Building Better Athletes

Everyone has different time constraints and different schedules imposed upon them by their programs, leagues and governing bodies.  So exactly what you can do with the following idea will vary by your situation.  Just remember if you don’t have the ideal amount of time, you can usually rearrange some stuff or prioritize and still get this concept accomplished.

Lets consider the following time frame for the beginning of your football season. Summer is June & July … Practices start in August … Games start in September.  No matter what offense or defense you run, the opportunity exists to have a great team each and every year … and this is how you do it.

Every year we try to have a ‘summer conditioning camp’ during June and July … 2 or 3 days per week for 2 months.  I have coached in many different places under many different rules.  Some years we have to open our camp to the entire league (almost noone but our kids actually show up).  Some years we have to get coaches from local schools involved to make certain it isnt seen as a ‘team function’.  Some years we can only do a few weekends or we can only start after July 4th weekend.  But in every situation except one, we have figured out a way to make it happen.  Voluntary Summer Conditioning ends up being something that older kids come back for even though they have moved on to Jr High ball.  It usually doesnt attract everyone but the serious players want to be there.  The want to do anything if it means football season can start a little earlier.  And you can ‘sell’ this to your park or organization by reminding them of the safety issues involved once the pads go on and how much safer these kids will be when they are in better shape and more able to handle what happens in pads.  Be sure to include your plans for safety during the summer.  How your camp is shorter than a typical practice … how the water jugs go with the players from station to station … how you have 2 nurses and a local EMT scheduled to attend sessions … etc. etc. etc.

Anyway, now that you have some time scheduled BEFORE the actual start of the season what can we do to get better ??

First, use drills that will create better technique:

I like to call these things ‘sleds and chutes’ but we don’t hit anything in the chutes before we have gear … we use a big metal chute that would knock you out cold if you came up too early … so when we are working out in shorts and cleats we use Coach Get Low and Coach Stay Low … 2 pieces of PVC pipe … light weight and portable … and it wont kill you if you hit it … now work like crazy to get SPEED and Foot Placement … your kids will be flying off the ball in no time … and we do this with every kid on the team no matter what position we feel he might play.

Now we do hit the sled without gear because there is no danger there … but if they wont allow that then you can always just use 2 shields or round dummies and work on ELEVATION and Foot Placement … by the time you get in pads, hitting low to high will be second nature.

I mention ‘foot placement’ in both of the above but what I am really talking about is something we call LEG Progressions and we use LEG or Load Explode Go to teach both blocking and tackling so you can imagine we feel it is about the most important thing we can teach our boys.  You can learn all about LEG and the drills we use in ‘sleds & chutes’ by clicking HERE.  That link is to our Dominant O-line Manual but make no mistake we go through those drills with every kid on the team every year.

We would also mix in some pulling and kick a dummy or forming a wedge or forming a TKO wall into our Technique Sessions.

Next, use drills that will increase athleticism and strength … jumping rope every day … footwork ladders every day … agility cone drills every day … plyo boxes every day … harnesses dragging tires every day … core strength every day … pushups, pullups, dips, bodyweight squats every day.  These drills will make your players better even if you can only do them for a couple weeks … give them an entire summer and you will create monsters out of the studs … studs out of good athletes … good athletes out of average kids … the bad athletes become good … even the terrible athletes become tolerable.  Another great article on Summer Speed Camp can be found HERE.  This is Coach Darrin Fisher’s Speed Camp and it is very similar to what we do without the Technique Work that we try to build in to ours.

Here is some video our our Summer Speed & Strength Camp from a few years ago:

So assuming the Technique Sessions take about 30 minutes and the Speed & Strength Building Sessions take about an hour (push the pace and they will get faster the more they do it) … thats about an hour and a half … then we like to finish with contests of some kind (Relay Races, 2 Dogs and a Bone or Stick Fighting) to start separating the men from the boys.

By the time you get in pads you will have better athletes … then we do the same stuff in pads for our mandatory 3 days of conditioning so we get used to operating in full gear … by the time you are ready to hit your kids will be ‘killers in cleats’ … should only take you a day or two to finish evaluating what positions they need to learn … now put them in place and start installing your offense.  You will be surprised at how much faster your installation goes now that the overall level of athleticism on your team is higher … you will be surprised at how much longer their attention span is after working hard during the summer … you will be surprised at how much better they perform as you get ‘reps’ with your chosen schemes.

If you want to start teaching formations and terminology you can do that during down time or in place of relay races every other day or so … just be sure to use OBVIOUS linemen at the QB and running back positions … rotate everyone through each position as best you can remember so that no one feels they have a spot locked down … create the idea that every spot is in open competition from day one and avoid the inevitable disappointment when some kid who has been getting all the time standing in at QB gets moved to Left Guard because when you can finally evaluate the kids it becomes obvious you need that kid pulling and lead blocking on every play.

For what it is worth I am not dreaming this up … this is exactly what we do … we do Summer Conditioning Camp every year we are allowed (I have coached in many places over the years) and this is our focus … we have seen many many positive results and had kids who would never be able to make a contribution actually hold down a starting spot most every year due to our focus on Building Better Athletes … the Xs and Os can wait … they really can … we rarely get more than 3 weeks to install schemes and yet have no problem getting enough offense and defense that we can win our scrimmages and jamborees and games … of course having better athletes means we rely less and less on scheme and more on our kids performing on the field.

My first year as a HC we went 4-4 and I spent every moment on Xs & Os because we had 18 returning players at age 6&7 so we just knew we already had pretty good athletes … that season was a big eye opener for me … we have never lost more than 2 regular season games on the next 18 teams I have been the HC or where I have been responsible for scheduling this approach … spend more time on building better players … techniques, fundamentals, blocking, tackling, speed, power … scheme is important but in my opinion it is not the most important thing you can do to improve your team’s chances on game day.

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