I’ve Got Flag Football Plays. Now What?

20 11 2009

Question from Coach:

Thank you for your response! I just bought the 7on7 flag football playbooks from http://www.FlagFootballNinja.com. You mentioned that I should pick out five or six flag football plays to start off with.  What plays you would suggest. My flag football team has players ranging from fifth grade to twelfth grade, about 13-14 boys. I was also wondering where I could find some good drills to use for practice. Thanks for the help!
Deterimined to win.


“Without a sound strategy, an army corrodes; its warriors flutter like moths drawn to the flame.”

– Elder of Tsan


Having purchased the Ninja Package, you have already made a wise decision.  With it are over 100 plays that you now have at your fingertips, ready to deploy against an unwary opponent.  But you are right: keep it simple.  For your first game with plays, limit it to a handful.  First assess your team’s strengths (as always, depending on league rules).  But leave the Tricky Playbook out of the equation for now.  You want short passes and quick plays to work on your fundamentals and develop a rhythm on the field.

For your first game, assuming your league lets you run the ball, and you have the personnel to do it, try loading up with 4 passing plays and two running plays.   Try, “Ins and Outs”, “Hitching Post”. “Bullz Eye”, “Banana Split” and “Counter” and “Quick Pitch.”
Hitching Post Flag Football Passing Play

Hitching Post is a great place to start. It is a timing play with four different levels of routes that develop as the play progresses.  The quarterback’s first look is to the hitch (that’s the short curl by the green “Y” receiver.  He should run full speed for about 3-5 steps and then slam on the brakes and spin in towards the QB.  If run perfectly, the football leaves the hands of the QB before the receiver makes his cut, so by the time the defender knows what’s happening, it’s too late, and you’ve made a completion.  After the hitch, the QB’s  next receiver looks are: the releasing center in the left flat (the area 5-10 yards from the line of scrimmage on either side of the field), the left wideout (the receiver lined up farthest right or left of the quaterback, in this case the orange “X” receiver), and finally, the QB can always go up top if the right wideout is able to break free on the deep post route (straight and then angle towards the center of the field). Remember, like many of these plays, success will depend on practice.

As far as drills, check the Ultimate Strategy Guide you received with your purchase of theNinja Package to consider which of the fundamentals your team most needs to work on. Is it catching? Pursuing the ball and defender? Position?  For catching, a great football drill is to have a line of receivers facing the coach.  The first man in the line has to chop his feet and move towards his coach (at about jog speed).  The coach then throws the ball at the approaching player (a basketball-style chest pass is a good close-quarters delivery that sends the ball out quickly and can be aimed high, low or to either side.   Make the receivers watch the ball into their hands. A drop and they do pushups.

Another good catching drill is to have the receiver lie on his back with the coach standing over him. Coach has a football and drops it at receiver.  You can try variations on this depending on the receiver’s skill – have him close his eyes until you have let go; have him start with his hands palms down on the ground; try exerting a little force downwards on the ball.  The point of both of these flag football drills is to work on hand-eye coordination and to get the guys comfortable with catching whatever is thrown at them.

Footwork is also hugely important. Practice. Practice Practice.

I hope this helps.  Keep the Ninja informed of your progress with updates, pictures and messages.

How Do I Build a Youth Flag Football Team From the Ground Up?

13 11 2009


Nathan Lipscomb writes:

I am beginning to coach a 7-7 flag football team for a small Christian school. We don’t have a lot of natural talent to pull from, and they don’t have much background in flagfootball. We started last year and lost every game to teams who had been playing together for a long time. Where do I start with these guys to build an efficient unit.


The Ninja Speaks:

The Scramble

Fundamentals First

“From among the huddled and fearful children I will pick my few and mold my warriors.” – Blademaster of Red Mountain


Already you have taken important steps. You have formed the team, you have played and the players have experienced loss. These are important. But now it is time to take them to the next level of flag football.

To answer you fully, I will make assumptions. I will assume this is a junior high or middle school team and that you have repeat players for a couple of years at a time (rather than a new slate every season). I assume also, that you hold practices, but probably no more than 2-3 per week, and that you play weekly games (up to 8 or 10 in the regular season). Please correct any of the above.

Here are simple steps to start building a solid team:

1. Instill pride and a sense of ownership in the players. If the players don’t want it, it won’t happen. If the guys are going to be successful, this has to be their team. You are a rudder, not the sail and not the wind. A rudder is useless on a still ship. Consider a pre-season team event (an inspirational football movie, for instance) and periodic (weekly if possible) team dinners or other off-the-field activities. Don’t let them use the excuse that they can’t be successful because they are new to the game and their school is just a “small Christian school”. They most likely want to be part of a real team as much as anyone. It is largely your job to show them that the game is important, the team is important and that they can build strength together. Make each flag footbaall game feel like an NFL playoff game. Target leaders in the group, preferably leaders on and off the field, and encourage them to lead this effort.

