Referee and Coach Talking

Shouting at the Sky

Because it is raining makes little sense. You cannot control the weather, the rain is going to fall, the wind is going to blow. Why worry about things that you have no control over?

Guess what else we cannot control? The men in the striped shirts (or I guess in some cases, the women as well). They are going to call the game the way they see it, they are going to decide when to throw the flag and when they are going to keep it in their pocket…and guess what, you can’t control that either. So why in the world would you shout at a game official? Just like shouting at the sky won’t stop the rain from falling, shouting at an official is not going to make him see things your way. What it is likely to do is get him annoyed with you. 

We worry about the things we can control. And as a coach, the only thing I can control is what my team does. I guess I can also control what I do and how I react to situations that present themselves over the course of the game.  And I will very rarely yell at an official for what I consider a blown or missed call. I say rarely, because just like the officials, I am human, and I will make a mistake periodically (like every day).

So how do we deal with a bad or missed call? Well, I generally ask for an explanation. What did you see? Or didn’t you see that? Or is that tackle allowed to hang off the legs of my defensive end like a Christmas Tree ornament? Not once do I shout when asking these questions…but if I was polite and professional, hopefully he sees that I am reasonable and will watch a little closer for whatever “it” is next time.

I have learned a few things about dealing with officials. First, know the rules that you are playing under. It gives you credibility when dealing with the officials. Every pre-season I download the latest versions of the NCAA, Texas UIL, and my local league rule books. And I go through them looking for the changes and what they are considering “point of emphasis” rules. Oh, I forgot, when I first started coaching, my knowledge of rules was limited to what I saw on TV on Sunday…and when I would mention one of these Sunday rules the officials would dismiss me as being a knucklehead. And as I am not actually a knucklehead, I decided I needed to know the rules, so before going through and looking for the changes, I decided to read through them first. Now, it’s just looking for the changes.

Another thing to consider, how big is the crew? In most youth games, you have two linesmen and a referee, by my math that is 3, and they have to watch 22 players with only 6 eyeballs. A Friday Night or Saturday/Sunday afternoon crew has a few more striped shirts on the field, who have particular responsibilities. With only 3 officials, and 22 players, there is no way they are going to be able to do everyone’s job. Holding is going to be missed because they do not have an umpire on the field. Pass interference is going to be missed because they do not have back or side judges on the field. Generally they will get false starts, offsides and holding on the edge. And no mom, they don’t want to look at the pictures on your iPhone and see the way big number 56 just held your little snowflake. Set reasonable expectations for what the crew is going to be able to do, and you will likely not come away disappointed.

Arm your players with some knowledge of the rules as it pertains to what they play. Your OLB’s or defensive linemen, let them know if they are being held, they have to get separation from the lineman holding them, or it is never going to get called. Teach your offensive linemen that they must keep their feet moving once they latch on to the breast plate or else, they are going to get called for holding and if the bad guy is getting away from them, they have to let go. Teach your perimeter receivers that if they can read the other player’s name, they cannot block them. 

But what do you do when they are not calling ________? (fill in the blank). You as a coach must have an answer, just as you do in your offensive or defensive schemes. A few years back, my team was running Double Tight Double Wing, a contrarian offense. Very compressed, hard to see anything that happens in the middle of the field, especially if you are running wedge, and we loved to run wedge. The opposing teams hated us running wedge, because most of them couldn’t figure out how to stop it within the framework of the rules. So, they would teach their boys how to cheat in some manner. We played one team that taught their defensive line to just grab our offensive linemen’s legs and tackle them. When we figured out what they were doing, we asked the official to watch for the defensive holding. They said “Sorry coach, we can’t see it”…we had an answer, we ran something other than wedge, and it did two things…one we were able to move the football again, and two, it allowed the officials the space to see the holding by the defensive line, and they started calling it. The bad guys stopped holding and we were able to wedge again as well, so I guess it did three things.

If, like in my league, you are lucky enough to see the same crews on a consistent basis, learn what they are likely to call and what they are likely to ignore, and adjust to them. The other thing I like to do, because I am a “people guy” is chat with them in the pre-game, or post-game. Ask them about rules interpretations. If you are going to do something goofy, or off the beaten path, let them know about it in advance. A few seasons back, we had a team in punt formation, that would motion the gunner into the backfield, which made him not the gunner anymore, but the end man on the LOS was the gunner. It was a mechanism to confuse our punt return team. Well, because of the gunner’s alignment, he was eligible to be cut by my defensive line. Pre-game, I went to the officials and told them we intended to cut him down, the official said the cut had to be immediate while both players were still on the LOS. So I coached up my right tackle (I moved him to punt return for this game for this specific reason) and let him know he had to cut the gunner down as soon as the ball was snapped. He did, the other sideline came unglued because “you cannot cut in the open field on scrimmage kicks”. The officials did not flag it and explained the reasons to the other sideline. After the second time we did it, they aligned their gunner more traditionally. Would they have flagged it had I not talked to them about it pre-game? I don’t know, but I do know they didn’t flag it because we did. Get to know them, most of them are pretty good guys.

The last thing I do, and this I know is silly, because they are going to call what they see…but I try to help them see what I see…if the ball comes out, I always shout that’s our ball and point the way we are going…and I keep repeating “That’s ours! That’s ours!”. And if they don’t award us the ball, when our linesman comes back, I always ask him “didn’t you hear me? I said that it was our ball.” Generally speaking, that at least gets a smile out of him.

