Running Effective Football Practices

Football season is here!  Summer has been filled with hard work, sweat and hours of scheming for offensive and defensive installations.  However, how much thought has been put into establishing effective and efficient practices?  I am a firm believer in the fact that games are won and lost Monday through Thursday!  These are the days in which we prepare our teams for the coming game.  Practice too short or waste time in practice, you will be unprepared.  Spend too long at practice and you risk being burnt out by Friday or negatively effecting moral.  It really is an art, to run a proper football practice.  The purpose of this article is to shed some light on this and provide a guide for running a “good” practice.  While I do not claim to have the perfect system here, it has proven to be effective for me and the teams that I have coached for.

SAFETY

Let’s start with the obvious and get it out of the way now.  Football, when played well, is an aggressive contact-filled game.  Because of the nature of the game there are possibilities for injuries.  Such injuries, and in particular injuries of a serious nature, can be minimized by playing with the rules, wearing proper equipment, and using the proper techniques for your position as taught by your position coach.

Special attention should be paid to the proper head, neck and body position when blocking and tackling.  The use of the head as a weapon in blocking and tackling is not only against the rules, but spearing techniques can be the cause of serious injury to yourself or your opponent.  A well-conditioned football player, using correct techniques, with his body in the correct heads-up, bull-necked football position, greatly reduces his chances of injury. In fact, FOOTBALL IS SAFER TODAY THAN IT EVER HAS BEEN IN THE HISTORY OF THE SPORT!

BASIC PRACTICE GUIDE LINES

  • Pay strict attention to time segments.
  • All segments are important, treat them as such.
  • Breed confidence and success into your team.
  • Gain respect from your players, do not demand it. You must earn it.
  • If you get tired pray for strength, because you should practice at a high tempo and you must have the same energy you ask your players to have.

You should also be very selective in the drills in which you select for your players to do.  All of your drills should do the following:

  • Cover considerable ground in a short amount of time.
  • Be well planned and administered.
  • Be known by name to the players so that they do not require re-explanation after they have been run two or three times.

Do not make drills too elaborate.  Keep them short, snappy, crisp and positive.  The coach running the drills should see to it that they are prepared in ADVANCED.  This should include any teaching aids such as balls, bags, cones and etcetera.  When establishing your football drills you need to choose from the following four types of drills:

  1. Fundamental Drills – these are to teach all the skills of tackling, blocking, stance, etc.
  2. Reaction Drills – primarily for developing quickness, balance, and agility.  These should be included briefly in almost every practice.
  3. Toughening Drills – the primary purpose here is to develop and encourage the desire and ability to utilize the physical contact aspect of the game of football.   These drills should be used only to the extent so as not to dull the desire for further contact.
  4. Fun Drills – used to lighten the practice load late in the season or as a morale booster.

Do all these things, and your practices will set your players up for success on and off the field.  As I said earlier, it is my belief that many teams lose the game on Mondays through Thursdays because they do not know how to properly practice and prepare.

THE OBJECTIVE OF PRACTICE

  1. Mental Toughness – this can be developed and is expected.
    1. Learn to deal with pain and to never except defeat. Do all the little things right all the time.
    2. Defeat all negative thoughts. “When your body says no – your heart says go!”
  2. Physical Strength and Quickness
    1. Weight Room – Benefits are well known, this is where championships are won, and champions lift IN season!
    2. Agility, Adaptability and Flexibility.
  3. Intensity – Must teach the 150% attitude
    1. Everything is done with a high level of enthusiasm and competitiveness – Push each other.
    2. Never be satisfied.
    3. All-out effort – All the time – 150% effort every minute accept nothing less.
    4. Expect more from yourself as coaches and players.
  4. Unity – Only as good as the last coach or last player with the merit role in the program.
    1. Always talk “Us” and “We”, not “I” and “Me”. Make being on the team the greatest experience of their lives.
    2. Hard work together equals Unity of Team. Encourage each other to work harder – the harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.
  5. The Difference between Them and Us.
    1. We do work harder, 150% effort all the time – Outwork the 110% opponent.
    2. Discipline – must live with it, must expect it, must do right 150% of the time.
    3. If a 150% effort equals hard work, then we can accomplish it.
    4. As a team we will sweat the small stuff. The little things we do will make us Champions.
    5. Our Success – Our Attitude – Our Work Habits are things we can control, choose to be in control of our destiny. Never allow our opponent to dictate our destiny.

CONDITIONING

A note on conditioning. It is my personal belief that drills done for the sole purpose of condition are largely, a huge waste of time.  To me, if you have to do drills just for the purpose of conditioning your players, it means you are NOT practicing hard enough.  Let me say this now, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO PRACTICE INTO SHAPE!

