time (a development-oriented choice)
  • Play the best players the most possible time, and lesser players the least possible time (a win-at-all-costs approach)
We split the difference. I will play developing players well over the minimum required, but quite often not as much as the top players.

Another pro-development strategy is to move kids around to play every position in a single season, or even in a single game. The other extreme is to give a kid one position for the entire season - or his whole career.

Once again, I'm down the center. Our players almost always have two to four positions at which they play. In football that's pretty easy with offense and defense, but on our team they will actually play both sides of the ball in nearly every game. In soccer I found it a little harder to have every kid play multiple roles in a particular game, though some could manage it. But most of our kids did change positions from season to season and year-to-year.

In training you can focus on skills or fundamentals (development) or you can spend time on tactics and strategy (win the game.) We, as you might expect by now, try to do both. We do let our boys know what type of defense they will be facing in the coming game, and what, if anything, we know about the other team's offense. But we also work every practice on simple, fundamental things like blocking, tackling, center/qb exchange, handoffs, pitches, etc.

Those are just a few examples, and there are probably other decisions I make that are similarly waffled. You may criticize this approach as preventing our team from winning as much as it might - you'd be right - while at the same time impeding the development of players. You might be right about that, but I don't know if anybody knows that for sure.

Nevertheless, I happily accept that criticism, because it is true. My number one focus is not winning. And my priority is certainly not to try to make some kid an NFL player either, even if I thought I could. My number one priority is that kids have fun when they play.

The eighteen years of coaching has helped me get a feel for whether or not a kid is having fun. Kids that make progress, and do things better, and accomplish things can have fun. Kids that get to play have fun. Kids that play on a team that wins have fun, no doubt. They like winning.

Some in the debate claim that this desire to win comes from mom and dad, and shouldn't be the case, but I'm not going to join that refrain, because I like to win too. There is a scoreboard, and I prefer to have a bigger number on it at the end than the guy coaching the other team.

That's probably my parents' fault, so we can all blame them.

Here's the thing: If a kid feels like he contributed, and he made some progress, and he got some recognition, and his team competed, and his team even won some games - well, he probably had a pretty good time. And when the season is done, I hope he had so much fun and learned so much that he wants to play again next year.

But I'm also very conscious of this, and it weighs on me all the time. Some kids might be playing football (or soccer, or whatever) for the very last time in any particular season. Whether that is because they find a greater interest in some other activity, or they move away, or the time has simply come to hang them up, I still want them to have had a great experience.

I will never believe that focusing on development, to the exclusion of all else, can create the kind of memorable and lasting team experience that I remember from my own youth. And conversely, I've seen way too many kids be run off from win-at-all-costs teams to be comfortable as a parent with that approach.

Sometimes development-oriented coaches will make the strong case that they're doing what's best for the kid. But I'm always cynically suspicious of that, especially if that same coach is paid, as is often the case in competitive soccer. And win-at-all-costs coaches will clearly keep, cut, and use players in ways that engender no love for either the sport or the team. And I think that is tragic.

So we will firmly trod the middle ground. We'll develop players athletically and mentally because it is great fun to love and enjoy the game and your team. And we'll try to win because that's really fun too. And if we've been even remotely successful at achieving those goals, my guess is your kid can't wait to get started this July.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Recognizing Defenses, Part II

In Part I of this two-part series, I described five standard ways to categorize defenses. We call them 7 Even, 7 Odd, 8 Even, 8 Odd, and Goal Line.

All of those categories ASSUME that the defense will line up in a balanced formation. That is, we expect the defense to have the same number of defenders on each side of our center.

But what if we don't see that? What happens in the case of a 5-2 Monster, where the defense shows up as a five man line, with two central linebackers like an Oklahoma defense - but just one safety? That defense has a player called a Monster, that moves around to any spot on the field. Often times, youth defenses will use that extra player on the wider side of the field.

Here's a picture of our flex formation lined up against a 5-2 Monster:

The M player represents the Monster, this time lined up on our left side of the field. Note that there are five defenders to the left of our center, and four defenders to the right, with the nose tackle and safety lined in the middle.

Our first inclination is to call this defense an 8 Odd. And for our option plays, it still will be! Our option plays are well-suited to run against a Monster defense aligned this way, because we can run to either side with no change to blocking rules for any of our players.

