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Been putting a lot of thought into passing as of late and how to properly design passing plays/coach players to build up the passing game, for age group of around 8-10. Going to ramble off my thoughts, and if people can give me any suggestions for improvement that would be great.

  • Passing routes

There seems to be different thought processes on what to utilize for terminology, some like to use names of the routes, others like to numbers 0-9 (or higher). I struggeled with this initially a bit as there are a lot of routes and if you number them any additional routes you might add will either be double digit or be a 'named' route instead of a numbered route. I do like the concept of numbering the routes as you can have all of the routes that go in be 'odd' and all of the ones that go out be 'even' (or vice versa), and players at this age remember '3' a lot better than 'slant'.

I ended up settling on these routes to install initially while targetting only a few to be thrown to.

0.) Hook/buttonhook -- Player takes 1 step forward and pivots toward quarterback and prepares to receive the ball, fast hitting, best used when defense is mis-alligned or is playing deeper off the ball.

1.) Drag/ quick In -- Player goes 1-2 yards forward and then cuts in toward the ball at a 90 degree angle

2.) Flat/Quick Out -- Player goes 1-2 yards forward then cuts away from the ball toward sideline at 90 degrees

3.) Slant. ---- Player goes forward aprox 1 yard then pivits 45 degrees toward the ball

4.) Out -- Player runs 5 yards forward then pivots 90 degrees and runs toward the sideline

5.) In -- Player runs 5 yards forward then pivots 90 degrees and runs in toward middle of field

6.) Flag/Corner -- Player runs 8-10 yards then pivots 45 degrees and runs in direction of sideline

7.) Post -- Player runs 8-10 yards then pivots 45 degrees and runs toward middle of field (in direction of where ball was snapped)

8.) Curl/Dig -- Player runs 8-10 yards then pivots 180 degrees and stops and prepares to catch the ball

9.) Go/Fly -- Player runs straight down field

While at the younger of the age group, I do not expect the players to be able to run/catch every pattern, but I think it gives a good foundation for the future, as well as makes good decoy routes when running the ball against man coverage or to pull defenders away from the targetted receiver. Other routes I have been tempted to add atleast to the play sheet of players that well focused and grasp concepts easy are: Spot, snag, mesh, the 'v' or angle route for running backs.

Really curious on other coaches thoughts here, do you use other routes I don't have here, would some others be better?

  • Flexibility of Play calling system

I have felt that the foundation of how you are calling plays is extremely important and must be built in such a way that you shouldn't change your whole system when you later decide to add/subtract something from your playbook. It should also not be complex, if you can compartmentalize the assignments so the player only has to worry about their individual responsibility all the better. I personally am using wristbands for every player with all of the plays that their position will be expected to run diagramed on one of the pages for reference, so I can immediately get started with plays. I also tried to keep it fun, while the passing routes are simply numbered, the running plays were all named a superhero or video game character, as thats what boys at that age relate to best.

So essentially if I am able to be in the huddle I am able to point to each kid and tell them their assignment (as a crude example: '3 - 7 - 1 - 5 - 9 - batman'), if I am not able to be in the huddle I have another step that I add that encorporates a signalling mechanism from the sidelines that also uses the wristbands, so essentially we technically wouldn't have to huddle, although the rules of my leauge require teams to huddle.

I can get into more details about what I do for calling plays if anyone cares, but im feeling pretty comfortable with this aspect of my system going forward.

  • Play design

And now the main reason that I started making this post. Given the info above where I can assign individual routes to each player, I have alot of flexibility in what I can throw out there, but I want to keep it as easy on the quarterback as possible.

Keep throws easy: I have no dilusions that we are going to wing the ball 40 yards down field, if I end up having a quarterback that can throw and a receiver that can catch a deeper ball I will attack some down field, but I plan to structure 90%+ of the throws to be simple, but ideally catching on the run. The 'Center Drag' play where the QB runs, is a good example as well of keeping the throw easy.

Triangles: Once concept I have been reading up on alot lately is the concept of having 3 routes essentially form a triangle at the point they would ideally catch the ball, the thought being of stretching the defense both vertically and horizontally particularly when attacking zone. I do like this idea and it also keeps the reads fairly simple as all 3 receivers should be fairly close together, whether or not I can develop a QB to make 3 reads is an entirely different conversation :).

No more than 3 reads: Seems obvious but overkill to have more than 3 reads, at that point my QB should be taking off running if no one is open (qb can run in league I coach in), and if 3 reads is difficult for him, reign it down to just 1 or 2 reads.

