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Gradual release coaching

A longhorn before the game

Coaching 5 - 7 year olds and teaching 5 - 7 year olds is not very different. As the coach you need to be aware of best practices and coaching strategies that will help your scholar-athletes learn the techniques and skills that you are teaching them. When preparing your practice you should consider the following;

Set your objective

State what your players should be able to do by the end of the practice or period. Setting a clear goal for the practice like "By the end of the practice running backs will be able to recieve a handoff on both the right and the left side" or "By the end of the practice all members of the team will be able to identify the names of the gaps" helps both you, the players and the parents understand what the goal is that they are going to achieve. If players get distracted you can remind them of the goal to get them back on track.

I do, you watch

Clearly show players "when I receive a handoff and the quarterback is on my right, I lift my left arm, and bend my right arm", and walking through the motion of recieving the hand off with a coach or a parent volunteer helps players to see what the expectation is. Turn to players to check for understanding. Which arm and I raising (have them show you), which arm am I folding?

Remember your goal is for the athletes to be able to receive a handoff on both the right and the left side. Every action that you take during this practice/period will be specifically for your players to learn this skill. This period should be the shortest period of the gradual release period. You want to be efficient how you utilize this time, clearly, efficiently and effectively modeling the expectations for players and parents so that you can get to the players actively engaging with the skill acquisition.

I do, you help

The second step of the gradual release is the, I do and you help step. In this portion of the demonstration, you ask your players which hand should they raise before you actually go and recieve the handoff. Be sure to note which players are able to correctly direct you and which players are not (these players you should prepare to show individual attention to during the you do, I help step).

You do, I help

The next step is you do, I help, which will take up most of the time you have allotted to this drill. In this step, partner the players with a parent (parent being the quarter back) and have them practice the proper skills for receiving a handoff. This is the time that you help those scholar-athletes who were having a difficult time understanding the proper steps for the skill in the I do, you watch and I do you help periods. Group these athletes close together and individually clear up the misconceptions that they may have had. Some athletes may require that you walk them through the process at a slower speed, others may require that you explain why you should raise a specific arm when you go in one direction rather than the other.

You do, I watch

The you do, I watch portion you will be working on muscle memory during this period. Scholar-athletes who demonstrated proper understanding of the technique will now improve their muscle memory and develop the skill of recieving the handoff. Those athletes that required additional support will recieve it during this period. You should formatively assess which athletes are demonstrating mastery of the skill, and acknowledge their productivity. These athletes can also be used to show athletes who need more practice or additional support. This is a great way to develop leadership skills for players on your team.


Finally you should review with the running backs, what the proper technique for recieving a hand off is. Ask your athletes, which hand do you lift up when you recieve a hand off on the left, which hand do you raise when you recieve a handoff on the right? Have a few of the running backs demonstrate their new knowledge in front of the other players, coaches and parents. Celebrate with them all about their aquisition of this new skill.

Additional practice

Develop a YouTube channel dedicated to your team and the drills that you have developed and practiced as a team. Video tape your players completing each drill, and share the channel with players and parents. Players can view the skills that they have learned and practice at home, with either physical or mental reps.


Coaching 5 - 7 year olds and teaching 5 - 7 year olds are not very different. As the coach you should be aware of best practices and coaching strategies that will help your scholar-athletes learn the techniques and skills that you are teaching them in an effectient manner.

Coach Cotton is an 11 year middle school educator with 16 years of experience coaching 5 - 10 year olds in basketball and football.

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