Anthony Stone shares how to incorporate effective, efficient special teams drills into team practice.

“Special teams can win you two games every year alone.” – Luke Fickell, University of Cincinnati head coach

I completely agree with this statement. As a former collegiate special teams coordinator, I know firsthand how vital it is to practice this aspect of the game. Some coaches might say that special teams can wait until next week’s practice, but the reality is it makes up one-third of the game. Special teams can swing a game in your favor so fast the other team won’t know what hit them. Last year, I watched a team give up two turnovers on the punt return team alone. That gave the other team an advantage – a shortened field, which resulted in points.

There are certain special teams that get overlooked because the offense and defense take up the majority of the practice. No matter how you run practice, especially at the youth and high school levels, there’s never enough time. This is a real challenge. I’m not saying you should cut key areas short and dedicate entire practices to special teams. Rather, you should install those periods over time. Starting the first week, show your players the importance of special teams by dedicating a small portion of practice to them every week.

As coaches, we need to find ways to prepare and lighten the load. Once the season starts, the work is nonstop. Something unexpected might come up and there simply won’t be enough time in a practice to squeeze everything in for the upcoming game. In order to be successful, we need to be effective and efficient.

This is where my special teams pods come in. They maximize the five minutes before practice by focusing on key areas of special teams. It’s another pre-practice drill to consider (keep an eye out for my future blog: Pre-Practice: Being a More Efficient Coach). The first year, players practiced field goal kicking, punting and kicking fielding punts. The next year, I took over special teams and took the segment a step further with pods. It’s important for the punters, kickers, snappers and returners to have dedicated time during practice. We designated five minutes on special teams pods Monday through Thursday.  

We worked on specific areas the team needed to improve on by breaking them into sections.

A few quick tips:

  • On a day you have a pod, add a 10-minute segment during practice for special teams as a whole group.

  • Incorporate the scout team so they know how to line up.

  • Outline specific job duties the players must do if they want reps at a certain position.  Here are the positions I use for the kickoff team and their job responsibilities:

    • Go-Getter: Go get the football.

    • Loopers: Keep the returner contained.

    • Line Masters: Run a straight line and elude the first line of defense.

    • Wedge Busters: Blow up everything in their sight while staying on path.

If you don’t have a big staff, spread your coaches out so they’re not just in one area. For example, in the first pod, have one coach work with the line masters by throwing the football. He’ll watch to see if the players run down the line and if they elude the first line of defense. They should then rally to the football by painting the kickoff returner in a corner.

The following PowerPoint slides are two college special teams kickoff pods that show what we did on a kickoff day during practice.

This shows the kickers and punters together, by the short and long snappers. We kept them close to each other because the backup punter was also the field goal kicker, so he got a few reps in both drills. This would also apply to the long and short snappers. The punt returners and the scout kickoff returner were close to each other so they could switch if needed.

Use this pod if you have a lot of players and coaches. It has the same setup for the kickers, punters and the OL/DL. But this works with the go-getters, fast runners and wedge busters. They’ll learn to defeat a block coming at them from the side or head-on, while staying on the path to get the kickoff returner.

If you want to share your drills directly with me, please send me a link or email me from my website, If you found this blog helpful and would like more information on special teams pods, visit my website. Please share what you do to improve your special teams on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #HUDLSpecialTeams.

Anthony Stone is a Physical Education teacher in Rockford, IL and Quarterbacks Coach at Boylan High School. He was also the Defensive Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach for the Women’s Australian National Outback 2017 Team and writes blogs for Firstdown Playbook.

In July 2016, he was named to the Hudl 100 list. He has presented at IAPHERD, the top physical education convention in Illinois, on how to get students moving with his Games Galore presentations. He has also presented at the Chicago Glazier Clinics on quarterbacks and special teams. He was the Defensive Coordinator for the 2010 U.S. Women’s National Tackle Football Team, winners of the IFAF Women’s World Championship, in which Team USA did not allow a point in three games and had an overall score of 201-0. Stone has coached in the CIFL and the IWFL Leagues as well as Beloit College (Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator) and Rockford University (Quarterbacks/Wide Receivers).

Stone has also coached football at the youth, middle school and high school level. He will be putting on fundamental football camps around the world in 2017. Please contact him to bring his “Back to the Basics Football Camp” to a city near you.

Follow him on Twitter @Coach_Stone_MT.