Among players and coaches, the consensus seems to be that their favorite period of practice is team. With the practice being tilted heavily toward team and group work, this magnifies the importance of your 10-15 minutes of individual time.
How do we ensure these periods of individual time are as productive as we need them to be, especially during game week? We must focus on our individual period. Individual period is where the fundamental foundation is laid and may be the first time players are introduced to certain fundamental techniques that are relevant for that week’s game plan.
How does one coach working with twelve to eighteen receivers ensure he is maximizing his time? Repetition, Repetition, Repetition. The standard acceptable practice model for years involves one rep, by one player, being coached by one coach and everyone standing and watching. By the time each student-athlete goes and you make coaching points, the individual period will be over.
The drill circuit system aims to essentially destroy this paradigm. The drill circuit is designed to have everybody working at the same time in different areas on different things. This eliminates the boredom of standing around at practice, and allows position coaches to get all your players reps.
Requirements For Drill Circuits
To properly execute the logistics of individual period drill circuits, every coach and player must be briefed beforehand. This briefing can be a pre-practice meeting, during film review, or it can be during stretching. Everyone must know what circuit group they are in and what drills are scheduled. It helps to write everything down on a card in case people forget. Also it helps to write the groups and drills on the board during meetings.
In order for the individual period drill circuit paradigm to be effective, the position coach must essentially install his individual period every day. If intern coaches or student assistants are available, make sure they understand how the drills are set up and run.
A second requirement is having equipment organized early. Because six drills will occur in a 10-minute window, you will need to count every cone, shield, agile bag, ball, chute, and more, that will be required. Do not wait until the periods start to get organized. Stage every item necessary for the circuits close to the drill area. Not being organized will waste time and defeat the purpose of the circuits.
Once the players in the unit see the value of the circuit and that everybody is getting more fundamental work, the players in the unit will embrace the circuits and the unit will gain cohesion. Circuits are demanding. It’s a 10-minute thrash. But if done correctly, they generate a momentum that aids the flow of practice. After a period of initial adjustment, players generally embrace their ownership role in individual periods and a consensus of “being in this together” emerges.
In this COVID-19 world, we find that taking a large group and breaking it up into three smaller groups also makes it easier to reinforce social distance protocols at practice. These days, when coaches can create a safer practice environment it is a net gain for everybody.
Ball security leads our individual period and gets its own 5-minute block. If we got done with all the assigned drills for the day, we would add a bonus drill with everyone together, or a longer water break. A good piece of advice for young coaches is to always have an extra drill in mind. This drill should be easy to set up for when you get some extra minutes after you have done everything you need to.
With either blocking or ball drills, you may want to have what we call “everyday drills,” which are drills done almost every day to keep technique and fundamentals strong. The more players do some of these drills, the more the players become familiar with them, and then the circuits flourish.
Three ball drills we have done almost every day include Notre Dame, Mini Villanova, and Villanova. We break our ball drills down into how many catches the wide receiver is getting in a given drill.
Notre Dame Drill
The Notre Dame drill (See Diagram 1) is one we use to focus on our wide receivers’ footwork and knee drive in and out of cuts. The take-off cone should be about 5-7 yards away from the cones the wide receiver is attacking. Place one cone at the start, with the other three arranged with two in line of the starting cone but about 1 yard apart. You can make
the distance between these cones larger or smaller depending on how well your receivers perform the more you do the drill. The last cone should be off to the side of the furthest cone.
The wide receiver will get a good take off attacking the cone farthest from him. Once he reaches it, he should break down and tightly work around the cone, going inside toward the cone behind him, then breaking off to the side then back toward the sideline or wherever he began. Based on where the coach stands, this can either be a sideline toe-touch catch or an over-the-shoulder fade.
The Notre Dame Drill is one that only involves one ball so in our experience this is one you let the group leader take control of during individual periods. I have found that the older guys teach the young guys and no one slacks off because they all want to get something out of the drill.
It is important to have drills that offer various challenges to players in terms of top-end footwork, hand and eye preparation, and ball skills. Try to find drills relatively easy to set up. The Villanova Drill (See Diagram 2) is a 10-yard box that requires three footballs and three cones/chutes. A coach should manage any ball drills that require three or more balls.
The receiver takes off from the sideline running toward the first cone/chute, where he breaks down and makes a 45-degree curl break and catches the first ball. It’s very important to emphasize tucking the ball away in multi-catch drills. After the catch, the receiver flips the ball out of the drill and makes another 45-degree cut. There is no ball at the second cone/chute.
As the receiver heads to the third cone/chute, he will make a 90-degree dig or out break, catching and tucking the second ball. The final phase of the drill requires the receiver to make a speed cut around the first cone/chute to receive a boundary awareness catch for the third ball. It is critical to make sure the sideline area is cleared of equipment and players. Coach the receiver to focus on the ball and “feel” the sideline. To save time, have any players not running through the drill track down footballs.
Mini Villanova Drill
Our final drill in the circuit is Mini Villanova, another quick hitter with two catches instead of one. Mini Villanova is an 8 yard by 10 yard rectangle that requires two footballs, a pop-up dummy, a cone and a hula hoop. (See Diagram 3)
The receiver takes off toward the pop-up and runs back in a 45-degree curl catching the first ball. After a catch and tuck that requires the receiver to see himself tuck the ball away, he heads toward the cone. Like the Villanova Drill, there is no ball thrown at the second break point. Emphasize arm activity and knee expression on the exit of the break.
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As the receiver heads toward the hula hoop, he makes a tight speed-cut arc around the hoop. Emphasize arm activity as the receiver makes the speed cut. The second ball is an obstructed-view sideline catch, with the pop-up serving a dual role. We want the receiver to lose the ball for an instant while gauging his proximity to the rapidly approaching sideline. This is a drill student interns or players could manage with some tips from the wide receivers coach.
Today in 2020, coaching is much different than it was even six months ago. Coaches are now doing much more than teaching skills. While player safety should always be the primary focus of any practice, today’s coaching turns exclusively on building a safe environment. We think the drill circuit system can be an effective method to achieve social distancing, increase player repetition and build unit chemistry.
If individual period is an extension of team stretching and serves as a way to ease into practice, the circuit system may not be a good fit. However, if you are searching for a way to develop all your players, build unit cohesion and jump-start mundane practices then it is an idea worth exploring.
The individual drill circuit system is a real life example of an old coaching maxim: Plan your work. Work your plan.
This article was written by Steve Heck, Wide Receivers Coach, Kutztown University and Matthew Pirolli, Assistant Wide Receivers Coach, Kutztown University.