“Practice Makes Perfect!”
We have all heard that saying, and it really is true. Repetition of skills is the best way to get your players to perform better. Knowing what to do when the opportunity presents itself is one of the hallmarks of a good player. The more you practice, the more inclined your players are to do the right thing at the right time.
A majority of successful football coaches share one very important characteristic- they are extremely organized and methodical in their approach to practice planning. Football is one of the most challenging sports to coach because there are so many different positions, skills, and plays that need to be worked on throughout a practice.
Having an organized, structured practice plan allows you to cover the most amount of material in your allotted practice time. The most effective football practice structure involves dividing time into structured “Training Blocks”.
There are 7 key Training Blocks which should appear in each of your practices:
- Warm-up & Stretching
- Review of New Team Plays and/or Conditioning
- Individual Techniques by Position
- Special Teams
- Group Work
- Game Preparation and Team Drills
1. Warm-Up & Stretching
Begin practice by having one coach or a team captain lead the team in warm-up activities. One way to kick off practice is to have the entire team run one lap around the field, followed by full body stretching exercises.
To assist in attendance taking, have the team stretch in a large circle. While the team stretches, the coaches can take attendance, correct stretching technique, and outline the goals of the day’s practice.
2. Review of New Team Plays and/or Conditioning
When introducing new football plays, it is best to get them taken care of towards the beginning of practice before your team has tired mentally and physically. Explain to your team how long you need their focused energy to help reduce distractions.
By providing a timeline to the players of how long they need to focus on a task, they will generally be more committed. A player who knows he needs to focus on a new play for 10 minutes will generally outperform a player who was not given a timeline.
When reviewing a new play or defense, focus first on specific assignments. Give a quick explanation followed by a run-through at half speed. If possible, try to only introduce 1 play at a time (2 at the most). It is much better to have a team who can execute a smaller number of plays than a team who does a poor job executing a large number of plays.
If you do not have new team plays to review, this time is best spent on conditioning exercises. Completing conditioning exercises towards the start of practice will prepare your team for success in the second half of games. Players need to be able to play good football even when they are tired.
3. Individual Techniques by Position
Divide the team up by position into as many groups as possible based on the number of coaches available. Each group should be taken to a specific corner of the field. When you blow the whistle and say “Individual Techniques” the players should immediately run to their corner of the field without hesitation.
Your team will gain 10 minutes of solid practice time if you are able to transition your players from one Training Block to the next quickly. This practice transition speed will increase with consistency. During this block it is important to rotate the players through a number of position specific football drills.
This is technical coaching; the nitty-gritty of each position needs to be taught. This is the time to get players excited about their position, make sure they clearly understand their responsibilities and role on the team.
4. Special Teams
Plan to cover two elements of the kicking game during each session (ie. Punt and punt return on one day, Field goal and field goal block on the next, Kickoff and kickoff return on the next).
5. Group Team Work
This block of practice is devoted to playing segments of the offense against segments of the defense using small groups. For example, the OL and DL can practice with each other on run blocking and pass blocking. The QB, RBs, TE, WRs can be working with the LBs and DBs on a passing drill.
This is a time to get reps in. To avoid injury, begin by running drills at half speed. Later in the season, as your players have mastered their fundamentals, you can run these drills full speed with light tackling.
6. Game Preparation and Team Drills
During this training block you want to focus on preparing your team for game situations. The entire offensive team will work against the entire defense. This block should be used to:
- Fine-tune the timing of your offensive and defensive plays
- Ensure players understand and can execute their assignments
- Prepare your team for game speed play.
During the season, use this time to prepare your team for what they might see against upcoming opponents. During half of the block, the defense should try to give the offense a look at the alignment of the opponent’s defense. During the second half, the offense should run plays similar to those the defense can anticipate their opponent’s running.
Don’t be afraid to take a player aside and correct mistakes during this block. Make notes of drills that can be run the next day to address mistakes or errors that you see during this block.
Most coaches don’t take advantage of the cool-down period like they should. It is important to take the intensity down a few levels during this period, but don’t forget that this is a FOOTBALL practice. You can have a football based cool-down where you run plays at half speed against no one. This way you get MORE repetitions in with your players and can correct alignment or other mistakes. Also, your players will most likely prefer to run through football movements as opposed to jogging.
If you’ve had a particularly strenuous practice, you may want to lead them in a short period of cool down stretching. Also remind the players to hydrate themselves once practice is over. At the end of practice be sure to praise players who performed well. Provide some feedback on positives or negatives you are seeing during practice. Give the team and idea of what is to come the next day.
Last step: If you’d like to get some specific drills and plays to work on, make sure you check out our football playbooks and drillbooks. You can download them in PDF format right to your computer or mobile device. Print them out, and take them right to practice!