2. Fundamentals. Stepping on the field in a game is a privilege. First, the players need to earn their stripes. Hammer the fundamentals into the players. Throwing. Catching. Running. Flag pulling. Do drills again and again. Try to make them fun or competitive drills, but (with a fresh season) before you go anywhere near plays, get them used to running around and trying the different aspects of the game. Make sure every person who is going to catch a pass knows what a route is and how to run a good one. Eyes on the ball when you catch. You’d be amazed at how much better a defense plays when everyone swarms the ball, and you don’t give up nearly as many big plays when one guy misses the flag – this is just a matter of practice and discipline, not a talent issue. These are the basics. If you’re shaky on these yourself, review the Ninja’s Ultimate Strategy Guide again.

3. Keep it simple. Especially if they don’t have much of a background in the sport or a lot of innate talent, don’t overwhelm them with scores of plays and schemes and jargon. For the first game in a season with new players, you don’t need more than 4-6 plays. You can always flip the plays and get different looks, but a team like yours with a few well-rehearsed plays will do significantly better than the same team with two dozen plays. The same thing goes for defense. Find one or two simple formations and then you can spend time giving the players reps and practicing drills so when game time arrives, they are not so frazzled by which play they are running and where they have to be.

4. Targeted Attacks A quarterback with John Elway’s arm always helps, but it sounds like the long ball may not be your best weapon. Instead, hone your short, timing routes. If run correctly, these can be absolutely devastating. The next time you watch an NFL game, pay special attention to how open the receivers are when they catch a pass. With a few exceptions, the routes they run often create just a few feet of space for the QB to deliver the ball. If your quarterback can time some hitch routes or quick slants or outs, you’ll start building momentum and rhythm that can take the team far.

5. Great Flag Football Plays. As mentioned before, there don’t have to be many weapons in the arsenal to start with, but make sure they are good. These Flag Football Plays offer a number of options for tearing down your opponent. Use them well.

Those are a few tips to get you started. If you have more questions, the doors to the Ninja’s dojo are always open. Tell your players that they can ask questions themselves as well.

Victory is yours.



Help with my 7-man team!

2 09 2009

Hi. I bought your 7-man package yesterday and wondered what you would suggest. I am coaching 5th/6th graders who have athletic ability but have not played together. How many plays would you suggest I introduce to the team and from what book would you suggest I pick the plays? What defense would you suggest to run? Thank you.

The Ninja Speaks:

You’re off to a good start. For your first game, I would suggest you have no more than 4-6 plays that the team knows very well. You can always add motion or flip the play to add variety, but the opponent will most likely have trouble with even 5 well executed plays. Each successive week add 2-3 plays, while reviewing the existing ones. If you can come up with a creative way to get them to learn the plays off the field, that will help (competitions can be useful in this regard).

On defense, keep it simple. A cover 2 zone defense is a good start. You keep two men deep, one linebacker plays the middle of the field, two men rush (if permitted), and two men play the flats (5-10 yards deep on the flanks). The biggest challenge you will have is to get the players to stay in their zone. Work on this in drills during practice.

You can try man defense if you think you have an athletic edge over the other team, but zone may serve you better for now.

The Ninja hopes you are helped.

How to Play Zone Defense in 4on4 Flag Football

7 01 2009


 Ninja, I was wondering if it’s possible to run any type of zone D in 4v4? I read somewhere that it can be done, but the team has to work well together. But it didn’t go on to explain how to set it up. Any help or info would be super! BTW Your O plays are sweet and I think they’ll help us out.  – Bob


  “The sun covers the earth and no feather of the sparrow escapes its rays.  So the Ninja will cover his enemies, and their escape will be as futile as that of the feather.”

                                                                                                                         – Ninja,  Whispers of Battle


 The short answer is that man defense is typically a more effective defense to run in 4man flag football.  While this depends on a number of variables (not the least of which are field size, league rules, passing clock and QB sneaks) overall teams have better success running man defense because there is so much ground to cover.


But a zone defense can be run in 4man. Here’s how it goes:


Ninja Tips:

– In 4man football, defenders cannot play true zone as they would on a 7,9 or 11 man team. They have to play a “liquid zone” meaning they drift and respond to the routes as the play develops. Otherwise, there’s just too much field and not enough defenders.

– All defenders should keep an eye on the receivers outside of their zone.  It’s best to turn off your brain and just feel the offensive play develop.  When someone approaches your zone, you’ve got to pick them up, but if all receivers clear out of your zone, with only 4 defenders, you’re going to have to adjust to provide support elsewhere.


We’ll assume there is a center, three receivers and a QB with a pass clock (instead of a rusher). Side Note: if you have a live rush and the QB can scramble, it’s almost impossible to run an effective zone.  


