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by Abe Mikell

Assistant Football Coach

Stuarts Draft High School (VA)

A while back, I was talking with a fellow special teams coach about his team and he mentioned that he was having trouble getting buy in from his kids and his fellow coaches. The more I thought about it and the more gamefilm I watched, I realized that this problem is probably much more common than many of us "special teams nuts" might want to admit. With that in mind, I compiled a few tips to help you super charge your special teams by increasing "buy-in."

Tip #1: Involve All Coaches

First and foremost, your head coach needs to take an active role in coaching special teams. He sets the tone for the team so his involvement and energy are a must and show his support for what you are teaching. Our head coach runs most of the scout teams, except for scout kick off, because he has a position to coach on kick off return. Our scout teams work well. It may be that he can motivate them to try hard simply, because he is the head coach.

With the head coach on board, you can now delegate position coaching responsibilities to each additional coach. During the preseason, they are responsible for teaching the technique that their position will use to execute their assignment. During preseason camp we work 1-2 phases a day and the coach will get 5-7 minutes with their positions. We will also do circuits to work on specific phases and skills, and the coaches are responsible for stations in the circuit. We have 6 coaches on staff, and 4 are used on each special teams except for kickoff, and then everyone is used except to head coach. He has scout kick off return.

I am the coordinator, which means that I design and teach the schemes to the players and coaches. I am also responsible to creating the scouting report during the season and planning how to use the time for special teams during the practice day. I also adjust the depth charts during the games and for the upcoming week based on input from the "position" coaches.

Tip #2: Manage Your Player/Personnel

Many teams treat special teams far differently than their offense and defense. They post depth for O and D and give detailed scouting reports but then give the bare minimum when it comes to special teams. By using this method, you are creating the perception that special teams are not that important and that they don't deserve that much time and focus.

We counter this perception intentionally through the way we communicate and manage our players/ST personnel. We usually have a relatively small squad, but one of the most beneficial things that we have done is to create a special teams practice squad. We use this much more in the early part of the year and in preseason. For each team, I have a 2 deep depth chart and a scout team. Ideally, it would work like this: The starters on punt would be your scout team punt, unless they are on the 2 deep for punt return. Your starters on punt return and your scout punt return unless they are on the 2 deep.

The guys that are left over go with the coaches who don’t have a position responsibility. They can work on whatever they want, football skills, whatever. Most of the time these guys will be your offensive line. The only special teams most of them will be on is PAT/FG. By working them during special teams time, we are making sure that players don't see special teams reps as an opportunity for a long break on the sidelines. This encourages participation across the board.

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If your personnel are not getting it done, fire them. I feel like I prep our kids well. This year, I post the weekly scouting report and depth charts for the team to read on a board in the locker room. It is their responsibility to see and read it, especially the depth/personnel. I still go over and communicate any changes, but this way they get it more than once.

By the way most of our subs this late in the season have played on that special teams at some point in the year, they made a shift up or down the depth for one reason or another, usually injury.

Tip #3: Practice Plan for Success

I think you need 15-20 min a day, period. Early in the year, our head coach was forgetting to give any time on Mondays to special teams. It showed in our production. We sucked the 1st couple of games, and he knew it. He gave the time back. Be organized in your time. Try to get as much done in your time as you can, but still be clear in your communication, don’t rush too much. During the season, here is our schedule.

Monday: 10 min punt/10 min punt return. On each, I go over the game plan and adjustments for 3-5 min then 5 min or so of team reps. Half are live and ½ are 15 yd cover or punt blocks. I try to get subs in, but it doesn’t happen much. Punt Block time is diminishing due to a small, but helpful adjustment I made. The defense is our punt return, but we will sub in 3 defensive line to get speed/fresh legs on the field.

Here is how we manage our time to ensure we are prepared for gameday:

Tuesday: 4 reps punt, 8-10 min KO, 7-8 min KO Return. Punt reps and fast and rapid. This week we had to work on getting on the field and executing a punt in under 17 secs including shifts and motion. KO: 3-4 min review and scout then ½ the reps are to15 yard coverage, then ½ are full speed. KO Return: 3-4 min review and scout then ½ the reps are to contact, then ½ are full speed.

Wednesday: 3 reps Punt and Punt Return. (We may do punt during team offense.) PAT Skill/Position work 5-7 min, PAT Block 5-8 min depending on what our opponent does. Sometimes, we don’t do PAT block on Wednesday. The only reason we do PAT block is to go over a muddle huddle/swinging gate defense or if we have a new block to install that week.

Thursday: We rep every ST 3-4 times and rep PAT and PAT Block live for 3-4 reps. We will move our PAT/FG around the field to see how we are kicking. We run this essentially like a simulated game.

If you don’t need to make many adjustments, or if your opponent is vanilla, I think you can get by with 15 min a day. However, you may want to spend the extra time on skill/technique work. My position coaches also don’t play much of a role in these practices, except for watching and coaching their positions on the fly. If we do individual groups, they will see them then.

Conclusion

Our staff works very well together and will generally do what is asked of them, but I try, sometimes better than others, to communicate as much as possible my expectations. In an ideal world, I will have the special teams practice plan ready on Sunday and tell everyone what I want them to do each day. I think if you communicate your expectations and even tell them what to do, most coaches, and kids for that matter will do what is asked. Try to eliminate the guesswork/thinking. Do it all for them, so they just have to come in and coach what you want them to. Eventually, you won’t have to do that.

Lastly, notice that I did not mention at any point in this article that you have to be crazy or extra excited about your special teams to create "buy in." While this might work for some and be their personality, I truly believe that you don't need to do that if you emphasize the importance of special teams in other ways as listed above. Over time, your players will subconsciously understand the importance of special teams because of your consistent approach to preparation and execution.

What Do You Think?

Has your team created a special teams culture that promotes energy, excitement, and participation? If so, share your successes/thoughts below.  And as always, if you have any questions, please post below and Coach Mikell will respond shortly.

 

 

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