By: Doug Heslip
I have seen the best of hands and the worst of hands. That is how it works in football. You have kids with magnetic hands who catch everything and others who have Teflon hands where nothing sticks.
Some kids with Teflon hands run like a deer and display some swivel in their hips, but when the ball hits their hands it is a complete disaster. The ball goes everywhere but in their hands.
You know you could have something special if you can get him to simply catch the football. How do you do that? I have some coaching advice and drills that may help warm up and soften ice cold, stone hands.
WARM UP DRILLS
Basketball warm up drills with a football. Have them get a feel for the football and warm up those ice cold hands. Have them take the football, bend over, and circle the football around their ankles. Use both legs and reverse the direction. From here, have them do a figure eight by circling both legs at the same time in a figure eight pattern.
Have them take the football and make circles around their waist and do the same for their head. You can do each body part one at a time or sequentially with no break from head to toes or vice versa.
For the next drill have them extend their arm out in front of them while holding onto a football. The palm should be facing down while holding onto the football.
Have them let go of the football. They must catch the football with the fingertips of the hand that released it before it hits the ground. Tell them to bend their knees and drop their hips as they try to catch the football. This is not easy, but it is effective.
A modified version of this, which is still an effective drill to warm up the hands and develop dexterity, is to first have the athlete get on one knee. Using the hand on the same side as the knee on the ground, the athlete will extend his arm out in front of him and bounce the football off the ground. When the football returns upward he is to catch it.
HOW TO CATCH
Squeeze the bird. That’s right, tell your wide receivers to “squeeze the bird” or to try and squeeze the air out of the ball. Have them hold onto a football, spread their fingers and squeeze the fat part of the ball with just their fingertips. Have them press into the football with the fingertips and release repeatedly.
Squeezing the bird will prevent defensive backs from ripping the football out of their hands. This will give great confidence to wide receivers that they can handle pressure.
Have them look at the point of the football where the grooves come together. Tell them to concentrate on the nose of the football as it is spiraling toward them. It hardly moves. Have them catch the football with the fingertips of both hands just before the fat part of the ball and after the white stripes. Make sure their arms are extended and there is a slight bend in the elbows when catching the football. We don’t want the ball to strike their chest. Extending the hands will prevent this.
You should hear a tick or a tock, not the sound of a shotgun blast when the ball is caught. If the catch is loud the football hit the palm of their hands and we don’t want this. When the football hits the palm of the hand it could deflect off of their hands and into the hands of the defensive back. Going from positive yardage to an interception will age coaches; fundamentals win.
Some kids have never been told not to catch the football with the palm of their hands. Sometimes telling them to use their fingers and squeeze can be a quick fix.
DECK OF CARDS
How do you get them to use their fingertips? I use a stack of playing cards. I will stand on top of a small plyo box and my wide receiver will stand in front of me.
I take one card at a time and flip it to them. They have to catch it with their fingertips, nice and easy. As they get better, I pick up the pace on the card flipping. When the pace picks up, they will have to use both hands to gently catch the playing card. Once they catch the card, they release it and allow it to fall to the floor.
This is an awesome drill to develop hand-eye coordination, dexterity and concentration. My athletes love this drill. I use this drill as a warm-up to get their CNS firing.
You need two footballs and three athletes. Configure the athletes in a triangle. The athlete at the top of the triangle will have a football. He will face the two other athletes. One of these athletes will also have a football.
The athlete on top begins this drill by tossing his football to the athlete that does not have a football. Once this football is released, the athlete with the other football will toss it to the athlete that just released his to catch the football. He must immediately toss that football to the athlete that is empty handed.
This process continues until the athlete on top drops a football. Your receivers will become machine gun fast with the footballs as they come at them in an alternating fashion.
TENNIS BALL CATCHING DRILLS
I love tennis balls. Tennis balls are the way to go. There is so much more you can do with a tennis ball other than hit it with a racket.
Tennis Ball Walk
Have two athletes face one another a few feet apart. Each will have one tennis ball in their right hand. The drill starts out by each of them tossing their tennis ball to the other person at the same time. They must use their fingertips to catch the ball. The tennis balls are tossed underhand.
After a few tosses, have them walk backwards while still tossing the tennis balls to each other. Once they reach five to seven yards have them walk back toward each other. Continue this until someone drops the ball.
As a progression, have them bounce the ball to each other as they walk away and toward each other.
Tennis Ball Running Side Throws
Another nice drill is to have two of your athletes stand side by side five yards apart. You need one tennis ball. The athlete with the tennis ball throws the ball overhand laterally to his partner. The two start out quarter speed and throw the ball to one another as they run. The progression would be to bounce the ball to each other as they run down the field or court.
Here is a really good drill to develop hand quickness and dexterity with the fingertips. Have two athletes face each other in close proximity. You will need two tennis balls. The athlete with two tennis balls will extend his arms forward holding on to both tennis balls, one in each hand. The second athlete will place his hands an inch or two over the hands of the athlete holding onto the ball.
The athlete holding onto the tennis balls will drop one. His/her partner much catch the tennis ball before it hits the floor. My athletes love this drill.
As a progression, have the athlete catching the tennis balls put his hands behind his back.
ONE-HANDED PARTNER CATCH DRILL
This drill is performed with a football. You will need three people. Have two athletes stand side by side about an arm’s length apart. The two must extend one arm out. One will have their right arm extended and the other will have their left arm extended. There needs to be a gap in between their hands so they can catch the football. Have the third, preferably someone that can throw accurately, stand approximately five yards away from them to start. The quarterback (so to speak) will throw the ball overhand to the two athletes that are in front of him. The object for the two athletes with arms extended is to catch one-half of the football. Squeeze the bird.
You can also have the athletes face each other and perform this drill. As they get better move further away.
I have found these drills not only help kids that need work but they are also excellent for the complete receivers too. These drills bring out the competitor and you will notice they will encourage each other to perform at a high level.
BALL SECURITY DRILL
We cannot forget ball security. We have done all of this work to optimize pass catching ability, so we must make sure the ball is taken care of after the catch.
I tell my receivers to tuck the ball quarterback side when they are running a route across the field. Tucking the ball quarterback side prevents the defensive back from knocking the football away. If you tuck same side as the defensive back the probability of bad things happening goes up.
Tucking the ball requires using your pressure points. The pressure points are your hand, forearm, ribcage and bicep. The most important pressure point is your head. Yes, your head! By this I mean remember to use your pressure points when tucking the ball away after a catch.
A simple drill I use is having your receiver extend his arms out and hold onto the football with both hands. Make sure he is using his fingers to squeeze the bird. You, as the coach, will try to slap the ball out of his hands while the receiver is in a vulnerable position. As I mentioned before this will instill confidence in your receiver that he can handle aggressive defensive backs.
I hope this helps.
About the Author:
Coach Doug Heslip is a sports performance and football coach in Negaunee, Michigan and trainer at Heslip Elite Sports Performance Training. He has been coaching football and training athletes for 20 years. Coach Heslip is an instructor at the USA Football/Green Bay Packer coaching clinics at Lambeau Field and has been for nearly 10 years, rated the number 1 station as polled by coaches after instruction. He is also a Team USA football coach. Coach Heslip has written several articles published through American Football Monthly and has a Running Back DVD through American Football Monthly, peer reviewed and labeled outstanding. He also received the Governor’s Service Award for the State of Michigan for coaching football.