On its face the older lighter rule makes a lot of sense, if a player is very small and may struggle with playing in his own age group, let him play “down” an age group so he has a chance to play and compete. In my mind if you have a very small first year 11 year old player that weighed 70 pounds, this rule would allow him to plqay with 9 and 10 year olds and give the plyer the chance to learn the game and get meaningful playing time in an effort to build a love for the game in him. In this particular case, the rule would have met its goal.
Age is a very important factor in youth football. The league commissioner for Omaha’s Heartland Youth Football League did an in-depth study of the ages of the teams in our league in 2001. He found there were very significant correlations of average age of teams to wins and losses. He broke the study down to the average number of months the age of each team was and invariably the oldest team in each classification finished in the top 3 in the standings and the youngest team in each classification finished in the bottom 3.
In my first year of coaching youth football, I coached in an age 8-10 “draft” league where the coaches are given only the birthdate and sbobet of the player to make the draft selection. We were not given the players name etc, basically a blind draft with the exception of the age and weight data. This league had an older-but-lighter rule. As our turn in the draft came around we just selected the largest players available, while the team next to us the “Dolphins” chose lots of 11 year old “older-but-lighter” players that were quite small, as well as medium to smaller 10 and 9 year olds. Our roster was filled with bigger 8s and 9s and a few 10s. As it turned out, the Dolphins were the perennial bullies of the league and had won an incredible number of back to back league titles. They knew what they were doing and that age was far more important than size. They went on to win the league title again that year. That season, we had just one older-but-lighter player and he turned out to be our star player, our tailback and star linebacker.
In many youth football leagues there is an age cutoff, in many leagues it is August 1st. So whatever age the player is on August 1st is what the league uses to determine age for that football season. If a player “Joey” is age 10 on August 1st and on August 2nd he turns 11, according to the league the player is 10 years old for that entire season. So if the age grouping is age 8-10 and an 8 year old player just turned 8 on July 31st, this 8 year old would be playing against a player “Joey”, that is 4 years older than him. Age is important, but so is the date of the birthdate. In 2003 I had an “Unlimited” age 8-10 team that had 4 players that turned 11 in August. Needless to say, that was a huge advantage for us.
Now just imagine if you had a lighter 11 year old that had a birthdate of August 3rd, now you have a 12 year old playing 8 year olds. That would be darn right dangerous for some 8 year olds if that 12 year old player had 4 years of football plays under his belt.
My personal teams play in unlimited leagues with “running back” weights. The big kids are required to play between the tackles and are not allowed to carry or catch the football. We have always found it is not the big heavy linemen that are dominating games and making big hits, it is that medium sized or even smaller kid who has speed, aggressiveness and acceleration through contact. While the big linemen may seem a bit imposing at first glance, once the game is under way the players that are feared most are the big hitters, which are rarely if ever the big kids. Hence it could be that aggressive smaller older-but-lighter player that could be the terror of your league, not that “Fat Freddie” big linemen.
What often happens in the youth football leagues that have “older-but-lighter” rules is the rule gets abused. Instead of using the rule as it was intended for, to aid the development of truly smaller and weaker players, teams load their teams up with perfectly well adjusted and experienced smaller players. Some teams even make these already skinny lighter players LOSE weight to make sure they meet the weight guidelines, if the player is close to the weight limit.
I have had youth football coaches e-mail me to say they play teams of 24 kids where 17 are older-but-lighter. If you closely examine the ages of many of the top Pop Warner teams that play on TV for National Titles, quite often you find teams stacked full of very tall and skinny older-but-lighter players.
I’m not sure how to solve the “stacking” of older-but-lighter kids on teams to create competitive advantages. I really like the idea of significantly smaller first year players playing down an age group to give them a chance to develop. However, if the weight differentials are not large enough or already small players are being pressured into losing weight to meet older-but-lighter requirements, I’m not sure we are meeting the intent of the rule.
In our Omaha Youth Football league with August 1st cutoff dates, we often had 8th graders with August or September birthdates that were playing on the 11-12 year old team. The problem was many of their 8th grade buddies were playing on the 13-14 age team. While it would have given us a significant advantage to keep the player on the younger team, if the players were mature enough we would play them up with their friends. We felt doing what was right for that player superseded our need for a competitive advantage; I would hope others would do the same when it comes to making older but lighter decisions.
When I coached in youth football leagues that had older-but-lighter rules, if we had kids what were close to the weight cutoff and they had experience, we just played them up and it worked out fine. If we had a rookie kid that was weaker and close to the cutoff, we never ran him extra or starved him. We just explained the situation to the parents and if they concurred, we asked them to curb the intake of desserts, junk food and sodas. If the player made the weight great, if he didn’t make the weight no big deal, we never counted on the player making weight. We did not weigh the player every day or put any pressure on the player to lose the weight. We did not take him to any sauna, starve him or the like, like some do.
If you are in a “draft” league, heavily weight age and experience when making your selections. Keep in mind not only the players age, but his birthdate, it will be to your advantage. Coaching Youth Football well is more than just calling good football plays and having great football schemes, and football practices, it also often involves smart selection or drafting of players. Make sure you are thorough and use age to your advantage within ethical boundaries.
If you have an older-but-lighter player that is close to the cutoff and you are considering having him lose weight, think carefully about how this will look 10-20 years from now. Was it really worth it to the player or team? Personally I prefer beating teams with younger and less talented kids, it’s more of a challenge and far more satisfying than doing it with a “stacked” team of scarecrows.