When it comes to sports, young athletes need to be approached and trained differently than those in high school, college, or professional. Whether a novice or a gifted young athlete, simple drills can solidify skills, avoid injury, and prepare the athlete for more advanced play.
Drills for Youth Flag Footballers
Cone Relay Race
A relay race is a simple but effective drill to develop coordination, speed, and ball carrying skills. Divide the team into two single-file line groups. Set up six cones every three yards. At the coach’s command, the first player in each group runs forward holding the football along the cones, turns at the end, and runs back to the starting position. The first team to finish running wins.
Two Line Pass and Catch
Pair up to players and place them either 5 or 10 yards apart, depending on age. Have the two players pass and catch the ball. After 10 catches, have one player take a few steps back. Repeat this for 3-5 rounds, or until the distance becomes too wide for the young players to accurately pass and catch.
High and Low Pass Drill
This drill can be an upgrade, or addition, to the two-line pass and catch drill. Two players line up 5-10 yards apart from each other. First, the two players should focus on high passes thrown directly to each other and then to the side. The player catching the ball needs to create a diamond shape with their hands and maintain this positioning with every catch. Then, after 10 throws, they change to low passes, also throwing straight and to the side. For low passes, players need to focus on cupping their hands with their pinky fingers together. To advance this drill, one player can take a couple of steps back after completing one round of 10 high and low passes.
Set up cones around the field at various distances. The young football player will throw the ball at the target in the coach’s direction and command, attempting to hit each. This drill allows players to work on accuracy throwing in a low-pressure setting.
Four Corner Drill
The four corner drill works on speed, agility, and reaction time. Place four cones in a square, five yards apart. Have the player begin the drill by backpedaling from the first cone to the second cone without looking backward. Once they backpedal past the second cone they will cut at a 90-degree angle and shuffle toward the third cone. Once you pass the third cone, the player sprints forward to the fourth cone. After passing the fourth cone, cut 90 degrees again and shuffle back toward the starting cone.
The T drill improves acceleration and ability to quickly change direction. Place three cones in a line, each five yards apart. Lastly, place a fourth cone lined up with the middle cone, five yards away. This solo cone will serve as the starting position. Have the athlete start at the solo cone and sprint to the middle cone. Then, pivot at a 90-degree angle to the right, sprint to the next cone, and touch it. After touching that cone, sprint to the furthest cone in the line and touch it as well. The player will then pivot and sprint back to the middle cone then backpedal to the starting cone.
Learning how to run routes can train young footballers to create enough space for the quarterback to throw the ball to them:
- Curl route: A player runs straight for a set amount of yards and then turns around on a dime to catch the ball.
- Out route: A player will run in a straight line for a predetermined set of yards, but instead of turning around, they turn at a 90-degree angle towards the sideline to catch the ball.
- Deep route: The player runs in a straight line for 10 or more yards as they try to beat their defender and get open.
- Slant route: A receiver should only take two steps from the line of scrimmage and then cut at a 45-degree angle across the field.
Begin by having the athlete run the various routes without anyone passing them the ball. After they are comfortable with the routes have the coach or one of their teammates throw passes to them.
This is a drill designed to reinforce good flag pulling techniques and should be practiced by all team members. Arrange 4 cones in a rectangle 4 yards wide by 15 yards long. A player is selected as a defender in the middle of the drill area. All other teammates form a line outside the coned-off area. The coach will hand the ball to one of the players, who becomes the runner. The runner attempts to run from the starting point through the play area and out the other side. The defender will attempt to stop the player by pulling the runner’s flag using good technique. After each attempt, the runner becomes the defender, and the defender moves to the end of the line. Run the drill so at least every player can have 3-5 attempts.
It is important to stick with simple drills to improve endurance, coordination, and focus when working with young athletes. These drills should also be fun! This is a time to create a foundation of what young athletes can expect, strive for, and promote as they advance through their football careers.