USA Football Preseason Preparation Series: Drills

By Keith Grabowski | Posted 8/13/2019

Drills are vital to skill development. However, too many times coaches mistake activity for achievement. The correct use of drills avoids mindless repetition and promotes the growth and understanding of the skill and how to execute it within the dynamic environment of a football play. 

Legendary offensive line coach Joe Bugel pointed out the purpose of drills in a short anecdote he shared about an interaction with Woody Hayes.

Too many coaches are “drill happy.” Joe Bugel said that when he first coached the offensive line for Woody Hayes at Ohio State. He came to practice with a large stack of 5×8 index cards containing his offensive line drills. Woody told him, “You are not in the entertainment business. Toss those damned cards away and just teach the lineman how to drive block, reach block and down block.” How do you do this? No drills are needed – you line a defender up on the blocker and just do it!

In many ways, Bugel’s assessment of drills is true. Ultimately, a coach wants to see the work done in practice show up on film. USA Football’s Andy Ryland shares an idea about drill design that helps a coach understand why he is doing a drill or activity in this article:

One Question for Drill Design by Andy Ryland

The tradition of the game of football runs deep, and in many places the drills and activities that were used decades ago are still entrenched in some programs. As coaches become more cognizant of the need to remove contact from drills, a better method is needed for practicing the vision and decision-making components of a play for a player to take the proper action required to succeed on that given play.  This requires rethinking drills and ensuring the vision, decision and action components are present. This next article gives guidelines and examples for creating these types of drills.

The Vision Decision and Action Cycle in American Football Drills by Andy Ryland

The goal of a quality practice should be to prepare athletes for competition but not through rote memorization of technical teaching points done in isolation. They must be prepared to adapt and change and to do so fluidly. They must learn to select the correct technique and to display it as skill. This should be practiced against what is expected from the opponent (our scouting report) and new unusual wrinkles that the opponent may put it that week (remember they are scouting you too).

With a proper drill progression, we can bridge traditional individual periods and better demonstrate our skill in group and team periods so that we are confident in our skills on gameday. These next two articles detail exactly how to think about this aspect of designing and implementing drills and practice segments.

Fundamentals, Skill, and Technique Part 1 by Andy Ryland

Part 2

Drilling football IQ is an important aspect of practice and Andy Ryland details how that can be accomplished.

Space, Time, and Numbers in American Football Drills by Andy Ryland

As mentioned, tradition drives this game, but so does evolution. When thinking about drills and how a drill can be made more effective, having the end in mind can help a coach tweak a long-used drill to make it something better. The next article shows this kind of thought process in action.

Refresh of an Old Drill by Keith Grabowski

What about toughness? How can toughness be installed? The answer is simple on this one. Toughness comes from confidence and confidence comes from proper instruction and training. The next article sparks thinking on this exact topic, especially when it comes to drill selection.

Toughness and Confidence Comes from Being Properly Trained - not the Oklahoma Drill by Keith Grabowski

For tweaks and alternatives to Oklahoma and other drill listen to this podcast

All drills work in a progression and the needs of the season and the players determine exactly what needs to be worked on. With a significant amount of the in-season practice week being devoted to preparation for the opponent’s schemes, finding efficiency within drills is important. Many coaches subscribe to an everyday drill (EDD) mentality. This is fine, but every coach should be designing drills and practice segments so that blending together skill development drills is efficient in a way that multiple aspects of what happens within a certain play are being worked on. This next article gives four important aspects to consider when implementing of in-season drills.

In-Season Drills - Focus and Purpose by Keith Grabowski

Expanding on that idea, this next article gives a tangible example of how the VDA Cycle can be applied to creating in-season drills that create scenarios that happen on game day.

These podcasts highlight drills discussed in our “Deliberate Practice” series and provide additional stimuli and focus for practice:

Best of Deliberate Practice - Offense Drills

Best of Deliberate Practice - Defense Drills

Best of Deliberate Practice – Special Teams Drills