Defensive philosophies in youth football are as numerous as teams themselves. Every coach is hoping he has the magic bullet that will render opponents helpless and lead to victories. Examination of prior seasons will indicate to a degree how the defense will perform in subsequent seasons. In my experience simplistic defensive schemes will be more successful at the youth level provided they have a framework that allows for added alignments, coverages and assignments.
What makes a good defense? Simplicity, flexibility ( what I call a plastic defense, able to mold to fit ), built in coach ability ( can players understand and execute the techniques and assignments) and ability to incorporate multitude of player types must be present to ensure success.
Naming a defense a 53 or 44 does not make it simple. A limited amount of alignments and assignments for each position with very little cross teaching with easy to remember call signals make a defense simple. Players should be able to execute defense based on pre snap alignments and keys to their assignments with respect to run or pass plays. Defensive players should be moving and using speed to pursue to ball, not standing and thinking about where they should be. With that in mind, quality high speed reps in practice against offensive sets that scouting reports identify is a key to simple defensive play in youth games.
Flexibility will allow game adjustments as well as adjustment in practice to maximize player talent, game match-ups based on scouting reports and giving opponents offense different looks. Good defenses should attempt to limit or eliminate an opponents best offensive plays and players. Flexibility in defensive calls will allow optimal player match-ups and the ability to place players in areas the offense wishes to attack. Practicing scenarios in practice that will likely be encountered in games will yield dividends in game time adjust ability especially in play off atmosphere when teams will incorporate unscouted offensive sets.
Built in coach ability to me means that techniques and alignments can be varied due to player constraints and talents. The ability to hide inferior players and allow more talented players to flourish in the defense is a key to success. Coaching techniques must be adjusted to maturity level and be age level appropriate for particular division of team to ensure assimilation of information. Coaching should be rapid and definitive, make sure the player understands what you want, vagueness is the enemy of a good coach. Keep drills and live situations moving at rapid pace, coach quick and don’t interrupt flow of practice situation.
On any decent size youth football team of twenty five players or more talent range will be extreme. Coach to weakest link, talented players will typically play at a high level for you when comfortable in defense while less talented players require more patience and repetitions to be productive. Weaker players must be incorporated into any youth defense and must be coached at a high level in one position. Once competency is attained by any player type it must be drilled to be maintained.
These basic ideas regarding a good defense have been developed over years of practices and game situations with every type of player imaginable. While not an all encompassing text on the subject , a good youth defense cannot be missing one of these components and function at a high rate.