Buffalo Bills great on making the most of your practices
By Greg Bach
Pete Metzelaars vividly remembers the high speed, always-in-motion practices legendary Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy would run.
Every practice was carefully crafted. Every minute was utilized. Every drill had a purpose.
“The greatest thing I learned from Marv is the organization and the tempo at practice carries over to the game,” says Metzelaars, who played in four straight Super Bowls with the Bills in the early ’90s. “He was organized and our practices moved exceptionally fast. We played and practiced very fast. It became very much like game situations in practice so that when we got in the game it wasn’t like all of a sudden the game sped up.”
That’s a great coaching philosophy you can carry to the field with your youth football teams this season, too.
When kids are constantly moving they’re energized, engaged and excited – because there’s no time to become bored, lackadaisical or lose focus.
And Metzelaars, the tight end coach for the San Diego Chargers, encourages youth football coaches to not only run high tempo practices, but continually explore new ways to make those practices fun, which leads to a more cohesive and effective team on Game Days.
“Instead of just being hum-drum and running plays over and over and over again mix it up a bit and have some fun with it,” Metzelaars advises. “Maybe it’s having races or relays or catching competitions or whatever kind of stuff you can think up. Have fun with it and if the coaches are having fun and are excited about what is going on then it will carry over to the players, too.”
At the time of Metzelaars’ retirement – following 16 incredibly productive seasons playing for the Bills, Seahawks, Panthers and Lions – his 235 games played were the most ever by a tight end in NFL history.
And get this: He was on the receiving end of Jim Kelly’s first NFL pass; he caught a touchdown pass in Super Bowl XXVI; he caught the first touchdown pass in Carolina Panthers’ franchise history; he blocked for Barry Sanders during his time with the Lions; and he earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of Tony Dungy’s coaching staff when the Indianapolis Colts captured Super Bowl XLI.
Metzelaars has been there, done that and he has a vault-full of great advice to share with today’s youth coaches. He spoke with SportingKid Live from the Chargers training facility. Here’s what he had to say:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What’s your message to youth football coaches?
METZELAARS: Always be positive – coach the positive and have fun. Don’t coach negative. Don’t say “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” Tell them what to do.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How important is the tone that coaches set at the beginning of practice?
METZELAARS: If the coaches bring enthusiasm and the coaches bring excitement to the practice it will carry over to the kids. You want to do some fun and competitive things where the whole group gets excited about what you are doing and what you are trying to get done.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What’s it like to play in a Super Bowl?
METZELAARS: It’s awesome. Playing in that first Super Bowl that I played in it was almost a blur. It happens so fast and goes by so fast that before you even realize it you are in the third quarter and the game is almost over and it’s coming to an end pretty quick. The excitement level is incredible and you really have to work at it to kind of slow it all down and just go out and play the game.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What do you remember from your youth sports experiences?
METZELAARS: I really just had a lot of fun. There are some great ups and downs. I remember one year when I was 11 or 12 and I was the starting halfback in a wishbone offense and then I got moved to tight end. It was real disappointing at the time but you learn from those experiences and you keep working and you keep going and things work out on the other side, so I think those lessons are valuable.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: When it comes to teaching the tight end position to young players what should coaches initially focus on?
METZELAARS: No. 1 just keep teaching fundamentals. When it comes to the blocking part of it have a good pad level and use small steps; don’t take big steps because you are not trying to push a car, you’re trying to control your body. So everything you do take small steps and be an athlete. I think a lot of times football coaches teach things that are unnatural and un-athletic. If you take a step, take another step to balance yourself out. Equal size steps – don’t take one large step and one little step. If you are walking down the street you are going to take a step and you’re going to take another step so continue and take that over to football. So make sure their steps are balanced.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How important was it in your development to play a variety of sports growing up rather than focus on just one?
METZELAARS: There’s no question it helped me become a more well-rounded athlete and a better athlete being able to move. It helped with hand-eye coordination, catching, all those skills. Growing up we played anything and everything pretty much. It was whatever was in season that’s what I was playing. So we played football in the fall and basketball in the winter and then we continued those sports in the summer but we also played baseball and wiffle ball in the summer. By doing all sports it helped me eventually succeed in the sport I ended up playing for a long time.
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