Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

The 10,000 Hour Rule, Pt. 2

Posted by admin February - 18 - 2010 - Thursday

I had a coaching friend who wrote in response to my post on our “lengthy” practices. He was surprised that we stayed on the field for such a long period of time. I see his point but it made me realize that I needed to clarify some points and go into a little more detail about how our practices were organized… especially as the season went along.

One point he was concerned about was keeping players “fresh.”— that long practices would wear kids down. What I should delve into some more here is that as our season progressed, 2 things were pared down: the total amount of time we stayed on the field and the amount of conditioning that we did.

Those “8 hour practice days” were only for a week. That was our Camp Week. We totally immersed the kids in football. If they weren’t at school or away at our camp site, what else would they be doing?! It’s early August and nothing else is going on. It was actually 4 2-hour practices with plenty of down time, meetings and time to eat and hang out. We sold it to the kids as a “pride thing” for our program! That nobody was going to outwork us. The other selling point was that we pointed to the NFL in their training camps going on at the same time ours was. The kids love it when they can “see” themselves as being like NFL guys! We had nobody quit nor people failing to come to practice. We were way ahead of our opponents in preseason scrimmages and opening game. I learned from my old HS coach, who was a legend here in the Tidewater Virginia region (Billy O’Brien), that the opening game of the season is worth “3 games.” That if you lose that first one, it takes another 2 weeks to recoup the loss. We wanted to win that opener every year. From 1995 to 2006, the last 12 years of my career, we won our opener! From 1989 till 1995, we were 5 and 2. And we did not tail off during the second half of the season either. We were ready and focused for a playoff run. We were either 4 and 1 or 5 and 0 for the second halves for 14 straight years. (*You can read in my book why we instituted “Nap Time” before our home games!!!)

What I did do was…. starting the 6th game week, we would begin to cut back on the time we spent on the field. If you have read my book, I have posted daily practice schedules. Once the season opens, our average time on the practice field was about 2 hours and 40 minutes. But, that includes team flex, kicking game, water break and conditioning. The football specific portion was only about 1 hour and 50 minutes. And, again, starting the 6th week, I would cut about 5-8 minutes per week. By the time we hit the play-offs, we were on the field for about 2 hours and 10 minutes. We rarely added time once we were in the playoffs either.

I also began to curtain the conditioning time. Whereas we were running them 12-15 minutes per day in the pre-season, it went to 10 for the first half of the season. At the 6th week, it started being shaved some more (down to 5-7 minutes per day… and occasionally just skipping a day if they worked extremely hard that day!) In the last 2 weeks of the regular season, we only really conditioned on Mondays! Tuesday’s conditioning was Offensive Team Take-off period (we called it Buck Sweep Drill… lightning fast! Lots of fast movement and maximum reps) and on Wednesday’s, it was Defensive Team Pursuit. If a player wasn’t in shape by the 6th week of the season, he wasn’t going to be!!!

My last detail that I would add is: as organized as we can try to be in high school, it is very difficult to simulate what the colleges do as far as keeping their practices moving. Why? Well, if you are like we were, you do not have a managerial staff of 8 to 10 students who are moving around the practice setting up the next drill station… moving bags and cones and putting pads on sleds, etc. I could barely get our managers to keep the water bottles full! How many times have you as the coach had to grab a bunch of shields and set up your own drill area??? If you’ve got this under control… great! It’s kinda like that study that was just released about the average amount of “real time” in an NFL football game. It is about 11 minutes!! That’s the amount of time football is actually played— from the moment of the snap till the whistle blows. I think the same is true for practice. There is simply a lot of “down time.”

Team period is probably the worst. You’ve got your first 11 on Offense on the field and 11 on Scout Defense. If you’ve got a squad of 44, then half your team is standing over there on the sidelines while you go team period for 30- 45 minutes!

What we did is that I would have a “script” for our Offensive team period. It had the play we’re running and the defense, including blitzes, that I wanted the Scout Team Coordinator to run. Every coach has a copy. The script is set up so that the 1st O runs 7 plays and then the 2nd O (who, by the way, is right behind the offensive coaches on the field… listening to the play and watching what the 1st team player at his position is doing) comes in and runs 3 plays. So that’s 22 people who are “actively” involved on Offense.

On the Scout Defense, we have 18-20 players who alternate in. Some would be defensive starters who don’t play any Offense. Others would be key defensive back-ups who need some snaps with the scout team defense. Then you have a couple of younger guys who just need to get smacked-on by the 1st team offense to build toughness and confidence. So now, during our team period we have about 40 guys actively involved. Only 5 or 6 standing around on the sideline. I had a policy not to cut anyone who tried out IF 1- he could protect himself and 2- he maintained a good attitude. But, that’s another post.

I would love to talk practice scheduling with any of you who are looking for some ideas about how to make your practices more efficient. There is a “contact” button on the dashboard at the top of the home page if you would like to email me.

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