Crossing/Meshing routes: Concept of having the routes cross in such a way that it makes it difficult for defenders to follow as they have to avoid other members on their team as they cross. I haven't put a ton of thought into this yet, particularly as I worry about my own players coliding with each other as they try to do their routes, but technically feasible, and seems like a good concept to try out in a couple plays.

What other rules/guidelines do you utilize when dreaming up your pass plays? I would love your feedback.

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I should probably mention that my end goal is to build this around a 3 step drop for the quarterback and build the timing into the routes so that the QB is reading the first read at the end of his drop. Little overkill probably, but half the reason they are playing is to learn more about football, and building fundamentals early is very important, and if I can pull it off I think it would really help get the passing game rolling. I want to build this in such a way that is flexible, scalable (in case I coach these kids in the future, or I decide to change my offense later its not burdensome for the kids to re-learn the whole system).

The main thing I am struggling with is how complex can I get while still keeping it painfully simple to each individual player.

Its obvious to me that the kids at this age group are not ready for analyzing the defense and throwing based on what coverage they are facing, but reading a simple, receiver 1, receiver 2, receiver 3 (take off running), while it may be difficult at first, should be achievable.

Basically I am at a stage where I am reading everything I can get my hands on and pulling out what I think what can be applied at this age group, filing it down to what can be implemented simply without much burden on the players, then apply my strategy for teaching it to them on a foundation with layers applied on top. So any additional resources anyone has read that might help me are also welcome.

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Continuing my research around this, found a couple noteworthy Articles:


(which this book looks good, a tad expensive, but potentially good, I am curious if any of you guys have read it?)

Lot of good points here that are useful, granted of course not all of them are applicable to youth flag football...

Another good article I found contained many coaching points that Bill Walsh used on various routes:

Granted again, not everything obviously can be copied and much of it is too advanced for this level, but there is definitely a few things that I think are useful. For example the method he describes on practicing the 'Go' pattern seems applicable for this age group:
-Practice throwing to a spot with WR standing there.
-Don't throw if DB is deeper than WR when you hitch step.
-Measure distance with WR full speed than practice stationary.
-WR: release inside than out - chase DB step on his toes and run by him - keep DB in his backpeddle - look DB in the eyes NOT past him.

I have been doing some experimentation with some kids in that age group in some pickup games at the park with my son (amazing how many boys want to play football when you just show up with football and ask them if they want to play). My Son at age 9 is only able to throw maximum of around 18-20 yards, and of that 12-15 yards with any kind of reasonable accuracy. In the routes I describe above, 6 (flag) is still mostly unattainable for him, he comes close but I think its the hardest route on my tree for him to throw, and 4 is very difficult for him, to my amazement, the 9 route is achievable assuming he is throwing as soon as he finishes his 3 step drop, naturally it would take a quick kid that has good hands and building up the timing between the QB and the receiver.

Been trying to build out timing of the routes, as well as figuring out the best way to teach the depth on the routes. My wristband system works great for taking a kid that knows little to nothing about football and plug him immediately into the offense (about 5 minutes), while I can get him to run the route desired, the depth is naturally way off (instead of a 5 yard in, he runs a 40 yard in), I kind of expect that and something I expect to be able to dial down in practice which kind of leads me to my next question,

do you teach route depth based on yardage or # of steps to take in the route?

I mostly so far have been teaching by putting in cones in practice around depth, have them do it a bunch of times, then next time have them do it w/o cones. Has worked with some mixed results, some kids do it fine in practice then when it comes game time they are back to their 40 yard 'In routes'.

I had kind of a thought the other day about possibly teaching them to: starting stance start with outside foot back with something like:
0: - 1 Step forward pivot toward ball

1: - 3 steps forward pivot 90 degrees toward middle of field

2: - 2 steps forward pivot 90 degrees toward sideline

3. - 3 steps forward pivot 60 degrees toward middle of field

4. - 4 or 6 steps forward pivot 90 degrees toward sideline

5 - 5 or 7 steps forward pivot 90 degrees toward middle of field

6 - 7 or 9 steps forward pivot 60 degrees toward sideline

7 - 8 or 10 steps forward pivot 60 degrees toward middle of field

8 - 8 or 10 steps forward pivot 180 degrees expect a pass low

9 - 10-12 steps forward look over shoulder for ball

I feel most of these routes are fairly well timed with a 3 step drop of a 9 year old (naturally the 0 route is for a 1 step drop), although there are a couple in the list that there is a slight pause in my experimentation between where my son finishes his 3rd step and being ready to throw the ball.

