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Preparing for practice

This is an excerpt from Coaching Youth Football 6th Edition by American Youth Football & Joe Galat.

Season and practice plans are only as good as the thought, research, and provisioning done before they are created and implemented. Here are just a few items to address in your planning.

Facilities and Equipment

We've talked about the need to be aware of the equipment and facilities available and their condition. When you are developing your season plans before the start of the season, be sure to take inventory of practice equipment and look over the fields you will use for your practice sessions. Remember that equipment may vary from one practice facility to another. For example, your practice field may be unmarked, so you will need to provide tape or cones to mark the line of scrimmage and the boundaries of the field. Or, you might lack goalposts on your practice field for your placekicker, but you can still hold kicking practice. Handheld lightweight blocking dummies that are easily transported from practice to practice are also useful. Make sure to include in your individual practice plans whatever equipment you will need for each practice.

We've also covered the importance of taking climate and current weather conditions into consideration, and modifying your approach accordingly. Regardless of the time of year, you should be aware of the weather conditions that could force you to shorten or even eliminate a practice session. This is especially true in the preseason when heat might force you to adjust the length of your practice. In this case, you should shorten each segment of your practice schedule, include more water breaks, and make sure that your players are not overheating. You must also be aware of lightning during severe weather. If lightning is nearby when the players are on the field, quickly get them to shelter.

Contact and Injuries

Another factor to take into account is the amount of contact your players will have in practices. The old-school theory of coaches simply throwing a ball out there and letting them play practice games is not a good teaching environment. Coaches must comply with present guidelines for blocking and tackling to keep the head out of contact, as stipulated or endorsed by their league's governing organization. The focus must be on player safety, and that starts with teaching and reinforcing proper techniques and setting appropriate limits on contact. Spend the majority of your time teaching fundamental and techniques. Positioning, leverage, and follow-through of teaching techniques do not require full-out contact. Keep your focus on players' safety.

Because even the best preventive measures can't stop all injuries or illnesses, you must adapt when they occur. That usually means making on-the-field changes to your practice plan when players are unavailable for practices or games. At these times, you need to be flexible and understanding. Have a plan for adjusting your practices so that you can accomplish the most and can prevent avoidable injuries.

Keep Your Head Out of Football

The targeting of helmet-to-helmet contact at an opponent's head is forbidden in all levels of football, and American Youth Football remains dedicated to teaching shoulder blocking and tackling techniques. Youth football is for most athletes their first exposure to the game and the place to learn the proper techniques. It is important to dedicate the majority of practice time to teaching basic body positioning on contact and follow through. Full-speed scrimmages can be counterproductive and discouraging to young beginners. Limiting full-speed contact drills and emphasizing the instructional aspects of the game have proven most successful in youth football. Skill is more important than strength. Remember, "Keep your head in the game and out of football."

Learn more about Coaching Youth Football.

More Excerpts From Coaching Youth Football 6th Edition