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Minutes Are Precious

by Ben Wiggins

Minutes at practice are precious. Here are my 5 relatively simple ways to maximize the amount of growth you can foster from each of your practices. At the end, I've included an example set of 3 practices to try and illustrate these points. 

1) Use your warm-up time effectively
Warm-ups take a large percentage of total practice time. To focus that effort, I like to include warm-up drills or games that give a good mental introduction to the purpose of later practice drills. I'll try to use plyometrics or other movements that foreshadow the movements we'll be trying to teach later. I like to start with a warm-up game for many practices as well, and these games can usually be tailored to work with the later specifics. 

We all learn from our mistakes, and we are very good at learning from experience. Warm-up time doesn't have to be focused or consciously driven for the players. As a coach, this is where I am putting drills that can give benefit without being discussed overtly or even introduced at all. You can't expect players to come straight from class or work or their families and act professionally in the first minute. Even pros need time to get in the right frame. But we can tailor those introductions to help the warm-up put them in a receptive and ready state. 

2) Cover topics in multiple practices
When you think about the school classes you have taken: did you spend 5 hours in a row learning math every week, or did you go to class for 1 hour each day? Spreading learning out gives players a much better chance to internalize new strategies or fundamentals. We can do this by running similar drills or situations in multiple practice plans. 

For example, let's say we have 3 drills that we want to run for ~30 minutes of total time each. Those drills are similar, with "A" being a simplified fundamental drill and "C" being the very advanced application drill. We could run those drills all on Monday and spend a complete 90 minutes on that topic. This would be easy to plan. Players would spend a long time on similar drills, so we might lose some effective time due to boredom. Also, players would only have one night after the practice to be mulling those topics over when drills or done. Which means just one post-practice meal to discuss and no practices that players can come in already thinking about the topic. 

Alternatively, we can maximize those benefits by running these drills in series throughout the week. This gives players lots of time to think and prepare. You'll catch your team by surprise less, which is a good thing with complicated topics. I've tried to show an example of this in the practice plans below. 

3) Focus on fewer topics
In other words, don't try to cover everything. Given limited practice time, work on those topics that are most important. If something is not going to give a real return to your team, then don't practice it. Ideally, the perfect team has probably practiced everything at least once, but that just isn't realistic for a college or high-school team. If you can only practice twice per week, then trying to run two different offenses is not going to help. Do one well. If you are not going to use a 1-3-3 zone, don't learn it. Do you really need to spend time teaching all of your players how to call plays on turnover situations? No! Use those reps to teach your handlers how to make these calls, and use the extra rep time to learn it well. 

Maybe most prevalent, in my opinion, is trying to teach solid continuation (aka 'flow') cutting. This is very difficult and time-consuming to teach. It requires teaching vision and anticipation, which are long-term learning goals. I feel like many youth teams spend massive amounts of time learning how to play flow offense against solid man-to-man schemes...and then spend their entire season playing against poaching person-D or zone. Those teams would have been better served spending more practice time on zone and learning it well. 

As coaches, we don't know what our teams will see...but we do need to give them enough tools to have success. But when you know what to expect then you should tailor your game to beat it. If you are worried about depriving your players of the balanced Ultimate education for future teams, know this: players that learn a few skills extremely well have a much easier time learning other skills at a high level. Players that learn many skills poorly will struggle when they have to learn any particular skill at a higher level. You may be serving your young players better by helping them master a single skill rather than having a mediocre grasp on ten skills. 

(In the example below, I am writing for a team that has decided that downfield defense is their top priority, and they believe that this is going to help them even if they spend less time on other defensive priorities like zone, poaching, etc.) 

4) Eliminate pulls
The time between pulls can be a huge waste of practice time. When you add up everything that goes into walking to the line, discussing the play, signaling, pulling, walking to the adds up fast. You can be much more efficient by running more game situation from a stopped-disc. Or by breaking your team into 3 squads, and having two teams pulling to a single O-team so that the D can discuss and be ready to pull very quickly. 

Playing uptempo at practice will ready your team for observed games with time limits, and it saves a ton of time. With that extra time, you can talk as a team about details or run extra reps. You have to play real Ultimate that for scrimmages that aren't focused on a single topic or that are long enough to simulate a game. 

