With the season now over for most quarterbacks, with the exception of those at the highest levels, let’s talk about what an off-season program for quarterbacks should look like. There are so many items that need to be covered during an off-season: strength and conditioning, throwing mechanics, film review, developing chemistry with new teammates and coaches, shoulder health, footwork, playbook install, and more. It’s easy to lose parts of what we need in the off-season if we don’t lay out a clear plan.
What we’ll do is break up the off-season into three phases: December-February as Phase I (Winter), March-May as Phase II (Spring), and June-August as Phase III (Summer). Each phase has a strength and conditioning component to it, a skill development component to it, and other items that need to be taken care of at that time.
In Phase I, we get to work on base foundation items that often get lost during the season, like basic mechanics, developmental movement exercises, and base strength work. In the weight room, we should be focused on addressing any injuries lingering from the season, working on improving overall movement ability, and creating a good strength base for future phases. This is also the right time to try to put on muscle mass and do hypertrophy work. Doing conditioning and sprint work, while good for you, isn’t a priority here as we are so far from the season. Think of it like a race car – when you are a long way away from the race, should you be focused on driving as fast as you can, or fixing the engine? This is the time to replace the engine, which means high volume strength work and developmental movement.
From a skill standpoint, this is the right time to work on mechanics and fundamentals. Often, when we change something in our skill set, we take a step back before we take steps forward. In August and September, we really can’t afford those steps back, but in the winter we can. Make those changes to your grip, footwork, throwing motion, etc., and get a lot of quality, highly focused reps so that they are second nature by the time you need to hit the field.
Aside from the weight room and mechanics, this phase should be spent mostly reviewing last year’s film and seeing what could be done better, learning from past mistakes. Learning about next year’s offense and developing route chemistry might be tough as most likely the coaches are still figuring out what next year’s offense is going to look like, and you should be adjusting mechanics anyways.
The short: review last year’s film, make adjustments to mechanics and fundamentals, and work on foundational strength and developmental movement in the weight room.
In the spring, it’s time to start applying some of that remedial winter work to more obvious football activities. This is where we begin spending a bit more time on the field, attaching some of mechanic changes to drops and controlled, full speed situations, and begin power and explosive work in the weight room.
The simple formula for speed in sport performance terms is that the more force you can put into the ground, the faster you can move. The more powerful you are, the more force you can put into the ground. The stronger you are, the more power you can develop. So while the winter was focused on strength development, the spring is time to start turning that strength into power (and you guessed, the summer turns power into speed). So, in the weight room, the focus will turn more towards power exercises, looking to move weight quickly over a distance. This is also a good time to start working in some conditioning – no need to go crazy, but get at least 2 days a week of sprint conditioning.
In the skill area, we now want to take the mechanics we worked on in the winter and work on them in more game-like settings. For instance, if you spent the winter working inside on changing your release point and hip drive in a controlled setting, this would be the time to get on the field and see if you can apply that to a 5-step drop and hitting a dig route. This will take time – taking mechanics from the studio to the field is difficult, but necessary. This is why quality reps in the winter are so important, as the more realistic a drill becomes the harder it is to focus on little mechanics.
As a corollary to bringing mechanics to the field, it is also time to begin working with your receivers. You probably threw around during the winter a bit and such, but now is the time to do so with more focus and consistency. This could mean clinics, 7 on 7s, or just time at the field with a few of the receivers. Also occurring around this time is that your coaches will know next year’s playbook adjustments and will begin the basic install, so the time you spend on the field with the receivers gives a chance to work on your mechanics, your chemistry with receivers, and your understanding of any new concepts. This also trickles down to film review; at this point, you should be done reviewing last year’s film and ready to study upcoming concepts. Most good coaches will have cut ups of other teams executing any new concept you might have to learn, so that’s a good starting point. Make sure to ask for some in any install meetings, which should begin in the spring as well with your coaches. As a quarterback, make sure you tell your teammates to be at these and if they can’t make it teach them the material yourself. A great test of how well you know something is whether or not you can teach it.
