Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

2 Platooning at the HS Level??

Posted by admin February - 15 - 2010 - Monday

A coach asked me to comment on the concept of 2 platooning players at the HS level. Let me first say that I can only share with you what my experience of leading a program for 22 years was. I know of a couple of coaches who successfully used 2 platooning but… they were both from very large schools and had the luxury of 75-80 Varsity players. I guess I see the advantages that hard-core 2 platooners speak of… I just know that we never had that many “great ones” and we wanted them on the field as much as possible!

I tried 2 platooning one season toward the end of my career and it was a disaster. If you are considering full scale 2 platooning, remember: you will also be “2 platooning” your coaching staff! Right there is where we first ran into problems. I guess I either did a poor job of leading or they were simply too immature or self-absorbed to get along but… we became a divided staff… especially when the defense was playing well and our offense was struggling. It wasn’t anything blatant; but you could tell that there was friction way beyond what is healthy. You will have to assign your staff members a position on only 1 side of the ball. He will work with those players every day. Like a D1 college staff, his contact with the offensive players will be only when the 2 sides do competition drills together…. and then it will only be as the “opponent.”

You run into another problem right off the bat when your staff has to have their “draft.” If players are only going to go 1 way, you have to decide which side of the ball they are going to play on. Who will make this decision? Again… competition.

I am an advocate of players, the “stars”, going 1 and 1/2 ways!!! What I mean is: your best (the one’s that you want on the field as much as possible) will rest every 3rd series you are on offense. You set up a rotation in practice that carries over to the game where the back-up knows when he is coming on the field. This accomplishes 2 things: it gives the starter a break, probably once or even twice a half, during the heat of the game and 2) it allows a quality back-up to get important game time when the game is on the line. This builds depth for this season and gives you experience coming in to next year; for, we try very hard to never back up a senior with another senior. We want underclassmen on the field as those “key back-ups.”

We also are careful about the “stars” playing on Special Teams. It’s another area where we build depth and experience for the younger ones. Now… we only put quality back-ups on the field for the kicking game— because it is just too important to just stick anyone out there! Our “stars” can get a break during a kicking play. It’s a chance to get a drink and, especially, talk with their coach before heading back out for offense or defense.

Let me just mention here too that you will find that you have one or two kids each year who go hard ALL the time and just never seem to get tired!!! The harder you work them, the stronger they perform. These are those 1 or 2 that we WILL let play on the “key” special teams (i.e., Punt and Kick-off)… but most of the “stars” will get a break during kicking plays during the game.

Another factor which played into our getting a lot of kids in the game was that we DID 2 platoon our Offensive linemen. Rarely did we have an OL who had the physical tools we were looking for in our Defensive linemen. Our O Line is more of the “hog” type while our Def. line is usually made up of back-up Linebackers. In other words, we go more for speed and aggressiveness on our defense. We’ll convert a LB and get him to put his hand on the ground to give us that speed we want for our fast-paced defensive attack. Our “star” O lineman can come in on goal line defense to help bring some bulk. Otherwise, our OL go only 1 way. Our O Line coach is the only one who only coaches 1 side of the ball. When everyone else is working on Defensive positions, the OL coach has more time to work on OL skills. When we go Def. Group work, our OL coach brings his linemen over and it can get pretty competitive because it is guys who only go one way going against each other! That’s about as far as I feel comfortable going with true 2 platooning.

Let me point out too that when the “star” gets his rest, it is on offense! Our whole program psyche changed when we changed from giving breaks on defense to giving breaks on offense! I brought in a new assistant coach from a neighboring school that had had a lot of success… including a state championship. They were known for their physicality and mental toughness. This coach was the first to show me that “you send messages to the kids and don’t even realize it!” The message I discovered that we were sending to our players (prior to this) was: “Defense was just something to do till the Offense got the ball again!” How did the kids “learn” this? Because we substituded on defense and talked about “how important it is to keep your offense working as a unit”, they thought that we were “saying” that Offense is more important! That changed when we started subbing on Offense. We let it be known that the Defense would stay in tact. Our offensive production didn’t suffer but our whole defensive attitude changed! Now that star defensive back/running back was getting his break on offense and that budding star running back was getting some snaps in a key part of the game. The message was clear: our defense is going to win us a championship. We backed up our words with our actions.

The main reason I like “1 and 1/2” platooning is that it promotes team unity… one of my foundational blocks of success. Coaches learn to coach a position on both sides of the ball and players working on both sides during practice builds depth. If an injury occurs, you’ve got a quality athlete to substitute in there until your starter returns. I think with true 2 platooning that you are not only playing with less over-all quality on the field with just the starters, but you really drop off when the back up has to come in. He may be the 3rd or 4th best Defensive lineman instead of 2nd best… because the 2nd best is only playing offense. (There’s that draft again!)

I realize that the true 2 platooners would say that they are getting much more practice time for those guys since they get to work on their skils twice as much. I can’t disagree except to say that I think that a player’s ability level has the greatest chance for improvement during the off season. I think of in-season practice as “preparing for the next game” not improving a skill set. That’s what the hours of lifting, running, agility and drill work from February to July is all about!

I want THE best athletes I can put on the field as much as possible. Names from this area like Kenny Easley, Ronald Curry, Allen Iverson (and those 3 were all QB’s!), Dre Bly, Deangelo Hall, Percy Harvin and others… all played both ways in high school around here. They never suffered for being on the field; in fact, their teams were all championship caliber teams.

Get those “athletes” on the field and give them the chance to produce for you! I’d start “selling” playing both ways in the spring. I’d put it in their heads that a real warrior goes both ways. That you shouldn’t want to come off the field. I ask them: “Don’t you like to put on a show for the fans?! Then you need to be on the field as much as you can so you can be ‘prime time.'” Quite frankly, our kids would be frustrated if they didn’t get to go both ways… yours will too if you plant the right seeds.

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