Methods for Teaching and Practicing Your System

Methods for Teaching and Practicing Your System

In early 2004, I spent a night learning the foundation of what would become our offense at Amherst Steele High School from Russ Jacques, current head coach at Strongsville High School and former D-I assistant.  Coach Jacques’ clinic for our staff proved invaluable that night as our running game set every school rushing record in the 2004 season and produced Ohio High School Football’s Division 1 rushing and scoring leader in 2005. I give credit to much I learned about the zone running game to Coach Jacques.

There was one statement that Coach Jacques shared that night that I couldn’t live with.  Coach said, “You don’t coach the tailback.  He either gets it or he doesn’t, and if he doesn’t then go to the next one.”  I have the utmost respect for coach, but I had to disagree.  First and foremost, I only had one tailback!  Secondly, I felt that all skills can be taught.  I agree that each player must have a certain skill sets in order to be successful at his position, but I also felt that the skills needed could be clearly defined, taught, and drilled in practice.

This has been a pet peeve of mine since then, and in my teaching, I study game film to break down the specific scenarios that our players will see, name the techniques we must use, then create drills that breakdown and replicate the scenarios we will face in a game.

I’m always looking for new drills and different teaching methods, but just like I would evaluate a play or concept and how it fits into what we do, I am also very conscious about how a drill teaches the skills that replicate what we do on the field.

We did our best in teaching the stretch play we learned from Coach Jacques, and we were very successful with it.  Our junior tailback ran for over 2,000 yards, set all school rushing records and many county records  with the stretch as our base play.  However, we knew we needed to learn more about what was making the play successful for us. Diagram 1 shows a basic version of our stretch play.

Diagram 1

After we poured over game film from the 2004 season, we were able to break the tailback’s reads and footwork required down to three distinct skills that we drilled every day.  This later would convert to simple language that allowed us to communicate in-game what was happening and how to react.

The three scenarios for the tailback were:

  1.  Defender reached – climb to the next level
  2.  Color shows on outside half of blocker – press, get vertical and get back out
  3.  Unblocked defender on path – get vertical  now

Armed with the knowledge we had, we created slides to add to our Power Point playbook that illustrated each scenario in a step-by-step sequence.  We backed that up with examples from our game film.  One point I want to emphasize about our teaching is that the step-by-step illustrations are invaluable in teaching.  Film is great, but to show the read and reaction isolated with notes really helps solidify learning.  The coaching points are there on the slide and the player has something to study along with the film.  Today’s editing systems allow you to do this very easily, though I still prefer using Power Point to create these.

Note:  You will notice in the pictures in this post some “back to menu” buttons on the bottom of the page.  We eliminated paper playbooks and used Power Point to create a 400+ slide playbook that included position specific teaching slides.  Using dynamic content really engaged our players.  We didn’t want this to have the feel of a book where the players or coaches have to search and flip through pages to find something.  Players and coaches could quickly use the hyperlinks to get to exactly the information they needed.

In our tailback manual section for the stretch play, the first three slides gave our tailback his coaching points, primary read and pre-snap thought process for the play:

Tailback Read and Reaction #1:  Blocker reaches defender

The first scenario we illustrate is a defender on the tailback’s track being reached.  We expect our tailback to have a specific reaction to this read along with a technique which we called “press and dip” which allowed the blocker to secure the reach block.

Tailback Read and Reaction #2:  Color shows on outside half of blocker

In the second scenario identified, the blocker is losing the reach and opposite color is starting to show on the outside half.  The tailback is instructed to use a “press and cut” technique.

Tailback Read and Reaction #3:  Unblocked defender on your track

The final scenario we identified was when an unblocked defender is on the tailback’s track.  Something happened with a blocker missing his block or getting beat.  Now the technique is “cut” with the idea of getting back to the line of scrimmage and minimizing a loss.  We do account for what to do if the cut brings the tailback back into space.

Game video of different scenarios illustrated in Powerpoint playbook:

After identifying these scenarios, we then carry this information forward in setting up our drills for our individual and group periods.  These drills are illustrated in our playbook as well.  The players see the coaching points on the drill slide as well as the set-up of the drill.

The drill list for tailback for stretch:



Read Drill – Climb Levels

Read Drill – Color Showing

Read Drill – Color Flashed

Read Drill – mix up scenarios

Sideline YAC Drill

Coaches introduce the drill in the meeting showing the drill slide from the Power Point as well as video of the drill.  This is a time saver on the field during early season install because there isn’t too much to do to teach the drill on the field since it was done in the classroom.

This teaching method carries over to every position for this play. The process is as follows:

  1. Each position is broken down into the skill sets needed along with the different scenarios each position will face.
  2.  The techniques are illustrated in still shots from game film with coaching points added.
  3. Game film supports and further illustrates the coaching points.
  4. The drills for those techniques and scenarios are illustrated.  Drills progress from individual to group to team.
  5. Practice is built around the techniques and drills required to be successful in that play progressing from individual to team.


The Results:

Implementing this method allowed us to build on the success of 2004.  In 2005 we broke the records that we set the previous season, led the county in rushing and produced Ohio’s Division 1 (biggest division in Ohio) rushing and scoring leader.

The play had great success for us.  Statistics on the play are as follows:

  • 178 carries for 1,840 yards
  • 21% of our offense attempts in 2004-2005
  •  10.3 yards per carry
  •  73% efficient (+4) yards
  • 53 explosives(+12 yard runs)
  • 17 TD’s

How our teaching and coaching efforts paid off were even more evident when we had to replace most of 2005’s offensive unit, including the tailback.  The tailback in 2006 was a sophomore with great speed. Because of his speed, he came through junior high having  success by getting the ball and beating everyone down the sideline without any read or technique.  When we got him (we moved him up to varsity as a freshman knowing we had to prepare him for 2006), he couldn’t dodge a parked car.  Fortunately, our methods paid off for him and he rushed for nearly 1,400 yards as a sophomore.  As a point of reference, that total would have broken the school record in 2004.

Final thoughts:

The stretch play was used as an example for illustration in this post.  It was a great play for us because it fit the talent of our players and because we made a commitment to teaching every single position with great detail.  The method explained is something we used for every run and pass concept in our offense, and it is something I continue to do in my coaching today.

As you approach the season, reflect on exactly what you want from your position players and have a specific method and drills for teaching it.  The results will show on game day.

The following articles give a series of drills to teach specific skills by position. The coaches writing the articles give more great examples of how to set up drills specific to their system:

AFM Offense
Drills Report – Ball Security – 4 Running Back Drills to Prevent Turnovers
by: Mike Dau
Running Backs Coach, Lake Forest University

AFM Defense
Drills Report – Linebacker Progression Drills
by: Lane Reynolds
Defensive Coordinator, Hamilton High School (AZ)
© June 2012

Gridiron Strategies Offense
© April, 2012
Proper Development of Your Wide Receivers Part II – 10 Everyday Drills You Can Use
by Cedric Shell
Wide Receivers Coach & Passing Game Coordinator McPherson College

Gridiron Strategies Defense

© June, 2011
by Rich Thomann
Linebackers Coach The Bolles School • Jacksonville, FL