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Success in Postseason Play

Jason Strunk is Head Football Coach at Lubbock (Texas) High School, who was recently honored with the Semper Fi Coach Award from the U.S. Marine Corps. He offers the following insights into how to train for the postseason.

Keep it Short and Sweet: In general it’s a good idea to cut practice time as the season winds down. “Keep the kids fresh both mentally and physically,” Strunk says. “Let’s face it, you’ve been out there since the beginning of August; it’s now November.”

Once in the playoffs, Strunk says he keeps practice under two hours each day.

“If you have done your job as a coach with the fundamentals thus far, you really shouldn’t need more practice time than that,” he says.

Keep Your Players Safe: An injury to a key player is the last thing the team needs headed into the playoffs. The pros will tell you one of the major factors to a successful postseason run is keeping players healthy. There isn’t anything a coach can control during a game, but “we can control a lot during practices,” Strunk says.  

In planning last season practices, think about risks vs. rewards. Is the risk of your drill worth the reward at this point in the season? Whether it’s football, soccer, baseball, or basketball, going full bore takes a back seat to playing it safe and smart.

Keep Players Mentally Fresh: Are you bringing something fresh to your players to inspire them as they face some of the most challenging competition of the whole season? Mix up your message but don’t cross-up your signals: Keep to the same key points but arrive at them from fresh angles. If you are using the same old practice plan from day one, expect to wake-up in dullsville.

“I’ve always believed that as you get into the playoffs, practices need to be more about the mental approach than the physical approach,” says Strunk. “Crank up the mental demands, crank down the physical demands.”

Keep Building Team Chemistry: Team chemistry is one of the most important qualities of a championship program. Many coaches pour a lot into this during training camp--and rightly so. But as you move throughout the year, you can’t forget to keep building team chemistry. In my opinion, if you aren’t working to create it, you are working to hurt it.

Keep Pressure Off: “My first year as a Head Coach, I made a critical error,” says Strunk. “We knew a few weeks before the regular season ended that we would be in the playoffs, so I started beating the ‘one and done drum.’” Struck later learned from his players that his harangues were damaging and realized  he put way too much pressure on them.

Instead of talking about the importance of the game, just tell your players to do their best, Strunk suggests.  Ask of them the same thing you asked of them all season. Don’t add unneeded stress and pressure.

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