One of the most difficult days of the week is the day before a game.  Travel arrangements and the media demands of the day will cloud the task at hand which is providing the needed attention to game day factors that will directly affect the level of success experienced by the team. It is the Head Coach that must identify and address as many situations that can have an impact upon the team and he must utilize the time he has with his players for productive instruction. 

There are so many variations as to how to handle your club the day before the game.  I have worked with 12 different head coaches, have been a head coach at both the collegiate and professional level myself, and have attempted to observe as many other coaches as I can concerning their philosophies to the players physical well-being and mental preparedness a day before kick-off.

I have seen the once traditional “hat day” in the CFL where players don their game day jersey’s and anything from their favorite baseball cap, to army helmets, to sombreros while the linemen played their version of volleyball over the goal post with a football and there is little focus on final preparation and more concern about media requests.  Some coaches I’ve worked with kept the players off their feet altogether by reviewing the game plan while the players aligned to the given formation but sitting in a folding chair and pointing to their assignments, while other coaches went through ‘walk-throughs’ and some didn’t practice at all.

A well prepared Head Coach maps out a situational check-list and avoids anxiety that produces unnecessary stress on players and assistant coaches alike.  Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles is without question the most detail oriented coach I have had the pleasure to be associated with.  In the seasons of 2001 and 2002, I was privileged to be a part of back to back National Football Conference Eastern Division Championships and make it through the play-offs to the NFC Championship Game.  Our “Mock Game” the day before the actual game provided a sound outline putting the entire week of practice into a condensed form to address game-day factors and established parameters maximizing the alloted work week time restrictions and kept focus on the task at hand which is winning the football game and not all the extra-curricular activities surrounding the day.

We used the Mock Game approach with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2009 which fits nicely with the Game-Day approach of practice scheduling that we incorporated.  Here is the outline;

10 Minutes      INDIVIDUAL/WARM UP  we believe you warm up using position specific movements in individual groups which provides another teaching opportunity.

KICK-OFF TEAM     Special Teams Coordinator calls the direction and coverage and the ball is kicked deep with players on a full sprint through lane responsibilities.  It is the responsibility of the cover team captain to make sure all players are accounted for and each starter know who his back-up is.  Back-ups trail the play.

OPENING SEQUENCE     5 PLAYS     many coaches now use a “start the game play list” with as many as 15 scripted plays.  We believe in making it more situational specific while providing differing personnel groups, formationing, and motion to get an early read as to how the defense will react to each.  We run our selected call list against our own defense, first team against first team, with the defense aligning as they will against each factor.  The plays are called according to hash mark and down and distance:  1st and 10, 2nd and 1-3, 2nd and 4-7, 2nd and 8+, Earned 1st Down

FIELD GOAL FROM THE 35 YARD LINE     Captains of both FG and FG Block are responsible for counting their men and each player must again know his own back-up.  Execute without flaw on both sides of the ball.

2ND AND LONG               3 PLAYS        execute the three plays that through practice preparation and tape analysis you are most comfortable in executing in this situation.  The defense will play the coverage and front they have prepared for the same.

PUNT COVER            on air.  Captain once again is responsible for the head count with all players knowing their back-ups.  Execute without flaw with the back-ups trailing the play.

2ND AND SHORT              3 PLAYS         execute the three plays that through practice preparation and tape analysis you are most comfortable in executing in this situation.  The defense will play the coverage and front they have prepared for the same.

POINT AFTER TOUCHDOWN                  Captains of both PAT and PAT Block are responsible for counting their men and each player must again know his own back-up.  Execute without flaw on both sides of the ball.

KICK-OFF RETURN                                 on air.  Captain once again is responsible for the head count with all players knowing their back-ups.  Execute without flaw.

BACKED-UP                      3 PLAYS          execute the three plays that through practice preparation and tape analysis you are most comfortable in executing in this situation from the minus 10 yard line.  The defense will play the coverage and front they have prepared for the same.