The short: begin reviewing film for the upcoming season, get started with new install, take your mechanics to the field with any concepts and your receivers, and begin to focus more on power in the weight room with a bit of conditioning.
Now that we are close to the season, we must take that final step and apply everything we’ve been working on to performance. Work needs to be as close to a game simulation as possible. Power needs to become speed, mechanics need to be second nature, and learning needs to become understanding.
In the weight room, focus needs to turn from power to speed. This doesn’t mean there is no power or strength in the program; it just means doing more sprint work and explosive exercises like lightly resisted sprints and accelerations. The conditioning needs to get ramped up a notch, using very game-specific intervals and game-specific movements. 12 weeks of conditioning leading up to the season, having already done 12 of light conditioning, should be plenty to get into game shape. However, it needs to be done right and be intense.
At this point, we really shouldn’t be tweaking any throwing mechanics. We can still maintain the ones we’ve worked on during the first 6 months, but we shouldn’t be adding anything new. On field work needs to be increased to develop timing and chemistry, as well as ingrain the plays so that at the line of scrimmage we’re not thinking about what our assignment is, rather we’re focused on the nuances of the game and finding ways to be successful. This means more competitive reps and game like situations, perhaps 7 on 7s or clinic work again, but adding helmets and/or defense or anything to raise the stakes a bit will go a long way towards being more ready in training camp.
Hopefully install meetings are well underway and most of the team has a firm grasp of the offense, especially in the quarterback room. Regardless, keep ingraining that knowledge and getting teammates who have fallen behind caught up. The more time that can be spent working on execution rather than installation in training camp, the better off you will be.
Film review of this season’s opponents and how what they do interacts with what your offense is doing will help improve your understanding of all concepts, and doing so will other position groups should help them too. Watch opponent’s blitz packages and compare them to your protections with offensive line; study opponent’s coverages with the receivers and discuss your team’s passing concepts. Look at run schemes vs. an opponent’s defense with the running backs. The better your mind knows something, the faster you can react and the more confidently you can perform. This goes for your teammates as well.
The short: Advance your film study to opponent preparation, keep learning the offense, get as much quality, game like on-field time as possible, maintain your mechanic changes instead of working on new things, keep refining fundamentals, and ramp up your speed and conditioning work.
Football has become a year-round sport. I fully support kids who want to go play other sports and compete on many different fields. However, if you have the time and desire, this is the way to set up your off-season program. If football is your first sport, there’s nothing wrong with playing a second sport, but you still need to make time to get better.
Also note that this template for an off-season program isn’t meant for elementary and middle schoolers, this is a high school and college template. There are no Brett Favre’s or Tom Brady’s at age 12 – let the kids have fun! The time to focus will come later.
We live in a very outcome-orientated society. In some ways, this is good - employees are rewarded for good performance, and punished for bad performance. If a contractor builds a good house, he can charge more. If he builds bad looking houses, he has to charge less. However, we so often throw out the method through which we achieve a result and end up with a very short term view of a long term journey.
Take the example of a young kid playing basketball who has figured out how to make free throws "granny style." As it stands, he can make 6 out of 10 shots shooting that way. If when he starts learning to shoot properly he ends up making only 4 out of 10 does it mean he should go back to what got him better results? Or, does he need to see the limitations of his current method, take a long term view of his goals, and work on getting better at the proper process with the understanding that if he gets good at the process the results will take care of themselves? This young man, and quarterbacks, need to focus on the process.
The end point here is that how we do things is a better indicator of future success than the results we get right now. When making a fundamental change, it may take a while to ingrain the motor program but you will be better for it in the long term. The key is to make sure you are making the right changes to the process, which is why coaching is so important. Telling a quarterback to change a grip, an arm position, a release point, etc, is a long term change that will have a large effect on their success, for better or for worse. Good coaching means good changes implemented over time that create long term success. Poor coaching can do just the opposite.
