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Winning Football Practice Organization
Why Plan Practice Early
Many times, when working with a younger football coach, and often when observing more experienced ones during practice, I am either asked about the proper way to organize a practice, or I observe an unproductive one. This, and the next few posts, will focus on the organization of a football practice at any level. Most of the information included is the result of watching thousands of practices over twenty years, taking the best techniques seen, and implementing them into a precise plan of action.
The first point that needs to be made is that the time to organize a practice schedule is not in a coach’s huddle at the side of the field while the players are warming up. So many times, I see coaches at the youth and high school level walk onto the practice field five minutes prior to practice and ask each other what they want to do that day. This is not the way to plan a practice. If the coaches do not have a specific plan in place, a couple of things happen that can kill a team.
Primarily, time wasted deciding what to cover for the day is lost instruction. Most football teams have specific time limits when they can be practicing; if every moment is not accounted for, and used to the maximum efficiency, the players are inevitably missing training time. If a staff wastes only five minutes per practice figuring out what to do that day over the course of a three and a half month season, that can add up to 376 minutes. In other words, that is about 6 ½ hours, or over three full practices, if you are averaging two-hour practices, of instructional training lost. Imagine if ten minutes a day are wasted. Numerous staffs consume up to a half an hour a day in time wasters, and then blame the players when the team is not fully prepared.
Secondly, the players see the coach’s lack of attention to detail, and they learn to not fully prepare themselves as well. If a player sees that his coach is not going to prepare himself or his team for success, subconsciously they make the same decision. When players line up in the wrong position consistently, miss assignments, don’t know plays, or show up at game missing equipment or late, it can usually be tracked back to a lack of organization and focus from the top down. Inevitably, young men and woman are hard-wired to emulate their leaders eventually. When a player emulates disorganization, it can be ruinous to a football team.
The last, and possibly the biggest reason for fully planning the practice is that a coach has so much on his or her mind, that they cannot possibly be able to properly teach all aspects of the plan without a written course of action. The leader of a football team has too much to deal with to remember every detail if it is not in the form of a season long plan. Between board members, administration, coaches both higher and lower in the pecking order, parents, equipment mangers, scouts, publicity, administrative duties, and whatever else they throw at a coach, there is no way a person can remember the detail it takes to train a football team. The last thing a coach or a team wants is to have half the offense missing on opening day (unless, of course, it is planned that way).
Take a tip from the people with the most success – plan your practices during the offseason. Ask yourselves a question. What are the College and Pro coaches doing during the off-season? Are they sitting at home watching a CSI marathon every night? Are they spending their free time thinking, “Well football is over?” Not a chance. The guys with the most success are the guys that have three seasons: Training Season, Football Season, and Planning season. By the way – Planning season is the longest and it is when games are won and lost. There is an old saying that goes “plan your work, and then work your plan.” If everything that a coach wants to accomplish is laid out in a precise, well laid out plan, the results will be amazing. There will be a football team that is well prepared, knows every aspect of the offense, defense and special teams, and is trained to operate just as the coaches envision them operating.
I have spent a lot of time and space making my primary point of the validity planning the practices ahead of time because I believe poor planning is the number one team killer. So many times I see coaches reading numerous books, going to clinics, and watching video concerning offense, defense, strategy, drills, and conditioning, yet they do not own one book on practice scheduling. If they have read anything, it is a small introductory chapter in the middle of a larger book. A coach needs to be as concerned with how a practice is structured as they are with the type of system they are going to run.
Do not confuse the zeal for practice planning and organization with a disdain for the other aspects of coaching football, but remember – all the knowledge in the world is useless if a coach does not have the chance to teach it properly. In the following weeks, I will discuss the three seasons of football I mentioned earlier: Training Season, Football Season, and Planning season and break each of them down into sub-categories. We will talk about what you and your coaching staff should be doing during each of those seasons, and how a practice can be laid out, so that a coach can hit all of the points of emphasis he needs to. At the same time, instill a confidence from players and other coaches that can push a team to the next level.