After coaching flag football teams for 15 seasons, spanning ages from 2nd to 11th grade, I’ve spent hundreds of hours trying different drills. Whether for warming up the kids, working on basics, or learning advanced techniques, drills are one of the primary foundations of your practice sessions. Here is everything I’ve learned about effective flag football drills, whether for kids or for grown-ups.
Table of Contents
- Flag Football Warm-Up Drills
- Flag Football Defense Drills
- Flag Football Offense Drills
- Combining Flag Football Drills: The power of compound drills
Flag Football Warm-Up Drills
Allowing time for warmups before you start having your team run drills at full speed is critical. Without getting your players moving and warming up their muscles, there is a much higher risk of injury or cramping. Note that this warmup period is not just doing static stretches, like toe touches. Experts recommend you use active warm-up techniques to loosen up your muscles and get the blood pumping before beginning any kind of high-intensity exercise.
There are many possible warm-up drills you can do before a flag football practice or game. I have tried many of them, and these are the ones that the kids on my teams enjoyed the most and helped them get ready for action. For each, I provide a description and a link to a video that demonstrates the warmup drill.
Do these warmups with the kids, using your whistle to start and stop the drills. This gets the kids used to listening for a whistle, which will help in game-time situations. Also, don’t be afraid to make it fun … this isn’t boot camp!
You should be able to run through all the warmup drills listed below in about 12 to 15 minutes.
Before you start … field set up
Make sure you get to practice earlier than your team, so you have a few minutes to set up the field. Ideally, you want a flat, open grassy area, at least 40 yards by 40 yards, because you will want to set up cones to outline a kind of mini field. I use what are sometimes called “disc cones” or “field cones” to outline the field sidelines. These are flexible cones that are just a few inches tall. What I find works well is creating a line of cones along each “sideline”, about 5 paces apart from each other. I walk off 30 paces from one side to the other and set up another line of cones. If I have space, I try to make this “field” about 40 or 50 yards long. Then I treat the last pair of cones, in each direction, as the goal line for the end zones.
You can treat each line of cones as a sideline for your practice flag football field. You can also have the kids line up along the cones and do warm-up drills moving toward the other line of cones.
Here is a diagram:
Start your practice warm-up by having the kids line up in a single file line, shoulders pointed toward each other, about 3 or 4 feet apart. Use the cones you laid out above as the guideline for the kids to line up. On your whistle, have them jog forward toward the other line of cones. Use this opportunity to practice avoiding false starts … nobody moves until the whistle blows! Once they get to the other line of cones, have them line up on that line and face back toward the direction they just came from. Now they are ready to go again. Just as before, have them practice holding still until you blow your whistle. They should jog back to the other line of cones.
2. Jumping Jacks
Have the kids line up in a single file line, shoulders pointed toward each other, about 6 to 8 feet apart. On your whistle, have them start the jumping jacks. You can count out loud so they all stay together, going at the same pace. Do 20 to 30 jumping jacks, and then use your whistle to have them stop.
3. Walking Knee Hugs
Have the kids stay in the line from the jumping jacks. On your whistle, have them start walking forward. Taking one step, they should then bring up their other leg’s knee toward their chest, grabbing their shin briefly, then lowering the leg down. Then they bring the other knee up, grabbing their shin, then lowering down to complete the step. They continue alternating legs as they walk forward. Have them walk about 20 yards, then blow your whistle to have them stop.
4. Walking High Kicks
Again, have the kids stay in the same line that they have been in along the cones. When you blow your whistle, they should start walking forward, toward the opposite line of cones. With each step, they will kick out one leg, while reaching toward the toes of that foot with their opposite hand. Then they lower their leg and do the same thing with the opposite leg. You can describe this to the kids as a “Frankenstein” walk if they know who Frankenstein’s monster is.
5. Butt Kicks
Have the kids stay in their line, along the length of the cones. On your whistle, have them jog with quick, short strides, bringing their foot up to as close as possible to their butt, with the knee pointed down. Some kids will forget to move their arms, so remind them to keep pumping their arms, left arm coming up when the right foot comes up to hit the butt, and so on. Have them do this all the way across the field until they reach the cones on the other side.
