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Coaching the NFL Way to Play

Learn how to apply the principles of the NFL Way to Play to help your players develop and your team succeed.

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The NFL Way to Play helps coaches teach the skills, techniques, and habits that bring players success on and off the field. 

The NFL Way to Play applies science, research, data, and experience to promote proper playing technique, protect players from unnecessary risk and foster culture change at all levels of football.

The Five Shields of the Game

The Five Shields of the Game represent the best means for coaches to protect players from unnecessary risk and promote on-field excellence. NFL Way to Play techniques focus on these core areas and serve to protect the game and its players.


Quality posture is the bedrock of athletic performance. An athlete’s posture can substantially limit their exposure to poor performance and injury.

   Space and Speed

Two areas of focus in football are tackling and mobility blocks. By focusing both of these skill sets under the same umbrella, new and different language will teach how the game should be played on both sides of the ball.

   Drill Selection

Improper drills will ingrain, reinforce or create performance behaviors that should not be a part of the game. Any drill that focuses on the use of the helmet, involves the motion of a player lowering the head prior to contact, or simulates a player diving headfirst below an opponent’s knees are inconsistent with the goal of the NFL Way to Play.

Learn which drills to use and which drills to avoid.


An effective way to change player behavior is to change coaching language. The helmet should never be used as a coaching cue or a teaching point in the game. Any coaching language that requires a player to focus on use of the helmet or targets an opponent above the collarbone or below the knee is inconsistent with the Way to Play.

Learn about coaching language to use.

   Best Practices

Football is the leading transformational sport in America. The combination of the physical, mental, and social demands separates the game from all others. Athletes need to be prepared in a holistic manner that prepares them for life after the game, regardless of the participation level.

  • Total Wellness: Nurture players’ physical, social, and mental health.
  • Nutrition: Ensure players properly fuel up for gameday.
  • Hydration: Know the symptoms of dehydration and learn best practices.
  • Time Management: Learn how to structure your practice schedule.

Read the NFL Way to Play Playbook to learn more about these best practices.

Drills to Use and Avoid

Consider these five factors when selecting drills:

Cadence, Angles, Run/Pass Reads, Schematics, Sportsmanship.


Drill Examples

  • Fit Position Starting Point: Engaged with opponent or blocking shield
  • Pad Level Drills: Individual drills OL vs. OL, DL vs. DL with blocking pad
  • 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 with Run Pass Reads: All short yardage and goal line should be worked in 11-on-11 team drills

Prohibited Drills

  • Board Drill / OL vs. DL In-Line Run Blocking (artificially confined)
  • Bull in the Ring / King of the Circle
  • Oklahoma Drill
  • Half Line Drill / Pods / 3-Spot without Run Pass Read

Using the Right Coaching Language

Coaching cues focus the athlete’s attention either externally or internally. The ideal way to coach is through external coaching cues, which are more effective in producing high-quality whole-body movements.

Click on the tabs below to learn more about internal and external coaching cues.

Use external coaching cues to focus players’ attention on environment.

EXAMPLE: "When you are attempting to jump as far as possible, I want you to focus your attention on pushing the ground away from you as fast as you can."

Avoid internal coaching cues that focus players’ attention on a body part or piece of equipment.

EXAMPLE: "When you are attempting to jump as far as possible, I want you to focus your attention on extending your knees as rapidly as possible."

Language to Use

Using the right language automatically reinforces proper technique.


Playing with proper spinal alignment by keeping the shoulders back and the head up



Focusing on the head being up from player stance and through contact



Moving the game toward the helmet being viewed only as a protective device



Creating movement by beginning and moving in an athletic position



Pad level affects a player’s ability to deliver and receive contact

AP/Gerald Herbert


The game is about leveraging angles to create space, close space, block and make tackles



When possible, the hands should always initiate contact with an opponent



Practice is the key to creating replicable skills



Players must trust they’ve received the best coaching and preparation



The game is a tool to build the physical, mental, and emotional capacity of players

Language to Lose

Using the wrong language emphasizes improper technique.

All Players

  • Emphasis on “Hat Placement”
  • Screws on Screws
  • Helmet Screws
  • Drive Helmet through Target
  • Earhole



  • Get Your Head Across
  • The 3-Points Contact
  • Head and Hands
  • V-Neck Aiming Point



  • Head-butt and Press
  • Bite the Ball
  • Helmet to Chin Relationship