Adapting the Playbook for Full-Contact Play

4 12 2010

Coach, although have coached at varisty level mainly wing T in the UK, i am this year a 1st year JV (14-16yr) coach in the UK where my son will be playing. Football orgainsed by BAFACL runs from May-September in the UK and at this age group 5on5 is full contact. To my mind this is still flag football in principal, hence i have purchased 5on5 offense, defense and strategy guides which i think are great by the way and will essentially be our playbook this year. I wondered if you had any tips playing the offense, implementing your playbook with full contact in mind??
Football is alive and well on the other side of the pond. (Check us out at
– Regards, Mike

Ninja Speaks

Coach Mike,

Glad to hear you have implemented the Ninja’s plays over in the UK and found them helpful.  To jump right in to your question, adapting flag football plays to full-contact football has its challenges, but whether playing in the back yard or under the lights in a varsity game, football fundamentals and core concepts don’t change.  As long as the plays you are starting with are solid, they should work in just about any venue.



Full-contact fundamentals differ from those of flag football in that blocking and tackling will be key to your success in a full contact league, whereas flag pulling and pitching will be key to flag football.  In your case, emphasize swarming to the runner and protecting the football – broken tackles and turnovers lead to most of the big plays in full contact youth football.  But most of the fundamentals discussed in the Ninja’s Ultimate Strategy Guide (included with playbook packages in my dojo) will apply in both situations.  Throwing, catching and routes will be the same.



In a full contact league, you may be more likely to see a zone defense than a man defense, but just as you would with flag football, adjusting to the defense is just a matter of running the right routes (quick and precise against man defense, less rigid and adjusting to find the hole against zone defense) and finding which plays work in your league.



Typically, I would say the biggest difference between full contact ball and flag football in terms of plays and schemes would be the blocking scheme and creating holes and protecting the quarterback.  Although in a 5on5 full contact league, you likely do not have a full line with stunts, pulls and other blocking schemes. If that is the case, you’re essentially playing the same passing game with more running options and tackling instead of flag pulls.  The plays should work well in this setting.


Coach, keep to the fundamentals that have worked for you in the past.  Choose a few key plays to build your offense around, and then practice, practice, practice – both fundamentals and plays.  Remember to keep it simple and play to your strengths.  Go get ‘em.



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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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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. 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.