For plays like sweeps, belly, powers, or trap, we will probably try to change the play at the line to run away from the Monster. That's not because we can't block him - we can and do against balanced 8 Odd alignments. We check to the other side against a Monster on those plays in order to gain a numerical blocking advantage on the short side of the field.

We change to the other side in our offense with an audible at the line after the players have set their splits. Some words mean 'right' as in 'run the right-side version of the play' while other words mean 'left'. Other words are false alarms, and we ignore them. So if the key word "Ringo" that day means "right", a Power 25 would become a Power 36, and we would run off right tackle instead of left.

Sometimes we will even call a 'check-with-me' type play in the huddle. "Ringo Lemon Power" would tell our players that our play will be either a Power 36 or Power 25, depending on whether they hear "Ringo" or "Lemon" at the line. As they go to the line, they don't know to which side we're running the play.

We will also often do this type of check-with-me in cases where the defensive formations are ordinary, but the individual defenders have unbalanced themselves along the line. For example, if we are trying to run a Midline Option, but the nose tackle is lined up in the A gap between our center and guards within an otherwise balanced defense, it is pretty simple for us to call a run to the opposite side at the line.

We started doing this last year, in the second week of the season, and I was absolutely amazed at how effective our 3rd graders were at understanding that the direction of the play would entirely depend upon what our quarterback saw and called.

Each time we did it though, it was because the coach in the huddle asked the QB to read the defense and react at the line, and our players were prepared beforehand for the 'check-with-me' audible. This year we will try to build on that, and give our quarterback the opportunity to change the side of the play at any time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Recognizing Defenses, Part I

One of the things we'll work on with our offensive players this year is recognizing the defense.

In our offense, we have very specific blocking assignments for every play. Defenses can complicate these assignments by lining up in ways that our players don't expect. If the defense creates confusion about who is supposed to block whom, they've gone a long way toward ruining the play we are trying to run.

Some offenses use 'zone blocking' on the offensive line, which means the players don't have a specific defender they are blocking. Zone blocking requires blocking a specific space on the field, as opposed to a specific player. I think zone blocking is great if you have four or five great big snowplow linemen that can overwhelm your opponents.

We don't do that. We try to prepare our players for the most common systems they will see, and give them specific blocking assignments for those systems. We also execute certain procedures in the backfield designed to influence key defenders. We think that gives our blockers better opportunities to make good blocks. We believe that we end up with better blocking execution when players have very specific tasks, when they've been taught how to accomplish those tasks, and when we do everything we can to make those assignments achievable.

For the 3rd grade teams in our league, defenses are limited to five or fewer players on the line of scrimmage. Even given that limitation, last year we saw a 5-4-2 Oklahoma; a 5-2 Monster; a 5-3; and a 4-4... in the first four weeks of the season. For 4th grade, no such limit exists, so we are expecting a greater variety of defenses.

I believe that we will face a 5-4-2 Oklahoma; a 5-2 Monster; a 5-3; a 3-5 Stack; perhaps two different styles of 4-4 defenses; a 6-3; a 6-4; a Wide-tackle 6; and a Gap 8. I don't think that we will see the two popular NFL styles of defense, which are called 4-3 and 3-4, or a 7 Diamond Goal Line defense, but you never know. With two teams having eight games each, I wouldn't be surprised to see a dozen different defenses.

With all that, it seems like zone blocking would be the way to go, wouldn't it?

But with good defensive recognition, we can simplify every one of those defenses (and probably others I haven't named) to fit into one of five styles:

8 Odd
8 Even
7 Odd
7 Even
Goal Line

The number in front of four of the styles, 8 or 7, indicates how many primary run defenders are lined up on or near the line of scrimmage. The Odd or Even designation describes the number of linemen at the line of scrimmage.

If there are seven or eight or more down linemen (players crowding the line of scrimmage) the defense is a Goal Line defense. We will see some of those this season, especially in short yardage situations. The Gap 8 and 7 Diamond are Goal Line defenses.

So how do we recognize any other defense as one of the other styles?

Most defenses have two defenders that are furthest outside of our offensive alignment. They are typically called cornerbacks, and are part of the defensive backfield. Any of us can usually pick out those two guys.