The Formation:

Form a diamond, with two defenders in the flats, one deep (though he should start only about 10-15 yards from the line of scrimmage).  The linebacker will spy the center and keep an eye on the QB (if he is allowed to run).  The deep man will have deep responsibilities by himself.  The flat defender on the strong side (the side with two receivers) will play true flat zone defense but will drift back slowly as the play progresses.  The flat defender on the weak side will follow his man a little more closely, though if the isolated receiver cuts inside on a quick slant or in route, the defender should let him go.  But if the isolated defender to the weak side (ie all by himself) takes off on a deep route, the flat defender to his side should follow.  If this happens, the line backer will have to be heads up to watch for the center releasing into the weak side flat under the deep route.


The deep man will shift towards the strong side and keep an eye on the inside receiver.  If both receivers on the strong side shoot deep, the flat defender should check the center for a release and then drop deep to give support to the deep defender.   


The success of this defense will lie almost entirely on the ability of your defenders.  And that does not mean they have to be the fastest, best athletes alive.  But they must have good instincts in order to read and react to the QB.  Sometimes they’ll guess wrong, but if executed correctly, this zone defense can work to shut down a 4on4 flag football offense.

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Ten Ways to Dominate in Flag Football

20 12 2008

By Max Moyer, special to Sports Illustrated On Campus

Reprinted with permission from the author

Fall is here, and with it the long awaited return of football. But before you stumble blindly into another mediocre flag football experience, check out ten ways to dominate the league this year:

1. The Pitch

If your league calls the ball dead when it hits the ground (and most do), you absolutely must take advantage of the lateral — it can turn a loss of yards into a touchdown. Every play, your players should be thinking pitch.

2. A Powerful Rush

Don’t make the mistake of using “leftover” players as rushers. Instead, use your best athletes to rush — it will pay off. A nasty rush can completely neutralize a quarterback and demoralize the opposing offense.

3. Adjustments

A flexible team is a winning team. Spend time planning so you’re not trying to invent your strategy on the field. Here are some things to develop:

• A plan for an overwhelming rush (releasing blockers, quick passes, pitches).

• A plan for a team that doesn’t rush (QB sneaks, two-move routes).

• A dominant defense (zone or man, blitzes, audibles).

• A plan to handle a fast, shifty QB (extra rushers, etc.).

4. A Good Playbook

Nine times out of ten a good scheme will beat raw athleticism. You need organization and plays. If you’re not inclined (or simply don’t have time) to create an entire playbook, try a site like Flag Football Ninja that sells them cheap.

5. Simple Rotations

If you have a big team, game-time rotation can become utter chaos. Figure out an efficient, organized way to substitute players through. Avoid team politics by spreading the talent around the rotation instead of having your “starters” out first. A backup squad with no playmakers is useless to put out on the field at almost any point in the game.

6. Defense

Defense wins championships. Generally, teams of five or fewer should be playing a man-to-man defense unless the field is small. A zone can work with a bigger team. Every defense will have its weak spots, but giving the quarterback too much time is unacceptable. So send your rushers as often as you can, and use the blitz aggressively to keep the QB on the run. Also, a zone will completely fall apart if your defenders don’t stick to their spots.

7. Timing

This, unfortunately, requires practice. But if your QB can master a handful of routes (or even a couple), throwing just as the receiver cuts, you can build a championship offense. A QB who can pair accuracy and timing can’t be stopped.

8. Rhythm

Everyone wants to huck it deep. While there is much to be said for having some long plays in your arsenal, by and large, you will fare much better with shorter, consistent plays. A relentless short game will wear down the defense much more effectively than a few long plays, and successive completions batter the opponents psyche as well.

9. Experiment Early

Regardless of how good your scheme is entering the season, you will be better if you adjust after each game. Each team has its own chemistry. Building on the concept of flexibility, try as many plays and schemes as you can early in the season, but by playoff time you should have distilled down what works best for your team. After a few weeks of regular season play, you should know what works and what looked better on paper than on the field.

10. Flag Pulling

Nothing is more important in flag football than being able to pull the flag. Again, nothing is more important in flag football than being able to pull the flag. This sounds dumb, but time and time again, short dump passes turn into touchdowns because of missed pulls.

Try the following:

• Don’t wait flat-footed: If you wait for the ball carrier to pass at full speed while you flail and swipe at the flags, you are setting yourself up for disaster. Instead, meet the ball carrier as early as possible, and move with the ball carrier while you pull the flags.

• Get in the way: Most flag leagues do not allow (much) contact. That is why it can be especially helpful to stand in the way of the ball carrier while trying to pull the flag. They can’t bull you over; they have to go around. This slows them down and gives you more time to pull the flag.

