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Take Control of Your Practice

by John Korber

Practice is a vital part of mastering any skill, and team sports are no exception. A quality practice structure can transform a meaningless few hours running around into a valuable and productive growth opportunity for your team. While the content covered in a given practice clearly varies heavily with the level, division, weather, time of year, etc, some of the basics of running a quality practice are nearly always applicable. Here are a few of my favorites. 

Know your audience – The frequency, duration, content and tone of your practice should be specifically catered to your audience. The team’s physical condition, level of experience, or even individual maturity can impact what you can cover and for how long. Your group of seasoned club veterans will probably have some patience for 15 minutes talking about the subtleties of a zone defense; your brand new group of high school rookies probably needs a shorter, more simple presentation. 

Have a purpose for everything you do – Demand of your players (and yourself) that anything worth spending time on should be for a good reason. Structure your practice with activities with particular purposes…generally the more specific the better. Share the goal with the team and make it a clear objective. Clearly measurable actions are often the easiest for everyone to keep track of. For example, this year my team was struggling with moving the disc horizontally, so we would scrimmage and limit the offense to 4 throws without crossing the vertical midline of the field. Failure to do so resulted in a turnover. Players on the sideline counted the throws out loud to make everyone aware. The specific, measurable objective quickly opened up our offense and got us comfortable moving the disc horizontally. 

 Success: crossed midline within 4 passes   Turnover: failure to cross within 4 passes
huddle31i korber01 huddle31i korber02
                                                            [Diagrams by Kathryn Irons]

Keep things moving – Regardless of the demographic of your team, learning is often best facilitated with variation. Keep your drills short, 10 to 15 minutes maximum. The result of the drill is not as important as the experience. Sometimes letting the team struggle with a new concept and work it out is for the best. Succeed or fail, after 15 minutes most drills get stale and it is time to move on. Take water breaks as a team between segments of your practice, and encourage players to push through the current segment without stepping aside for rest. It is much easier to demand a high level of focus for short spurts than to ask your players to stay with you for hours in a row and self-regulate their attention. 

Mind your distance – Teaching and learning is a personal exchange between teacher and student. When it is time to teach, explain, or diagram a concept, bring the team in close and talk so everyone can hear you. When an individual player requires feedback (not to be confused with encouragement), have a conversation instead of yelling across the field. When it is time to practice what they have learned, let them play. Keep your distance and let them experience what they need to. When it is time to teach again, reel them in for a water break and go back to the chalkboard. 

Keep up the intensity – While walkthroughs and careful demonstrations are an important part of teaching, learning and developing muscle memory almost always needs to be done at game speed. Ultimate is played best in short bursts of energy, much more like hockey shifts than a soccer game. Practice is the time to develop comfort with the repetition of explosive output while mastering the poise of executing fine motor skills at that level. If the intensity in your practice exceeds the intensity of any game you play during the season, you are preparing your team well. To allow your players to go through the motions and use excuses like "In a game I’d layout for that," is doing them a disservice.


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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