Playoff Time- Championships are won at Practice
It is now playoff time! This is what your players and coaching staff have work hard for since the spring. The best thing about playoff football is that any team can make a run at the championship. You have to be in it to win it. In the playoffs the playing field is somewhat balanced. Most teams in the playoffs are good teams with good athletes. The playoffs is where coaches make the biggest difference. Some teams will have a couple of stud players that carry their team. But, in the playoffs you are likely to compete against teams that also have a couple of stud players. The superior coaches will become revealed during the playoffs.
Here are the keys to victory for the playoff practice week :
Bring a large dry erase board with the words CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE WON IN PRACTICE! Preach to your players and their parents the importance of coming to practice on time, focused, excited, and ready to go. Create a mission statement and run with it.
Organized, efficient, and upbeat practices are probably the most important aspects of preparation leading up to the playoff game. Make sure you have scripted practices and all the coaches are on the same page. You want to keep your normal practice routine (if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it) but you have to increase the tempo and intensity. No non-sense, all business. Also, make sure you have an excellent warm up. Make sure the kids have a crisp-upbeat warm up.
During the playoff week do some extra fundamental work. Conduct more blocking, tackling, and block destruction drills. Do a little bit more competitive contact run and pass blocking drills. Do some additional tackling throughout the week as well. Do not beat your kids up by doing only live tackling drills during the week. When I say do tackling drills, work some live tackling obviously, but also do some form tackling and other non-live contact drills.
Competitive and Tough Practices Breed Physical Teams
Make everything a competition during the practice week. Make your kids compete in any drills they are doing. Make them compete with each other and even make them compete against a timer in any kind of individual or conditioning drill. Just make everything competitive.
All coaches need to have a confident demeanor. All coaches need to be positive. All coaches need to show that they are excited and want to be there. The vibe of the coaches will definitely rub off on the kids. Tell your coaches to come with a positive demeanor and come excited, or don’t even come at all. Believe that you will win.
It doesn’t matter if you are the first place seed or your team barely made the playoffs, anything can happen. One of the beautiful things about football is that anyone can win a playoff game. Many times teams will naturally elevate their play because it is a playoff game. Keep practices intense, enthusiastic, and positive. Make sure your team knows that you are going to see your opponents best effort. What I mean by intensity is have up-tempo practices and up-tempo attitudes. Make the practices fun as well. We will always end our playoff week practices with something fun. This will keep the kids interested and allow for everyone to have some fun at the end of the night. Do rely races, a game, or something along those lines. Again, make the game/race fun but competitive.
It is important that you do not over condition or beat up the kids by hitting all week long. You do not want to tire and beat up the kids before you even play the playoff game. We are talking a lot about intensity, competition, and enthusiasm here, but keep in mind that most of this is a mind set and a fluent up-tempo practice philosophy.
Hopefully you will have game film on your opponent. Having game film will allow you to take advantage of their weaknesses. It will also allow you to prepare your team for what they do on a consistent basis. Having a scouting report will allow you to practice against their tactics during the practice week.
Team Defense: Have a scout team run through the plays your opponent likes to run (vs. your defense-this is a non-contact session). If you do not have enough kids for 11 on 11 just have the coaches walk through the plays. What we do in our team defensive scouting session is set up a line mat and just have the coaches run through our opponents offensive plays and have the kids just execute our pursuit drill. Give the kids the scouting report as well. Talk about who their best players are and what they like to do. It is also very important that you work your defensive alignment. You have to adjust properly to the opposing formation. You cannot allow the offense to out flank or outnumber you on any side of the field.
Team Offense: Have a scout team align in your opponents defensive formation. If you do not have enough players to set up the defense use cones or block/tackling dummies and assistant coaches. Run through any blitzes or stunts your opponent executes. This will give your offense an idea of what they are going to see.
Special Teams: Have a scout team line up how your opponent lines ups. Make your kids understand what your opponent does in their kicking game. Do they onside kick or kick deep every time? Whatever they do make sure your special teams is ready for it. Oh, one more thing-DO NOT kick to their stud plays.
Make sure your players are disciplined and do not take any stupid penalties. Preach this during the practice week. Make sure your players always maintain their composure. You do not want to take stupid penalties. You always have to make sure players understand and execute their responsibilities. You can bet on seeing some gadget/trick plays at some point during the playoff game. If a player is playing safety make sure he is deep, if a player has containment, make sure he contains. Be ready to defend reverses and half back passes as well. Do you job and be disciplined!
Win the special teams battles! Win the field position battles. Performance in the special teams can and probably will determine if you are going to win or lose a playoff game. Giving up big plays on special teams can be demoralizing and game changing. You do not want to give a short field to the opposing offense and you sure the heck do not want to give up a special teams score. Be sound in the kicking game. Remember, you do not want to kick to their best players. I would also practice your onside kick recovery and onside kick defense (hands team) often throughout the practice week. If the game comes down to an onside kick situation you will be glad you worked hard on it all week long. Reps. Reps. Reps. Have the kickers kicking a few before, during, and after practice. If the kick is there early have him get some kicks in before practice starts.
Believe it or not, the parents play a vital role in the success of your team in the playoffs. The parents have to get their child to practice on time. They have to make sure their child is fed and hydrated properly so he can have a productive performance during practice. You should talk to the parents about getting hyped up and routing the kids on during the playoff game. If the parents are committed then the kids will be there on time and ready to go.
Keep in mind-when it is all said and done as long as your kids played hard and the coaches put a prepared and competitive team on the field everyone should be proud.