One of the largest obstacles as a coach is trying to figure out the best way to take a mound of information and filter that into a cohesive plan for young athletes to learn from. We have all made the same mistakes: too much to learn and not enough time, too little to do, too complex of a tactic, too easy of a movement, etc.
One of the first things you may consider doing is just outlining what it is you want the end of the practice to have accomplished. Was it a competitive environment? Did it teach individual skills specific to the sport you are coaching? Were there drills that dealt with sport specific scenarios? Was a specific skill improved upon? In baseball that could be pitching accuracy, catcher receiving, hitting line drives, or improving footwork as an infielder. Was an often forgotten part of the game reviewed – such as the importance of outfield defense or aggressive, smart, base running?
All of these areas present challenges to even the most battle-tested coach, and also opportunities to increase what we like to call “Practice Efficiency”. Practice Efficiency is creating an environment where there is little wasted time during and between drills. It is also an environment where one drill may have multiple benefits to multiple facets of the game.
In essence, there are very few times when an athlete is standing around with “nothing” to do.
An easy way to increase Practice Efficiency is to eliminate unnecessary conditioning exercises – jogging pole to pole on a baseball field – and replacing those with quick paced drills. Drills with quick paces could be fielding (including pitcher fielding practice or PFP) or base running related, and offer the ability to achieve more reps for more athletes in more game scenarios in less time. All of those outcomes are beneficial.
Some coaches will call a party foul on this, suggesting that teams who do not perform conditioning are the ones who falter late in the season. Standard conditioning – treadmill work, etc. – is not a practice tactic or skill improvement area to focus on in our opinion. Athletes should be working on these areas outside of practice so that (y)our practice works on what (y)our team needs to work on.
Do you require your athletes to leave their equipment in the dugout, and then waste two minutes as your corner outfielder jogs to the dugout to swap his infield glove for his first base mitt? Think about how else you can lower the downtime between drills, stations, or tactical games. Where can you best place equipment or how can you move athletes around less? Maximize the energy dedicated towards skill improvement and tactical offense/defense.
If you find yourself having completed your practice 10-15 minutes ahead of schedule you have two choices: 1) reward the kids with a break if they earned it or the weather is unbearable, or 2) have a reserve of competitive games or drills in your back packet to utilize when time is available.
What are some of the challenges you face while practice planning? How have you overcome them? Tell us about it by commenting below.