Your practices need to be run at a high tempo.  Once your players are familiar with your drills, they should be rapid fire and you need to coach on the fly.  Save the slowed down teaching for pre and post practice, or in those situations in which immediate correction is non-negotiable.  When it comes to conditioning, there are certain drills that will allow you to do this AND have your players get meaningful reps at the same time!  Here are some such drills:

Edge Period– This will be the starting offense minus the wide outs against the starting defense minus the secondary.  The offense will choose one formation and attack the edge to the left and then to the right as fast as possible with the same play over and over.  This conditions both sides of the ball, and forces the players to communicate with each other quickly under pressure.  Yes the defense will know the play and inevitably start cheating…. It will make you tougher, get over it.  The ball carriers will be on a quick whistle, no tackling to the ground.  Do this drill on Mondays.

Inside Run– Everybody knows what inside run is.  Increase the tempo, tackle to the ground, get after it!  Do this drill on Tuesdays.  “Tuesday is Bruise Day!”

Man Drill– This drill is where the wide outs and defensive backs can go during edge period and inside run.  They will work on man coverage.  This needs to be high tempo.  No ball needs to be thrown here.  Work four wide receivers at a time against four defensive backs.  They will work normal routs for three to four second goes.  If the wide out gets separation, then he wins.  If the defensive back stays manned up, then he wins.  Work about ten reps in a row before switching.  Communicate the routes with the wide outs in the fastest manner your system has, I find the best is to have all the wide outs run the same route.

Pursuit Drill– Ah, pursuit drill.  The most overly complicated drill in existence.  No other drill seems to have so many complicated ass ways of doing it.  It’s really not necessary.  Here is a highly effective pursuit drill that is also super simple.  I call it “Fire Ant” because you want your defense swarming the football like a bunch of fire ants.  Here is out it works:  you will have six cones, three on each side line.  One on the goal line, one on the ten, and one on the twenty on each side of the field.  The defense will be on the goal line in the middle of the field.  A coach will snap a ball as a faux center and the defense will step to their run fits or pass drops based off the second defensive coach’s action and start chopping their feet.  The second defensive coach will then point to a sideline and yell out the number one, two or three.  The defense will then turn sprint to that cone, break it down on that cone as a unit, and then run back and get set for the next rep.   Repeat as much desired before switching to next group.  Simple stuff.  Do this drill daily.  Put them on a timer to get there and back and set by!

Screens and PA Period– This drill is an offensive drill done while the defense does pursuit drill.  The starting offense will be on the ball on the thirty yard line going in and the entire back up core will be lined up about ten yards behind them.  The OC will call a screen or a play action pass.  (have bags set up for land marks for your screens)  The offense will then execute the call and every single person, starters and backups will sprint to the goal line and back once the ball has been caught.  On screens make sure the OL and other blockers run to the land mark before running to the goal line.  Do this drill daily.

PRACTICE SCHEDULE (with explanations)

Let’s assume that you start practice at 3:00 PM for the following example of a practice schedule:

2:45 – Pre Practice: This is where install should be as well as stance work or lineman, ball security, extra snaps, chute work, technique teachings and etcetera. 

3:00 – Team Stretch: Another thing that people tend to really over complicate.  It shouldn’t be a production.  If it takes you more than ten minutes, you’re doing it wrong.  They should be loosened up from pre practice anyways.

3:05 – Special Teams: Work Punt and PAT first at same time, every day!  Every day means every day!

3:20 – Individual Period: Get after it.  Use a high tempo

3:40 – Skelly: Ten minutes for both offense and defense

4:00 – Edge Period:  As described earlier in article.   Tuesday will be inside run. Wednesday blitz pick up.

4:10- Team D

4:30 – Team O

4:50 – SPP: Screens, PA, Pursuit

5:00 – DONE

NOTE:  If you can, have a trainer with a blow horn, use the horn to mark the start of every new period based on the schedule above.  This will help keep all groups on schedule and prevent from losing track of time!

NOTE:  For the sake of productivity, have water placed with each position group.  This way they can grab a quick swig at natural transition periods without having to leave group.  Each position coach can also control when they send their unit for water.  Also, the water they drink during practice doesn’t really help, its more of a mental and physical break than a need for water.  Coaches need to constantly push the need to drink as much as possible between practices.

This is a two hour and fifteen minute practice when you count the pre practice period.  This is probably the perfect amount of practice time.  Long enough to done what is needed, but short enough to keep tempo at a high pace and keep moral high. Below I will provide an example of a practice template:

practice template

This is a generic template anyone can find online. I’m simply providing it to you so all your coaches can be on the same page.  Obviously you can label the sections as you see fit.  The purpose here is simply to provide a template.  You can put this on a document such as google share and have all your coaches fill in what they will be doing then print it out each day and every coach will know what every coach is doing and when!

CLOSING

As practice begins in the next few days, take some time to consider how we are practicing and purpose that it serves.  Is your practice structured in a manner that provides a clear purpose?  If you can’t easily answer yes, then you should consider changing things.  I will never claim to have all the answers, or that this is the end all be all of practice templates… but it’s a pretty good start.   Subscribe to my email list so you can be notified whenever a new article comes out!  Follow me on twitter at @thecoachvogt and also check out the following EBooks:  “Installing the Wide Zone” and “The Speed-T Offense”.

 

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