The 7v7 Football Debate – Lord, Just Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

The 7v7 Football Debate

TJ Cotterill penned an excellent article in the Tacoma News Tribune recently regarding the raging 7v7 football debate.

I get the comparison between 7v7 and AAU basketball, but what sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is one inescapable fact: they are different sports. High school basketball is the same sport as AAU basketball, played with the same rules, on the same courts. The same can’t be said for 7v7 football, played sans lineman, tackling, blocking, and 60 of the field’s 100 yards.

That alone should be a huge line in the sand on the question as to whether 7v7 can ever replace or even rival “real” football. For some reason however, it’s not, inspiring all manner of vitriol from coaches, press and parents alike. As for the kids who are actually playing it, well, they all seem to love it.

Perhaps instead of everyone butting heads on the question, it would be more beneficial to consider how to maximize 7v7’s potential for what it should be: a teaching and training tool to help young athletes grow their skills and athleticism between football seasons.

First, is there any good at all to be had from off-season 7v7 participation?

It provides an avenue for athletes to compete in the off season, developing their competitiveness, and teaching how to perform well in pressure-packed situations. While that’s often named as a key benefit of football athletes playing basketball or running track, it seems to be often forgotten with 7v7.

7v7 lets athletes develop their skills against many of the best in the game. Working against high-level competition is a proven way to elevate one’s skills. In practice and tournaments receivers will face an entire backfield comprised of elite talents. The reverse is also true.

During the season they may only face one or two of these players per game, perhaps none. It forces them to elevate their games in a way that’s impossible when not facing such ubiquitous skill. It is hard to argue against that.

Is it a replacement for 11-man football with pads on? Of course not, but no one is suggesting they play that in February, March, and April.

It also lets them compare their skills to see how they really stack up against others at their position. No matter how often many decry the activity, the fact remains, many of football’s best high school athletes are now playing 7v7.

The better 7v7 organizations instill the value of hard work and it’s necessity to achieve elite results. When younger athletes are going through intense workouts in a room full of athletes with multiple college offers, it sets an example. They see the offered athletes are typically the hardest workers.

That illustrates a connection between hard work and desired results. They want someone to emulate if a scholarship is their goal, and following a hard-working example who has achieved it is very powerful.

School v 7…

A common refrain when discussing 7v7 is “Athletes should play school sports in the other seasons instead of playing 7v7.”

Why is that an either/or proposition? It’s not, and never will be, no matter how often that argument is made.

Many of those playing 7v7 are multi-sport athletes, and I’ve yet to meet one who is playing 7v7 instead of playing a school sport. It’s likely those players don’t exist, despite claims to the contrary. Many play basketball, wrestle, run track, and play baseball.

What’s often forgotten is that high school basketball is highly competitive. Relatively few make their high school teams. In most cases they number only 12-15 on a varsity basketball team, compared to the 70-100 playing varsity football. Throw in JV and freshman teams for both sports and it still means some excellent athletes are watching high school basketball, rather than playing it.

It’s impossible to successfully argue that watching high school basketball is better for off-season football athletes than playing 7v7. In most cases the kids will do both; watch their high school basketball games and play 7v7.

What about participating in team off-season weights and agility programs instead of playing 7v7 for those not playing basketball? Again, it’s definitely not an either/or proposition. I know from first-hand experience. My son plays 7v7 and high school basketball, and was one of the few basketball players to also regularly take part in the off-season school football weight program.

As to the question of their 7v7 team taking precedence over their school 7v7 team during tournaments, any of the leading 7v7 programs in our area insist that their players play for or practice with their school 7v7 team when there is a schedule conflict. There should be no other way. The same holds for drills with team players.

Athletes are athletes and will play sports every chance they get. It fuels their competitive desires and enhances their skills.

7v7 Problems

Are there problems with 7v7? Of course, there are problems with nearly anything.

7v7 tournament officiating lets a wide variety of defensive activities go unpunished that would be yellow laundry and 15 yards in a football game. While corners and safeties should be aggressive, that disparity should be addressed. Letting DBs get away with using tactics that lead to penalties don’t’ help them play better when September rolls around.

Some 7v7 programs do not teach sound technique, and don’t use actual defensive and offensive schemes. That limits 7v7s use as a learning and training tool. That’s a shame because it ignores a big opportunity for athletes to come back to their high school programs better players than when they left. Some programs however do emphasize proper defensive cover and press technique, wide receiver route running, releases, and competing for the football.

