A well-crafted practice plan is essential to facilitate both individual and whole team improvement within a day’s practice. Even at the youngest ages of the youth level, coaches must come to practice with a game plan. Those who don’t take the time to put some thought into the objectives and processes for a given practice are selling their team short. Frankly, it’s inexcusable and lazy.
A practice plan doesn’t have to take a long time to design. It doesn’t need to be neatly typed and follow a template. It can be scribbled on a piece of paper or typed in a note on your iPhone. What’s important though is that a coach spends a few minutes to identify what his team needs to accomplish on that given day, understanding you can’t work every facet of the game each day. It’s even more complicated at the youth level because you don’t have the coaching resources to split up into single position groups or sometimes even enough players for a full offensive and defensive unit at once.
Inexperienced coaches tend to spend more time on ‘team’ (scrimmage) and large-scale practice drills rather then small group and individual, position-specific fundamentals. A lack of time and coaching resources often leads coaches to have to choose between improving the team and improving the individuals. It’s hard to do both simultaneously. When coaches do choose to spend time on individual drills, organization is critical; unpreparedness here can often turn into lots of talking, players standing around in long lines, and an incredibly inefficient use of time.
So it’s understandable that inexperienced coaches lean more toward team drills. There’s a pressure to be able to at least call and run something that looks like an actual football play by the time game day arrives. It takes a lot of time just to teach young players what to do. It takes even more concentrated practice time to teach them how to do it consistently well.
This is where your practice plan and some creativity can really make a difference for your team. When I design a camp session or team practice, I aim to use a micro-macro progression. First and foremost, identify the practice objective. What piece of your team are you trying to improve today? You can’t cover everything. Once you’ve determined that, design your practice to start with micro-group (position) technique drills—the small details. Then transition to medium group emphasis periods—the coordination among multiple position groups but not full units. Finish with macro-group team drills—full unit work and scrimmages. I’ll detail this below.
This isn’t a revolutionary way to design a practice. I observed it under Coach Kirk Ferentz and staff at Iowa from 2005-2009. I spent the first year on an exercise bike recovering from back surgery, which lead to the next 3 years on the scout team despite some lofty hype from an All-American high school career. With all that watching, I saw how a football practice was run— the constant movement of players from rep-to-rep and drill-to-drill, the purposefulness of the progression and the crescendo-like flow of the practice. I’ve been to enough high school practices also to know that most high-level football practices are run similarly. I’m hopeful that putting it into these terms will be helpful to those less experienced, often volunteer, coaches who end up in a coaching position because Coach Ferentz and the varsity coach aren’t available.
So let’s put this Micro-Macro plan to work. I’m running a practice and have identified that we need to work on the run game for our offense. The sole objective of the practice is to improve our running game and every drill is going to be designed to serve that objective.
Micro-Group or Individual Position Drills QB & Centers are together working on snaps—shotgun & under center RB are working on ball security & defender evasion drills WR are working on stalk blocking OL & TE are working on run block steps & techniques. Medium Group Emphasis Drills QB, RB, WR, & TE are together working on handoffs, exchanges, formations, motions, snap counts and other coordinated processes to execute our running plays. OL continues to work individual technique but transitions to scheme work in which they’re working on the choreography andteam work to block different play types and different defensive alignments. Macro-Group Team Drills All Positions together running run plays vs. air (no defense). During the previous two practice periods, all players should have already performed drill reps at everything they’re required to do on these run plays. Once a team can run them perfectly on air, it’s time to add a defense.
Let’s say we also have enough players for a defense to practice as well. Their emphasis for this practice is to defend the run.
You would probably start with some sort of tackling circuit—3 short tackling stations that the entire defense rotates through. Micro-Group or Individual Position Drills DL are working shoot & separation and their technique needed to play various run blocks. LB are working on gap fill, pursuit angles, and block shedding DB are working on defeating blocks, fills, and outside contain. Medium Group Emphasis Drills You could mesh the DL/LB in this period to work on alignments and gap fills vs different run plays. Another popular drill in medium group run emphasis is called 9 on 7 (or Inside Run Drill). This where the of the non WR & DB positions come together to scrimmage with all run plays. It’s ok to do competitive drills during these medium group periods (7 on 7 is popular for the pass emphasis practices). However, you can also be productive if you keep offense and defense separate here. Macro-Group Team Drills This is where you scrimmage offense vs defense, 11 vs. 11. You may want to sprinkle in some pass plays to keep the defense honest or go through micro-group pass emphasized drill work before the full 11 vs. 11 period.
Your practice template itself should also progress during the season. Early in the season, coaches should allot more time to the micro-drill periods emphasizing fundamentals. As the season progresses, more time can be devoted to team periods as the players should be developing good efficiency and command of everyday fundamentals, leaving more time to work on schematics and play execution.
I understand many youth teams don’t have the time or player/coach numbers to implement the same practice plan as a Big 10 school does, but it doesn’t excuse one from having a practice plan at all. Youth coaches must be creative in designing a purposeful and efficient practice. This takes a few minutes of thought prior to arriving at practice and the discipline to put it on paper. The coach must consider what equipment is needed, how drills will be setup, and how to communicate the plan to assistant coaches. To me, a coach failing to use a practice plan is letting his team down due to a lack of effort—something he would never accept from one of his players.
The Micro-Macro plan can be constructed and implemented to fit any type of team—(flag/tackle, youth/high school, 11-player game or less, run/pass heavy teams). If you’re interested in discussing how you could use it in a more specific way to coaching your team, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org of 319-358-2926. I love discussing this stuff and helping coaches and young players have better football experiences.