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 http://www.northwesternbulldogs.co.uk)
– 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.

 

Fundamentals.

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.

 

Defense.

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.

 

Blocking.

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.

 

Ninja.

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What To Do With Weaker Players

29 03 2010

My flag football team purchased your 8on8 set and it’s absolutely been very helpful.
Flag Football
However, we have a dilemma that we’ve been trying to solve for a few games:

This season, some of our team’s veteran guys were replaced by more inexperienced and less physically-capable players. So now our team now has about 2-3 guys that we are having problems trying to decide where to play.

We want this to be a positive experience for everyone, so we do not want to bench any of our players or put them only on special teams, but we really do not know where to place these guys. Any ideas?

This is an 8v8 league, and we run separate offensive and defensive personnel. We run a pretty standard cover-2 zone on defense. I was thinking maybe putting these guys as WR (we normally have 4 WR), as this would still leave 2 veteran WRs. We’ve tried OL, DL, and CBs, but they’ve almost been liabilities in these positions.

Thanks for your help!
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The Ninja Speaks

Ken,

The problem you bring up of having a disconnect between the talent/experience/intensity of a couple of players and the rest of the team is all too common on a flag football team, and unfortunately, unlike some sports, even with teams as big as 8on8, there is really no place to “hide” a player, much less 2-3. On the one hand, as you mentioned, you want to make the game a fun, positive experience for all involved, because it’s “just flag football”, right? The other side of the coin is the intense desire to compete and win no matter the venue, and your players probably span the spectrum from “just being out to have fun” to “win at all costs”.   I have seen this before, and unfortunately, there are hard decisions ahead of you. A good first step would be to take a step back and try to determine which direction most of the team seems to be pulling. Does the overall vibe of the team (these 2-3 players excluded) lean towards serious competitive gameplay or towards just having fun. If it’s the latter, then you can take a deep breath and just accept the fact that you’re going to give it your best, but playing time and field equality is more important than winning, even if you yourself are inclined otherwise.

BUT, if you feel that the team really is built to win except for a couple of guys who are dead weight, but you don’t want to be a total jerk by having cuts from your rec league team, things get more dicey. Here are some thoughts:

1. Definitely slip one of them in at wide receiver. If you have 4, that’s a good spot. Make a point to start them in that position, but then encourage a healthy rotation after the first quarter. The fact is, they only become a serious liability if the QB throws them the ball (and they drop it, tip it up, etc.). Part of this will be on the QB. If these guys are truly that dangerous out there, don’t throw them the ball unless necessary. You could split the game, rotating two of them through one receiver slot, trading possessions. You may lose a superstar at that position, but immediately you’ve given two of them assignments. If you can pull off a spread set formation with 2 blockers and 5 receivers, you can definitely afford to have a weaker route runner out there.

2. While I agree that just having them on special teams is only a short step above cutting them, make sure that they are emphasized on special teams. That at least keeps them involved multiple times a game. Can any of them kick? Tasking one of them as kicker actually brings them into the game quite a bit.

3. Rusher on defense is also a good position. If you pair one of them with a very strong rusher, you should still be able to pressure the QB. Again, rotate through these guys to minimize the negative impact.   If you do this a lot, it doesn’t look as much like you’re singling out a weaker player when no one else is rotating.  I would recommend against putting these players in your deep cover two or even at the corners or backer unless they earn the position.  Stopping a good team’s passing game is difficult enough without worrying about your guys being out of position and giving up big plays.

Hard Decisions, Continued
Back to the hard decisions theme… Simply put, you will not be the team you want to be (or used to be) if you’re saddled with inferior players AND you feel that it’s necessary to give them substantial playing time.  The game is just too demanding to have weak players on the field every game. Sometimes it’s good to have numbers to avoid being caught short handed on guys for a game, but often it’s the less desirable players who are the most consistent.  You probably cannot change that much this season, but you may think long and hard about your team ethos and what next season looks like.  It may be worth reevaluating then.  I have direct experience with having to cut a player between seasons.  It was an extremely difficult thing to do, but his attitude and gameplay were dragging the team down.  Our team was much better for having done it.
Alternatively, you can keep these players involved on the team and just make the hard decisions as they come up.  If it’s fourth and long and you need a big play, put your best team out there. If you’re under 2 minutes with a tie game and a playoff berth depends on a victory, put your best team in.  To do this you need one guy (or a couple) who is clearly calling the shots. When playoff games arrive (and every single member from the roster has suddenly found a way to clear the calendar), you have to make tough choices.  Most times a weaker player knows he is weaker and playing some role on a dominant team is good enough.   If you don’t want to address it so brashly, consider reducing the playing time of the weaker players. Let them make the decision of whether getting a few snaps is worth the trade off of a Saturday morning. This is sort of an economist’s approach; address it practically, and if they choose not to continue, that is their most effective way to voice their discontent. (Of course personal relationships must be considered as well).

Remember that a team is an organism made up of a dozen or more individuals, and while nobody wants to be the unpopular leader who takes the game too seriously by making cuts or limiting playing time, there are a dozen other guys on the team who are taking the game seriously and making it a priority. By catering to a couple of guys who really deserve to play at a lower level, you may be trading their contentment for the chemistry and strength of the team, not to mention the satisfaction of the other dozen guys who want to win.