I never wanted to be one of those “old” coaches that was always saying…
“Well, back in my day we….. “ , fill in the blank.
But, the game HAS changed. Recent rule changes, and discussions at all levels from Pop Warner to the NFL regarding contact, concussions, and practice restrictions have made it necessary for coaches to adapt. Outcomes of pending lawsuits in the NFL regarding concussions and head injuries will trickle down to all levels of play. I am not saying these discussions and rule changes are bad, but as coaches we may need to change some of our “time worn” ways of doing things.
To all of us, the safety of our players is paramount. Most of us took the “head” out of our tackling vernacular years ago. We must continue to teach safe tackling. But, here is the rub… the conflict… the thin line we have to walk. We ALL want to teach safe tackling, but we also ALL want to teach effective tackling. There is a physical nature to the game that we have to prepare for. We have the responsibility to prepare our athletes, mentally and physically, for the games they will be playing in on Friday nights. If we have no contact (or the 5 minutes a day the players in the NFL will be getting) will our players be ready for the full speed, physical action on Fridays.
It will be up to us to become even better teachers, and even more efficient with our practice time (see a previous post, Practice, Not a Minute to Spare). It will be up to us as coaches to come up with new ways to practice and prepare our athletes physically and mentally. I will share one idea that we have used for years to help our athletes get quality “mental reps” during the week.
This works best in a large area with an overhead projector. Often on a Thursday, if we wanted to limit the physical part of practice (during a collegiate work week) we would assemble our defense in a meeting room or on the auditorium stage. We would arrange 11 desks (or chairs) facing the screen, roughly in our defensive alignment… 4 desks up front for the DL, 3 behind those for the LB’s, and 2 desks outside for the corners, and 2 behind for the safeties.
Our defensive starters would take their place in their respective desks, and we would roll video off a script of our opponent’s offense. We would signal in the front/ stunt/ coverage call we wanted to run, the LB’s would make the call, and everyone would communicate just as they would during an actual play… “Tight” (run strength) call, Down and Distance tendencies, formation checks, etc. As the play on the screen developed, they would mentally play the play, defeating the block, reading their key, mentally pursuing to the ball carrier, and talking through routes. We would “play” a series or two, and then sub players into the chairs. Everyone not in the 11 desks would be in the back getting a mental rep.
We would try to make this as “lifelike” as possible… similar to the concepts of mental visualization (refer to post, Mental Visualization). We use calls that will be on the call sheet for that week, and communicate down and distance every play. A large screen with an endzone shot is ideal. It almost becomes like your players are in a video game, or one of those golf simulators. We have even done this same thing with no desks or chairs with the athletes standing in their respective positions. I really believe this type of interactive teaching could be used daily with your scout script to prepare you athletes for practice. I discussed this, and the concept of “flipped coaching” in a previous post on my blog, Defensive Game Planning – Flipped Coaching.
This will be an ongoing situation we will need to deal with in our changing sport… adequately preparing our athletes, physically and mentally for our weekly contests. The coaches that are good at adapting and creative in their teaching and coaching methods will have an advantage.
Thanks again to PrepsKC, for featuring this post on their site today!
Good luck to you all as head into this exciting time of the year!
Jeff Floyd – firstname.lastname@example.org