A note from FishDuck.com: This Friday we have a unique treat, this article from a highly successful college coach will explain what goes into the making of a good football practice. You may recognize some of the strategies from what we have seen at Oregon spring and fall practices in the past. This will provide an insider perspective into an area of football that fans rarely get to see up close or understand, what goes into preparation for a football team.
We encourage other coaches that are interested in possibly writing guest columns providing their unique insight to please contact us. For now, please welcome Coach Tony Demeo!
PRACTICE IS SACRED
By: Tony DeMeo
Regardless of what scheme you run the greatest way to improve your team is to improve your practices. The more productive the practices, the more productive your offense will be. One of the most important jobs a head coach has is to make practices as productive as possible. This doesn’t happen without carefully planning your scheme.
When putting together your offense, you have to plan how to practice it so it can be executed. Anyone can draw up plays but every play you draw up has to be taken apart and drilled to develop the execution of the play. So the more plays you have in your offense the more drills it will take to master. One of the reasons I fell in love with the Gun Triple was that it eliminated the need for many additional plays. It had a built in counter and it threatened the defense with the dive, keep and pitch. It was a run game by itself. So mastering the Gun Triple was mastering a run offense. The more productive and flexible your core plays are the fewer you need. Vince Lombardi’s Power Sweep was his core play in which the halfback made the line more effective by running to daylight. The play could break in many different spots similar to the Gun Triple. Hence Lombardi’s Offense was simple because he had such a great core play.
Once you select the plays in your menu, the next step is to develop a technique chart. This is a list of techniques involved in the plays on your menu. Then pick specific drills to teach those techniques. Next decide how much individual and group time you’ll need to practice these drills. If you don’t have enough time to drill your entire offense every day; you are doing too much and execution will suffer. I’d rather run a lousy play great than a great play lousy. It’s all about execution, converting those Xs & Os to the players on the field. Most of the time less is more. The fewer the number of plays, the more you can rep them and the greater the execution.
Once you have your technique chart together, the next phase of practice planning is to fit the playbook into the practice schedule. Generally a two hour practice is the norm. We divided those two hours into twenty four, five minute blocks.
Typical Tuesday and Wednesday practice would be like this:
- Routes on Air WR/QB - RBs block prog. - O.Line – Block Prog. (run)
- Rtes on Air RBs/QBs - WRs stalk block - Line – Block Prog. (run)
- Play Cycles QBs/RBs – WRs – releases ball drills & Line – Pass Prog.
- Read Drill for 20 minutes – Master Script.
- Play Action Pass ( Skill) Line Pass Block Prog.
- One on one QBs/WRs Line & RBs – Blitz pick
- 7on 7 – skill – 15 minutes Line – Pass Pro vs. D.Line
- Team – 25 – 30 minutes
- PAT/FG – 5 minutes.
Team periods would be about 3rd downs, Red Zone and Goal line.
On Monday and Thursday the emphasis would be on Two Minute Drill, moving the ball, packs and checks, and special teams and special situations (kill the clock, coming out “O”. We have a checklist of all the situations we need to practice. On Friday we practice one time a year situations like kickoff return following a safety, taking a safety, last play of the game etc.
The following are some practice tips that I give my assistant coaches:
- Stick to the schedule, do not improvise.
- Always be on the practice field ten or fifteen minutes early. “
- Always dress in the proper practice attire. Have a whistle with you.
- Praise players as well as criticizing. An ounce of encouragement is worth a pound of correction.
- Coach on the run, if you must talk to players, have a group meeting after practice. Players should always be moving, never let players stand around.
- You get what you demand – demand hustle, discipline, and effort. Demand attention to detail.
- Helmets stay on, with chin straps buckled, for the entire practice (except water breaks).
- If you feel your group needs water during an individual period – feel free to send them. However, check to see that there is not another group already there.
- Never get into a debate with a player during practice. Tell him you’ll see him after practice.
10.Hustle is habit-forming, and enthusiasm is contagious.
- Lead by example
- Be enthusiastic and always hustle.
11.Always give your drills names so that players can line up easily.
- Keep drill names short and snappy.
- Drills should come directly from our drill book.
12.During intra-team drills or scrimmages:
- Encourage both sides of the ball – don’t create offense/defense hate.
- Script all scrimmages except goal line.
- Always blow a quick whistle.
- Never allow a cheap shot to go unnoticed.
- Always call out down and distance.
- Don’t slow down scrimmage to talk to group – substitute for a player and talk to him alone.
- Make sure the scrimmage covers all you want to see, the script should be all-encompassing.
- Always call out play number on script
13.Always work with players during stretches or calls – there are no rest periods during practice.
14.At the end of practice when Coach DeMeo calls the team together – do not talk to any players. Hustle them in to meet with Tony. After break, then you can meet with players.
15.When meeting another group (skeleton, scrimmages, etc.) always hustle as quickly as possible to the other group.
