My belief, as a football coach, is that you play how you prepare. Notice how I said “play how you prepare” and not “play how you practice.” Proper preparation is the key to playing great on game day because you will only practice well if you prepare properly. You can practice for hours and hours a day but if that practice does not include proper preparation then the practice is a waste of time.

I prepare my players in an up-tempo fashion as much as possible to get ready for game day but you can never simulate game speed exactly.

Proper preparation during practice involves doing all the little things correctly. Running backs must practice their cuts at full speed and do them fundamentally correct, QB’s must practice their drops at full speed and do them fundamentally correct and so on for all positions on the team. Besides proper fundamental preparation during practice the week before a game, it also includes studying game film and learning the opponent’s offensive, defensive, and special team tendencies. I also teach my players how to learn the tendencies of individual players.

How much a player knows about his opponent before even taking the field
will give that player an edge on game day.

What we can’t simulate in practice, we can make up for by preparation. This would be considered mental preparation.

A good example of how vital mental preparation is would be knowing the tendency of an opponent’s QB. Let’s say you are a free safety and you notice that your opponent’s QB never looks off his throws (looking right and throwing left on a five step drop). As a safety this would give you a jump step on the throw knowing that the QB always throws to the side he looks to. Another example would be a defensive back studying the tendencies of a receiver. In film, he notices that the opponent’s best receiver always releases to the side he is running a route versus press coverage. If a defensive back knows that this is the tendency of that receiver he can effectively cut the passing tree in half by preparing for only those routes run to the outside of the field on an outside release or the inside of the field on an inside release.

Probably most importantly, the physical conditioning of a team will go a long way in determining the success of that team on game day. This is an often overlooked part of preparation. I have seen many teams in my coaching career that were not as physically talented as the team that they beat but they were in far superior physical condition. Lack of conditioning creates mental and physical mistakes and diminishes effort. If a team is not in good condition it doesn’t matter how well they prepared and practiced during the week as more times than not, they will lose a game due to inadequate conditioning. Players MUST buy into the fact that good conditioning is probably more important than any other type of preparation.

So, pertaining to the quote by Vince Lombardi of “You don’t win once in awhile, you don’t do things right once in awhile, you do them right all the time, winning is a habit”, how you prepare and then apply that in practice will determine your chance for victory. The teams that win consistently know how to prepare for an opponent and then apply that in practice.

Coach Van Tassel


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