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Making a Pre-game Routine in Football

The moments leading up to a football game are, to say the very least, nerve-racking. Everyone involved is keyed up and anxious: The players are ready to get on the field and dominate the other team; the coaches are going over every possible game scenario in their heads, trying to make as many pre-emptive decisions as possible. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place that provides some structure prior to the game. Here are some coaching tips for creating a pre-game routine.

Part One: Warming Up

As soon as the players get on to the field, their adrenaline will be surging and they’ll want to get right into the game. Unfortunately for them, there’s still some downtime before the game actually starts. Since the players are energetic and ready to hit the field, though, this period of time is perfect for a warm-up session.

Hot Tip: Cold Care

In colder weather, it’ll take longer for players’ bodies to get warmed up before a game. Be sure to factor in some extra warm-up time when the temperature drops.

Putting players through a series of warm-up exercises will both prepare their bodies for the game, as well as give them a slight outlet to release some of that pent-up energy. Here’s an example of such a warm-up routine:

  1. Stretch session: Stretching should be done prior to any exercise, and a physically-exhausting football game isn’t an exception. Though there are dozens of stretches that can be performed, specific areas of importance include the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and back.
  2. Agility/coordination runs: These exercises should get your players up and moving without over-exerting them. Light jogging, high knees, butt-kickers, backwards runs, and build-up sprints are all good ways to get your heart rate going.
  3. Individual warm-up time: Allow your players at least a few minutes to complete some warm-up exercises on their own.

There are many other warm-up activities you can have players perform, so don’t feel limited to the aforementioned list. So long as your warm-up prepares the team for kick-off, feel free to customize the routine as you see fit.

Part Two: Position-specific Workouts

Once players are warmed up, they should break off into three different groups according to their respective positions:

  1. Offensive and defensive linemen.
  2. Receivers, linebackers, defensive backs, running backs, and quarterbacks.
  3. Special teams players.

In these groups, they should work on and practice position-specific skills and duties, especially if a new skill or system has been introduced in the days leading up to the game.

Pre-game Contact

Football is a physical, contact-heavy game, and that characteristic should be addressed in the pre-game routine as well. However, in terms of physicality, instruct your players to hold back a little bit during warm-ups. Simple measures like hitting and wrapping, but not tackling players to the ground, will help prevent an ill-timed injury prior to a game.

Part Three: The Walkthrough

The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.

Joe Paterno
Penn St. Football Coach

The last, and arguably most important, part of the warm-up should be a walkthrough: A full-side simulation that allows both the offensive and defensive groups to go through a series of practice plays. Follow these tips to make your walkthrough as effective as possible:

  • Focus on the offense and defense separately. Be sure to dedicate roughly the same amount of time to each group.
  • For the offensive group, go through your most frequently-used plays. Be sure to have the defense use the formations and coverages that you expect the other team to use.
  • For the defensive group, have the offense run a variety of plays. If the other team is fond of using one particular formation or scheme, be sure to mimic those formations/schemes in the walkthrough.

The first-string offense should go against the practice team defense, and vice versa. The rest of the team should form a straight line across the field, effectively creating a screen that prevents the other team from watching the walkthrough.

Prepare to Succeed

The moments immediately preceding a game can be an emotionally-charged and chaotic time, which is why it’s important to have a routine in place. A well-structured pre-game routine will prepare players for the game. Even more importantly, a good warm-up can dissipate some of the nervousness that naturally builds up before kick-off.

It's up to the coach to control his players' excitement and nervousness before kick-off. This football guide explains how to create an effective pre-game routine.
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