5) Be prepared
If you've read this far, then you really care about creating efficient practices. So I'm probably preaching to the choir here. Every minute that you aren't prepared at practice is 20-25 minutes from your teams' individual minutes that could have gone into becoming a better player or a better team. Write your notes ahead of time. Have a plan. If nothing else, your players will feel more respected and more valued, and they will work harder because of it. 

Most importantly; once you have a good plan, you can deviate from that plan intelligently. If you've planned for 20 minutes of a particular drill, then you can change at minute 19 for extra time if you think you are on the verge of a team breakthrough. Alternatively, you can back off the pace and re-simplify drills if the concepts aren't knitting together like you'd hoped. Or switch topics more rapidly if they are coming easily to your team. Those kinds of deviations are where coaches and team leaders help make huge advances...and you can't do them when you are trying to figure out the plan during the practice. 

With those things said, here is my example for a set of three 2.5-hour practices, with the focus being improving individual downfield defense: 

  • 0:00 Warm-up jogging, normal plyos
  • 0:15 Partner plyos: for the last 5-6 movements, one partner does the plyo for 5-15 yards, then turns and jogs 75% back to the line. Partner traces them back, trying to anticipate the turn.
  • 0:20 Water
  • 0:23 General Offensive Drill 1 (something to get touches and work on non-D stuff)
  • 0:33 Huddle talk: Downfield defense
    • We can't stop everything against good players, but we can make cutters less effective by taking away their best option and forcing them to do something else
    • We'll anticipate cuts by reading the field and reading our player's body language. In these practices, we'll be working mostly on reading body language to be ready for the race to the disc when it starts
    • Work on the footwork now, even if it makes you slower in the short-run. Eventually, this will pay off and we will be able to put more pressure on more cuts against better players.
  • 0:38 Defensive Drill A: Intro 1v1 cutting D
    • 1 player from a downfield spot guarding 1 cutter. No disc. Work on lining up correctly, and on anticipating and moving well in the first 4 steps. Drill is over after 4-5 steps.
  • 0:48 Defensive Drill B: Beginning 1v1 cutting D
    • Same drill, now cutting fully. Still no disc for first few reps each, then with throw on the sideline and a sideline force. Stop drill whenever fundamentals from Drill A are not being met. Working up to staying with players and maintaining position, not giving up hips until cutter has determined either in or deep cut. Encourage good footwork, not just whether they get the block or not.
  • 1:00 water break
  • 1:05 Defensive Drill C: 1v1 from Continuation
    • Similar drill, now 2v2. If the first cutter can't get the disc, they can clear and let the second cutter attack. Focusing on maintaining position, lining up correctly on a cutter in motion to prevent either in or deep cuts, depending on matchup/location.
  • 1:18 Scrimmage w/ Focus #1
    • 2 teams, each point starting from the corner cone (no pulling). Each team gets 5 possessions in a row.
    • Defense working on winning the first 4 steps of individual matchups. On turnovers, no fast break (giving extra chances to work on lining up, anticipating and stopping cutters)
  • 1:50 water break
  • 1:52 Discussion with team: What things from drills worked, and what didn't?
  • 1:57 Defensive Drill D: 1v1 Breakside cutting
    • Similar drill form to A, B, C, but from the middle of the field
    • Focus on tracing parallel to cutter, so as to eliminate crossing cuts back to the live side and not overcommiting on in-moves
  • 2:10 Scrimmage w/ Focus #2 (Skip this if you are running long, or extend this if you have extra time)
    • Same format as #1
    • Goals are 1 point each, but now so are any full cuts that are stopped and the thrower is forced to dump (play continues)
  • 2:20 Cooldown, stretch, recap of major points in initial discussion

