I love Special Teams!
I’ve been a Special Teams Coordinator for 13 years at the high school level, including all 8 years that I was a Head Coach, and one year at the Junior College level (2017 at Victor Valley College).
One of the biggest mistakes I see at the high school level is when coaches just “roll the ball out there” for Special Teams on Thursday. They have their kickoff team run down the field a few times, without much thought to the whole process.
Here are my 10 Commandments of an Effective Kickoff Team
1. Take advantage of what the return team is giving you. Do a critical analysis of the kick return team. Find the weakness of their formation, and try hard to exploit that. For instance, if they are simply a middle return team, or have just one returner deep, get the ball to the corners.
2. The kickoff team must have great tacklers on the kickoff team, not just fast guys! The greatest myth of the kickoff team is speed. I disagree. I will take sure tacklers over speed every day of the week.
3. Be careful not to overrun the kickoff. Stay focused on how deep the ball has been kicked, and stay in front of the returner. You never want to chase the ball carrier from behind. This is how you give up touchdowns. If too many kids are chasing the ball, it’s going for six.
4. Come to balance upon tackling the ball carrier. This might be the hardest job of the kickoff team member. It takes significant practice to do a great job of slowing down at just the right time. Just like a car going downhill, kickoff team members must gear down as they get closer to the ball carrier, but don’t stop your feet.
5. Gang tackle that returner, every man on the kickoff team needs to be in on the tackle until the whistle blows. Never, ever assume that the tackle is being made just because there are two guys there. GET there yourself!
6. Stay “lane consistent” down the field. Lane consistency is going to vary from team to team depending on their formation, and philosophy. Having said that, the general principle here is not to ever follow the same colored jersey down the field. Doing so will open up lanes for the returner.
Lane consistency must be practiced over and over during the week. The coach responsible for coaching the kickoff team will best serve the team by standing downfield, where the returners are, to watch the kickoff team approach the ball. I argue that coaches really miss the boat by standing behind the kickoff team while trying to coach it. Another coach can fill this purpose of making sure that nobody crosses the line too early.
7. Make sure your contain men are “football smart.” The most important thing about your contain men is that they understand football. If they have never played before, find another place on another unit. These contain men, in my opinion, are the most important players on your kickoff team.
8. If you’re blocked and knocked down, get up! You never know what is going to happen on the play. Perhaps there is going to be a reverse, or a throwback. Perhaps a fumble. Don’t ever quit on the play. I have seen kids get knocked over on the 42 yard line, and get up, and end up being on the tackle.
9. Do not be offsides! Practice this a lot. You should do “get offs” about 10-12 times per day that you practice with your kickoff team. Get offs consist of just the first 10 yards. Make sure the whole unit takes off at the same time, and that their timing with the kicker is impeccable. If the kicker is kicking the ball, and the kickoff team is three yards behind him, this will affect the coverage of the kick in a negative way.
10. Be organized, and fresh. Try hard to arrange your kickoff team so that nobody from your PAT/FG unit is on it. It just take a little organization. I started doing this a few years ago, and players were very appreciative of it. The only kid on both my PAT/FG unit and kickoff is my kicker.
Chris Fore has his Masters degree in Athletic Administration, is a Certified Athletic Administrator and serves as an Adjunct Professor in the M.S. Physical Education – Sports Management program at Azusa Pacific University. He runs Eight Laces Consulting where he specializes in helping coaches nationwide in their job search process. Fore was named to the Hudl Top 100 in 2017, and the Top 5 Best High School Football Coaches to follow on Twitter by MaxPreps in 2016. Follow him!