So after that long off season, now you have your team and that first practice is suddenly not months or weeks away, it is today. What do you do?
Week one practice for a typical youth football team, is kind of like Goldilocks porridge. You don’t want it to be too hot- too much, you don’t want it to be too cold-too little, you want it to be just about right. The problem is most youth coaches, don;t understand what just about right looks like. But before you do anything, you need to have that mandatory parents meeting where you talk about expectations, positions, playing time, discipline, logistics, sportsmanship and how communication will happen between coaches and players. We did that at our two day eval camp and what we talk about is word for word in the Winning Youth Football book. It’s important to set expectations and standards, if you don’t you could have that season from hell, that drives most youth coaches back to the stands.
Practice, whether it is the first week, the 8th week or the last week is all about priorities (where you invest your practice time), progressions (how you teach), precision (quality control) and pace (how fast you do everything). The biggest mistake most failing youth coaches make is, they don’t understand what they should be doing that first week, which is priorities. They mistakenly invest time in things that have a very poor ROI or fail to do some things with a high ROI altogether. Most youth coaches have access to a wide variety of drills, but they simply don’t understand which ones should be done or for that matter an efficient and effective way to get done, what needs to get done.
Week one for us, will hopefully give you some ideas on what you may consider doing your first week. We practice four times a week in week one. Our goal is to establish a baseline standard that the kids understand about the precision, pace, effort and listening skills required to participate in our program. Don’t think this is all about discipline, or some kind of military boot camp. We have standards, but we have fun too. Look for a post soon on why discipline is important and how it can be implemented while the kids get what they want too, which is to have fun.
In a previous post we talked about the importance of the two day evaluation camp. If you do that right, the very first day of practice you can split into position groups. Too many youth coaches take a full week of doing evals before they split into position groups, that puts you way behind experienced coaches who are into position groups in that first or second day.
That is what we did, after doing our 6 minute dynamic warm up routine, which does include an angle form tackling fit small group drill along with a static two line, two step tackle fit drill. With so many rookie kids on the team, this 6 minute section was now 12 minutes. Over the next 2 weeks, we would whittle this down to about 8 minutes, week 3 you should be at 6. All these drills are in the Winning Youth Football book, which includes day by day, minute by minute practice plans for an entire 14 week season.
Too many youth football coaches, spend 20-30 minutes on warm ups and agilities when it should only be about 6 minutes. That doesn’t sound like much, but say a 14 minute savings of time- doing FOOTBALL related stuff to activate the muscles versus doing a bunch of cals, stretches and agilities, would save a typical youth coach over 560 minutes- or nearly 10 hours of practice time. Time that could be used doing high ROI activities to make your youth football team into winners.
Next we moved into tackling circuit stations where everything was done on a fit. Straight tackle 2 step fits, angle tackle fits, 5 yard breakdown fit and pursuit angle fit. Again the best way to get your coaches on board with these drills is to do a pre-season coaches clinic. If you got your guys a day before the season started, you demo the drills to them right before practice, use cheat cards, or some guys even take the PDF portion of the book and just print out the drills and attach to clip boards for each coach. In any event, make sure your drills are clearly marked off prior to practice starting with cones, balls and whatever bags or equipment needed. This year we bought 2 tackle rings, which worked out really well for pursuit tackling drills.
Each station was timed at 11 minutes, those same drills would be at just 7 minutes. Teaching the drill for the first time, with the progressions, one word coaching points for each progression would mean the first time through, would take longer. This was a defensive day, defense goes in first, so the position group breakdown for the last hour of practice would be broken down into these groups: Defensive Tackles, Defensive Ends, Nose Tackles, Linebackers and Defensive Backs. With now 23 kids, 4 coaches and a helper we were at the sweet spot of a 5-1 player to coach ratio. Not too many, not too few.
Each position group started out by breaking things down to the atomic level. Starting with the correct stance. Then adding the correct first and second step. Then adding a SINGLE block destruction method which again is usually broken down into 3-4 steps, each with it’s own single word coaching point. Why single word coaching points? To clarify and have a standard method of teaching, quality controlling and coaching up base techniques without getting into long drawn out conversations. On the next defensive day we would add pursuit and tackling fits to the progression.
The last 10 minutes of practice was for our conditioning, disguised as a game. We still didn’t have a 100% read on a couple of kids, so we played Hawaiian Rules football and payed particular attention to the kids we were still a little unsure about. Having you or one of your coaches as all- time Quarterback and getting those question marks the ball is a big help in figuring out where those kids should be placed.
After a short 2 minute encouragement talk for the kids and a quick review of the day, the coaches got together to share information about kids that might be slotted incorrectly. We had just one, a player who was fairly athletic but had a tough time with changing directions, he was moved from Defensive Back to Defensive End. More on the rest of week one, on the next post.
For more detailed information on daily practice plans, drills and methods to successfully get you past week one- go here: Winning Youth Football Book