  • 0:00 Warm-up plyos
    • Instead of jogging to get loose, players are in pairs with a cone on the ground. At 50-60%, one player is Offense and should jog away from the cone and back about 8 times. The defender should try to stay with the jogging player, anticipating the turns back to the cone. Switch, twice each.
  • 0:20 Water
  • 0:23 General Offensive Drill 2 (something to get touches and work on non-D stuff)
  • 0:33 Huddle talk: Downfield defense
    • Repeat major points from yesterday.
    • New point: Understanding which race the offense wants to run is a fundamental. Club defenders get better with age, not worse, because they understand offensive players more and more thoroughly.
  • 0:37 Defensive Drill A in small groups
  • 0:42 Defensive Drill B in one group, don't add a disc until the fundamentals start to look good.
  • 0:52 water break
  • 0:55 Defensive Drill E
    • Begin with a vertically stacked pair from the middle of the field. Disc in the middle.
    • For the first few each, Offense must cut on the live side of the field
    • After that, Offense has the choice of cutting to the break side (basically melding Drills C and D together here.
  • 1:10 water break (this is a high-intensity drill, so we are breaking more often)
  • 1:15 Defensive Drill F Options
    • Anti-Horizontal Option: Start the offensive pair side by side
    • Anti-Vertical Option: Add a third vertically stacked cutter.
    • My suggestion: Do not start by talking about 'what should happen'. This removes their opportunity to figure it on their own, and hamstrings the offensive cutters into a rigid form. Give players a full opportunity to work this out on their own, to be beat repeatedly and then make adjustments. Even young players will figure this out, or at least be forced to grapple with it. Give everyone 2-3 reps on D before you talk about what we want. Then, make adjustments and continue with at least 3-4 more reps each.
  • 1:45 Water break
  • 1:50 Run D drill F again.
    • This is where the coaches earns the big bucks; either increase the difficulty with more passes, or more offensive players, or a handler than can receive a dump. Or, if this is all coming fast, back off a little by doing the other sideline (the one you didn't do yesterday) or doing horizontal on the sideline to give a new look but not increase the abstract difficulty. Do what is right for your team's next step, not necessarily what you need to get to point B before Saturday.
  • 2:05 Conditioning: 1v1 Deep Drill
  • 2:15 Stretch, recap major points, done

  • 0:00 Warm-ups: Do same partner-cone-jog warmups, then plyos. Finish with defensive plyos like on Tuesday.
  • 0:20 Water break
  • 0:25 Drills B and C in small groups, 3-4 reps each
  • 0:35 Huddle talk
    • Today's focus: Applying what we are working on to game situations. These skills are most useful in small bursts throughout a point, but when they are necessary they are crucial. Throughout today's games, our goals are:
      • Excellent- use these skills to stop flow cuts effectively and prevent throws (or block them)
      • Great- sometimes use these skills instead of just trying to run faster than our opponents. Get a few stops/blocks using these skills.
      • Good- Notice the opportunities (ourselves, not the coach) for where we could have used these skills. Identify those times and positions, and be ready to get better at using them.
  • 0:42 Drill F (in whatever variation your team plays offense most regularly)
  • 0:52 Game 1
    • If you have 21 players, split into three teams. Each team gets 5 possessions in a row on O, against alternating D.
    • If you have less than 21, divide into two teams (randomly). Each teams gets 5 possessions in a row, 1 possession each max (after two turns, reset and play the next point).
    • No pulls. Start each possession from the brick. No fast breaks, to work on lining up off of a turn. Special rule: One extra point if the first throw for the offense goes backwards to the dump. Dump defenders are not allowed to poach on the first throw. Continue the play as normal, but add that as a point in the score.
  • 1:22 Water break
  • 1:27 Game 2
    • Same format as the first game. Special rule: After the game, every player has 3 conditioning sprints. If you successfully stop/defend/block a downfield cut, you get a -1 sprint. [Ideally, a coach or assistant coach is marking this from the sideline and calling out player names when they get one to give immediate positive feedback.].
  • 2:10 Water break
  • 2:15 Conditioning: Skyball
  • 2:22 Stretch, recap major points of what we've accomplished this week, done


huddle issue031

Mon February 28th, 2011

Practice? We Talkin' About Practice?
by Jeff Eastham-Anderson

Full Focus, Full Effort
by Greg Husak

Practice Planning Musts
by Tyler Kinley

Take Control of Your Practice
by John Korber

Managing Intensity, Concepts, and Fun
by Peri Kurshan

Getting More Out of the Practice Warm-Up
by Pat McCarthy

Planning Youth Practices
by Shannon O'Malley

Parts of a Whole
by Shane Rubenfeld

Three Easy Targets
by Ben Slade

Planning Ahead
by Ryan Thompson

Minutes Are Precious
by Ben Wiggins

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Throwers: How to Plan a Throwing Practice
by Melissa Witmer




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