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.