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How to Plan and Execute an Effective Practice

Effective PracticeYou are a coach with grand ideas, and you are ready to give your best. You have a vision for your team. You have a plan for development.  You are excited to get started with your group, and the day comes for your first practice. So what do you do?

I run over to 200 practices for hockey, soccer and lacrosse every year, and if there is one thing I have learned over the years it’s that you can’t just wing it. You must have a plan. You must have structure, and if you want to optimize development you need to have a template.  I could talk about countless drills that could be used, but doing drills for the sake of drills is not going to work.  Drills are the vehicle to develop skill, but every rep should be calculated with a plan in mind.

Start With a Theme

Every practice should have a theme.  It will allow you to organize your thoughts and select activities that support each other and support your overall goals for the day.  As you become better at teaching, you will understand that the pace and progression of your class or practice is enhanced when there is a common thread that links each exercise to another.  As you move through the season, the skills and concepts should build off the previous practice.

Practice Plan Template 

Now that we understand how to execute the skills of planning and running an effective practice.  Let’s take a look at the nuts and bolts of the practice.  An effective practice has a method to its madness, and here are 6 steps to help organize a practice to optimize development.

  1. Warm Up – Warming up athletes is essential to a quality practice.  You cannot expect a young athlete to just turn it on and execute well as soon as the first whistle blows.  This is a good time to visit footwork, basic passing and ball handling/stick handling.
  2. Unopposed Practice – After the players are properly warmed up, they should enter into a phase of up tempo unopposed drills to develop the technique of the skills they will be asked to perform for the day.  First begin with 1 player drills then progress into a multi player drill demanding speed and execution.
  3.  Opposed Practice – At this point, players should be moving well and executing the basics essential to the games.  It is time to add pressure to the practice.  Pressure forces player to learn read-and-react skills and develops the thought process behind the concepts of the game.
  4. Game Scenario – In this stage of practice, we learn to apply the skills and concepts from the first half of practice to game situations.  The most common challenge for coaches is to get players to apply practice to games.
  5. Compete – No practice is complete with out some compete.  Players should learn to battle for space and possession.  For players to advance to higher levels, there must be a high compete level, but compete can be taught through practice.
  6. Cool Down – Do not underestimate the value of a cool down.  It can be a valuable asset to developing durability.  A quick stretch after practices and games will aid recovery for the next training session.

Circle Back

Always remember that repetition is the key to development.  Young athletes, just like young students, need repetition to reinforce the skills being taught.  It is a wise practice to revisit drills from earlier.  Athletes will begin to remember the drills and develop a better understanding of how to execute the skills being taught which will enhance their overall execution.

Bring the energy

As I have said many times, you are the model.  If you do not bring the energy, you will not get energy from your players.  Energy is contagious.  If your energy level is high, it will spread to the rest of the group and soon their energy level will rise.

As a coach, practice is where we will have our greatest impact.  There are a few adjustments a coach can make in games to help a team achieve, but it is in practice that we prepare our athletes for the rigor of competition.  The games are an opportunity to showcase what they have learned from us during the week.  Take full advantage of practice time to maximize player development.

What are your thoughts on practice?  Leave a comment and give us your opinion.

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About Coach Printz

Jamie Printz has been a full time teacher/coach for over 20 years. Although the majority of his time is dedicated to ice hockey, he also coaches lacrosse and soccer. Coach Printz has had the pleasure of watching over 200 of his athletes move on to play collegiate sports. He works as a skills coach for local youth organizations, works in coaching education and player development at the state level, and is a parent of two young daughters who are beginning their journeys in the world of youth sport.
The 365 Coach © 2015
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