I agree with what jrk said, I have my best hands kids upfront. Especially, on the younger age levels of football. I coach 10 & 11 year olds and they onside kicked nearly every time. We played 10 games, at least 6 teams kicked onside or squib every single time. Coaches try to steal possessions and keep the ball away from back returns. We really just assume every kick off is an onside kick. Some teams will show where they are kicking, others will come right out of the huddle and kick onside, so it's important to be ready every time.
We use a 5-4-2, with a press call to either the right or left if we think or know where they will kick the ball. Scouting is also critical. We'll know what they like to do kick off wise after we watch 1 or 2 of their prior games.
My general philosophy/strategy is to hope they get the damn ball. 🙂
I always have my best hands guys on kick return, and I assume every kick is going to be on-sides. That's all we really work on in practice, I line them up and kick 20 or so kicks at them so they can try to get used to fielding that sucker.
I've had AC's express that we should work on a kick-off return for deep(er) kicks, as we don't have a return per se. If it goes over their heads/past them, I tell them to block first guy to them. Which they rarely do, and I don't necessarily get on them because I don't teach them to do it. I just want the ball, and on deep kicks I figure it's one of my best two ball carriers in space against probably 6 of their kids (figure 2-3 of my guys will actually block someone, and there will be a few kids on the kickoff team out of position to make a play). I know I could do better than that, but I'm afraid that having a return scheme will distract them from recovering an on-sides kick. Okay, what that means is that I'm not confident I can coach it well enough for that (distracting from recovery) not to happen. I want ALL of the team's focus to be on gaining possession of the ball.
Generally through the years we recover (on the kicking side) far more than we give up (on the receiving side). This year I think we gave up two in 8 games. We recovered (from kicking) probably 6 or so, I don't recall exactly.
Am interested in the responses...
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Good stuff, although the shortside looks very concerning. No issues there?
Most teams when they onside telegraph where they are going or have positional tells which we caught in film. We did have a few teams try and disguise it and go to the short side but then they are doing something out of their norm so it would end up sucking anyway. We never lost an onsides to the short side. Against teams that could go either way we would line up balanced but keep the same philosophy. Again, film is your best friend here.
As with many things, you need to address it from two aspects: scheme and personnel.
Scheme - we would match scheme based on their approach. We had teams that would start in a muddle hoping to catch us off guard. We would start in a muddle as well and fan out if they did. If there was an unbalanced side, then we had a shift in our 5-4-2 towards the unbalanced side. As Rob mentioned, there were almost always tells that we saw on film (alignment of ball, players in key spots, etc.)
Personnel - you have to work on the hands portion of teams. Kids need to be aggressive and it is not just doing Whose Ball Is It drills. We worked with our players at every opportunity to have them fielding onsides kicks at them and to the side. It is a good opportunity to have players after they have completed another drill to have a coach roll a ball at them as they are going back in line. Every chance you can get to have kids going for loose balls, take them. I found that, at the end of our season, we lost site of this and we had kids who were timid in Regionals and it cost us. If you think that it is not a problem, then you will be too late when it becomes a problem.
In 2008 we were GREAT at onsides and kick return(to include onsides recovery). That was the first year we made it to nationals. I can think of at least on game where onside kicks won us the game. We beat a team in the regional semis who probably should of won nationals. We recovered 3 straight onsides in the second half to pull ahead and win the game. That teams rb is now playing rb for Michigan. He was the top 2 or 3 best player I ever coached against.