• Pursuit: If everyone on your team pursues the play, you will win more games. You’ll have fewer breakaways because if one guy misses the flag, another is right there.

Follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way to your own championships.

Flagging a Title – Seven pitfalls to avoid on the way to a flag football championship

20 12 2008

By Max Moyer, special to Sports Illustrated On Campus

Reprinted with permission for The Ninja

Some people play flag football for the fun of it. Others play for exercise. Still others play simply because they like being outside with friends. But not you. You step on the field for one reason: to win. Desire and results are two different things, however, and seven pitfalls in particular prevent most teams from tasting victory. Avoid these mistakes and the trophy will be yours.

1. The QB
It’s obvious. Good quarterbacks win games. So avoid the temptation of offering your pal the starting spot just because he’s a decent athlete. Hold out for better. Try shopping around a little. In most flag football leagues (with a live rush or without), talented quarterbacks are a premium. If you can, find someone who has played the position in a competitive setting before. The importance of poise and confidence in the pocket cannot be overstated. Smart decisions and good instincts will win games when combined with a strong arm.

2. The Short Game
The long ball tempts too many flag football teams. For some weekend warrior quarterbacks, the visions of glory are overpowering. The long ball has its place, but in most cases, launching the ball too often will lead to turnovers, and in a 40-60 minute game, turnovers are devastating. Quick completions do three things. First, short plays pick up yardage and allow you to march down the field in rapid fashion. Secondly, short plays open up the field for the long ball, so if you complete a couple short passes you can then look over the top with the stop-and-go. Finally, a series of short, chain-moving completions will demoralize your opponent.

3. Blockers and Rushers
One of the biggest mistakes a team can make (in a league with live blocking) is putting the wrong guys on the line. The line is no place for the “leftovers.” It’s not even the place for your 300-pound elephantine friend who hasn’t moved faster than a walk since third grade. Offensive and defensive linemen are skill positions. If you’re fortunate enough to have huge, muscle-bound, athletic friends who run 4.7 40’s and have arms the size of your thighs, by all means put them on the line. But don’t overlook the quick, feisty guy who won’t stop talking or the lanky guy who simply can’t be contained. On offense, if you can give your QB time, it will absolutely transform your game. The opposite is true on defense — With enough pressure on the opposing quarterback, you can lay waste to his passing game. Build your team around the line.

4. Playbook System
Don’t be fooled into thinking you can be competitive by scraping together a couple of good athletes and then going out to play sand-lot football. That might work in the Recreational C League, but not against last year’s champs. Just because it doesn’t have to be organized football doesn’t mean it can’t be. A championship team has strategy. Spend some serious time crafting a system that plays to your strengths. If you’re short on time or if you simply can’t cut it as an offensive coordinator, find a playbook that works. FlagFootballNinja.com is a sharp-looking site that sells a bunch of playbook packages. Remember, if you’re trophy-bound, saying “just get open” or drawing routes on your chest in the huddle won’t cut it.

5. Goal Line Productivity
Don’t ignore the short-yardage plays. We see it at all levels of football. A team marches down the field to the three-yard line and then after four tries just can’t put the ball in the end zone. Or, after a great touchdown, the offense can’t seal the deal with an extra point. In flag football, it’s the little things that make the difference. Most games only last a few possessions per half, so missing an extra point, or worse, a red zone opportunity, will kill your productivity. Practice the short game. Find something that works. It’s not as sexy as throwing the deep routes, but spend time honing the short game and it will make a huge difference when you’re on the goaline and need to put the ball in the end zone.

6. Preparation
Most flag football teams show up for the game, play and then go home. Two practices a week beginning a month before the season starts is ideal, but unrealistic for most teams. At the very least, you need to show up between 30-60 minutes before game time. Let your QB warm up the arm and get the team to loosen up and stretch. This will help prevent injury and significantly improve your play. It’s important to use pre-game time to go over your offense and defense, too. If you have a lineup, now’s the time to get people thinking about their positions. Passing lines and repetition will tighten your routes and lead to higher completion percentages. You will be hard-pressed to find a defense that can stop a perfectly timed out-route or 5-yard hitch. Practice and preparedness are the only way to develop this kind of timing, but once you’ve got it, look out.

7. Defense
It doesn’t get more basic than this. Yet somehow, when it comes to flag football, way too many teams leave their defense to sort itself out. Spend time on your defensive scheme. Your team should spend almost as much time in warm-ups walking through defense as it does offense. Team size will often dictate whether you play man or zone (in four-on-four it’s very difficult to play an effective zone defense, but consider a hybrid. Do you have a stand-out corner you can lock down on the weak side? If you have the athletes for it, a true man defense can be tough to beat. Either way, check out the Ninja for some ideas and schemes.

Avoid these pitfalls and you will be well on your way to a championship. But remember, tips and advice mean little without heart and desire.