How to make the best out of a youth football practice

Despite the tough nature of the game of football, as a coach of a youth team, you need to remember the job at-hand. You aren’t necessarily coaching players that have experience with the game of football and the weight-lifting/conditioning aspect of it. You need to focus on getting the players to master the fundamentals and learn what it takes to become a solid football player. At the same time, since you’re dealing with younger athletes, you need to keep a fun atmosphere to keep the kids enthused with the game.

Warm-Up/Stretching

There isn’t a better way to start each practice than with some basic stretching and warm-ups. It is recommended that you have each player warm up in the same spot for each practice. This will assist in the coach being able to tell who’s there and who isn’t. After a coach or captain leads the players through the basic stretches, it is then time to mix in some dynamic stretching exercises.

A few possibilities include backward lunge reach and carioca. No matter what type of specific exercises you do during the warm-up, they should all serve one sole purpose: Get the player ready for physical activity so they don’t pick up an injury that could have easily been prevented.

Here Coach Vern Friedli shows warm up exercises.

Source: Youth Football Special Teams course

Team Meeting

Although the term “team meeting” might not be 100% appropriate in describing this phase, it is basically what is going on. Once the stretching has been completed, the coach can go over a quick evaluation of the previous game and then get onto the next task at hand. Assuming you are still in the earlier parts of the season, you are going to be looking to get the offense and defense familiar with new formations and plays.

This time can serve as a quick introduction to the new stuff. Then, after a brief overview, get the guys out there practicing the material to keep them engaged. As the season progresses, these introductions might go from new formations to alterations in established sets. Whether it be adding in another slot receiver or disguising blitzes from other areas in the field, coaches have plenty of room to add in some kinks.

Individual Work

Former NFL star Troy Vincent said, “Technique is everything and we play a contact sport.” The amount of technique that goes into playing the game can’t be understated. That is why the individual work session needs to be one you master as a coach. For this phase, a key determinant will be how many assistant coaches you have – the more, the better.

This will allow you to divide up the team into as many position groups as possible with a coach in charge of each one. Once everyone’s divided up, focus on teaching the players various techniques needed to play the position.

Run through the drills quickly and try to refrain from doing too much explaining, rather focus on refining their craft. Make sure you’re working on drills that develop skills needed to excel within your offense or defense. If you’re a run-heavy team, it doesn’t make as much sense to continuously work on the chemistry between your quarterback and receivers on downfield passes. A more logical choice would be to develop these receivers into capable blockers on the outside.

Along with teaching the offensive and defensive positions, you need to remember to focus on special teams at some time during this. Since most of the special teams players will also need to go through individual work, this may need to be something completed after all of the individual work has commenced. Anyone who has ever watched a football game knows that special teams can make or break a game.

With this being the case, make sure special teams receive adequate attention. There is a lot that goes into it, which makes it vital to ensure all players know their assignments and responsibilities on punt and kick coverage. It also can serve as a time to let your kicker and punter fine-tune their jobs in a game-like situation.

Group Drills

Once all of the individual drills have been run, you can start getting the player’s competitive juices flowing and run through some drills involving numerous positions. This will allow them to put their individual techniques they just learned into action against an opposition. As a side note, these drills should be done in a non-contact mode. As for some possibilities, you could have the quarterbacks throw passes to receivers and tight ends on one-on-one drills with the defensive backs.

Here Coach Vern Friedli demonstrates group drills with the receiver core.

Source: Youth Football Skills & Drills course

You could run through some inside rushes with both lines, linebackers, and the running back getting the hand-off from the quarterback. However, try to remember to have some flexibility with these. By this, I mean to change up the matchups each practice to keep the interest level high.

Full Teamwork

Upon completion of the group drills, it is now time to get the entire offensive unit together to play against the entire defensive unit. There are many advantages to this, with the first being the chance to fine-tune offensive plays and defensive formations. While running these plays at game speed, it also can serve as a method to test the offense on various down and distances. If you see a player that is struggling with a particular technique, sub him out and help him correct the mistake. Finally, although it’s not always necessary, you can include a scrimmage. I suggest only a couple series at max, but a scrimmage can serve as some valuable game-like experience with contact being involved.

Cool Down

Finally, in closing, you need to do some cool downs. Here, I recommend doing some stretching and light jogging. As well as these basics, you can also have the players run through some plays with no opposition. This will allow them to cool down while also keeping their mind on football.

Brandon Ogle
Author: Brandon Ogle

Youth Sports
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