While the temptation may be to spend practice time running plays over and over, you should spend the bulk of practice running drills to improve the individual skills of your team. Below are some youth flag football drills to use in your practices.
The first drill is not really a drill but just how we warm up. My goal for each practice is to have every kid catch and throw the ball 30-40 times each. We accomplish the bulk of this through our two-line passing warm.
Two Line Passing Warm Up
For this warm up, the kids just pair up and start out somewhat short distance apart. A good rule of thumb is to base the distance on your team’s age. 5-6 year olds should start about 5 yards apart. 10 year olds and older should begin about 10 yards apart. After a few minutes have one side take a few steps back. Repeat this one more tie after a few more minutes.
Generally, we do this between 5 – 10 minutes to start practice. If you break this down, a kid should be able to throw the ball and then receive the ball back in about 10 seconds (6 passes/catches per minute | 5 minutes = 30 passes/catches). 10 minutes into practice and I’ve already met one of my goals.
Flag Football Drills – Offense
Drills for offense include handoffs, passing, catching, route running, agility moves (spin, cut back, juke, etc…)
Handoffs are critical with younger kids – not only the speed of the handoff, but also just performing a clean handoff without dropping the ball. If coaching a team of new flag football players, you can count on a few fumbles per game early in the season. The tough thing about fumbles is that if you coach like I do, every kid will get the opportunity to run the ball at least once per game. With a few fumbles, this reduces the number of chances to get everyone the ball.
Split Backfield Handoff Drill
This drill reinforces one of the plays I run with any team under 8 years old. The split backfield drill has the quarterback fake it to the first running back crossing behind and then giving the ball to the next running back running a cross as well. You can tweak this drill to fit the number of players you have at practice. Ideally, you would at least 6 at practice and you can run 2 groups at the same time. Read this post for more information on how to lay out this drill and one tip that could save you lots of time and headaches (spoiler alert: different colored cones). Inexperienced kids will try to take the ball with their hands. Stress the proper technique of allowing the quarterback to place the ball into the cradle the running back creates as he runs by.
One thing you’ll notice is that you may have a few kids that can throw the ball well, but once you get them in a game type drill, they don’t look so good anymore. Same with receivers. Kids may be to catch everything during the warm up but once they’re running around trying to get open, the reception percentage drops. This drill can give your quarterback and receiver a game situation feel.
Leading the Receiver
In this drill, you’ll mark off a couple areas on the field with cones. The goal is for the receiver to catch the ball inside one of these areas. This will teach the quarterback to lead the receiver to an area instead of throwing to a receiver that has just ran a hook and is facing the quarterback. This will also teach the receiver to sprint away from the defender while catching the ball. This drill is also a good man to man defense drill.
Flag Football Drills – Defense
Flag football defense drills include various flag pulling drills, covering receivers man to man, and breaking on a ball once thrown. One key thing that kids will learn through most defense drills is taking a correct angle of pursuit. This is knowing where to run so that you’re running to where the offensive player will be and not where they currently are. It sounds basic but many younger first time players will struggle with this early on.
At all ages, flag pulling is very important, but at the younger ages, it is the most important part of the defense. There are several flag pulling drills you can implement during practice.
This drill is one I run almost every practice with all age groups.
One on One Flag Pulling
This drill has the offense running straight ahead as fast as they can with the defense cutting across trying to first slow down the ball carrier by getting in front and then pulling the flag. This drill can be fast paced and you can get in many reps in a short amount of time.
A team favorite. For this drill, you create a small running zone for the offense. At the other end, you have one defender. The rest of the team is on offense and line up at the other end. On your Go!, the first offensive player tried to beat the defense. Once the flag is pulled or the defense is beat you send the next runner. The defender in this drill has to process things quickly to make pull as many flags as he can. This drill is also good for some conditioning.