One of the biggest challenges for coaches is keeping practices moving along and having everyone engaged in the process. What I’ve seen an awful lot in the past are too many players standing around, doing the same drill for too long, then moving into an endless amount of team time. This is squarely on the coaches – you can’t blame the players for this.
But really, the planning starts at the coordinator level and flows downhill from there. I may have mentioned this before, but in the offseason, the coordinator should plan his Install Calendar. As soon as he knows when practices start and how many he’ll have, the mapping out of goals should begin.
The Head Coach should provide a time block for each practice for each of the coordinators. The ST Coordinator can operate a little bit in a vacuum, except for notifying other coaches of when they’ll be needed and for what, or perhaps notifying the OL coach that the OL will be free for whatever the coach wants during the ST period.
The DC and OC should definitely talk to each other to coordinate group time, whether it be 7-on-7, OL vs DL, inside run game, blitz pickup, etc. The coordinators should notify the position coaches about the team/group scripts for the day and any goals they definitely need accomplished that practice.
Now comes the tough part – the position coaches planning their parts of the practice. Most coaches I know have a set of “everyday” drills they want to do, which emphasizes the fundamental skills their players use almost every play. I know for us on the OL, developing that type of routine has been crucial in our progress. But here‘s the thing: it has to be done quickly and efficiently. As the season goes on, one of the first things coordinators try to eliminate is individual time. You see that happen again and again. Coordinators by nature (and I may have been a little guilty on this as well) want to see the Big Picture, and to them, the best way to do that is to see the entire offense or defense together doing things. But there is a cost to that view – the details that make everything else work. That great blocking scheme isn’t going to materialize without the players being able to practice their footwork, being able to practice delivering that block and without practicing every other detail that goes into a particular play.
So as a position coach, you need to (gently) resist the coordinator’s time grab. Once you succeed in preserving your time, it’s got to be used efficiently! If the coordinator looks over and sees you or your players standing around, they’re gonna think that is time they can reclaim.
What I do (and thanks to Mike Sherman for this thinking) is break my individual time down into five minute blocks. It is the rare drill that lasts longer than 5 minutes. Maybe if we’re installing a complex new play, like a screen or a reverse or another type of gadget play, then it’ll go 10, but 95% of the time it is 5 minutes max. I may even try to get two drills done in 5 minutes.
What it takes is a little bit of time initially. I’m very lucky in that I have some OL who have been with me for 10 years. They know my buzzwords and phrases and when I call out a drill, they know how to get aligned and start it up. They also help coach up the newer players and get them squared away. But early in the season, it is OK to take extra time explaining the drill, getting extra reps on it and really getting that drill set up for the rest of the season when you won’t have that extra time.
You also need to have multiple people doing the drill at once. The only way I can get through my everyday drills in the 5 minutes is to have five people going at once. When you practice anything on air, have all your OL do them at once.
Your corrections need to be concise as well – no lengthy explanations. Two of my most common coaching points are “Gain ground!” and “Keep a base!” My players know what I’m looking for and those phrases serve as a reminder. Sometimes you run into a new situation – maybe the defense you’re going against that week does something weird and you’ve got to talk through it. That’s OK – better to get it right, but just try to do that once. The rest of the time, the corrections are short, quick and to the point.
If you have problems seeing everything along a horizontal plane (for example, along a row of players) then consider “stacking” the drill – maybe instead of having five people go at once across a row, think about having three rows in three columns go instead. It’s easier to see three columns go than 5, AND you get 4 more people involved.
The other benefit of breaking practices down to 5 minute periods is player boredom and enthusiasm. Doing the same thing over and over again can result in lessening levels of attention to detail. Players (and sometimes coaches) can get lax when seeing the same thing repeatedly. So moving onto something new after only 5 minutes is a great way to keep things fresh.
At least initially, the coach should employ a countdown timer, whether he is doing it himself or a manager or injured player is doing it. By now (I’ve been using these time periods since 1996) I’ve got a pretty good idea in my head how much I can get done in five minutes, but in the beginning I found myself saying “Holy crap – five minutes already?” an awful lot. It just really puts a premium on your own organization and then carries over to the pace of your practice.
So cast a critical eye over your practice sessions. See if your players are moving around excitedly or shuffling around going through the motions. The “Five Minute Period” may make a difference.