The Sweep the “Holy Grail” Of Youth Football Plays
While the sweep is a legitimate football play at all levels, it is a play I personally detest in Youth Football. Too many youth football games are decided by one player on a play that often requires little team work or real execution, the sweep play. It sickens me to see poorly coached teams running sweep play after sweep play for touchdowns, coaches fists raised up in the air in triumph for what? For the fact that by the skillful feat of geography their youth football team just happened to have one very fast player signed up for their particular team. Wow that takes a lot of coaching skill and team effort, congrats. The facts are, once these one trick pony sweep teams play a well coached team, they will struggle.
In the last 6 seasons of running the defense in my book, our first team defense has given up just one sweep play of over 20 yards. Our defense is designed to take away the sweep, yet many of these one trick wonder sweep teams still try and run the play, even after running numerous sweeps for losses. It is really a quite simple play to shut down with the right scheme and one simple technique by your defensive ends. We have shut down the sweep cold, even when we had teams with little or no speed and played inner-city teams with exceptional speed.
On offense, the sweep and sweep pass are in our playbook and we run it as a lead play with pulling lineman and in a bucksweep fashion, ala Wing-T style with a plunge into the line fake (or keep) by the fullback. While the sweep has been a very successful football play for us, I rarely run it on offense.
In 2002 we ran 2-3 sweeps the entire season, my tailback was extremely slow (and small), so slow he would get caught from behind on off-tackle plays. He was all we had on a very talent short “B” team that still went 11-1. This previous year mind you this team had an incredible Tailback running out of the “I” formation, one of the best running backs in the history of the Sreaming Eagle program, of over 2,500 kids. This team was the biggest and most talented “B” team we had ever fielded and “coach” ran lots and lots of sweeps. Of course they blew out the weak teams, but lost to all the descent teams and finished a very disappointing 3-5. All but 8 of the kids from this team moved up the next year and what was left over was a team that was the youngest and smallest team in the league that year. I took this team over to prove a point, that size, age and speed really didn’t matter much. Hmmm 11-1 with a tailback that was slower than molasses and League Champs vs 3-5 with the best tailback our Org has ever seen, gee I wonder what the better approach was? To give you an idea of how wek this team really was, the following year in 2003 I coached the age 8-10 “A” team and just 2 of the kids from my 2002 team were good enough to be selected to play on this “A” squad. In 2002 we did run the bucksweep to our blocking back and scored 7 of the 8 times we ran it, due to the misdirection of the play and great perimeter execution, not the speed of our running back, (he was slow too).
In 2003 we did have one speedy running back that could get the corner, but we still ran the sweep just 25 times or so that season. If you see that season DVD, you see the sweep was there for the taking in many games and we knew it. I wanted our kids to work for our scores and for them to know we could run our base plays and score against any defense. I knew at seasons end this age 8-10 “Select” team was going to play the League Champions of an age 11-12 league in a huge Bowl Game and we would not be able to outrun them, so we prepared for the last game every week. My 2003 team went 11-0 and our first team offense scored on every possession of every single game we played that season, running very few sweeps.
In 2004 with an all rookie team that year, again with very little speed, we ran the sweep maybe 15 times in this season and went 11-0. In 2005 we had one tailback with some descent wheels, but we only ran about 25 sweeps in that 12-0 season. In 2006 with even very good speed saw us run the sweep just 30 times or so in an 11-1 season. With going no-huddle like we do and getting an average of 50+ snaps a game you can see how infrequently we use these sweep football plays.
The sweep out of the Single Wing Offense is a great play and offers great numbers advantages and angles, but my distaste for the play in conceptual terms means we do not run it even when it is obviously open. When we do run it, it is usually a very big play. By the time we finally do run it, the defense is usually pinching and it is a big gainer. We execute excellent seal blocks at the point of attack as well as require our pullers to get downfield with correct helmet placement. However, if we are playing a weak team and are dominating or obviously have more speed than the other team, you won’t see the play very much from us. If we are ahead by a score or two you won’t see the sweep at all from us. We gain little long term progress from taking the sweep in either scenario.
Last season the head of an organization that often has very fast players, but very marginal coaching told me at the end of the season “In youth football, it just comes down to that one fast kid”. That is the epitome of what’s wrong with youth football coaching and why I detest the sweep so much. I’ve never lost to this organization or even had a close game with them for that matter. Even when they have great teams with huge size and speed advantages they won’t play us in extra games. Why? Because even with much smaller and slower players, we shut their offense down cold and it’s frustrating and embarrassing for them to do so poorly against a physically inferior team.
Don’t get beat by sweep plays and don’t make it the base of your offense. It’s like a 300 pound bully taking candy away from a 4 year old girl, it takes zero effort or skill. But when you try and take candy away from another 300 pound bully or even a 350 pound bully, and you depend on the sweep, you will get your brains beaten in. That’s why you often see teams blow past all the teams in their league by big margins, but go off to an out of town playoff or Bowl game and get blown out. Why? Because eventually that sweep happy team will run into a team that has as much speed as the one trick pony player they have or has a scheme like ours that shuts down the sweep. Good teams beat good teams, a good player doesn’t beat a good team or a well coached team in youth football. A good player only beats very weak or very poorly coached teams in youth football.