How to Avoid the Illegal Shift Penalty by Referee Steve

Avoid the illegal shift penalty in youth football

“Illegal Shift”. Coaches hear this and their heart’s sink. A big play brought back on a minor technicality.

Referees hate making this call. When this is called in youth football, it is usually after we have pleaded with players and coaches to get set. Part of the problem is that most players and coaches don’t know what constitutes a shift. So let’s talk about shifts.

Here’s the type of question an official might see on a Rules Test:

A1 walks up to the line and places his hands under center. A2 goes in motion parallel to the line of scrimmage. A1 removes his hands and calls instructions to his team from under center as A2 continues in motion. A1 places his hands back under center. The ball is snapped. This is a legal play. Circle True or False

I would say that most people would say this is a legal play. It happens every Sunday in the NFL. Well it appears to happen. The difference between Legal and Illegal Shift is one second. In the NFL, players know how to get set and stay set. Quarterbacks have it drilled into their head every player, every motion. It is their job.

Youth Football Coaches have to teach players conditioning, offenses and game plan in a few weeks. With so much to teach, it is impossible to get to every detail. So here are some tips for avoiding illegal shifts:

  1. Teach players to hustle to the line. This is a good habit and can catch a defense off-guard. It also means that your young quarterback can take his time in calling the signals.
  2. Two point stances are okay. For some reason backs figuring out their position often want to settle in to a 3 point stance. Tell your fullback that if he is moved by the QB (or you) from the sideline to go to the spot and stop.
  3. Be aware. Due to limited time to teach, Youth Football Coaches have to teach their players to execute instructions no matter what. If a player goes in motion and sees someone else in motion, tell them to stop. The disadvantage of a blocker arriving late is less than a Touchdown being called back for illegal motion or illegal shift.
  4. Teach your Quarterbacks to take their time. Most illegal shift penalties come from the shift from the quarterback under center after a receiver goes in motion. Use voice or a subtle movement to have the receiver go in motion.

If your player goes to the wrong side of the formation, they should just stay put. It’s very frustrating for everyone to have an illegal shift or motion penalty on a Wide Receiver when the play is a run up the middle.

The bottom line is that Illegal Shift and motion penalties can be avoided by teaching your players to hustle to the line, use a 2 point stance for backs after they shift and teach Quarterbacks to take their time.
Rule Reference is NHFS 7.2.6 and 7.2.7

Send Steve questions and comments on twitter at youth_football.

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