Clinic Season... Have a Plan!

By Terry Donovan | Posted 1/17/2019

Football season really doesn’t stop for coaches. So much time is poured into the summer months of preparation and the work required during the season.  But working on the craft is a never ending pursuit for all coaches. Even in these long winter months, excitement starts to build this time of year gearing up for the “clinic season.” The next few months are a very important period for program development. But just like going into a game or a practice, there needs to be a plan.

Going to clinics can be a very exciting time.  There are chances to catch up with old buddies and talk some ball. Football is about relationships and this is a great way to celebrate those. Clinic season is also a time to find ways to improve your team’s productivity by making overhaul changes to the current scheme. Clinics can introduce coaches to many new topics, with speakers from all over. There are clinics that have so much information it can overload a coach.  With this in mind, having a plan for what your team is looking to get out of clinic season is very important. Here is a great way to prepare for the start of the clinic season.

Game planning.  As coaches, we would not step onto a practice field or into a game without a plan.  The clinic season should be no different.  Before a staff attends a bunch of clinics, some ground rules need to be set. A hard look at the objectives or goals that you hope to  accomplish needs to be evaluated. If a team threw the ball all over the field last year but struggled in the running game, that staff may be looking to bolster their ground attack. Seems like a simple answer, but each team can get bombarded with information that may not fit with the scheme they are running. A coaches meeting is a great way to layout the game plan. Get on the same page. Do research on the coaches that are presenting and narrow down the sessions that fit what you are trying to learn and stick to those. Anyone can just compile information, but if it is not useful to reach the objective, it is just information. The best teams do a few things extraordinarily well. Keep that it mind during this process.

Culture and Program Development. Culture and leadership is something that is always at the forefront of the clinics.  As kids are constantly evolving, coaching them does too. Building relationships with the team will give your kids more purpose and build the culture. This culture needs to spread beyond the team and into the community to sustain what is being built. The whole staff needs to be involved with this, one of my favorite sayings is “it’s not about the X’s and O’s, it’s about the Jimmy’s and Joe’s.” Make the commitment to invest in building relationships. 

Improving what is in place. An in-depth self-evaluation can give a team a good measure of what is needed for improvement. In many cases the scheme is great, but there may be better ways to teach the drills that better translate on the field and allow the athletes to play at their maximum potential. This is where picking up new drills and how to best implement them can be the best information brought back home.  These are the outcomes we need know ahead of time. 

Take a look from the other side.  Offensive coaches should go to some defensive sessions and vice versa. This gives the other point of view and can be extremely helpful in planning the upcoming season. An example could be a defense that has struggled to defend the pass against a rival team that may run an Air Raid system. Find a session on the Air Raid vertical concepts to hear more about what those teams are looking for and how they are attacking defenses. On the other side of the ball, a staff running the triple option could get a load of information out of a session on stopping the inside veer.

Learning a new offense or defense. There comes a time when changing scheme is needed. A clinic will help with the nuts and bolts of installing a new offensive or defensive scheme. There will be plenty of options to start the research process and it’s encouraged you stay after sessions to get some time with the coaches speaking on the topic. This is great but there is another tactic that is useful: Visiting a college team will help get you to the next step and give the staff a more personal approach to learning a new scheme.

One of the best things a staff can do is to visit another staff. Pick a school with a similar offense or defense and take a visit. Most colleges love to share knowledge with high school teams.  They will show cutups and drills that your team will benefit from when implemented. What better way to learn how to run a Cover 4 than from a college coach who gives opponents fits doing just that. If the timing is right, teams can join the college teams on the practice field during spring ball as well. Getting access to positional meetings and individual time will have a huge impact.

The USA Football 2019 National Conference taking place Feb. 22-24 will have many sessions covering these topics. It will provide access to some of the top coaches in the country and leave everyone in attendance inspired to get back to their programs. Best of luck in all of your clinic season endeavors this year!

Terry Donovan is a Master Trainer for USA Football’s Heads Up Football program. He is the offensive coordinator, quarterbacks and B-backs coach for Kasson-Mantorville High School in Kasson, Minnesota. He has coached with the U.S. National Team Program. He is also a youth coach and Director of Youth Development in the Kasson-Mantorville Youth Football Association.