Many youth football players fail to understand the need to play "assignment football." This can be one of your biggest headaches when coaching youth football. Too often many players abandon their base alignment, base technique, base read and assignment to pursue their own selfish interests.
In many cases they simply don't know their assignment because it wasn't taught to them properly or wasn't repped enough, while in other cases the player simply decides to ignore what he has been taught.
To give a quick illustration of the need to bring this concept home, every defense must be gap sound in order to be successful. In my version of the WT6 Defense, our defensive tackles have the "C" gap, the gap between the Tackle and Tight End. They are to align there and penetrate to two yards.
We also have a handful of stunts we call, one of which sends this defensive tackle to the B gap and a linebacker or corner to C, again keeping gap integrity. During our championship game one year, our defensive tackle aligned in the B gap one time and twice aligned in the C gap but slanted to B without any stunt call.
On two of those three plays the other team ran for long touchdowns right in the gap our defensive tackle had vacated. He only made three mistakes the whole game, but two of those mistakes cost us the league title.
Teach Them So They 'Get' It
One way to illustrate the importance of alignment and assignment is to communicate it to the player in a way he can better understand it. Many if not most of our kids play baseball, and start playing by about 5 years old. We practice football next to a baseball diamond, so this makes it real easy to demonstrate. To teach the kids the importance of alignment, I bring four baseball bases with me to practice and lay them out on the diamond early on in the season.
Next I ask the kids to raise their hands if they played third base, and tell them to run out and get into their position as if it were a real baseball game. I do the same with short, second, catcher, the outfield and pitcher. Next I ask everyone what player is missing, they all of course reply, "first base."
I ask them all to get ready and make a play on the ball. I get a runner to run for me as I hit one of those soft rubbery baseballs to third base. Of course without a first baseman the player is safe. I then let them know that when we are missing a player in football it is just like playing baseball without a first baseman, we need 11 on the field every time.
Next I ask anyone left if they have ever played first base, then I send him to stand right next to our other third baseman. I then hit the ball to short and again of course the runner is safe. I ask the kids why is the runner safe? They reply, "Because the first baseman was out of position." I, of course, say that you are correct. That is just like in football when we have a player who does not get into the correct spot, when we don't align properly we have little chance at success.
Next I put the first baseman about 10 yards off of first base and again hit a grounder to third. My runner is safe again. This demonstrates that even if the first baseman is kind of in the right spot, if he isn't exactly in the right spot, there is little chance at success. We require perfection in alignment, it is a choice and it has to be precise.
Lastly I whisper to the first baseman to cover second base when the ball is hit. This time he is in the right spot, BUT when I hit the ball to third base, there is no one there to cover since the first baseman is now covering second. I ask the kids, "What went wrong?" They reply, "He was supposed to cover first base instead of second." So even if you align correctly, if you don't do exactly what you are supposed to do once the play starts, it isn't going to turn out very well.
This is the exact same thing as our defensive tackle going to the B gap instead of C once the ball is snapped. I then demonstrate that exact same concept using my defensive tackles not coming in, aligning way wrong, aligning slightly wrong and then during the play filling the wrong gap.
When you are frustrated and blue in the face from trying to beat that same "assignment football" speech, using this little demo I thought of may make sense. We call it the "Cisar Assignment Baseball Demo."
Dave Cisar has more than 15 years of hands-on experience as a youth football coach. 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 in all 50 states and five foreign countries to run integrity-based programs that enhance every player's football experience and win championships. Dave has spoken at over 60 coaching clinics and is always a top-ranked speaker. His web site, WinningYouthFootball.com, is one of the top destinations on the internet for youth coaches.