Another side note, reason I did not use the standard numbering for my route tree (as described in this thread).

http://www.y-coach.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=2020&hl=%2Broute+%2Btree#entry8831 and listed in DB:

I personally feel that the outside routes such as the Comeback are too difficult of throws to have in the tree, and for that matter I thought long and hard before I put the Flag route in my tree, but I mostly currently use it as a decoy route until such time as I have a QB that can throw it. I also wanted to have a 'drag' route which isn't in the traditional tree. I stayed true to the concept of keeping the inside routes even/ outside routes odd (they are just flipped on my tree), and the deeper the route the higher the number, I did not want to get into double digit numbers for a variety of reasons, I had considered using the 'naming' method used in the WCO terminology, but since all my players use wristbands and I diagram out the route as an added emphasis for them to be able to remember what to run, I figure it is easier to find being a number instead of a name, and thus that is why I use what I have described above.

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Hey coach thanks for the detailed information on routes. I see that you are working with 8-1o year olds. My question to you is how many of your players are returning players and how much time at the beginning of the season do you spend working on the route tree?

I have a bunch of newbie 8-9 year olds and would love to implement your route tree but just not sure if I its douable when most have never even played football before.


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Hey coach thanks for the detailed information on routes. I see that you are working with 8-1o year olds. My question to you is how many of your players are returning players and how much time at the beginning of the season do you spend working on the route tree?

I have a bunch of newbie 8-9 year olds and would love to implement your route tree but just not sure if I its douable when most have never even played football before.


I started this last year off with kids 8-9 and none of the kids had played football. Overall it worked pretty well, mostly for allowing complex plays to happen and keeping the assignments compartmentalized for each kid. I was able to be in the huddle (which made a big difference last year) and I still did the wristband route, but in the huddle I was able to just point to each kid and tell them which Number they were going to do (or the name of the running play) they might do a quick glance at the wristband and they were off. (against a man defense worked great for sending the defensive players where I wanted them to go, even if the receiver was running a route I had no intention of ever throwing to)

The challenge was getting the right depth of the routes, a 5 yard in becomes a 20 yard in etc, but they would still run the right route..., in practice it got a lot better as the season went on.

Think you have to remember though is that odds are you're not going to have a kid that can throw any routes toward the sideline, so the routes that you want to spend the time actually running and catching are:

Slant route

Drag route

In route

If they grasp this really well I would continue to move onto the other routes, but primarily at this age you will find a majority of your offense is run oriented, so with that in mind, you want to dedicate some practice time to the passing game but don't over do it, I was generally putting in 10 (average) to 20 minutes (max) (of my 60 minute 2x per week alloted practice time) per practice working toward the ability to pass the ball, which felt about right.

Don't start off trying to get everything in,

focus first on having them working on catching while standing and making sure they are looking the ball into their hands.

Route running is very important, its important for them to get the right depth and to make their turns sharply, but at this age most of the kids are just starting to get the coordination needed to be able to run and catch the ball in stride, you can teach them, but it won't happen in first practice.

For the QB's, it is really important to begin teaching them the proper throwing motion, it is an incredible difference in accuracy and distance when you get them throwing the proper way.

Most of my players are returning this year, and which is one reason I have kept the numbers the same as I started with last year as its familiar to them and I don't want to make them learn the same thing with a different name when they already know it named one way, but in hindsight if I were to do it over again I think I would have stuck with the Names of the routes instead of numbers, it is more scalable and seems easier for the kids to remember.

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Couple things to add as I have been experimenting as the season went on.

1. Teaching the route tree to 4th grade kids is pretty easy, even though I had almost none of my returning players and on limited practice time, they all grasped the tree pretty easily. They at times will still struggle with 'depth' of the route, and cutting crisply, they will more or less run the route you want.

2. Teaching kids to run and catch at 3rd grade is difficult, 4th grade becomes much easier for most of the route tree (only have a couple of kids able to do a go route successfully), the stumbling block for me at 4th grade is catching on the run IN TRAFFIC. some kids get it, some kids takes a lot of reps to start seeing success, but when it come your offense really starts to explode.

3. Teaching the QB's progressions. This was and is the biggest challenge for me so far. I ended up stripping down the playbook into 4 pass plays and a lot on reps and progressions with the QBs. I even went as far as putting the passing diagram on the QB's wristband and giving the reads a unique name. This seemed to really work for the kids, I now have 3 QBs that are going through 3 progressions on these plays (if no one is open taking off running), and trying to coach up a 4th. Granted it helps that defenses can't rush for 5 seconds (which actually works out to be 3 seconds time).

A drill I have been using kind of on the fly (not sure if it has any official name): Center, QB and 2 receivers vs 2 defenders. I then tell each receiver what they are doing (defense can know it as well), IE: Outside receiver does a 'go' route, inside receiver does a corner route, Center snaps and runs to the flat forming a triangle of reads, QB reads deepest route to shallowest. (The QB knows this only as "Sail") As there is only 2 defenders vs 3 receivers someone will always be open if executed right. I still see some hesitation in throwing the ball, but this seems to have really helped with building the QB's confidence in this area.


