The most important thing you can teach your flag football players is the proper alignment and assignment. It’s more important than athleticism. Correct assignments will always beat better athletes.
Our most important philosophy is to never turn our back on the quarterback. The defenders should always be watching the quarterback. Because there isn’t a lot of passing in youth flag football, it’s important to keep your eyes on the backfield.
The most common play in youth flag football is usually the quarterback running a sweep or sneak. If this isn’t what your opponents are doing most of the time, then they have no idea what they are doing. Which is good for you! The second most common play is a quarterback handing off or tossing the ball wide to a running back. We also don’t feel a running back is necessary, see our Coaching Youth Flag Football book for details. This is also great news. The more unnecessary ball exchanges, the better for your defense.
The way to stop these two plays is by having players wide on the line of scrimmage, whether you call them outside linebackers or safeties or cornerbacks. See the diagram below. They need to stay in place and wait till the play is fully developed, and not make a move until they are sure there isn’t a reverse or end around going back the other way.
Maintaining this assignment integrity will win you a lot of games. Since we coach a read and react defense, it’s very important to “hesitate” and not react early. We have gotten the players so used to us screaming “hesitate” that they immediately react correctly.
Another important point is for the safeties not to be too far back. Very few teams pass well, and they will usually get intercepted. So we keep the safeties about 7 yards off the line of scrimmage and spread out a little further apart. This was they can read and react quickly. Especially, if they need to run up and blow up running plays, which is the most common play.
Rarely do run plays up the middle work, so we have our linebackers out wide and on the line of scrimmage to stop sweeps and reverses. We keep one middle linebacker, who is fast, in the middle about 3 yards off the line of scrimmage, to read and react. He has to be fast.
Most leagues only allow one rusher. So we call our rusher the “nose tackle” and make sure he is a small, fast kid that can fire through the line and get into the backfield right away. This kid usually will always get a sack and blow up plays. Unfortunately, most coaches we play against run offensive plays that are very slow to develop. They have too many handoffs, too many motions, and none of the linemen can hold a block long enough, or block at all. So our guy is always in the backfield disrupting plays. The opposing offense always goes backwards.
Our cornerbacks job is only to contain the outside. They do not guard the wide receivers downfield. They stay put and don’t let any sweeps get outside of them. That’s their only job. This keeps everything inside where we have help and other players. They do not turn their backs on the play and chase wide receivers.
This defense is very stout and in our 40+ years of coaching, no teams have been able to advance the ball on us, with very few exceptions. Very rarely a missed flag pull can turn into a big gain, but if everyone maintains their assignments, most teams will be going backwards.
We use one and only one flag pulling drill, which is fun and actually teaches kids how to pull flags! It’s in our book, but will probably be an article on here soon. Stay tuned.
Enjoy! And share with your friends. Grab our book on flag football to understand the defense fully with great detail.