PUNT RETURN             on air.  Captain once again is responsible for the head count with all players knowing their back-ups.  Execute without flaw.

RED ZONE!                       4 PLAYS            execute the four plays that through practice preparation and tape analysis you are most comfortable in executing from the 20 yard line going in.  The defense will play the coverage and front they have prepared for the same.

FIELD GOAL FROM THE 42 YARD LINE    Captains of both FG and FG Block are responsible for counting their men this time using all back-ups and each player must again know the starter he is backing-up.  Execute without flaw on both sides of the ball.

HURRY UP/NO HUDDLE     6 PLAYS            execute six plays that through practice preparation and tape analysis you are most comfortable in executing in this situation with the QB making all the calls from the LOS.  The defense will play the coverage and front they have prepared for the same.  Start from the minus 40 yard line and work to score on the sixth play.

PUNT COVER                 on air.  Captain once again is responsible for the head count with all players knowing their back-ups.  Execute without flaw with the back-ups trailing the play.

CHALLENGE FLAG            1 PLAY                there is a play that had been previously executed and the opposing coach may want to challenge the call on the field.  The call is to your advantage so you want to get off the next play and snap the ball before the other coach can toss his challenge flag.  Run both units onto the field quickly and snap the ball on first sound.  This will be a standard play that all players are aware of the situation and it does not need to be called other than the coaches and QB screaming “NOW!, NOW! NOW!”  Think of using the QB sneak or your version of a zone run scheme.

ONSIDE KICK COVER         on air.  Captain once again is responsible for the head count with all players knowing their back-ups.  Execute without flaw.

LAST 3 PLAYS OF THE GAME                     you are down and need to score in order to win.  What are the last three plays you are going to execute to move the ball into the end zone from 65 yards out.  These same three plays are practiced on a regular basis and do not change until they have been used in a game.  The players will know the plays, a huddle is not needed and the ball is snapped on first sound.  As the team is approaching the LOS the QB will be calling out 1!, 2!, or 3! to make sure everyone understands where we are in the progression.

ONSIDE KICK RETURN (HANDS TEAM)           on air.  Captain once again is responsible for the head count with all players knowing their back-ups.  Execute without flaw.

SPECIALS                         2 PLAYS                select two plays that you consider “special”.  A reverse, double pass, hook and ladder…anything that is “exotic” as you look to knock the opponent on their heels.  Run them “on air” and give the defense a quick blow.

KICK-OFF TEAM                            on air.  Captain once again is responsible for the head count with all players knowing their back-ups.  Execute without flaw with the back-ups executing this time and the starters trailing the play.

GOAL LINE                       4 PLAYS      execute the four plays that through practice preparation and tape analysis you are most comfortable in executing in this situation from the 1 yard line.  The defense will play the coverage and front they have prepared for the same.

POINT AFTER TOUCHDOWN                  Captains of both PAT and PAT Block are responsible for counting their men and each player must again know his own back-up.  Execute without flaw on both sides of the ball this time with the defense executing a blocked kick scheme.

TWO POINT CONVERSION    2 PLAYS    execute the two plays that through practice preparation and tape analysis you are most comfortable in executing in this situation from the 5 yard line.  The defense will play the coverage and front they have prepared for the same.

This is all executed with a sense of urgency.  Get your players on and off the field with precision and everything is done at full speed.  When executed correctly, this script will be completed in 45 minutes.  You’re in and out and the players have gotten a true “dress rehearsal” both mentally and physically.  The players will be lathered and focused upon completion with confidence they are ready for every contingency and are relaxed in their specific responsibilities.

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Comments
  1. Mike,
    An interesting concept for sure. I have [as a Head Coach in college] designated the day before the game a no practice day. Rather it became an intense film study day. Mental in every respect. I also felt that it was good to get the players “off their feet ” for a day. It always worked and was a time of rejunvination mentally and physically.

  2. Steve says:

    This does get a good lather going…

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