Then we look furthest back from all the other defenders, at the safeties. If we see only one safety, we knows the defense is one of the 8's: (Eleven defenders, minus the one safety, minus the two cornerbacks, leaving eight primary run defenders.) If we see two safeties, we knows that the defense is a 7. (If we see three safeties, we are either WAY behind, or we may have a 5-2 Monster - more on that in Part II of this article.)

Likewise a quick count of the players with their hands on the ground can tell us if the defense is Odd or Even. If the defensive ends are allowed by their coaches to stand up, there will still be some number of players to the inside of them with their hands on the ground. If that number is two or four, then the alignment is Even. If there are three such down linemen, the alignment is Odd.

So with two quick reads, any player can determine what style of defense our opponents are playing. Two safeties gives us a 7, while one safety means an 8. Then we determine whether the number of linemen are an Odd number, or an Even number, and we're all set.

So as it turns out, a 4-4 defense, or any six-man line with one safety is an 8 Even.

Both the 5-3 and the 3-5 Stack are 8 Odd.

The very popular Oklahoma (5-4-2) is a 7 Odd, as is the NFL 3-4 defense.

The NFL 4-3, and an old-fashioned 6-3 (named for the six linemen, the one middle linebacker and the two cornerbacks) are examples of 7 Even defenses.

For visual learners - assuming you've read this far - here's a video on YouTube that shows this same thought process: Recognizing Defenses, by Coach Jim Adam

In Part II of this article, I'll try to break down special and unbalanced circumstances, and how we will treat them.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

2009 Football Signups Approaching!!!

Parents - 2009 football sign ups start May 30th and continue through the summer. Please register early so we can start to get a headcount for numbers.

FCCJC Sign Up Page

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Geeky Stuff

Patrick Browne asked me about new plays this year. You may be surprised to know that I've been thinking about that.  (That was a joke of course. I know that you know that I've been thinking about little else.)

We will add a spread formation and a Midline version of the option. And we want to try to accomplish a true fullback dive option with a mesh, and have our play-side linemen block at the second level. All of this is rather ambitious, but I thought that running the outside option at all last year was ambitious and the boys did it very well. These are just the next steps in the progression to becoming a true 'triple' option team.

The mesh by the way, is the hand-off part of an option where the quarterback determines whether or not a hand-off is going to happen. It might happen, and it might not. The quarterback reads the defense during the play and then he and he alone decides what will happen. One of the coolest things about the triple option, from either the wishbone or the spread formation, is that executing that part of the option correctly means we don't have to block the big giant defensive tackle that we're running toward. He will take himself out of the play by committing to either the fullback or the quarterback.

For those of you like me that get all geeked up about football, here are three different examples of what we will call the Spread Midline option that will be in our playbook.

Credit where credit is due - I saw this series originally last year on a Navy fan blog site called

Below is a video of the Midline option. The quarterback sees that the "hand-off key" (an arrow points him out) is turning inside to tackle the fullback. So he keeps the ball and could have even pitched it somewhere down field if he'd wanted to run that risk. This is a great read by this quarterback, because even though the defender goes to the outside initially to the B gap, he still turns his shoulders inside toward the fullback, which causes the fake and pull. I think the fullback would have been past the defender even if he'd been given the ball, but it is still a fabulous read. We would call this play Spread, Midline Option Left

Here is the same play.  But this time, once the quarterback sees that the handoff key 'floats' - stays outside to tackle him - the quarterback just goes ahead and hands the ball to the fullback. So again, Spread, Midline Option Left, but with a different outcome

Finally, in this example, they do something a little different. They KNOW in the huddle that they want the QB to keep the ball, so they cut the motion A back (#28 I think, equal to our 2 back) immediately up the field as an extra blocker. I think he is supposed to block the hand-off key, but since that guy has taken himself out of the play by chasing the fullback, he just gets up field and cuts a safety. The lead A back (#34, would be our 3 back) looks for an inside linebacker first, but since the guard got in that guy's way and no one is there early for him to block, he goes ahead and jumps out to the other safety and absolutely destroys him. We would call this one Spread, Midline 15 Keep

In addition to the Midline, we'll add a Belly series and a greater, more deceptive variety of counter plays. 

If you don't love this stuff, you're just not geeky enough. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hannah & Oltjen Accept Ravens Trophy

I delivered the FCCJC 2008 Runners Up trophy to our sponsors, Dr.'s Joe Hannah and Jay Oltjen this morning. I thought this would be an ideal time, as I was taking in my third child for an ortho consult. (Yes, he needs them...)

