Special Teams is a game-changer in youth football. Most youth football teams do not practice Special Teams the needed amount of time, and they pay the consequences in the game and ultimately in their win/loss record. Also, most youth teams place a high number of minimum play players on their Special Team units. This will lead to bad news.
A typical pee-wee team should spend at least one/seventh of it’s weekly practice time on coordinated Special Teams practice. Consider using your warm-ups and end-of-practice conditioning time into Special Team drills to get 30 minutes more of Special Teams practice a week. Also ask your skills players, kickers, punters and returners, to practice at home.
There are so many variables in the punt and it starts with the snap. You must find an accurate long snapper and practice the long snap everyday. A bad snap can add 7+ more yards of negative field postion to an already difficult defensive situation. Punters are also very inconsistent at the pee wee level. The receiving of the snap is tough and then to punt with 7+ players running at you takes a unique personality to stay cool and not miss the snap or shank the punt. We ask the punters to kick out of bounds toward our special teams’ coach. I do not want the possibility of a return, because the punt return in youth football is a great play for the return team, especially if the team has a top running back. Open field tackling at the youth level is very poor and a good punt returner on the loose is a chance for a big gainer or even a TD. So never kick down the middle of the field to the punt returner.
I am also worried about Kick-offs, especially, if we have not called an on-side kick. Like the punt, a good returner can mess up your day. I never kick deep. I usally kick to the second line of receivers and try to kick to an MPP. We kick the ball on the ground so there is a possibility of a weird bounce and fumble by the receiving team. Never kick to a starting running back that is also on the kick return team. Kicking short also reduces your chances for a big return. Most of the time, the receiving team falls on our squib kicks. You must train your kickers to identify these keys and be consistent. If your kicker can not kick to the second line on the ground and kicks high and deep, you should find another kicker.
We have been very successful with our kick-returns. We have tried to set wedges and walls but this has not been as successful as assigned blocks. This seems to be easier for the young players.
A big advantage to any youth football team is a good PAT kicker which means an extra 2 points in most leagues. My advice to any youth team is to start working on this skill early.
Thanks for reading,