If I were to start over, I would probably remove the quick out from my route tree as that is a very difficult route for QB's at this age to throw accurately, and I don't feel I would lose anything by removing it.

After this season is over I am going to go back to the drawing board on building 'combo' routes to make it easier on the QB, but still feel that limiting the passing plays that the QB has to manage is the right way to go. While I can theoretically run any combination of routes, if I expect to have the QB get past the first read it definitely needs to be practiced with about the same amount of reps that a Handoff type play would to be executed correctly (after of course kids are running the routes as they should).

In some ways I feel what I am trying to do is a bit of an over-reach at this grade level, but its all foundational sound, we are primarily running into either Man defense or Cover 1 zone (at 7x7 this works out to be in effect a 1x5x1 zone), some sort of high/low read that puts one of the corners in a bind becomes pretty high success with some practice. Other things that might be done that would be simpler and easier to manage. 1. HB swing pass, seen other teams do this as a high % play, often won't get huge yardage, but even short completions help spread the defense out a bit. A stick or snag route might be easy to handle for the kids if you are willing to take some other routes out of your tree. 3. I think if I were to start all over with new kids I would stick with naming the routes by their name instead of by a number, easier for kids to visualize, although in some ways I like the numbering as I may start allowing the QB's to occasionally change some routes, particularly if they know the receiver is in a "smoke" route (0 in our playbook), as I have been teaching the QB that if the defender is anywhere next to the receiver you will need to look at your second progression, need to decide if you are throwing smoke before you take the snap as it needs to be out quick. This is an important route for us because most of the teams in the league have all of the kids on the line condensed, we are the only one that is able to line up in multiple different looks and spread the defense out, if the defense comes out and doesn't align properly a quick "smoke" route to the outside is a good/easy pickup.

I am still open to any suggestions if anyone has them, I am always trying to make it as easy as I can for the kids to handle, the more they can handle the more complex we can be and the more creative ways I can be to getting different kids the ball in successful means. (Simple is complex).

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Beginning preparations for this years upcoming season. Kids will be 5th grade this year (bound to have some new kids as some have moved up to tackle).

My biggest goal for this year is to try to really simplify passing game down for the QB to make it easier for progressions. There are 6 eligible receivers in 7 on 7. so I have elected to break the reads into 1/2 field reads. The receivers consumption of the play will not change, they will still get the number of route that they are to run, the QB will instead digest the information as 'concepts'. I have broken it into 5 passing concepts that I plan to install this season (1x at a time until I feel they have it, may not get to all of them but gives me a good foundation), in addition I can call 1 read passing plays (QB reads 1 guy and if not open takes off running).

I will deliver the play to the QB simply as "Pass-Concept for left side/Concept for Right side" or IE: Pass- Slants/Smash, to keep it as simple as I can there will be a reference on his wristband that covers what each concept is, he will choose at the line of scrimmage which side he will go with (for now I am not including any additional logic other than to visualize the routes against the defense and go with what they have more confidence in. 3 step drop they look at first read, if not open, move to read 2, if not open read 3, if thats not open take off running. Feet should tell when they are going to next read (or atleast that is the goal).

Concepts I decided on (and their names):

Smash - Outside receiver runs a "0" (smoke), TE/Slot receiver runs a "6" (corner route), receiver in middle (RB/Center) runs a "9" (go).

Slants- Outside and inside receiver run a "3" (slant route) RB or center runs to the flat.

Follow- Outside receiver runs a "5" (IN/Dig route) slot/te runs a "1" (drag), RB/center runs to the flat

Scissors- Outside receiver runs a "7"(post), slot/TE runs a "6" (flag route), RB/center runs to flat.

Verticals- outside receiver runs a "9" (go), slot/TE runs a "9" (go), RB/Center runs to flat.

The goal of all of these is to create a Horizontal/Vertical stretch to stress any zone that we might be playing, while still having the flexibility that if they are playing man coverage we have a good opportunity to beat our man and complete the pass. In theory at least these reads are similar enough that I should be able to get it programmed into young 10/11 year old minds, while still staying relevant enough that it translates if they decide to take it to the next level (tackle).

Attachedfootball plays.pdf is a copy of what QB would have reference material wise on their wristband (stripped down to the passing plays). Any feedback/suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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I just spent some time re-reading this thread and this is fantastic information. Thanks for sharing!. I am pinning this topic so that it can easily be re-referrenced.

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