Jay Oltjen is a big football fan, and was really pleased to hear of our successes this year, and that the boys had so much fun. I also presented a jersey to Sarah Fankhauser, who handles the marketing and probably many other duties for the practice as well. (Her logo design graces the front of our jerseys.) She was thrilled to receive it, and very excited to be able to display all of it in their office at 151st and Ridgeview.

On behalf of all the players and parents, I thanked them for sponsoring us, and do so again publicly here on our blog. They are first-rate corporate citizens, terrific orthodontists, and great people.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ravens 2008 Statistics

Thanks to Coach Judd, who kept a drive chart for both offense and defense for the entire season. In addition to being the only possible way we could share these next three posts, the drive charts were really helpful demonstrating which plays were working, which were not, and where we were vulnerable defensively.

A few more statistics, that don't need a table:

Ravens Record: 6-2-0, League Runners Up

Points Scored: 116
Points Allowed: 36
Point Difference: +80, 10 points per game

Ravens Fumbled: 31 Lost: 6
Opponents Fumbled: 27 Lost: 9 (Luke W 3; Mitch C 2; Ox, Trevor A, Hayden M, Tyler R)

Interceptions Made: 2 (Tyler R 2)
Interceptions Given: 0

Season Turnover Margin for Ravens: +5

Safeties Scored: 2 (Luke W, Michael N)
Safeties Given: 0

3d Down & 4th Down Conversion Percentage

Ravens: 22 / 50 - 44%
Opponents: 12 / 50 - 24%

Ravens 2008 Defense Summary

Defense Summary
Defensive Penalties/Yards
Net Yards

Ravens 2008 Tackles

Mitch C
Trevor A
Luke W
Tyler R
Dart H
Hunter H
Peyton B
Michael N
Terrell G
Ox ¤ 7
Jack B
Jake E ¥
Zach P
Hayden M
Jack D
Jason B
¤ Missed Game 4
¥ Injured for Games 1 - 4

Ravens 2008 Rushing Totals

Yards / Carry



Peyton B


Mitch C

Hunter H

Tyler R

Hayden M

Jack B

Terrell G
Less Offensive Penalty Yards
Plus Defensive Penalty Yards
Net Yards

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Butterflies are Free

I have told this story before, but I needed to write it down in the blog, before I forget all the details.

There comes a moment in many football games, where the game is truly on the line. I know, that is a hopeless cliche. Nevertheless, it is a true statement. Football play-by-play guys often let us know when that play is about to happen. Even the PA announcer for Olathe Northwest usually says something like, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a big play" which drives me batty, but OK, maybe some people need the help.

So in the 2008 season, our third grade team is playing our third game of the season against the best team in our league. Their coach is a good guy named Kendall Gammon, and if you recognize that name as the former KC Chief and current radio broadcaster, bingo, that's the guy. Kendall's team was unbeaten to that point, and were quickly ahead of us that day 12 - 0. But with some persistent effort and a great final play of the half, we managed to get to halftime tied.

We traded drives for the entirety of the third quarter most of the fourth. At one point we turned the ball over on downs at their 1 yard line, and then nearly scored a safety. Late in the 4th they put a great drive together and were halfway into our territory when we finally stopped them on downs. By that time there was just over a minute left in the game, and that's when we finally broke a 53 yard touchdown run (Peyton) to go in front 18 - 12.

So we're now to their final possession. On first down they completed a pass for 6 yards, but our corner (Hayden) was right there to make the tackle. They called timeout. On second down they tried to beat us outside the other way, but Hunter ran the ball carrier down for a 5 yard loss. They called timeout again.

So let's set the stage, shall we? It's now 3rd down and 9, with less than a minute to play, and we're six points ahead of the best team in our league. Chances are pretty good that if we stop them on this play, only a miracle last play could beat us.

Now when we're on defense, I'm on the sideline. Coach Lee runs the defense, and he's out there in the huddle with the players. This is great for any number of reasons, including Lee's a lot better at defense than me. But I can tell you, it does feel a little more helpless on the sideline than in the huddle, and at that point in the game - yes, I know it is only a game - I was feeling a wee bit of stress.