Equally bad as poor coaching is short sighted, results-only thinking. Sometimes we are successful because of our mechanics, Other times, we are successful in spite of our mechanics. If we are successful despite bad mechanics we end up reinforcing bad habits. Never stop looking for ways to do things better and never settle for what you already know. A constant thirst to improve the process by which we do things is paramount for sustained excellence.
There are a lot of "keys" to performance - accuracy, velocity, decision making, athleticism, leadership, footwork, just to name a few. However, what single trait stands above all of them? I would argue consistency. You need to be consistently accurate for it to matter; you need to always have a strong arm; you need to make intelligent decisions all the time. So, the question is, how do we become consistent quarterbacks?
The answer is again, consistency. If you want to throw accurately with velocity consistently, if you want to make good decisions consistently, if you want to win consistently, then you need to work hard and smart consistently. A lot of quarterbacks call me a few weeks before the season starts and asked to get tuned up for the season; others come in for a few weeks and start throwing the ball better and then think they are ready. Inevitably, these quarterbacks will face ups and downs beyond those of the more consistent worker. So, the philosophical answer to how we achieve consistently good performance is to have a consistently good work ethic and direction.
Less philosophically and more tangible, we need to work hard on the right drills at the right times. Early in the off-season it is important to improve mechanics. In the middle of the off-season we need to apply those adjusted mechanics to our other fundamentals like footwork, drops, and reads. As the off-season ends, we should be winding down adjustments and increasing full speed, quality repetitions. At no point is this process a sprint; it needs to be a long term project, with a bit being done each week, consistently, to gradually improve. This can't be done in a week-long sprint, or a weekend clinic. Spending 2-3 hours every week working on the right things over the course of an entire off-season can turn a quarterback from a bench warmer into a star.
Work hard consistently, work smart consistently. Consistency is a virtue.
While football players work out year round to get bigger and stronger, the quarterback needs to be careful about how he approaches work in the weight room. Being that the shoulder complex is used so often from an unusual position in ways that other positions don't have to worry about, quarterbacks with any amount of inflammation or tissue damage risk much longer, more serious injuries if they don't program their workouts properly. With that in mind, here are a few exercises to avoid.
1) The Barbell Bench Press
While it's true than any athlete with restricted shoulder mobility or stability can get an injury while benching, quarterbacks are particularly at risk since they throw so often. Bench often creates an impingement in the shoulder because the way the ball and joint socket operates becomes controlled by the barbell, instead of being allowed to move more freely like in a push up or dumbbell press. There is also no direct correlation between bench production and throwing velocity. Ever notice how few quarterbacks do the bench test at the NFL combine? It's for a reason - no bench for the QB. Instead, do a dumbbell press or push ups.
2) Biceps Curls
The biceps connect in such a way that if they are tightened, the inwardly rotate the shoulder, which can be a problem for quarterbacks. We've all seen gym rats with bulging arms, but their shoulder turn forwards and they lose their posture. For someone who throws often, this will tend to lead to tendinitis , bursitis, or other injuries. Instead, work on some chin ups and other pulling/rowing exercises - your biceps will get hit, but so will all the scapula stabilizers and postural muscles, allowing you to maintain stability and health and still put on some bulk.
3) Wide Grip Pull Ups
Wide grip pull ups put the shoulders in a lot of external rotation relative to the load they are trying to handle. This can be a problem for quarterbacks who likely have some level of inflammation from throwing. While this one doesn't necessarily have as high of a percentage of related injuries as the previous two points, it's still one that few quarterbacks need, and even fewer can do right. Simply doing a neutral grip chin up will get the job done with tasking the shoulder joint nearly as much.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at adrayson@SportPerformanceU.com.
As football has grown and the passing game has expanded, so has the importance of the Quarterback. Even Vince Lombardi said that football's major flaw was that the Quarterback is too important. This makes it even more important for those looking to pursue excellence at the position to put in off-season work. This doesn't mean quit all other activities and dedicate 100% of our time to football, but it does mean find some time to work on improving fundamentals and mechanics.
