GUEBERT: Half the Players, Twice the Athletes – 6-man Football in Saskatchewan

Birch Hills vs Rosthern Under the Lights Sept 28, 2017

“6-man Football is half the players and twice the athletes” – this was a phrase first engrained in me by my high school football coach, and uncle, Phil Guebert (USport All-Canadian DB 1989). This was a discussion I will never forget as he was educating me on the merits of 6-man (six-a-side) football when I was making the decision to leave the big city (Saskatoon) to go to high school in the town of Outlook at the boarding school Lutheran Collegiate Bible Institute. As a 14-year-old, all I knew was 12-man football and I was concerned that playing 6-man football may inhibit any dream of playing post-secondary football. However, I was also reminded of the adage “the cream will rise to the top” and that it will rise no matter the container that holds it (mine was an undersized DL at 5’9″ 240lbs). With half the players and more square yards per player to cover on the field, the individual demands of 6-man football are what place such high demand on individual skill development. There is no place to hide on a 6-man football field; a missed tackle is usually 6 points, a missed block is a TFL or sack, and a catch can be a score. The game strongly emphasizes football fundamentals.

The simple fact that Saskatchewan has nearly fifty 6-man teams casts a wide net to give the opportunity for football players from all corners of the province an opportunity to experience the game. Football is a late developing sport.  Often times, the small-town kid who maybe had his/her NHL dreams dashed can turn to football and find an opportunity for post-secondary play. The game of 6-man football was created in Nebraska during the dirty thirties to allow football to be accessible in smaller communities and reduce the costs of travel. These same values can be upheld today as the 6-man game offers viable opportunities for smaller communities to have a tackle football team where they may not have the population or the resources to otherwise support it. The game came to Saskatchewan in the late 1940s and has flourished ever since.

SMF’s six-a-side league has over 500 10-13 year olds participating in 2017.

The developmental aspects of 6-man football are also extremely valuable as a teaching tool. In 2009, Saskatoon Minor Football began their six-a-side tackle football league for grade 5-8s with the focus on skill development and multiple position development as opposed to winning. The results have been overwhelming, as the quality of football intelligence has increased.  Players in Saskatoon are better suited to understand the game because coaches are asked to teach every player 2 positions on offense and 2 positions on defense. With a team size of 16-22 players, team management is far less daunting as coaches are dealing with a “hockey sized” team rather than an intimidating 40-50 person roster. The smaller roster allows for more teams in the same population which means high schools are being fed by more players who have had meaningful reps as starters. The six-a-side game as a developmental tool better fits the physical demands on a 10-13 year-old where the smaller field allows for all players to be viable options. Whereas in a 12-man game on a 65-yard-wide field, the wide side wide receiver may never get a ball because the QB doesn’t possess the arm strength to get the ball there, even for a hitch pass. Also, the smaller field forces the RBs to make cuts in space rather than only using speed to get to open field. Lastly, the 6-man game has far fewer pile ups because of fewer players which reduces opportunities for injury.

Does 6-man football inhibit the opportunity to play post-secondary football? My belief is that it enhances it through the demands of fundamental football skills. The tackling, catching, blocking, coverage, throwing, and running do not change with fewer players and is likely stressed to a higher degree. The systems can become more dynamic with more moving pieces in the 12-man game, however, there is a dual responsibility on the coaches and players to be teachers and learners when it comes to system play. Every individual has a personal responsibility to develop physically and technically through practice, camps, and strength training. Players must improve their understanding and analysis of the game through film and education. The path from 6-man can certainly lead to playing elite football.  I can attest as a former player who went from 6-man Saskatchewan high school to the CJFL (Saskatoon Hilltops), USport (Saskatchewan Huskies), CFL (Winnipeg Blue Bombers), and the Senior National Team (2011 IFAF World Championships), it was the multiple skills I learned as a 6-man football player that laid the foundation for me to pursue football at its highest levels in Canada.

 

For More Information about 6-man football please contact: Brian Guebert (M.Ed. B.Ed. BSc. Kin. CSCS)

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