16.Following practice it is imperative that you visit the locker room every day. If you have been on a player make sure you see him after practice to offer some encouragement.
17.Time or lack of time is the biggest opponent we have. We must master our use of time. The more efficiently and effectively we use our practice time, the more effective our team will perform.
- Pay strict attention to detail, take care of the little things and the big things take care of themselves.
- Fail to plan, plan to fail.
- Discipline breeds consistency and consistency is the father of success.
- Execution is the result of quality repetition.
- Enthusiastic practices lead to enthusiastic games.
- Teams play as they practice.
These are some ideas we stress so we can we can be prepared to have a great practice. There is NEVER an excuse for a bad practice.
To make sure every practice is productive it is important that everyone knows the objectives of each phase of the practice and the tempo of that period. For example there may be an install period where the tempo is a little slower, but in the same practice you might have a goal line period where the tempo is intense. When we are installing we use this sequence:
- Walk Through
- Individual Skills & Techniques
- Group Drill
The players must be taught HOW to practice before they can really grow as an individual and then as a team. The following are additional practice tips:
- Teach players howto practice.
- Tempo, maximum effort, awareness, reps, positive attitude, attention to details, etc. Every day we must get better
- Pre – Practice Meetings – discuss upcoming practice – use video 1st then chalk. Don’t fall in love with the sound of your voice. Be specific & to the point.
- Walk Thru – script carefully, good for blitz pick up, corrections, blocking adjustments & special plays.
- Pre – Practice – review unique technique, anything that gets neglected.
- Individual Periods – Rep technique, use specific drill progressions for each technique. Refer to your technique chart prior to practice.
- Group Periods – use to coordinate timing, skills or reads (play cycles, air-raid, read drills)
- Team Periods – use to practice critical situations
- Field Zones: coming out, goal line, red zone.
- Down ‘n’ distance – 3rd & short, 3rd & medium, 3rd & long, 4th & short – move the chains.
- Time Management – Clutch Offense, Victory Offense, Last play.
- Special Periods –Be Demanding – “You get what you demand” What’s important? Demand it. Demand : (1) Effort (2) Attention to details (3) Awareness (4) Focus (5) Positive Attitude.
- Packs & checks (Thurs. & Fri.)
- Gadgets & screens (Mon. & Thurs.)
- Overtime period (Thurs)
- Tempo Control (Mon. & Thurs.)
- Be Demanding – “You get what you demand” What’s important? Demand it. Demand : (1) Effort (2) Attention to details (3) Awareness (4) Focus (5) Positive Attitude.
10. Enthusiasm is contagious. Lead By Deed. Be the example.
11.Players learn by doing not listening – get mega reps – done correctly. Reps with awareness leads to intuition & instinct. Know the Law of Accumulation.
12.Encourage as well as correct – Praise Pays if it is specific & sincere.
13.Criticize the performance not the performer. Be positive in correction.
14.Have a technique chart with each technique listed & scheduled in the direct proportion of its use or difficulty.
15.Never let an error go uncorrected.
16.Coach players about tempo – getting in & out of the huddle, make hustle a habit.
17.Coach players to “Chase the Ball”.
18.Remind players that “Hard Work Works.”
19.Unity starts with uniform – To be #1 we must be 1 Everone dresses the same.
20.Always end practice on a positive note & always visit the locker room after practice. See any player you got on in practice.
We want our players to also take responsibility for having a great practice. We grade our practices by using the Four Aces which I have previously outlined. Always make sure the players are clear on your expectations of them.
WHAT I EXPECT FROM PLAYERS AT PRACTICE
- To be Well Rested and Enthusiastic about Practice
- To be Alert, Listen Aggressively and Absorb Information both in Meetings and on the Practice Field
- To know all Your Assignments
- To have a Positive Mental Attitude
- To Respect all Associated with the Football Program: Teammates, Coaches, Trainers, Bus Drivers, etc.
- To be Coachable and to never be Defensive. Accept Criticism as a Coach trying to Help you
- To play Hard and Work Hard. Make every Rep Count – Quality Reps lead to Quality Performers. Hard Work Works!
- The Make Everyone on the Team better, starting with yourself. Push Yourself out of Your Comfort Zone
- To Always Look Out for the Well Being of a Teammate – No Cheap Shots or Unnecessary Kill Shots
- To know the Difference from being Hurt and being Injured
- To Hustle at All Times – Between Drills, to a Water Break – AT ALL TIMES. “Hustle Always Get Rewarded”
- To Make a Positive Contribution in the Locker Room – We want Winners and will Never Tolerate Whiners
- To Put Your Autograph on every Practice – Form Good Habits
- To do all you can to be all you can be.
- To be about Excellence
The players have to be coachable, but they have to know that you care about them and want to make them a better player. Remember a coach is first and foremost a teacher and your classroom is the practice field. If you take care of business on the practice field; the games take care of themselves.