Special teams is one of the most commonly ignored, yet vitally important development areas for a youth or high school football team. Coach Jimmy Johnson once stated that teams need to win 2 of 3 phases of the game in order to come out with a “W” – offense, defense, or special teams. In other words, special teams is just as important as offense and defense, and should be treated that way in your game preparation.
Below is a 4-step drill progression which will help introduce your players to the fundamentals of kicking and punting, and give you a better chance to win the special teams battle. NOTE: if you’re looking for a complete set of drills for special teams, offense, and defense, make sure you check out my “Football Drills and Practice Plans” book.
Staying Onside Drill
Purpose: This is a great drill to practice staying onside during a kickoff. It will also help with conditioning.
How it’s Run: A ball is placed at the goal line, then the 15 yard line, and then every 15 yards the length of the field. The kickoff team will line-up to kick the first ball. The kicker will signal that the kickoff will occur and then run up and kick the ball. All the players will sprint forward as if they are covering a kick.
Each player will run about 10 yards downfield and then prepare for another kickoff. This time the ball will be kicked from the 15 yard line and then from the 30 yard line and so on.
The drill will continue all the way down the field. At each spot the kicker can actually kick the ball, or can just feign that he’s kicking the ball.
Result: Coaches should look to make sure that all players are staying onside each time the ball is kicked. Also, every player should be sprinting forward just as they would for an actual kickoff in a game.
Return Kick Drill
Purpose: It’s important for players to set-up in the correct spot to block when returning a kick. This is a great drill to teach the return team how to properly block for the return.
How it’s Run: The kick return team will be on the field for this drill. They will set-up however they are asked to set-up in an actual game.
There will be a coach standing near where the opposing kicker would kickoff. This coach will simulate each kickoff.
There will be another coach about 30 yards downfield. This coach will throw the ball to one of the return men. The throwing of the ball will simulate the actual kick.
After the coach has thrown the ball to a return man, the return team has to find the ball then sprint to the correct spot on the field where they will have to block for the return.
Result: Coaches need to make sure that all players know where they’re supposed to go to block while the ball is in the air. All players need to get to the correct spot as fast as possible.
Overload Punt Drill
Purpose: When an opponent overloads one side of the formation in an attempt to block a punt, your team needs to know who they will block and how. This drill will help them make the right decision.
How it’s Run: Half the punt team will take the field – just six players at a time (the center, all the blockers on one side of the formation, and the blocker behind the line of scrimmage).
Then a punt block team will take the field opposite them. This will be 7 players. Every blocker should be covered by a defender and then there should be an extra punt blocker on one side.
Just 1 of the outside players will rush the punt. The coach can choose to shift the line of punt blockers to the left or the right.
The blockers need to look to see which players are rushing and they need to block the correct guys. In general they should take the guy who is lined up directly on them.
Result: Coaches should make sure that the correct rushers are being blocked. The blockers should look to block from the inside out, since it takes longer for an outside rusher to get to the punter.
Onside Kick Drill
Purpose: Sometimes the situation of the game calls for an onside kick. Sometimes a coach likes to use an onside kick as an element of surprise as well. This drill helps the kickoff team practice executing an onside kick.
How it’s Run: This drill is pretty basic in its execution. Players will line-up to onside kick to the left or to the right of the formation. Each player will be given a specific role that they have to fill.
In the diagram below the kick will be to the right side. The players on the right side of the formation will each have a specific role.
All the players, except the player nearest the ball and the player farthest back, will charge forward and simply try to block the opponent from getting to the ball. The player nearest the ball will signal for the rest of the players to take off and then will turn and try to recover the ball.
The player farthest away will allow the players in front of him to block the opponent and he will try to recover the ball.
This drill should be run to both sides.
Result: Coaches should look to make sure all the players are correctly fulfilling their given roles. Also, coaches should make sure players are leaving on time and not going offside.
Next step: Check out my football coaching book for more drills, tips and coaching strategies to improve your team!