Even if you spend a lot of time on conditioning, players are still going to get worn down during a tough game. And tired players tend to lose focus on the details of fundamentals. In fact, some coaches say that their biggest challenge is getting players to use proper technique at full speed throughout all four quarters of a game.
We talked to some position coaches who gave us the one thing they say to help their players consistently execute the details in fourth-quarter crunch time.
Says one former three-year SEC starter turned high school coach: “When we say Stance, players know that we want them low, real low, with their feet in the proper position. Everything starts with stance.”
When he says “low,” he means as low as a linebacker can get while keeping a flat back and still being able to see the numbers on the opponent’s jersey. Foot position is dependent on your coaching philosophy, to some degree. While all coaches want inside linebackers to have their feet square to the line of scrimmage, technique for outside backers varies.
Linemen - “Hands!”
“Low” is sometimes easier said than done for linemen involved in trench warfare on both sides of the ball. As players tire, they play a little higher, which makes the work they do with their hands even more important late in the game.
When coaches remind offensive linemen to extend their arms, defensive players can’t get into their shoulders and move them back. For defensive players, alligator arms make it harder to get off blocks and make a play, and easier for blockers to maintain control or even hold.
Receivers - “Eyes!”
Receivers who have been running all game may reach a point of mental fatigue where they blend together parts of the process and forget to catch the ball before they start to run. In the fourth quarter, remind receivers to extend their hands and look the ball in; finishing the catch is the most important thing. When players are mentally sharp at the start of a game, skill fundamentals come naturally, but as the game wears on, they need to keep it simple.
Running Backs - “Deliver the blow!”
While linemen might be able to get away with using their hands to compensate for higher hips and shoulders, running backs will become ineffective. More than at any other time in the game, the fourth quarter is when running backs need to focus on delivering the blow to the defense - “don’t be the sponge and absorb the hits,” says one coach, “the defense is getting tired, too.”
Proper technique, executed at full speed throughout a game, requires more than just excellent physical conditioning. Players need the mental toughness to fight through fatigue, and awareness of that one focal point that will help them maintain technique and outplay their opponents through the final whistle.