Damnyan's Corner: Playing Fast

After several weeks of being M.I.A., I'm back! I thought a lot about a topic for the new article and decided to go with an interesting one - how to make your kids play fast!

We all know that the name of modern football game is speed. Being fast and playing fast are completely different things. First one requires physical ability and other is mental aspect of the game. Playing fast is equally important to all levels of football, no matter of your age. I know a lot of coaches that have very big knowledge of the game of football and have college type of playbooks on 300 plus pages. Question is, can your players comprehend and understand that amount of information!? If you have players that can do that, you are one lucky coach! Most of us do not have that luxury, we have to make the best out of the given situation.

A few years back, in 2010 to be precise, I started Junior National Team program in Serbia. As I prepared for the camps my primary thought was how to incorporate players from different teams, football philosophy and game knowledge in one unit that must play fast. Answer I came up with was simplifying the scheme as much as I can. 

I've put my offensive assistants totally in charge to that faze of the game. I put my work on defense as I am defensive minded coach. My defensive assistants also had total freedom in their work, I just interfered when some problem occurred.  I preached to them to simplify thing as much as possible. The problem we accounted was that strong and weak side alignment did not work for us, we spent too much time aligning and many times we did not do it right way. Then I have decided to interfere and we totally stopped using strong/weak alignment and started aligning left/right. At first, my coaches were skeptical,  but after the first practice we found out that our guys now play a lot better and a lot faster! As time passed we were getting better and at the end of that process we won the tournament we were preparing for, and main comment about our defense was that kids play very fast!

Sometimes as a coach you have to do things that are controversial at first but at the end it gives your team the best chance to win and be successful! I also got caught up with schemes and wanted to make some sort of an NFL type defense with all kinds of alignments and coverage but it did not work as I wanted. I realized that it is not about the scheme, it is about players understanding their assignments and making quick reactions based on that. 

Do not confuse your players with different reads and alignments that are gonna slow them down, they will start to think and we don’t want that. All of you who have experience in sport remember your coach talking to you after some mistake you made, and your attempt of explaining what happened with “ Coach I thought…” and his reaction “ Do not think! Play! ” That is the thing we as a coaches want to accomplish. 

Our players do not have to think, they are trained not to think, but to react on certain visual stimulants and play. How many times we saw players who do not have great athletic ability but play faster than players that are athletic freaks!? Do not be afraid to simplify things to your players in order to make dame play faster.

Our goal is to make certain things for our players become second nature so their reaction to them is automatic, like reflex. As we try to get to that level of play we have to make our drills and everything during practice to reflect things and stimulants we will see on game day and prepare players to react accordingly to them. When we do that, our play on offense, defense and special teams will be very fast!

As we said in the beginning of this article, the name of the game is SPEED, and to mach that you have to PLAY FAST!

Zoran Damnjanović