A fine line is that 7v7 is supposed to be a fun activity that kids enjoy while they hone their WR/DB/QB skills for the coming season. Football has tended to stifle their enjoyment somewhat in the name of sportsmanship. Yes, you should be calm, and act like you’ve been there before. No, you should definitely not taunt or disrespect opposing players or teams.

The reality though, is that these are kids, and they like to show some jubilation when good things happen. It’s another opportunity to teach good sportsmanship without quashing the fun of being a kid for a few more years, before the “real world” sets in. Is it always used that way? No.

7v7 is expensive. Sure, but so is AAU basketball, traveling baseball, and elite soccer. One could pay a 2nd home mortgage for what many parents pay for those other activities. In light of that, 7v7 is often a mere pittance.

Do 7v7 kids have more attitude problems, and does it promote such behavior? That’s up to the program. One suspects kids with bad attitudes had them anyway. You’ll find examples of a wide range of attitudes in any organization. It’s up to the organization’s leaders to promote good attitudes and extinguish bad ones. Which are rewarded, and which aren’t?

Many of the HS coaches in the article have athletes that play 7v7. In many cases it is some of their best players. Are they better because they played 7v7 and trained during the off season or would they have been their best players anyway?

From the teams I’m familiar with, it is both. They would have been their best players anyway, and they are better because of their off-season training and 7v7 participation.

What About Recruiting, Anyway?

There is a reason so many multi-starred football recruits hail from the sunshine states, and it has nothing to do with that glowing orb in the sky. It’s largely because football is a culture there. For many years they have had sports-specific training facilities, (football, for this discussion) that give high level athletes a chance to develop their skills and bodies during the off season.

We are now seeing that type of facility in the PNW. It’s a change and change is often viewed with suspicion.

  • Do college coaches really use what they see when evaluating players?
  • Do 7v7 and 1v1 activities make a difference?

Who can tell with certainty, but players regularly get offered scholarships immediately after 7v7 tournaments and college camps. No tackling or blocking to found at either of those…..

One thing is certain, it is and will continue to be an athlete’s play on the field between September and November (hopefully) that determine if they get to play at the next level, and their parents can spend the college money on a new boat. Can 7v7 and dedicated, position-specific training help their play, over simply lifting weights and running hills in the off season?

If one looks at the area’s top “skill position” (Bad term. All positions require skill) players, those leading the recruit boards, there are 2 common threads: off season training and elite 7v7 participation. Look for yourself, if you doubt this. Would these players have been those on the recruit boards anyway? Possibly, but as noted the lack of dedicated sports specific off season training programs put local athletes at somewhat of a disadvantage compared to other locales.

Does elite 7v7 team participation help recruiting? Again, who really knows, but when area 7v7 and all-star football teams like Team Seattle and Team Oregon FBU consistently show well against the best from football hotbed states, it shines a light in our direction. That attention helps all our area kids who have designs on playing at the next level one day.

The best players in the fall are those getting recruited, no ands, ifs or buts. No college coach will put his job on the line spending the school’s valuable recruiting resources on a great 7v7 player if that kid’s high school play doesn’t measure up. A receiver who is a stellar 7v7 player but can’t seem to translate that to the tackle game will find himself watching college football from his living room.

The reverse isn’t true. A linebacker who is not a great 7v7 player, but is 6’2”, runs a 4.7, has great instincts, and leads the league in tackles will get plenty of looks.

Number of Washington State Athletes 3-Star and Higher Receiving College offers

source: 24/7 sports

  • 2018 – 29 (Note: These players have yet to play their senior seasons)
  • 2017 – 19
  • 2016 – 20
  • 2015 – 20
  • 2013 – 17
  • 2012 – 17
  • 2011 – 16

Circling back, 7v7 is merely “….a teaching and training tool to help young athletes grow their skills and athleticism between football seasons.”. As with any tool, it can be used effectively, or misused. It’s up to all of those involved must come together and find a way to use it to enhance athletes’ play in the field and provide another positive outlet for kids.

Are We Missing the Freakin Boat Here??

There is a big opportunity here.  The question is whether athletes and coaches alike will be able to take advantage of it. Ideas, anyone?


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