And that's when the sleeve of my shirt was tugged. "Coach?" I knew it was some player wanting to ask me something. "What?", I asked, as I kept my attention on the field.

"Coach, are the monarchs flying south for the winter?"

You know what a double take is, right? That's where you look at something, look away, and then look back. That's what I did with the player. I glanced at him, then looked back at the field, and then, after the question had mostly registered in my brain, I know that I turned back to him with an expression on my face of absolute incredulity.


"The monarchs, coach, the butterflies. Are they flying to Mexico now for the winter?", Jack D. asked, and pointed across the field at a dozen or so fluttering butterflies along the chain link fence.

So at this very intense moment, literally seconds away from a tremendous victory, or a breathtaking disappointment, it was my duty to consider whether butterflies were migrating.

I looked back at the butterflies, and then back at the kid. I know that at some point in elementary school I must have learned that Monarch butterflies migrate. But at just that moment, my internal tension no doubt interfering with my memory for these things, I could not summon the answer.

So I did the only thing I could. It was in fact, the only thing that a head football coach, a man, SHOULD do in that circumstance. I turned around and asked the team Mom.

"Yvette, are the Monarchs flying south for the winter?"

I know that someday when I am drooling on myself in an Alzheimer's unit, people will once again look at me with the mixture of pity and puzzled bewilderment that Yvette Hatfield granted me that day.


I explained to Yvette that Jack really needed to know, right now, if the Monarchs were flying south for the winter. I saw Yvette's mouth open. I know she wanted to answer. But no sound would come out. Somewhat helplessly, I looked down our fence line, where Brent Morgan (Hayden's dad) had watched the entire exchange.

Brent either took pity on me, or actually knew the answer, I'm not sure which. "Yes coach, they are."

"There you go Jack," I said. "The monarchs are flying south for the winter. Can we watch the football game now?"

"OK," he answered. "I just wondered."

They threw an incomplete pass on 3rd down, stopping the clock, but I called timeout. Coach Lee, I'm sure, wondered what in the world I was doing calling timeout and going out there to talk to him, and I remember that I suggested putting an extra safety back for the last play or something, but really, truly, I just needed to be off the sideline for a minute.

Yes, we stopped them on 4th down, took a kneel down, and claimed the victory. But I will never, ever look at Monarch butterflies the same way.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Really Good Officiating

Some of you know that I referee soccer matches for high school and youth games. It is not primarily self flagellation - I really just kind of like the exercise. But it does keep me humble, or at least, somewhat so.

I found that humility helpful this last year, as I watched the officials out at our FCCJC games.

In 3rd grade football (and, I think, for 4th grade too) we only have three officials. Two linesmen and the referee. Despite only those three pairs of eyes, I have to say that our officiating was pretty good.

Standing back as I did with the referee, behind our offensive line, I can't complain about a single holding call we had all year. The offside calls, encroachments, etc., were all fairly obvious, so no problems there.

In our first game there was a non-touchdown call that probably was a touchdown. Seemed so to the parents anyway. In our final game there were two judgment calls with which I disagreed. They were both non-calls, where blocks-in-the-back should have been called, and one of those plays was a touchdown. There was also a minor gaffe with the winding of the clock, that should not have occurred - but that problem turned out to be inconsequential.

Lest it seem I'm sucking sour grapes, understand that the better team won on that last day, so the outcome was just. And I'm sure that there were probably questionable calls that went in our favor through the rest of the season, if you asked the coaches on the other sides.

The major point here is that I have slight cause to complain about only four calls through an entire season of kid football. I find that pretty amazing.

If I could have only had four poor play choices calling games during the season, I'd have felt pretty good!

Friday, March 13, 2009

We Believe

From the preface of the Olathe Northwest Ravens 4th Grade Football Playbook

We believe in running the football.

We believe that the triple option is the single most difficult running play for a defense to defend.

We believe that for youth football players, missed assignments (primarily of blockers not knowing which players to block) will cause offensive plays to break down more than any other factor.

We believe that youth football players can be taught to block, read, and execute the triple option.

We believe that the triple option play, and a few companion plays, can eliminate the size advantage that some teams may have over our team.

We believe that the balanced ‘double tight’ wishbone and the ‘double split’ spread formations that we will use most often, will cause defenses to in turn display balanced alignments against us, making blocking assignments easier to understand.