Coaching football sometimes gets muddled with confusing schemes and copycat systems. But when you break it down to its most simple form, football is still about fundamentals. Athletes today are bigger, faster, and stronger than ever, but the teams that are the most effective are those that are well versed in blocking and tackling. I am such a believer in doing the little things right on every play. Offensive and defensive schemes will change, but no scheme will ever be effective without the fundamentals. Teams that emphasize the basics and do little things right are the ones that will experience consistent success.
So what are those little things? As a defensive coordinator, there were four we continually stressed in big games:
1) Be the best tackling team on the field;
2) Win the takeaway battle;
3) Get to the football; and
4) Eliminate costly penalties.
From the offensive side, the coaches I have worked with stress winning up front (blocking), taking care of the ball (turnovers), and avoiding costly penalties that stall drives. So regardless which side of the ball athletes are on, the basics of blocking, tackling, takeaways, and avoiding penalties become the groundwork for performance. Combine those fundamentals with winning the special teams battle, and you have a recipe for success.
Yes, there is more to the game of football than the fundamentals previously mentioned, but if you have no foundation, you have nothing on which to build and expand. One major goal when I became the defensive coordinator at Roosevelt High School in 2005 was to do everything in my power to simplify the game so athletes could “play fast”. My mission was to simplify reads and schemes, rep alignments to make them automatic, and get my team to focus on the fundamentals of defensive football. We emphasized block avoidance, tackling, takeaways, and reads, and those basics became the little things that helped our team find tremendous success on defense. I used many variations of tackling and takeaway circuits to improve my players’ skills and help them remain focused on our goals, and that was a very successful strategy.
I’m a firm believer that “great teachers make great coaches,” because today’s coaches must not only know what to do, but must effectively relay this information to athletes so they can read and react…what I call playing fast! Youth football coaches today should be proud of teaching the fundamentals and not be worried about using intricate offensive or defensive schemes that younger athletes struggle to grasp. Player safety is also dependent on correct teaching of fundamentals, and our youngest players need to understand that tackling with correct form makes them better and safer in the sport. If we truly care about the development of these young athletes, we need to focus on the little things that result in great outcomes for safety and success in the future.
Regardless of the level of play, when you watch two good teams step on the field, the team that wins will usually be the team that executes fundamentals more consistently. As we approach the championships for South Dakota High School Football, we hope to see some great match ups with quality teams. If you have the opportunity to take in one of those games, watch those fundamentals carefully and ask yourself if the teams that perform the best have met these criteria for success!