First games are always tricky. I set my expectations lower than regular season games that I scout and get information on the opponent. This way I am happily surprised by the potential win or even if it is a close game. Losing the first game is not a season killer. Even though you may have scrimmaged a ton and prepared, now nerves, refs, distance, wrist coaches, chaos, and fans are involved.
I try to act like the first game is a pre-season game. I want to be competitive and have a chance to win the first game. Remember to stay calm and learn from the first game. The game will not be perfect, far from it. Win or lose, use the experience from the first game to build on. Make the first game a barometer to measure the level of your team compared to the Division and your expectations.
Here are some things I do to prepare for the first game of the season.
**** Special Notice Alert – Do not forget Special Teams!!! *****
1) Before the first game we’ve had 2 or 3 scrimmages. The last scrimmage was like a game as far as play calling, starters, subs & etc.
2) If you can, scout your opponent or make sure you know your opponent’s defense and offense. If you were unable to scout them, call other coaches that may have scrimmaged your opponent and find out all you can and or review scouting report or film from the opponent last season. Try not to go into the first game completely blind.
3) Narrow down and firm up your offensive plays on your call sheet and wrist coaches / hand signals etc. Clean up wording and make sure everyone that has a wrist coach knows how to read the wrist coach and understand the plays. Practice this before game day or you will have issues.
4) Firm up your defensive calls maybe 1 to 4 adjustments for the first game. Don’t try too much. Defense works better if players do not think too much and just fly to the football. Do not over complicate tackling the guy with the football. Your defense will play much faster if they do not have to think too much.
5) Make sure you know how to handle your minimum play players if you have some and the MPP rules about how many required plays or specific play time. I would also include your substitution plan for injuries and resting bigger players. Make sure to have a backup Center ready to go.
6) Do not try to do too much the first game, everyone is nervous and its new. Stay tight and focused. You might be more nervous than everyone else, so simplify as much as possible and make it easier on the team and yourself. Plan and prepare and it will work out just fine. I personally make lists for everything to help me deal with the stress of the first game. Figure out what works for you.
7) Try to minimize mistakes as much as possible in the first game. For example, make sure Defense knows to move on the football not the snap count. And make sure everyone on offense understands your snap count even the last man on your depth chart. You are only as good as your weakest player. I always get hit with an open field block in the back penalty in our first games, so I review that issue before first games now.
8) Give your stud the football and make sure they know all their plays. If you are like me, I have a ton of offensive plays. Well, in most cases I need only about 6 plays to win but what fun is that? At the end of the day, give your top-rated running back the football and let him shine and score some points. Don’t worry about the 3 or 4 other Johnny’s that want the football until the game is put away then open up the playbook to the fun stuff.
9) At our last practice before the game we will run a simulated game drill for one hour with special teams. One coach acts as a referee and if we take too long in the huddle or if he spots a mistake it’s a penalty. We play four 15 minute quarters with a 5 minute half time. Players are on our sidelines and coaches must call plays from the sidelines etc. This game simulation works out a ton of issues before the first game. I’ve found so many wristcoach issues during this drill its worth the time.
10) On game day, our team will arrive 75 minutes before the game for a pre practice before the game. We go over plays for the first two scripted drives and line up on Defense and Special teams. We try to work out any last minute issues during this time. It also gives the “always late parents” time to get to the game, especially since we are on 15 minute early Lombardi time. So, 75 minutes is really 90 minutes. This time will help you sub anyone that might be a no show for the game and time to explain position responsibilities.
11) On game day, I will have a detailed checklist of items I want to get done game day. Who are the Refs / Badge#? Notes for the refs on maybe blocking issues known by opponent. Who is our field commissioner? What is opponent Coach’s name? Goals for Offense, Defense and Special Teams. Special notes for players or plays. I make sure to have a roster with phone numbers in case I need to call someone to find them asleep in bed before the 9am game.
12) Before the game on game day, I write FUN on the backside of my hands, so I remember my pee wee football players are 7 to 12 years old and they want to have fun. The youth players are not pros. Do not expect Peyton Manning and Zeke Elliot from your team. Stay calm…. and smile. You’re having fun, you are on the football field. You could be at work.