2.1.1 Planning Practice – Introduction
Coaches who do not plan tend to drift. They will often spend too much time on one aspect (particularly if the players are not doing it well) and not enough time on other areas. This will invariably result in a lack of progress by the players, which is compounded because coaches who do not plan often end up doing the same things from one training session to the next.
By contrast, coaches who plan sessions find they have a goal and a clear idea of how to attain it; they know exactly where they want to go, the path they should follow and how to follow it, the problems they will encounter and how to overcome them. This will help the athletes to develop their confidence.
Coaches who plan well also avoid the mistake of spending too long on one aspect of the game. Even if the players are not executing something perfectly, a coach who has planned knows that to continue working on that means not doing something else that was important and which they had planned to do. In this circumstance, the coach should note what stage the team reached so that they can return to it at the next session.
The first consideration when planning a session is what resources are available, such as:
There are many factors that need to be taken into account by the coach.
Often when coaching a junior team, the coach will not have an assistant coach; if that is the case they should consider whether or not parents can assist. Simple tasks such as rebounding the ball or being an “obstacle” that players dribble around can often be delegated to a parent.
Often the resources are limited (few balls, little court time, only half a court available, outdoor courts, etc.). Coaches must use their imagination to make up for these deficiencies. For example, if only a few balls are available, use a “circuit”, where players work in small groups with different types of activities for each group – some activities with the ball and some without. Alternatively, players could be encouraged to bring their own ball.
Coaches must always try to avoid a situation where players line up in a long line, waiting a long time until they finally have a turn with the ball.
Coaches should also explore what other possibilities are available to make up for the lack of resources. For example, the team may only have the use of one court with two baskets for practice. The coach could consider the possibility of training on another day in a space without baskets, taking advantage of this session to do activities that do not require a basket (e.g. agility). This can allow the coach to use the limited time with baskets to the best advantage.
Coaches should establish training rules and communicate these to the players (and their parents) at the start of the season. In order to do this, they should consider the following:
- How early should the players get to practice? When should they be dressed and ready to start training?
- What should the players wear to practice? Is there a designated practice uniform?
- How does the practice start? Will the coach meet with the players in the locker room before going out on the court? Should the players go out when they are ready and start to train by themselves until the coach calls them? Should the players go out on the court and wait until the coach calls them before doing anything else?
- Who is in charge of the equipment needed for the practice? Who is in charge of the balls? Who picks them up after practice? Who has the key to the locker room? Who is responsible for the whiteboard? Is there an alarm code to lock up after practice?
- Are players that are injured and unable to train required to attend practice? If so, what is their role at practice (taking statistics, doing a limited workout?)
- What happens if a player gets injured during practice? Who takes care of them? What should be done?
By being clear about their training rules a coach can then hold players accountable to follow them. Team mates can also hold each other accountable.
Coaches should also establish simple rules when speaking to the players so that they pay attention to them. For example, they could use a whistle when they want the players to stop what they are doing and listen, and whistle twice if they want the players to move over to the coach.
There is little point in the coach speaking until they have the attention of the players. Similarly, when speaking to an individual player the coach should first get their attention. Many coaches will yell during a drill: “Move to the baseline, Michael.” Unfortunately, Michael may not start listening until he hears his name, which means he would actually miss the coach’s instruction. Accordingly, the coach should say: “Michael, move to the baseline.”
Coaches may also establish a rule that when they are speaking to the players that players should not be dribbling the ball, tying their shoes, talking to each other or doing anything else, but should look at them and pay attention to what the coach is saying.
There is research that suggests that some players will be able to stand perfectly still while others will “fidget”; but both are listening. The overriding rule must be that no player can do something that makes it hard for another player to hear or distracts the attention of another player.
Nevertheless, in order to keep the players’ attention in these situations, coaches must make sure that their explanations are short and very precise.
Coaches should also establish procedures such as whether or not players sit down or drink water between activities. Training rules should also emphasize that players must remain positive with each other and set out whether visitors (parents, friends, etc.) may attend.
How Far Ahead should you Plan?
A coach should have a plan for the season. First, the coach identifies where the players and team are currently in terms of ability to execute skills and tactics. The coach should then have a plan for what they want the players to learn throughout the season. This enables the coach to ensure that they spend some time in each practice on all aspects.
Once the coach has identified goals for the season, each session should be a step toward achieving one of the goals for the season.