A few of my readers asked me to discuss youth football league organization and my thoughts on what works and might not work. I’ll try to do my best and review league organization based on leagues that I have coached within both in Select / Recreation youth football and some youth baseball and basketball leagues.
First let’s talk about Select vs Recreational leagues and Teams.
- Club Select Teams Paying Fee to Join Select League
- Club / Team Managed Completely Independent of Youth League
- Player Recruiting independent of youth football league
- Pays Team Fee to join a Select League
- Might play in different Select League each season
- Usually a tournament team too
- Roster size might be game / league specific
- No minimum play rules
- League with Select Teams
- Coaches and Teams part of youth football league
- League Promotes and Advertises League and Teams
- Player evals Recruiting done by Coaches / Teams and might also be assisted by League
- League may control roster size
- Coaches may leave but Team stays within the League
- No minimum play rules
- League with Hybrid Select / Recreational Teams
- Coaches and Teams Part of Youth Football League
- League is primary recruiting vehicle for Teams and Coaches
- League Allocates base set of players to Team but allows some recruiting by Coaches each season
- Majority of Team’s players allowed to stay intact from season to season
- Some Minimum Play Rules
- Teams, Coaches, and Rosters controlled by Youth Football League
- Recreational Youth Football League
- Youth Football League Allocates most if not all players to each Team
- Youth Football League Assigns Coaches to teams
- Minimum Play Rules – Usually 8 to 20 plays per game
Team Rosters usually 15 to 30 players per teams
- Teams rosters reallocated by league each season with possible 0 to 8 freezes (players returning) each season.
- Teams, Coaches, and Rosters controlled by Youth League
I actually prefer the Hybrid Select / Rec youth football league. I do not have time to go out and recruit players, worry about team size and do all the recruiting that is necessary to manage a successful Select youth football team. And in my old age I do not like all the parent politics involved in recruiting top youth football players. I also like coaching up some of the newer players and seeing them turn into Select players.
Many youth football leagues are organized based on the following:
- Age Divisions
- Grade Divisions
- Weight / Size Divisions
- Select Players vs Recreational Players
- Experience Level
- Combination of Above
I’ve noticed lately youth football has moved to a standard age division set up similar to US Soccer. This might have to do with more youth football tournaments around the country. But the 7U, 8U, 9U, 10U, 11U, 12U age divisions have become very popular in Texas.
League Size and Number of Teams in a Division is always a hot topic. A youth football
Division size under 4 teams is to me not worth the effort. I like Divisions with at least 6 teams so you are not playing the same teams each week. An 8 team division is my favorite. I have played in a youth football league with an age Division of 2 conferences of 6 teams and 8 teams and then top teams went through playoffs to Super Bowls. I loved this set up. It was a County run league with teams from community partnered leagues that adhered to the County league rules.
Team size and roster size is also another area which is an important are organizing a youth football league. I hear about team rosters reaching 30 players in some areas. Wow, now that must be really hard to get players into the games. I know from talking to these coaches parents are not very happy with these large teams. I know that my wife would be very upset if our son was on a 30 person youth football team. Some of the best leagues I’ve coached in keep rosters size below 24. I prefer a roster size around 18. The current league I coach in keeps their rosters between 15 and 20 and try to keep them around 16. I prefer less than 20 players on a roster when you have minimum play rules otherwise a 30 player roster with a 10 play MPP rules is very difficult for coaches to manager.
Minimum Play Rules
There is a lot of controversy surrounding play time and minimum play rules in youth football. First let me say that managing play times can be difficult especially when rosters are over 18 and the MPP rule is over 10 plays per game. There are only about 60 plays in a youth football game. We usually have one or two people in charge of subbing and taking care of MPP rules. Many recreational youth football leagues require 5 to 20 plays per game per player. My current league requires 5 plays from scrimmage per half. Special Team plays, penalties and do not count toward the 5 plays. Select leagues usually do not have MPP rules. I have found that even with MPP rules, parents still want their child to play about one quarter a game or more.
Player Allocation to Teams
- Recruiting and Try Outs by Club / Team and Coaches independent of League.
- League might have game roster / player maximum
- Recruiting and Try Outs by League and Team’s Coaches with League oversight
- Players Registered through League and allocated to Teams:
- Randomly Assigned
- Try Outs / Player Evals / Questions
- League Grade and Team Assignments
- Coaches Grade and Coaches Draft Players (NFL Type)
To be honest, I think my favorite part of the youth football season is evaluating and trying out new players and then drafting the players to my team. I am not a very good player recruiter but I am very good at evaluating talent. I’ve had other coaches around me that really knew how to recruit which has been a blessing. I’ve been in two youth recreational youth football leagues that allowed player try outs and then hosted a formal draft. One league held a standard drills try out for 2 days and the other league ran the 40 and then released the groups of 10 players to the teams for 30 minute rotating try out sessions. I loved the 30 minute try out sessions. We were able to out the players through our tests vs just having to settle on standard tests. I prefer my own testing.
Returning Players to Teams
- Club Select Teams New Recruiting and Try Outs Each Season based on needs
- League Allows Teams to Stay Together Each Season
- League Might Allow New Recruited Players Up to #XX
- League Might Assign Players to meet #XX Roster Size
- League might to Combo of Above
- League Reallocates Teams Each Season
- Random Assignments
- 0 to 8 players allowed to return to team based on coach and parent approval
- Player Evals Draft via Coaches or League Officials to allocate to teams
Like I said earlier I prefer the hybrid recreational select youth football league. I really like to keep my teams together and recruit as needed to fill certain needs. The current league I coach in lets new coaches bring 3 players with them into the league and returning coaches may hold onto 0 to 6 players from the last Fall and Spring seasons. Many coaches wind up keep 3 to 4 “freezes” and draft almost a whole new team. It’s fun and certainly changes up the teams but I know many players and parents would love to stay on certain teams. Well, the ones that win. 🙂
Issues with Youth Football Leagues
- Pure Select League
- Roster / Birth Certificate Manipulation
- Allowing Coaches to Draft Players
- Most Rookie Coaches are not good at the player eval and draft process
- League Random Player Assignments
- League Evals and Grades Players and Assigns to Teams
- Coaches think league is stacking favorite teams
- Team Size
- Rosters over 24 are difficult to manage with MPP Rules
Every youth football league that I have coached in has issues. No one is happy. So if you are a league commissioner / official, you must realize that 80% of the organization is happy, 15% is ready for a change but silent and 5 % are the difficult vocal ones. Plus you can never please everyone. Try to limit the big mistakes and make sure everyone is treated fairly.
The biggest issue I have seen with youth football leagues is that when the player numbers are low and or the profits are low league officials will stretch the rules for certain teams and or players to allow them on a team to fill out a Division or meet a teams roster size etc and then someone gets upset because rules were broken and then everyone decides cheating is ok and tries to manipulate the system. If you are in that situation make sure to communicate with all the coaches about why this is happening so no one is surprised by the stud 13 year old that is playing in the 12U division. Yes, I’ve seen it happen.
Well, I hope I answered a few of your questions about youth football leagues. I am sure I have left some items off. If you see a glaring issue or would like to leave a comment or questions please do so below in the comments.
Remember to Play for Fun and Winning is Funner!