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Using Rules to Your Advantage in Youth Football

Youth Football Leagues most often use the high school rule book of their respective state and then add in a few “special rules” of their own. One rule most have is some type of age and weight classification.

Others special rules can include:

Weight Restrictions for ball carriers
“Mercy” Rules for situations where one team has a large lead
Minimum Play standards
Free Kicks or automatic yardage on punts
Variations of scoring, some leagues give 2 points for PAT kick, 1 for PAT run or pass
No rushing on extra point kicks

A handful of ultra restrictive youth football leagues even call for:
Set offenses
Set defenses
No blitzing
Coaches in the huddle

Each and every league seems to have its own variation of the game. In most cases the League Board decides which additional rules will be implemented and the rules often change from year to year. My youth football coaching experience has shown the more competitive the league, the fewer special rules in place. Many times special rules are added to take away perceived advantages of certain teams to create a “more level playing field.”

Pop Warner League Rules can be found here: Pop Warner Youth Football

Unfortunately many of these special rules do nothing to improve the competitive level of the league. These rules are often used to help lazy coaches compete with better prepared teams. I could go on and on about the silly rules some youth football coaches have to deal with, but the net result is your team has to play by whatever set of rules your league dictates. Both teams have to play by the same set of rules and you know the rules in advance, so your job is to adapt and coach. It serves no purpose to whine and moan about silly rules, just refine your system to account for these rules and move on. The time to concern yourself with special rules is when your league has its rules meeting. Too many coaches dwell on the unfairness or silliness of the special rules rather than adapting and coaching around them.

Since these special rules often change from year to year it’s a good idea to make sure you are kept abreast of any changes that could affect your team. One year we had an excellent first team PAT kicker, he was good on about 75% of his kicks. We worked real hard on our kicks since the PAT kick was worth 2 points and running or passing was only worth one point. Because most teams were not able to convert their PAT kicks, when we scored and kicked our PAT kick, we were up by 8-0 and it was in effect a 2 score lead, a huge psychological advantage for our team.

We have to be aware that many youth football referees, work games in various youth football leagues and do High School games as well. Since many youth football leagues have different sets of “special rules” and these special rules change from year to year, it can be very confusing for even the best referees. That’s why it’s a good idea to make sure you have a printed set of “special rules” on your person during all games.

In both our Omaha and Rural leagues there are “striper” rules that say that if a player is above a certain weight he must have his helmet striped in a particular manner and he must play from tackle to tackle. In one particular age 11-12 game there was a 170 pound “striped” player playing defensive end that was giving us fits, a clear violation of the rules. In these cases it makes sense to let the referee know of the problem, this isn’t a judgment call situation. Having your "special rules" sheet with you comes in real handy in these situations. Most referees do not appreciate being showed a thick NCAA or NFHS rule book, but most have no problem taking a look at "special rules" sheets. There have been a number of situations in games I've coached where the referees either forgot or were unfamiliar with the leagues special rules.

Coaching Youth Football well means adapting to the situation, and situations include special rules. Don’t get uptight about the rules no matter how ridiculous they may seem. Make changes in your football plays if you have to, the other team will have to do the same.

For more useful Youth Football Plays or other Football Practice Tips please stop here: Youth Football

There are two sets of rules used by most High Schools in the United States. Most states use “Federation” rules which can be found at Texas and Massachusetts use NCAA rules, they can be found at:

Dave Cisar- Founder and President of Screaming Eagles in Omaha and Lincoln, areas in Nebraska a youth football program serving over 400 boys age 6-14. With over 15 years of hands-on experience as a youth coach, Dave has developed a detailed systematic approach to developing youth players and teams that has enabled his personal teams to win 97% of their games in 5 Different Leagues at all levels and age groups while retaining 90% of his kids.

Dave is a trainer of youth football coaches nationwide. He has a passion for developing youth coaches so they can in turn develop teams that are competitive and well organized, while having fun and retaining players. His book “Winning Youth Football a Step by Step Plan” was endorsed by Tom Osborne and Dave Rimington. His DVDs and book have been used by teams nationwide to run integrity based programs that win championships. His web site is http://www.winningyoutthfootball. com and he can be reached at