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Planning Ahead

by Ryan Thompson

Great practices don't just happen. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes to plan practices that run smoothly and effortlessly, as well as accomplishing the main goal of making the team better. 

Plan your practices in advance - not just the drills for one practice, but figure out what concepts you want and need to cover over the course of the season. Then break down the concepts and spread them over the available practices. It's good to pair a conceptual topic, like force middle, with a related skill like deep defense, to break up the monotony of discussing a single topic for an entire practice. When planning practices, make sure to note how much time you want to spend on each drill or scrimmage, then stick to that time schedule during practice. 

When teaching a new concept to your team, it's important not to overload players with information. Limit the voices in the huddle to coaches or the person presenting the concept or drill, and make sure they stick to emphasizing the key takeaways from the drill. While other players might have advanced insight, it's more effective to have them talk to the coach separately, or talk to players individually instead of to the entire group. Give the team two or three points to think about when doing drills - any more, and it becomes too much to focus on. 

A very effective teaching technique for drilling a concept or skill is to go through several iterations of a similar drill, with increasing game realism. Start with offense-only, or a 1v1 matchup, then move to adding more cutters, more defenders, more active marks on the throwers, etc., until the drill resembles an in-game situation. This builds muscle memory and helps people realize how their individual motions fit into the offense or defense as a whole. You can then move on to a scrimmage with a focus that makes the team implement what they just learned. 

It's important to keep the entire team engaged during the whole practice - veterans, rookies, and injured players. Limit downtime between drills, don't let people complain about drills, invent scoring systems for drills, and give incentives. For instance, in a drill that works on the defense forcing out in 1v1 downfield defense, give the offense 1 point for catching a deep goal, 2 points for catching an in cut, and 0 points for a turnover. 

Remember when planning practices: Do it in advance. Combine concepts and skills for a themed practice. Limit the talking. Give a couple points to focus on. Drill with increasing realism. Scrimmage with a focus. Keep the team engaged. 

Practice is where the biggest gains are made, and smooth, effective practices are focused and planned in advance. 

huddle issue031

Mon February 28th, 2011

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