Athletic Development In Youth Football
Athletic development is the process of developing players speed, agility and quickness. It is worthy goal for your players when coaching youth football, unfortunately many youth coaches either take it too far or they do it in a very inefficient manner.
What the Poor Performing Youth Football Teams Do
When observing traditional poor performing youth football programs, what is a common theme is lots and lots of conditioning and or attempts at athletic development and lots of full contact scrimmaging. There is rarely little attention paid to technique development and perfecting offensive and defensive team execution. The traditionally successful programs on the other hand typically devote most of their precious practice time to developing technique and doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well. Athletic development, conditioning and full contact scrimmaging are usually held to an absolute minimum with these teams.
Athletic development for youth football players is something that should be a year-round effort. We do a program each spring called FASTT, it stands for Fun Acceleration, Speed and Technique Training. We meet just once per week for about 8 weeks, with the goal of introducing the players to some basic athletic development training methods in a fun atmosphere so that if they decide to train on their own, they will have a the knowledge and foundation to do so. A byproduct of these 90 minute sessions is our kids also learn how to be coachable and how we want them to interact with both us and their teammates.
The program consists of 30 minutes of athletic development movements, 30 minutes of football skills development and 30 minutes of pure team building fun “game" time. This mix has allowed us to get very high participation rates and kept the kids interest levels high.
What Drills to Do
When we went to design the athletic development piece of the program we looked at improving the explosiveness, agility and quickness of our players as it relates to the requirements of the game of football. While there are endless choices of training methods, in the end we chose tried and true speed and plyometric movements as well as some base technique improvement methods AND combined them when we could with football specific movements.
The key is to kill two birds with one stone, even in the spring. When starting your football practices in July or August for fall football, you just don't have the time to do a lot of this type of activity. In the fall you have to ask yourself, what are my goals and what is the most efficient method of getting there? It all goes back to your mission statement. Our mission statement is “To develop and love and appreciation of the game of football in our players so that they may gain the life lessons the game teaches us all". We all know that in order for this to happen the kids have to stick around and continue to play. Our research has shown that kids play because they are having fun and they are having a reasonable amount of individual and team success. In order for them to have that success and have fun, we have put a premium in developing sound fundamental technique while perfecting team execution. The athletic development portion of our program is fairly slim during the season because with limited practice time, you have to allocate your time to the most efficient method of meeting your goals.
The Two for One Deal
However, if you could develop base football techniques while also getting the benefit of athletic development, this could be a very effective and efficient use of your time. Here is an example of two very simple movements we combined to accomplish this goal: One very effective movement that is used to help players develop body control and acceleration skills is a stop start type movement, think of things like the pro agility run or ladder type drills. These drills are usually very intense short distance drills where a player has to stay low, stop, change direction, accelerate in a very short space, change direction and accelerate again. Obviously these are the types of things he will be asked to do when he is on the football field.
We combined this type of movement with a tackling drill that we normally use to get our players to tackle with correct form and accelerate through contact. Here is the combined drill: Take a cone and place as a starting marker, you can never have too many cones, The second cone is put at a 30 degree angle to the left at about 6 yards, the third cone is placed at about a 30 degree angle to the right of cone 2 at about 6 yards where a coach is now standing with a tall stand up dummy. The movement is to have the player run from the starting cone to cone 2 and touch it coming to a near stop, staying low and pivoting on his outside foot as he touches the cone, he then accelerates to where the coach is standing with the dummy at cone 3, the player now executes a form fit tackle on the dummy with his head on the outside (right), his knees bent, his toes nearly touching the dummy, his head up and his left shoulder making contact at the contact point you specify.
After you let everyone in your small group do the fit, the second time around the players would take the dummy to the ground with the coach holding the players accountable to the same coaching points.
Once that is completed, now take a cone and put it 6 yards to the right of the starting cone and have the coach with the dummy stationed 6 yards to the left and at 30 degrees of the new cone 2. Now repeat what you did the first time around but this time the player starts to his right and goes left, this time his head will be on the left and contact will be made with the right shoulder. Do the first rep with a fit and the second with the player taking the dummy to the ground. You should be at a pace where you do have a player come through about every 6 seconds, This is just one of many drills where we have been able to incorporate an athletic development movement into our base drill without significantly altering the time required to work on the form of the base technique.
Don't overdo the athletic development like many coaches do. Quite often when you do that, your players and teams aren't progressing well with base football technique fundamentals and team execution. However, if you can combine drills like the above example where both athletic development and football technique are taught in the same movement, you may have yourself something that makes sense.
Dave has a passion for developing youth coaches so they can in turn develop teams that are competitive and well organized. He is a Nike “Coach of the Year" Designate and speaks nationwide at Coaches Clinics. His book “Winning Youth Football a Step by Step Plan" was endorsed by Tom Osborne and Dave Rimington.
For 325 of his Free Youth Football Coaching Tips : Youth Football Plays .