Video demonstration of butt kicks:
This one might be tough for younger kids, as it does require a bit of coordination. Demonstrate it for them and have them give it their best shot. In this drill, the kids will be moving sideways, so have them stay in the line along the cones but turn so that their shoulder is pointed toward the opposite line of cones. When you blow your whistle, they will begin, shifting to either their right or left, depending on which way you had them line up. Their upper body will rotate right to left, while their legs cross over as they rotate from one side to the other. The arms and shoulders rotate opposite the hips. It’s hard to describe, so watch the video on this one. When they reach the other side, have them stay facing the same direction to carioca back, as that will work the rotation in the opposite direction.
Video demonstration of carioca drill:
At this point the kids should be fairly well warmed up, so have them line up, about 4 feet apart, and get them ready to sprint. Emphasize that you want them to explode off the line and run as fast as they can to the other line of cones. Make sure they hold until you blow the whistle. Again, this is a great exercise to practice not moving until the ball is snapped, which will help you avoid false start penalties. Once they sprint to the other line of cones, have them line back up, and do it again.
As a final warm-up, and to transition into actual football warm-up, have them pair up and just pass a ball back and forth. Have them start about 5 yards apart, and just pass it nice and easy back and forth. After about a minute or two, have them back up to about 10 yards apart.
Flag Football Defense Drills
Now that the kids are fully warmed up and ready to go, you can transition to working on basic skills. Remember, always work on the basics, even if your team is an older team of veteran players. Remind them that the best pro football players constantly work on the basics. That’s what separates the great players from the good players.
Defense comes first because defense wins championships! Here are some fantastic drills that are both fun and effective that my teams have used over the years.
Covering Receiver Drill
Have one QB (no center, they can just hold the ball and pretend to take the snap) and a receiver about 10 yards to their right. Have one defender line up about 5 yards in front of the receiver. On the snap (or when QB says “hike” or “go”), the receiver will run 5 yards ahead, then cut in sharply toward the center of the field. The QB should try to throw it to them in stride. The defender’s job is to break with the receiver and try to stay right on their hip. They should read the QB and try to step in front of the ball and intercept it before the receiver can catch it. If they can’t get to it in time to intercept it, they should get a hand up and knock it down. If both of those are not possible, they should be ready to pull the receiver’s flag.
Once the pass is made, player 1 rotates to the back of the line. Player 2 (who was just the receiver) now becomes the defender, and the next player up in line (player 3 in this case) becomes the receiver.
Once you have run through a few times with each player, you can have the receiver change up the route. For example, they could break to the outside instead of inside.
The purpose of this drill is to get defenders used to the idea of going up and getting a ball when it is coming their way, rather than just sitting back and letting the receiver catch it. My kids always loved this drill, so have fun with it.
Have three defenders and three receivers line up about 15 to 20 yards away from you. As the coach, you will be the quarterback in this drill. Pick a random receiver to throw the ball to. Try to really arc the ball so that it goes high … this is what will happen when kids, especially younger kids, try to throw it deep. Try to throw it in the general vicinity of the receiver, but not directly to them … make it a little bit off to one side or another. Both the receiver and defender should try to jockey for position to intercept it. Coach them to try to jump at just the right moment so they go up and get the ball, rather than waiting for it to come to them.
Once you have thrown to each receiver/defender pair a couple of times, have the defenders rotate out, the receivers become the defenders, and bring in a new set of three receivers.
Flag Pulling Drill
You should practice flag pulling at every practice. Besides catching a football, this is one of the most important skills your team should master. For a pure focus on just flag pulling (plus a little work on elusiveness for the kid with the ball), the “snake drill” is a great one.
Set up four cones in a rectangular shape, with a cone at each corner. The long sides are about 7 yards apart, the shorter side about 4 yards apart. Have your kids split into two lines, lining up at opposite corners. The kids in one line are the “offense” and should have footballs in their hands. The kids at the other corner are defenders. On your whistle, the first offensive players and first defender should run down the long side and around the cone, into the rectangle. From there, the offensive player wants to try to run through the cones to get to the two at the other side. The defender’s job is to try to pull the offensive player’s flag.
Here is a great video that shows you how to run this drill:
Flag Football Offense Drills
Just as with defensive drills, the goal here is to work on the basics. No matter their athletic ability or experience level, players who continuously work on mastering the basics will excel.