Okay, the real last thing…just a quick little story from last weekend’s game. We are currently playing eight-year old rookie tackle. Smaller field, fewer players on the field, special rules…anyway, the center for the team we were playing lines up offsides, his stance is terrible and his head is out in front of the ball. So they break their first huddle…and a linesman who has called a ton of my games is on our side. “Hey, their center is offsides”. He ignores me, second play “Hey, their center is still offsides”…he replies this time “It’s seven-year old football, I am not calling that.” I reply, “Actually, they are eight”. A couple of series later “Hey, the center is still offsides”….”I told you I am not calling that”. The next play, their guard is also lined up offsides, “Hey, number 84 is offsides, and he is not the center”. He ignores me again. We come out of the half…”Hey, the Center is still offsides even if you aren’t going to call it.” And that was the last time I was going to say it….I felt the gag had gotten old…as we get into the fourth quarter, game is in hand…he turns to me and says, “I better get a great evaluation from you, I called a good game”, and he did, the entire crew was pretty good (all three of them). I said “I dunno” with a big smile on my face…he says “what don’t you know?”….”I dunno if I can give you a good eval, the center was offsides the whole game and you wouldn’t call it”…at which point we both started laughing.

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The Secret of Pass Protection

Before I begin, I should point out that I coach 8th graders, so if you have kids substantially younger than that, some of this may not apply or may need to be modified for the younger kids.

We mostly run four receiver routes where the RB stays in to block, although we do have a few five receiver routes. The absolute key (the secret as you put it) is the QB moreso than the line.  The QB has to know exactly what he’s doing, have good footwork that has him ready to throw the ball on schedule, and then he has to make a decision and THROW THE BALL ON SCHEDULE.  Most youth QBs stand back waiting for a guy to break wide open and hold the ball for four or five seconds, and, of course, they are going to get sacked.  We have thrown the ball over 100 times in five games and have only given up four sacks – most of which were my QB’s fault for not throwing the ball on time.

As far as the line goes, we slide away from the RB – the RB picks up the edge defender (typically a DE in youth ball) on his side and the opposite OT picks up the edge defender on his side.  Everyone else steps in the direction of the slide and picks up whoever shows.  It is an area blocking scheme, not a man scheme, so you have to drill it to get them out of the mindset of having a man to block.  Once they get it down (typically within a handful of practices), it will generally pick up any inside blitzes or stunts.  The QB is then responsible for any blitzes coming off the edge, because we cannot block those, so if he sees them coming, he has to recognize it and know exactly where he is going with the ball and get rid of it immediately.  We do some 5-step concepts, but each has a rush route (i.e. hot route) built in that the QB knows to throw immediately if he sees a blitz coming from the edge.  Over half our passing game is quick game (3-step).  In quick game out of shotgun, the QB’s footwork (for a right hander) should be step back with the left foot (he should actually start this step while the snap is on its way), plant the right foot and throw – he has to make his read and decide where he’s going with the ball in that 2-step time frame.  If he does this properly (and it is not nearly as challenging as it probably sounds), the defense can have an unblocked defender come through the A-gap and not be able to get there in time.  Yes, that is correct – if you get your QB to do his footwork properly and throw the ball on schedule, your line blocking is almost irrelevant for quick game passes.

For the handful of plays where we send out the RB (five receiver concepts), we call BOB (Big on Big) blocking, in which case they do man up.  Now, the QB is responsible for recognizing any blitz threats and getting rid of the ball accordingly.

In working with your QB, for the 3-step game, just focus on the footwork and throwing on schedule.  For the 5-step game, get a stopwatch and make sure your QB can hit the following benchmarks.  Hitting the top of the drop (the 5th step): 1.8 seconds.  This may be a bit of challenge form under center, although most 12-13 year old players should be able to do it after working at it for a while.  From gun (which will be the snap plus 3 steps) it should be pretty easy.  Release time (the amount of time from when the QB begins his throw until the ball is out of his hand): 0.4 seconds.  This will be a huge challenge for any kid with poor mechanics.  QB throwing mechanics is a whole other discussion, but if your QB is not coming close to a 0.4 second release, you need to invest some time and effort in learning that part of the game.  So, if the QB throws on rhythm (no hitch steps), the ball should be out in 2.2 seconds.  If the QB needs to hitch step (this is where we have him make his read and decide if his “rhythm” route isn’t open), he should be able to make that hitch step in 0.4 seconds, so with a single hitch, the ball will be out in 2.6 seconds.  If he has to hitch a second time, I tell him that if he does not know for sure he has someone open, go ahead and pull the ball down and run (we work on where the release lanes should be so he knows where to look to get out of there).  If he sees a receiver on the first hitch that he knows is going to come open, but he just needs a little time, he can throw to that guy off the second hitch (and the ball will be out by 3.0 seconds), but most of the time, a second hitch means the QB is taking off running.

Most offensive lines, even poor ones, can generally keep the defense at bay for 2.6 or even 3.0 seconds, so sacks should not be too much of a problem if you train your QB properly.  Of course, all of this presumes that you have route concepts that match up with the QB’s footwork so that the QB can make a decision on the “rhythm” route by the top of his drop, and that the “read” routes will be coming open during the hitch.  The concepts should put one or more defenders in conflict, giving the QB a clear read.  If you just package together a bunch of random routes and tell the QB to find the open receiver, you are doomed.  All this stuff – throwing mechanics, timing, footwork, pattern design, protection, QB decision progressions, etc. – works together in the passing game.  You can not just do part of it and expect it all to work.  Everything is intertwined.  When you get it all working together, it is a thing of beauty, but if you can not or will not learn how to make it all work together, you are probably better off not trying to throw the ball much.

BTW, I like to give credit where credit is due – most of what I have learned about this stuff comes from Darin Slack and Dub Maddox of Quarterback Academy.

Editor’s Note: The original author of this post, coachdoug, is not currently active on the DumCoach forum.

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