“Let’s go - take two laps and then we will get started with training.” “If you miss this shot then you will have to run.” Think about it, you see this all the time at all levels of sport, talk about a practice killer! Practice time is precious; it is a daily opportunity to improve skill, tactics and sport specific fitness, and wasting time slogging laps to “warm-up” or extra sprints for punishment does not optimize the opportunity to improve. It does nothing to make the athlete better and a lot to make them tired and diminish motivation. Be creative how you start practice because what you do to start practice sets the tempo for the practice. Start with a brief explanation of the days practice and then do something that is meaningful and mindful to get them into the practice. The same with mindless jogging for a cooldown, do something that will set-up tomorrows training session. Make what you do meaningful and motivational; every step of practice should be directed to making the athlete better. Laps waste time and do not make the athlete better.
Lines are a killer. I was watching a soccer practice recently where 18 players were doing a shooting drill; there were two lines of nine with two balls. Do the math how many times did each player get to practice a shot in a five-minute period? Answer: not enough to be meaningful, not to mention the lack of instruction. Let’s be clear lines are important for organization and efficiency but learn to use lines to be effective. If the drill demands speed and high-quality work then make it a line of five – One athlete executing the drill, the second person in line coaching the drill, third person rehearsing, fourth person observing and fifth person recovering. Everyone should be actively involved in the drill to optimize practice time. If the objective of the drill is game fitness or speed endurance oriented then divide the group into lines of three with one athlete executing the drill, one coaching and one recovering. I stress the important of peer coaching to take advantage of the Mirror Neuron Phenomenon. The brain of the athlete coaching the drill perceives that that are doing the drill, hence it is an opportunity to get better faster – in essence the athlete coaching gets another quality repetition. This also insures that everyone is fully engaged in the practice. Lines can be effective, but it demands thorough practice planning to make the lines or formations fit the objectives of the practice.
Starting practice with a long lecture is a surefire way to ruin the training session. Coaches love to talk, but the start of practice is not the time and place. Recognize that the athletes are there to train, not to listen to a lecture. My rule of thumb is three minutes of talking maximum that consists of very specific instructions pertaining to the training session. We know how long we can hold someone’s attention - not long - so use that knowledge. Make it short, sharp filled with action words that are directed to the desired actions during the training session. It should be information rich and positive. If you don’t know what to say, then don’t say anything. Think of it this way: Know your point, make your point, stay on point and summarize with a clear call to action based on the points of emphasis. Coaches like to talk, that does mean you should. Some of the best advice I got early in my career was to remember that we have two eyes, two ears and one mouth for a reason. Watch and listen more and talk less.