Receiver Route Drill
In this drill, have one quarterback line up in the middle of the field, with a receiver about 7 yards away to the left and the right, on the line of scrimmage with the QB. Additional kids can be lined up about 10 yards behind each receiver, waiting for their turn. Have the QB call out “hike” or “go” when they are ready to run the drill. On the snap, the left receiver (or receiver 1) will run a route from the run tree. As the coach, you can call out which of the routes you want them to use. See the diagram below. Have your kids learn this route tree. These are the 6 basic routes you will use most often. If you call out “IN!” then the receivers know they need to run the in route.
On the first snap, receiver one on the left runs the route. Have another ball ready to hand to the QB. After the QB passes the ball to the receiver, hand the next ball to the QB, and have the QB snap so that receiver 2, on the right, can now run the route. In the meantime, receiver 1 is running the first ball back in to hand to you, so you are ready to get it to the QB.
After receiver 2 runs their route, then the next receiver in the line on the left takes their spot on the line of scrimmage and gets ready to run their route. After each kid has run one route, call out a new route for them to run. You can also have the receivers switch sides so they get a chance to practice the routes going in different directions.
Make sure to emphasize that receivers must explode fast off the line, and must make crisp, sharp cuts on their routes!
Handoffs are a critical skill for your team to master. A mistake during handoff will likely mean a fumble, which means a dead ball and a loss of down. It probably also a loss of a few yards. When you have to get to the mid-field point to get a first down, losing one of your four downs because of a dropped ball is a huge, huge killer.
For this drill, have your team split into two groups, each in a single file line, facing each other, about 10 yards apart. If your team is young or inexperienced, have them just walk through this drill until they start to get the hang of it. They can go faster once they get better at it.
One group of kids should have footballs ready to carry for the handoff. On your whistle, have the two kids in the front of the line on each side begin moving toward each other. The player with the ball will hand off to their right, while the player without the ball holds their arms in the proper position to receive the ball (known as the “breadbasket”). It is very important that the player with the ball place the ball securely in the breadbasket, and pull their hands away after the other player secures the ball. The player receiving the hand-off needs to ensure that the inside arm is up top, and the outside arm is on the bottom.
Once these first two players execute the handoff, then player 1 will continue on, now without a ball, to the back of the line opposite from where they started. Player 2, who received the hand-off, will move to the back of the line opposite from where they started. Again, have the kids go slow if they are trouble making the handoff properly.
Running Elusiveness Drill
With two lines of cones, about 20 yards apart, acting as your sidelines, this drill teaches a runner to try to use jukes, spins, or just plain speed to get by a defender.
Have a line of players line up single file, each with a ball if possible. Have one defender about 15 yards in front, in the middle of the “field”, with the lines of cones on either side as the sideline. On your whistle, the runner should take off, and see if they can get by the defender without getting their flag pulled. Make sure to emphasize not running backward, and not dropping the hands or arms to try to ward off the defender (that’s a flag guarding penalty!).
After the first runner either gets through or gets their flag pulled, they can rotate to become the defender, while the defender rotates to the back of the line of players waiting to run. The next runner comes up and waits for your whistle to go.
Combining Flag Football Drills: The power of compound drills
All the drills described in this article are good drills on their own, but what I discovered over the years is that running a drill that works on one skill is fine, but a more efficient use of your time is to do what I call compound drills. These are drills where you combine multiple skills for multiple kids, in situations that are as close as you can come to game time situations.
Essentially, compound drills allow you to combine offensive drills and defensive drills into a single drill. So, instead of just having a receiver running a route, you add into the mix a defender who is trying to prevent the pass. And you add a center who gets to practice a snap.
This way, one drill allows you to let several kids work on different skills all at the same time. If you do combine all these different players in one drill, try to have your assistant coach help you watch the kids and coach them on specific points. Also, keep each player focused on executing their role as perfectly as they can. Don’t let any one of them get away with sloppy or lazy execution. Remind them that they need to practice like they are going to play. Finally, this method of compound drills allows them to practice what will become one of the foundations of the offensive plays that you will run in your playbook.
I provide some specific examples and guidance for creating compound drills in my eBook, so if you are interested in getting more advanced, you should check it out.