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How to Organize and Plan a Successful Special Teams Unit

I’ve been coaching high school football since 2001. For the majority of that time, I’ve coordinated special teams or been responsible for several of the units. One of the main issues with special teams is getting the other assistant coaches and the players to buy in. Here below are some suggestions for how to make the most out of your special teams.

Coaching Responsibilities and Organization

First and foremost, your HC needs to take an active role in coaching special teams. Our HC runs most of the scout teams, except for scout KO, because he has a position to coach on KO return. Our scout teams work well. It may be that he can motivate them to try hard simply, because he is the HC. 

Each coach has a position to coach on 1-2 special teams, KO, Punt, etc. During the preseason, they are responsible for teaching the technique that their position will use to execute their assignment. During preseason camp we work 1-2 phases a day and the coach will get 5-7 minutes with their positions. We will also do circuits to work on specific phases and skills, and the coaches are responsible for stations in the circuit. We have 6 coaches on staff, and 4 are used on each ST except for KO, and then everyone is used except the HFC. He has scout KO return.

I am the coordinator, which means that I design and teach the schemes to the players and coaches. I am also responsible for creating the scouting report during the season and planning how to use the time for ST during the practice day. I also adjust the depth charts during the games and for the upcoming week based on input from the “position” coaches.

Player/Personnel

We usually have a relatively small squad, but one of the most beneficial things that we have done is to create a special teams practice squad. We use this much more in the early part of the year and in preseason. For each team, I have a 2 deep depth chart and a scout team. Ideally, it would work like this: The starters on punt would be your scout team punt, unless they are on the 2 deep for punt return. Your starters on punt return and your scout punt return unless they are on the 2 deep. 

The guys that are left over go with the coaches who don’t have a position responsibility. They can work on whatever they want, football skills, whatever. Most of the time these guys will be your OL. The only special teams most of them will be on is PAT/FG.

If your personnel are not getting it done, fire them. I feel like I prep our kids well. One year, I posted the weekly scouting report and depth charts for the team to read on a board in the locker room. It is their responsibility to see and read it, especially the depth/personnel. I still go over and communicate any changes, but this way they get it more than once. By the way most of our subs this late in the season have played on that special teams at some point in the year, they made a shift up or down the depth for one reason or another, usually injury. 

Practice Plans

Ideally, need 15-20 min a day for specials teams. One season, our head coach was forgetting to give any time on Mondays to special teams early in the season. It showed in our production. We sucked the 1st couple of games, and he knew it. He gave the time back. Be organized in your time. Try to get as much done in your time as you can, but still be clear in your communication, don’t rush too much. During the season, here is our schedule.

Monday

10 min punt/10 min punt return. On each, I go over the game plan and adjustments for 3-5 min then 5 min or so of team reps. ½ are live and ½ are 15 yard cover or punt blocks. I try to get subs in, but it doesn’t happen much. Punt Block time is diminishing due to a small, but helpful adjustment I made. The defense is our punt return, but we will sub in 3 DL to get speed/fresh legs on the field.

Tuesday

4 reps punt, 8-10 min kickoff, 7-8 min kickoff return. Punt reps and fast and rapid. This week we had to work on getting on the field and executing a punt in under 17 secs including shifts and motion. KO: 3-4 min review and scout then ½ the reps are to15 yard coverage, then ½ are full speed. KO Return: 3-4 min review and scout then ½ the reps are to contact, then ½ are full speed.

Wednesday

3 reps Punt and Punt Return (We may punt during team offense). PAT Skill/Position work 5-7 min, PAT Block 5-8 min depending on what our opponent does. Sometimes, we don’t do PAT block on Wednesday. The only reason we do PAT block is to go over a muddle huddle/swinging gate defense or if we have a new block to install that week.

Thursday

We rep every ST 3-4 times and rep PAT and PAT Block live for 3-4 reps. We will move our PAT/FG around the field to see how we are kicking. We run this essentially like a simulated game.

If you don’t need to make many adjustments, or if your opponent is vanilla, I think you can get by with 10-15 min a day. However, you may want to spend the extra time on skill/technique work. My position coaches also don’t play much of a role in these practices, except for watching and coaching their positions on the fly. If we do individual groups, they will see them then. 

Concluding Thoughts

Our staff works very well together and will generally do what is asked of them, but I try, sometimes better than others, to communicate as much as possible my expectations. In an ideal world, I will have the special teams practice plan ready on Sunday and tell everyone what I want them to do each day. I think if you communicate your expectations and even tell them what to do, most coaches, and kids for that matter will do what is asked. Try to eliminate the guesswork/ thinking. Do it all for them, so they just have to come in and coach what you want them to. Eventually, you won’t have to do that. 

As a team, we don’t do individual rewards or awards, but we did at my last school. It worked ok, but can be a lot of work for you. I’m not sure that it’s the most efficient use of my time.

I hope you can use and adapt some of these or others to fit your situation. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.


This article was originally published in Headsets: Volume 2, Issue 4.

Stephen Mikell

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