There are two major issues with playing Quarterback only in-season with no off-season work:
1) There is limited practice time during the season to work on mechanics and fundamentals, and most coaches won't sacrifice team and skeleton period to allot more time to Quarterback fundamentals.
2) Most high school and youth coaching staffs don't have a true "Quarterback Coach," and have to use a very limited working knowledge on the mechanics of the position.
These two factors compound each other very quickly. You have a coach with a limited working knowledge giving little tweaks to a Quarterback's throwing motion. If even one of those tweaks is wrong, the player will now be asked to repeat that incorrect motion over and over with the necessary volume of repetitions to work on a good passing game and will most likely develop a long term overuse injury. The shoulder is already a fairly unstable joint and a throwing motion puts a lot of stress on the body; done incorrectly often, a throwing motion could become a very painful action, a serious injury, and a long recovery.
The remedy to this issue is to put in work in the off-season. Taking that down time to fix mechanics and improve fundamentals means that during the season there is less need to take time from practice to do so, and if the mechanics are good it will help prevent injury that could have come with the high volume of reps.
We did mention before that most high schools and youth programs don't have true Quarterback Coaches so seeing a real private Quarterback Coach has become the most popular choice. To be honest, even many of those "professional QB Guru's" lack real knowledge on the function of the shoulder, preventing injury, and recent research on throwing mechanics. But, if you can find a good private coach who understands how the body is supposed to work, it will greatly help in the long run.
One issue with private quarterback coaching is that many head coaches don't like their quarterbacks going to see someone else for coaching. While I don't have a great answer to this issue, I can say most head coaches won't complain when their quarterbacks come in throwing better and staying healthier. Ideally, we'll find a situation where the head coach and private coach can have an open line of communication and be on the same page.
So, to answer the original question, what is the role of the private Quarterback Coach? The private quarterback coach should be an off-season coach who helps improve throwing mechanics, footwork, and other fundamentals. Any quarterback truly striving to reach the highest levels of the sport should consider taking part in an off-season program like that - stars from Peyton Manning to Tom Brady spend their off-seasons seeing quarterback specialists, as do rising college players and most of the best high school players. The quarterback position is no longer a 3-month job.
Find a truly good coach and it should pay dividends. If you have any questions or thoughts, please feel free to contact me at adrayson@SportPerformanceU.com.
Perfection is one of those lofty goals, somewhat intangible, that we often push ourselves or our athletes towards. And, depending on how you define the word, it can become an unattainable goal. We won't always have perfect throwing mechanics, we won't complete every pass, we won't get every read right. Sometimes, we will fall short of our goals and expectations. We try to be perfect, and we might not quite get there. But, it's important to realize that it wasn't perfection that was important, it was the trying.
When we dedicate ourselves to something lofty and nearly unattainable, we learn a lot about ourselves. We learn how hard we're willing to work, what our priorities are, what we truly care about. We develop and reveal our character; we test our spine. We find out if we're a quitter or survivor, a problem maker or a problem solver, if we're the sort of person who finds excuses or reasons. That is our reward for trying, even if we fall short of the goal.
The problem is that in today's world, so many kids resist trying. They learn they get a trophy for showing up. They learn that if they give an effort and fall short of their goal that they should feel ashamed, and they become content with their participation trophy. Ego and arrogance become substitutes for confidence, and bravado becomes the substitute for hard work.
With that in mind, here's the challenge we all need to face head on - pursue perfection. Pursue it with vigor, with dedication, with everything you've got. Realize that it will be a perpetual pursuit, and it's the pursuit that matters more than attaining the goal. Find out who you are, what you're made of, how far you can push yourself. And then, push further. Break your own limits, develop character, and build some backbone. To do this, we have to try, so try as hard as you can.
Try to be perfect. Reaching perfection would be incredible, but it's really the trying that counts.
Quarterback Coach Alex Drayson will put up articles, thoughts, and reviews to help you stimulate your journey towards being the best QB you can be