No play is more important than the kickoff – every kickoff, regardless of situation or score.
We expect to kickoff a minimum of six times per game. Minimum. Anything less than six kickoffs per game is a failure. The kickoff is the most under-coached play in football. In 40 seasons, I have interviewed hundreds of applicants for assistant coach jobs. Not one has applied for special teams coordinator. Not one applicant has been able to explain how he coaches the kickoff team. And no assistant who I have assigned to coach the kickoff team has finished the season because of under-coaching – neglect. I have coached the kickoff team myself because every assistant has fallen into the temptation of bare minimum instruction, the lazy way out of teaching kickoff.
Our kickoff policy is different. Here are the two main elements of our kickoff policy:
- Don’t kick to who they want us to kick to.
- We rarely use the conventional deep kickoff.
The conventional deep kickoff in amateur football defies logic because of ten main reasons:
(i) The kick often outdistances coverage.
(ii) Their return man is their most skilled player in the art of kick-off return which makes him the most dangerous returner on their return team.
(iii) The ball is live after it travels 10 yards. Why would you willingly give possession of the ball without a fight?
(iv) Open-field tackling is the toughest skill to learn in football and the worst skill executed in amateur football.
(v) Conventional deep kickoffs are not conducive to winning the battle of field position.
(vi) Short kick-offs make a bigger physical impact on the opponent in the all-important fight to wear down the opponent physically and psychologically.
(vii) Short kick-offs generate intense pressure on the return team.
(viii) Short kick-offs target unskilled players on the return team, the players with the least ball-reception skills and ball-carrying skills.
(ix) The opponent is most vulnerable after you score. They are weakened after you score on them. They will not fight for the ball as hard as you will.
(x) Short kick-offs are the equivalent of short passing plays with one additional benefit – the ball can hit the ground and still be caught.
Conventional thinking, conventional results. I learned the danger of conventional thinking in my rookie high school head coach season in 1984 when we suffered the hell of a winless season. I learned that kicking deep makes no sense in our reality. The 90-10 Rule governs our kickoffs – over 90% are not long kickoffs. We have strict definitions of long kickoff and short kickoff. When we kick long, there’s a specific reason why – after the opponent’s will is broken. To break their will, we kick short by our definition which is too tough for amateur teams to handle –dual meaning: (a)The unskilled can’t handle the ball and, (b) The tired and weak can’t handle the pressure.
Our short kickoff have two objectives: recover the ball or make them physically pay for recovering it. Long kickoffs run the risk of excessive open-field play. Short kicks eliminate that risk. The number one factor of why we have led the league every year on kickoff return for TDs is excessive open-field play – too much separation between ball-carrier and tacklers and incompetent open field tackling which is getting worse every year at every level of football because open-field tackling is rarely practiced live if at all.
I don’t coach professional multi-millionaire athletes. I coach football players from scratch or in the early stages of development. Long kickoffs are a threat to our team because we don’t have world-class sprinters. We don’t have naturally gifted genetic superstars who can arrive at the same time as the ball on a long kickoff. We study the relationship between our kickoff team’s collective speed and the distance needed for the ball to travel in order for our kickoff team to make the biggest impact by leaving no separation between return man and coverage. The bigger the gap between kickoff returner and kickoff team upon reception, the long the return and the greater the possibility of being victimized by the most devastating play in football – the kickoff return. Long kickoff, long return. Nothing is worse than allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown, either on the opening play or right after you score.
Here’s the long and short of it in our SWAT Football Policy:
- Don’t give kickoff coaching to least experienced coach.
- The kickoff is relatively simple but it needs highly skilled players. We don’t complicate the kickoff team but we don’t neglect it with inferior sets and reps.
- There’s more to kickoff coaching than catchy nicknames and tough t-shirts. It’s dirty work. The kickoff team is a strength contest that expresses speed and stamina.
- Don’t use the kickoff team for unearned participation. It sends the wrong message. Kickoffs are dangerous. They are the highest risk play in football. Every kickoff is a matter of life and death. The worst injuries I’ve seen have happened on kickoffs. Kickoffs are survival contest, not a participation event to empty the bench in order to make unqualified players happy with unearned playing time.
- Kickoff competency starts at the top – dual meaning: with mindset and leadership.
Since 1985, we have used more short kicks than any team in the history of football. I learned in 1984 that my main job as a football coach is to prepare players for real-life. Real-life Lesson #362 is this – conventional thinking, conventional results. This will be a topic of a new Blunt Talk Podcast compliments of X Fitness www.BluntTalk.Libsyn.com X Fitness is committed to lift. There’s enough depressing news. We won’t add to it. This is also an excerpt from a new book that will be released soon.
Blessings and all good things.
Gino Arcaro M.Ed., B.Sc., Level 3 NCCP (Nat’l Coaching Certification Program)
Head coach – Niagara X-men football
Owner – X Fitness Inc.
Host – BLUNT TALK PODCAST www.BluntTalk.Libsyn.com
Gino Arcaro is a widely published author. His website, blog, Youtube channel, and list of SWAT FOOTBALL Books are at: www.ginoarcaro.com
His books include:
4th & hell: seasons 1 and 2, Soul of a Lifter, SWAT Offense, SWAT Defense, SWAT Tackling Video & e-book, X Fitness Workout System, and a 3 business book series called Soul of an Entrepreneur
He also has written 20 editions of 6 law enforcement academic textbooks. A new 8-volume interrogation book series will be released in 2014. And just released, a new children’s book called “BE FIT – DON’T QUIT.” The first stage of his new Blunt Talk e-books is now for sale. His latest book on human potential called “Hashtag Peace” is at the editing stage. He is writing three other non-fiction novels book called The Mystery of Murder: Working with the dead, Midnight Shift From Hell, and Another Bar Fight.
His SWAT FOOTBALL BOOKS are at: