No play in amateur football is a bigger game-changer than a kickoff returned for a touchdown on the opening play of the game. Nothing devastates an opponent more than scoring on the very first play of the game by running the distance of the field through the kickoff team – the heart and soul of an opponent’s special teams and their symbol of toughness. Nothing makes a bigger psychological impact on both teams than returning the opening kickoff. Adding a 2-point conversion exponentially adds to the two-way impact.
Point #1. No team prepares in practice, to play from behind after the opening kickoff. This scenario is not part of practice planning. An 8-0 deficit ruins a game plan, deflates confidence, and most importantly, breaks focus. The opposing team is more focused on the adversity of being down 8-0 than their job.
Point #2. An opening kickoff return is the equivalent of a glass jaw – a knockdown with the first punch. The opponent is never the same again for the rest of the game, not physically, not psychologically. A kickoff return is the ultimate fitness test. The team scored on, suffers the biggest hit of knowing it can’t keep up.
Point #3. During my 40-season coaching career, we are undefeated in games where we scored on the opening kickoff. Not one team ever made it close. That applied at four levels of play – high school, college, semi-pro, AAU-style 19-under. The reason why no team came back to win is the powerful effect of early adversity on amateurs. The toughest obstacle to overcome in football is early adversity. No one practices overcoming early adversity. Early adversity is the most ignored element during practice.
Point #4. A kickoff returned for a TD doesn’t just happen. It’s the product of dedicated live reps. Simulated reps are the only way to reach high-performance kickoff return. It’s impossible to become proficient at kickoff returns for TDs by going half-speed – unless your opponent is weaker than you.
Point #5. Kickoff returns exploit the least-accomplished skill in amateur football – open-field tackling. Now that fear is engulfing the Football Establishment, open-field tackling will only get worse because the very act of practicing open-field tackling in amateur football will soon be extinct.
Point #6. Kickoff returns exploit the second weakest skill in amateur football – high-speed pursuit angles. Studying film for four decades shows overwhelming evidence that kickoff-team pursuit angles are rarely proficient. They operate on the 90-10 Rule – over 90% of opponents in amateur football have deficient kickoff team pursuit angles. The reason is the lack of simulated practice. The absence of full-speed kickoff practice fails to prepare many amateurs players to change direction on both front-side and back-side pursuit. Building instinct is the key to frontside and backside high-speed pursuit angles in open field.
Point #7. We have never had a high school season without at least one opening kickoff return TD and without leading the league in kickoff return TDs. The reasons are: (i) We practice kickoff return at the beginning of 11 on 11. Not offense, not defense – kickoff return. During full-unit practice, we always simulate games. We always start with kickoff versus kickoff return to simulate game-day. (ii) We practice kickoff return full-speed. We never have and never will practice half-speed special teams because it’s impossible to master open-field blocking while jogging at half-assed speed. There is nothing of value taught regarding open-field blocking at half-speed, because you can’t form the proper neural pathways and instincts at half-assed speed.
Point #8. Mindset matters most. We teach kick-off return as an offensive play. We don’t use the “special teams” label because many rookies don’t take special teams as seriously as offense and defense. The opening kickoff is offensive play number one. It’s the first play of the drive. Our objective is to go deep, the same as Google-speed no-huddle bombing.
Point #9. After opening with a kickoff return TD, we always onside kick. Always. No exception. Our recovery rate has been 75% since 1984. We don’t preach aggressive football. We live it.
Point #10. Simple, kick-off return strategy is part of our SWAT System. Coaching in football poverty is not the same as coaching the rich. Coaching alone or with the bare minimum of coaches has taught me how to design the simplest kickoff return system that I can teach, alone. I have never had a special teams coordinator. I have been my own special teams coordinator during my entire head coach career. The reason is that I have never had a competent special teams coordinator who was willing and capable to spill his guts for an entire season for free. Most assistant coaches I have interviewed fear special teams. I have never had one assistant actually apply for the special teams coordinator job. Coaching an assistant coach to become a special teams coordinator is more challenging and draining than coaching players. Consequently, I coach special teams myself with the same intensity that I coach offense and defense. I don’t trust special teams to assistant coaches, especially in football poverty.
Conclusion: As football teams practice less and less full-speed and without contact at the amateur level, your kickoff return for TD rate will skyrocket if you dedicate quality and quantity of reps. If the Football Establishment abolishes kickoff returns someday, the game will be irrevocably altered. It will be unrecognizable. I believe in progress but abolishing kickoff returns will be the first official step to football extinction. Football will become a dinosaur. The only place you will find it is in a museum. Save the game. Save the kickoff return. Save full-speed practice. It is impossible to get better at anything without simulated training and simulated reps
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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 http://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: