Youth football blocking is a scandal. It really stinks.

Why? Because of neglect and incompetence by the coaches. The mistakes being made include:

Truth to tell, the vast majority of youth football teams are essentially uncoached. They just point their few good athletes at a couple of points of attack, like the blast or sweep, and turn them loose. Those same teams, no matter how successful they are, cannot run a simple play that requires competently-executed blocking, like an off-tackle or trap play. Here are some observations of what works and what doesn’t work in youth football blocking.

Suggested sequences for reading Reedís youth football books


One-on-one drive block

Forget about it. This is the most common youth football block. It is the block kids try to do when they are not taught what to do. It generally does not work. The reason is only a handful of your top athletes can successfully execute it. In college and pro football, the offensive linemen are top athletes. In youth football, the line tends to be a dumping ground for fat, slow kids.

Double-team block

This works in youth football. You must coach your double team to keep their shoulders and hips together and move the blockee away from the hole. Good one-on-one blocks should result in a stalemate. Double-team blocks should result in the defender being moved backward. Relatively weak players can execute this block.

Trap block

This works in youth football. Make sure your blocker puts his helmet on the ball-carrier side of the defender. Blocker has to be halfway-decent athlete to do this block.

Crack-back block

This works great. Make sure you teach to avoid clipping. Even the weakest players can succeed spectacularly with this block.

Peel-back block

This works great. Make sure you teach to avoid clipping. Even the weakest players can succeed spectacularly with this block.

Kick-out block

Since it’s done by one of your better athletes, generally the fullback, this usually works. The main problem is getting the better players interested in doing their job when they are not carrying the ball. You need to chew them out or take away their ball carrying until they clean up their act blockingwise.

Pass block

See one-on-one drive block above. Will work when the blocker is one of your running backs, once you convince him he needs to work hard at his blocking. Good linemen can do it. But the typical youth lineman, who is a fat, slow, weak athlete, cannot. This is one of the main reasons drop-back passing does not work very well in youth football.

Wall blocking

This is sort of my invention, or at least I am the only one who calls it this. It works great. Technically, it is one-on-one drive blocking for covered linemen and area blocking for adjacent, uncovered linemen. “Covered” means there is a defender right in front of you. “Uncovered” means there is no defender right in front of you, although there may be one “over” you, which means a linebacker several yards in front of you.

In books and videos for higher levels of football, uncovered linemen generally go downfield and block a linebacker. I have found that only works in youth football on quick-hitting, straight-ahead plays. On plays that take a little longer to develop, like misdirections and traps, I have found that I must keep my uncovered linemen in place to take care of defenders slipping off the one-on-one drive block of their next-door neighbor offensive lineman or to take care of blitzing linebackers.

In effect, this is a sort of double-team blocking, but only on an as-needed basis. The uncovered lineman just chops his feet in place watching the defenders being blocked on either side of him, If one of them slips off the block in his direction, he takes him.

The failure of a one-on-one drive block is not a problem if there is another blocker waiting to take care of a loose defender. The fact that I use zero line splits (distance between linemen) helps wall blocking succeed, although it is not necessary.

Most of the time, my wall blocks are just my offensive linemen staying in their original positions on the line of scrimmage. But sometimes, on misdirection-trap plays, I will swing the wall to a diagonal angle anchored at the center or tight end. The defenders take a wrong-way step in response to the misdirection in the offensive backfield. Then, when they reverse direction, they find a wall waiting for them.

Stalk block

This is essentially a one-on-one drive block in the open field. The blockee is generally one of the better athletes on his team. The blocker had better be a good athlete, too. Gotta move your feet and stay with the guy. Like basketball. Use hands, not shoulder.

Hand versus shoulder blocks

The guys who invented shoulder pads and blocking sleds confused a lot of coaches and players. They made them think a block always means slamming your shoulder into a defender. Same is true for the guy who got started the notion that really hard hitting is crucial to every interaction between members of opposite teams in football.

There is also the fact that use of hands by offensive linemen was illegal for many years. In fact, I have often said that if you want to see what football was like thirty years ago, go to a youth-football practice. One of the things that was true thirty years ago is that offensive linemen were not allowed to use their hands. When I played in the sixties, we were taught to grab our own shirt and block as if your elbows were pinball flippers. You still run into an occasional youth coach who teaches that. Puleeeze!

Am I working up to saying always use your hands? No. Just get the darned job done. Learn to use both. But realize that defenders do not like getting slammed by shoulders. If they see you coming and have room, they will just step out of your way.

So when do you use a shoulder block?

Examples include

Use hands when the defender can see you coming and can get out of the way. Examples include:

Brush blocks

I have never seen anyone else talk much about these, but I think they are the only way to go for certain situations. In a brush block, the blocker just runs by the defender and brushes up against him as he goes. I discovered this while coaching high-school running backs.

In the power off-tackle play, we wanted the fullback to block in on a linebacker. He did so, but the ensuing wrestling match between the fullback and linebacker kept getting in the way of the tailback who was running full speed. We didn't really need a normal block. Because the ball carrier was at top speed, we only needed a momentary delay of the linebacker. Any attempt to make a drive block had a tendency to cause the fullback to shoot his legs back to brace himself and he would trip or step on our ball carrier. So on the power off-tackle to the right, I taught our fullback to just brush the inside linebacker with his left shoulder then go after the free safety. It worked much better.

In order for a brush block to work, the ball carrier generally has to be at full speed and the timing between the ball carrier and the blocker must be tight.

Running interference

This is a phrase you used to hear when I was a kid. You rarely hear it anymore. Too bad. It is a super way to block down field. It means what it sounds like. The ball carrier runs, usually down the sideline, with a blocker running in between him and the tackler.

I saw this often as a kid when we played unorganized sandlot tackle football. Sometimes, a ball carrier could run all the way down the field, even though there was a tackler in front of him, because he had a teammate running interference to his inside front. The tackler could not commit to get around the blocker and just had to run in that same relationship all the way to the end zone. You see it happen occasionally on TV. It would happen more if it were coached and practiced. Running interference is not a block per se. There need not ever be contact. It’s just that the blocker is in the way.

Opening holes is harder than running through them. You’d better put some quality athletes in blocking positions or your stud running backs and quarterbacks are in for a long day. You’d better come up with a feasible blocking scheme (e.g., do not rely on one-on-one drive blocks by poor athletes) and make sure your players know the right blocking techniques. The biggest blocking mistake coaches make is not making sure their players know whom to block on each play. I wrote about that elsewhere at this Web site and in my books. Here I am just talking about technique.

Good luck,

John T. Reed