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Position Specific Training: Defense
When training a football defensive player, the 5 primary aspects of focus are: strength, explosiveness, footwork/agility, and reactiveness.
Strength is Part 1, this is where you lay the foundation. Building an elite athletes is analogous to building a house: you can't do without a strong, solid foundation. Therefore, strength is the foundation upon which you develop explosiveness, agility, and reactiveness. The athlete must be strong enough to: move their bodyweight effectively in all 3 planes of motion - aka frontal, transverse, and sagittal for you kinesiology majors out there - and manhandle and tackle an offensive player. Staple lower body strength exercises all athletes should do are squats, deadlifts, and lunge variations (just ensure you fit the variation of said movements to the individual). Pair these with upper body strength builders such as the bench press, pullup, overhead press, and rowing variations, and you're well on your way toward success. When performed properly in an intelligently designed strength program, these will get the most meat the bones of your athletes and set them on the road to becoming behemoths!
Strength training turns boys into men!
Explosiveness is Part 2. This is when the application of strength translates into moving faster and jumping higher. "Explosiveness" (the coveted athletic attribute) entails exerting a high amount of force really fast, as in split-seconds fast. To train this, perform exercises which force you (or your athletes) to move fast. This is where plyometrics and Olympic lifts come in!Plyometric exercises such as cone/hurdle hops, box jumps, vertical/broad jumps force you to exert high amounts of force in milliseconds.
**Word of Caution!!!** Olympic lifts are great for developing explosiveness, HOWEVER they are extremely technical; so technical they have their own sport! They are only to be done under the supervision of an experienced coach who can properly teach/progress them to maximize gains and reduce injury risk*. (*Note from Kelsey: and athletes should demonstrate proficient strength and technique in the squat and deadlift. The Oly-lifts should be reserved for strong, experienced athletes, aka, not the average high school athlete.)
Working on explosiveness is critical for all defensive positions. Defensive ends/tackles have to be explosive to get a jump on the offensive line to tackle the running back or sack the QB. Meanwhile, linebackers, corner backs, and safeties must be able to jump higher than receiver in order to break up or intercept passes.
Agility and Footwork are part 3. Here's where the foundation analogy starts to make more sense: the application of strength and explosiveness equates to improved speed and change of direction. Agility and footwork go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly! You need to know how and where to place your feet, relative to your body, in order to avoid injury and effectively change direction. If you try to change direction and your step is too short, too long, or at the wrong angle you are putting your ankles, knees, and hips in a disadvantageous (and potentially injurious) position. A great way to start working on foot position and running technique is to spend a few minutes during the first portion of a training session on agility ladder drills, for lateral, diagonal, and change-of-direction work. Once you become proficient at the ladder drills, you can progress to cone drills on turf or grass where you work on changing directions in game-like scenarios.
Last but not least we have Reactiveness, whichis the culmination of all four qualities. Everything a defensive player does involves reaction! They react to the snap, react to the QB, react to the runner or the receiver, and they react to grab a fumble. You need to be strong and explosive to move your body fast and you need agility/footwork to react to the play and make something happen. A couple of training ideas would be:
-Reactive starts to a whistle
-Reaction ball training
-Reacting to the QB drill
-Sprint shuffle cone drills
-Cone agility box drill
Training doesn't have to complicated or use fancy equipment or techniques. Focus on strength first, then the subsequent qualities and your team will be unstoppable!
The most fun/dangerous reaction drills ever!