One of the questions I get asked all the time is how do you practice.
I truly believe that there are so many factors that come into play when developing a practice plan, that each team needs to customize what is appropriate for them. Here are the things that I truly evaluate every pre-season before we begin making practice plans.
- What will we be known for?
- What is our depth situation?
- What do we need to improve on?
- How well do we know football?
Below is a sample practice plan for our team. I will walk through each of the periods and what we do to explain how the above questions come into play.
Before I begin explaining each of these periods let me explain that we steal time as much as we can during special teams practice. None of the offensive coaches in our program are responsible for special teams once the season begins. Instead, they are getting extra offensive individual time. Our OL only works on field goal, which is not very time consuming, so once they get that done, then they begin working on blitz pick-up or blocking schemes against different fronts.
Our QBs are rarely on special teams, especially the varsity starter, so they have the opportunity to get their entire warm-up completed. All other skill guys that are not actively participating in special teams will be either working routes on air or an individual drill with their position coach. This system will minimize the players just standing around watching and also make sure that all of your coaches are actively engaged at this time.
Question #1 above is “What will we be known for?” I believe that this should be the first thing done in your offensive practice. We are a fast-paced, no-huddle offense, so we start every offensive practice with Perfect Plays.
For us, the ball is set on the 40 going in and we signal a play and it is snapped as fast as possible going against air. They continue their responsibility until I blow my whistle, which is about 3-4 seconds. Another coach has spotted a ball and the offense must sprint to the ball and snap as fast as possible.
We are coaching intensity and speed more than anything in this drill. The offense will run 5 plays and then sprint off, the next offense is lined up ready to roll on the 40 as the coaches sprint to meet them and keep the energy going. Our goal is 20-25 snaps of the football in a 5-minute segment.
The next segment says Individual, which rarely is the case. Remember we have stolen time during special teams which means we can use this time for combined drills.
This time is set aside for 2 or more position groups to get together and work on a shared task. For instance the QB’s and RB’s may be together working on hand-offs. The OL and TE/FBs may be together working on pass protections or combo blocks. The WRs and QBs may be together working on throwing fades on the goal line.
Rarely do our position groups work alone. It would only be if they are working on a highly specialized skill or task. Part of my reasoning for this is 11 players on the field are working together on every play, so let’s practice that harmony as much as possible. Also, coaches can now hear each other’s coaching points on certain things. For instance maybe our WR coach hears how the OL coach is teaching hand placement while blocking and now he can use those same coaching points with the OL. Also, you may have a new coach that needs to be around other coaches to see a model of coaching in your program.
Another benefit of this is players being around a variety of coaches and positions which makes moving kids and asking them to do different skills much easier.
The next segment is our daily bonus segment. In this particular practice, it was pass protection and bubble period. This is the time every practice where we sit down as a staff and decide what we really need to work on specific to our teams needs or our opponents.
This week we were facing a team which blitzed like crazy, so we felt additional pass protection time with the QBs and RBs involved was needed. We also had an issue where we were struggling to block the perimeter on our bubbles, so we had the drills running simultaneously. This is a great example of why our coaches need to work together as much as possible on the offensive side of the ball. Our QB coach cannot be at the pass protection and the bubble drill, so the coach and the players need to be comfortable with each other. There can be no egos if another staff member is trying to help a player from a different position group. This segment will look different every single day and could range from extra individual skills work or potentially even some sort of whole team activity.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but sometimes we will do team run. We are a very heavy RPO team so this is a great time to get that work in. There are days when we keep it to just run so the RBs can really get work on carrying the ball and finding holes. Again the receiver unit is split here, so the WR coach has to be comfortable with someone else coaching his players while he is working on his individual time.
7 on 7
7 on 7 is the next segment along with an OL individual period. Many times the OL is going to work with the scout DL during this time on specific needs. I have tried to run Group run and 7on7 simultaneously before, but the problem we have faced is depth. Our players were getting 0 reps off in this time period and it was taking a toll on their bodies. Our RBs especially. They were getting more carries and tackled more in the Group Run than in an entire football game.
