The First Week of Football Practice
For many youth football coaches they reserve the first week of practice for “conditioning” with no pads. For some this is a league rule, for others this is a traditional preference.
Why Many Do What they Do
For many youth football coaches, what they do in this first week has a lot to do with what they did as a kid when they played youth football or maybe how they practiced in High School 20 years ago. I know when I first started coaching I just used the same practice drills and approach I had used when I was a youth football player 25 years prior. We did all the things I had suffered through, monkey rolls, hills, crab drills, grass drills, firemens carrys, butt rolls, laps, pushup, sit-ups, squat thrusts, gassers, line drills, etc etc We were a team that was never going to be out-conditioned we were going to win that 4th quarter, blah blah bah.
Why We Changed
That all changed about 10 seasons ago after I had the pleasure of coaching with a former High School coach, Jay Smith that had coached at Canyon Springs High School in California. His teams had won two USA Today National Championships. This coach did things significantly different than most of us had been used to, no grass drills, no monkey rolls, no crab drills, no gassers, if it wasn’t football related he didn’t do it. This coach took a 2-8 team and turned them into a 10-0 team in one season in the most competitive division in the league I had teams in. While most of us were initially very skeptical of his methods, the results could not be argued with. He took the very same kids and had very different results than his predecessor using a totally different approach to football practice. We took notice and made changes.
Jays results made me examine everything we were doing in detail. We looked at our practices to determine exactly how each and every drill or activity was helping us reach our goals. In the end we gutted about 80% of what we were doing in favor of an entirely different practice methodology that focused on developing football skills and youth football teams, not pushup or monkey roll champions. In the first year of going to this at the time revolutionary process, the aggregated winning percentage of the program went from the 30-40% area to 61%, in the following season it rose to 81% and our program won the “A” League Championships in all 3 age groups ( had never been done before or since), ages 8-10, 11-12 and 13-14. In addition, my “B” programs did extremely well also, with several winning division and League Championships as well. In the following 8 seasons using this practice methodology, my personal teams would go 78-5 while retaining about 95% of our players from year to year.
Your First Week Goals SHOULD be:
Consider doing things a bit differently this season if you are looking for different results than you’ve had in the past. These are our goals for the first week of no-pads practice:
Evaluate players for positions and put them into the correct position on offense and defense that fits the players abilities and the teams needs best.
Teach the players how to interact properly with the coaching staff and other players. This is what many people refer to as learning how to be “coachable”.
Develop an enthusiasm within the kids for playing football and playing on our team.
Teach the fundamental building blocks of base blocking and tackling (yes without pads and without contact)
Teach the base numbering system and play calling system for the offense.
Teach proper stances and splits.
Teach the explosive first step and for the offensive linemen their explosive first 2 steps.
For backs (we determine who our backs are at the first practice), seating the ball and ball security. Learning proper body lean and accelerating through contact (dummy contact).
Teach the base defensive formation, the goals and base philosophy of the defense.
At the end of week 1 all players will be in their offensive and defensive positions, know what positions they are in and what it is called.
Key Concepts Used to Accomplish These Goals
Some of the things we do to make sure we accomplish these goals:
Keep all movements in the 6-7 second range with maximum effort. Allow 30-50 seconds (depending on strenuousness of movement) for recovery. For things like fit and freeze reps that require just a couple of steps there is no reason for going at a pace slower than 1 rep every 12 seconds for linemen. For first 2 step drills, you should be able to do a team rep every 6-10 seconds. The keys to this methodology is a very fast practice pace, no wasted time or movements, small groups, lots of technique perfecting form instruction/drills and lots of fit and freeze reps. To teach all the above we don’t have the time to set aside to do traditional conditioning. Like many Colleges and High School teams we condition withing the fast paced confines of our regular practice or within the context of a fun evaluation or team building game.
The first year we went to this methodology we were a bit nervous, we had always been conditioning fanatics. We were always going to win through better conditioning, but our results were always mixed. Our first game using this new methodology was Labor Day weekend 8 seasons ago and it was about 95 degrees and about 80% humidity, it was a steam bath. We were really concerned about our kids being able to play 4 quarters of football in those kinds of conditions as we had not run a single gasser or lap in the 4 weeks leading up to this game. The end result was our kids won that first game in a blowout after leading by just 2 touchdowns at the half. As it turned out the team we beat ended up in 2nd place at seasons end behind my team. I might add we are a no-huddle team and the game goes that much faster for us and usually results in about 30% more offensive snaps in most games.
Kids Need More Conditioning?
The thing that really impressed me about this game was what happened after it was over. Many of the boys on this team had older brothers playing in the following game, so many of our kids stuck around. What did these kids do after this game in 95 degree heat was over, sit under a shade tree and gulp gatorade? No, they went behind the game field in the warm up area and were playing full speed touch football including kickoffs and punts on a 60 yard field. These kids weren’t sitting under a tree exhausted from the game, they were going all-out for another 60 minutes, going almost non-stop in 90+ degree heat!
While our competition may be practicing 5 nights a week and conditioning their brains out, we are practicing just 3 nights a week and our kids are not only having fun, but they are learning the game of football.
The moral of this youth football story is to seriously consider everything you do in practice when coaching youth football. See if there is anything that should be cut out so you can concentrate on developing great fundamentals as well as developing a love and appreciation for the game in your players.
All of these drills and games as well as daily minute by minute practice plans for your entire season are in the book “Winning Youth Football a Step by Step Plan”
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