During my coaching clinics, I spend a good deal of time on practice planning. Having effective practices – those that contribute to making the players better – doesn’t happen by accident. It requires planning. Coaches should have goals for their practices. Initial practice sessions should focus on the fundamentals. You never know when you will have an athlete playing the sport for the first time; and it never hurts to go over the fundamentals (watch baseball players in the first part of spring training). During the season, the practices should include drills to improve the skills where the players are showing they are deficient.
While I was planning the first practice this season, I got a little too ambitious in trying to accomplish too much; a common challenge facing youth sports coaching. Here is the plan I put together for the first practice:
Notice the detailed timing. Marvel at the military-like precision. Well… We didn’t get to the ‘putting it all together’ fielding or live hitting sections. Otherwise, we did the defensive, hitting, and baserunning drills as planned. The practice also went over the planned 90 minutes. I chalk some of this up to me spending more time talking with the parents at the beginning – which won’t be a problem at subsequent practices. What derailed the practice as planned was my thinking we could get through three rotations of drills in 20 minutes. Essentially, I fell back on my previous thinking, which had been based on two sets of drills going on at the same time. This was the first practice where I tried running three drills at the same time. By the way, I HIGHLY recommend this. With a 12-person team, that meant that no group had more than 4 players. That allowed for more personalized instruction and correction when the player wasn’t doing the skill right. It also provided the players more repetitions for each drill. However, I should have planned for each rotation to take about 10 minutes each…factoring in the transition time from one drill to the other. That makes about 30 minutes for the drills and not the 20 that I had planned.
I learned my lesson and was more conservative in the amount of time allotted for each part of the second practice. I wasn’t going to be there, so I emailed the plan to my assistant coach. This time, there were less activities planned and more time for each portion of the practice. I also suggested to the assistant coach ideas for if everything went quick to fill the time with valuable activities. I spoke to the assistant coach and he reported the practice went well.
What do you need to have if you’re going to miss a practice or two? What do you need if you’re going to run three drills at the same time? YOU NEED ASSISTANT COACHES. As mentioned in my welcome letter , I told the parents I would be needing help and asked for volunteers. Thankfully, several parents stepped up and assisted during practice. My next post will talk about how to best utilize these assistants.