Scripted Team Segment
Next is our scripted team segment vs. the scout team. This is our time when everyone knows what to expect and the offense should be able to have success against the scout team but still have a level of resistance that makes them execute with confidence.
Unscripted Best vs. Best
Our final segment of the day is unscripted v. the best players available. This is where depth and knowledge of the game come into play. If depth is an issue then manipulate the scout team to be more JV or varsity players.
Also this segment gets adjusted daily to be a situation. Our staff decided what situations were the most critical to a football game and we make sure they show up in this segment at some point in the season. If your player’s football IQs are high just say it is 3rd and 8 and call a play. If it is the first time doing 3rd and 8s, then take the beginning and explain the situations, how you should handle it as a player. I rarely script these segments. It is an opportunity for our play caller to also be put into a stressful situation.
Making Practice Game Like
We have coaches on the sideline for this period so it is as close to a game situation as possible. There is always a winner and a loser during this time. It can be painful to end an offensive practice with a loss, but the hope is that it will remind them that there is not always a next play or a next drive. As a coach it may also tell you a lot about your team or individual players. We have had QBs that are great players for 95% of the game, but when the 5% of the game that requires them to lead under fire comes up they can not perform. If this segment is a drive, then we give them an end goal. For instance:
- Drive from the 50 and must score a TD
- Drive from the -20 and must kick a field goal
- Drive from the -1 and must score or flip the field with a punt
- 1st and goal from the 10
- 2-minute situations(how much time, timeouts, yard line, points required to win)
- 4-minute situations(take time and make time-consuming decisions)
Another fun way to do a drive is to start the drive in a unique situation. If they execute then the drive extends, if not then the next group comes on or you punt or kick a field goal. This is always a great time to keep your punt and field goal teams engaged in practice.
- 1st and 20(teach them how much a holding call can kill a drive)
- 2nd and 1(teach them that statistically this is a free play and we will take a shot)
- 3rd and 10(teach them to execute or your drive ends)
Another strategy we use is a certain situation performed multiple times and score kept 2 point conversions and we must execute 3/5 plays successfully to win 3rd down situations and we must execute 3/5 plays successfully to win 1st and 10 situations, must get at least 4 yards on the play 3/5 plays successfully to win.
Other things to consider when practice planning:
We rarely tackle to the ground in practice, typically when momentum is stopped the whistle blows. We also teach segments where we tap the hips in a good tackling position to down the runner. This must be taught to the players and the coaches and everyone has to be on the same page.
Each segment has a flow to it and coaches need to understand how to approach it. Are they allowed to stop a drill and teach? Are they allowed to just yell out words? Are they on the sideline in a game day situation?
My goal is to run every play and properly execute it 15 times full speed before it is ready for a game. Some plays that are installed in the summer will definitely hit that mark and essentially need a weekly tune-up and only a few reps, while newer plays will dominate your time. If you install a play, it is likely 2 weeks from working they way you want it to.
Make sure you have rotations for your players. The rotations of each position do not need to be the same. For instance, does your starting QB and RB look better because he is always with the best OL. Maybe the back-up is just as good when the quality of the players around him is elevated.
At our school we have very limited space and if we don’t practice fast, then we get sent to a field that is less than desirable. So a normal in-season practice for us is 30 minutes Special Teams, 60-70 Minutes Offense and 60-70 Minutes Defense. We lift or watch film during the school day and our installs are sent to the players the night ahead of time with play cards and a video of a coach explaining it. We have all learned how to better incorporate technology into our program, so continue to use it to keep things as efficient as possible. I want my coaches to eat dinner with their families 6 of 7 nights in the week.
I strongly believe that trying to steal another team’s practice plan is almost impossible, but using this template from above and customizing it to meet your needs is the best way to go about the process.