How important is it to create a plan for practices when coaching sports for any particular age groups? I used to think that having a practice plan was not necessarily required; however, that opinion has changed since I have become a coach. I found it much easier to run a practice with planned out drills; rather, than ‘flying by the seat of your pants.’ I think it is important to have a practice plan ready before the practice day because instead of thinking about what drill to do next, you can focus on providing critical feedback to the athletes.
In my opinion, there are many crucial steps that are important in a practice beginning immediately when the coach arrives to warm-up, teaching important fundamental skills, incorporating some offensive/defensive sets, scrimmages and/or games, and finally some cool down exercises. Throughout this post, I am going to describe each step, look at how each one affects the player’s development and how much time should be spent during the practice on each section.
Coach Arrives (Total time: 10 minutes)
I know a lot of coaches do not do this step, but I think it is important for the coach to arrive earlier than the athletes to completer a few checks of the equipment, facility, and set-up of drills. I know it is not always likely that the coach will arrive on time to every practice, but for the majority it is important to not skip this step just to be sure the area is safe for all participants. Some of the tasks of the coach before practice starts might be:
- Arrive at the gym 15-20 minutes early
- Set-up of equipment and drills
- Check equipment and facility to ensure it is safe
- Organize coaching materials
- If first practice/meeting – have a list of players’ names
- Greet parents and athletes upon arrival
Players Arrive and ready to start practice (Total time: 5 minutes)
For me, I think it is important to meet with the players before practice starts just to inform them about what the learning outcomes are for practice, schedule of the practice, and any housekeeping issues that need to be covered at that time. I also use this time to chat with my players – talk about their day, how school was, etc. – just to create that comfortable environment and ‘break the ice’. Once that is complete, practice may begin!
Dynamic Stretching and Warm-Up (Total Time: 5-10 minutes)
Many coaches skip this step or do not take the time to properly stretch out their athletes. Stretching is important because players have the opportunity to loosen their muscles and elevate their heart rate, which also avoids injuries and promotes body coordination, balance, and control. I have my players do some dynamic stretching – ex. Walking lunges – again to allow movement and get ready for practice. Before, we move on to the next step, I have added some strength training in this section for my players, for example, three sets of 45-second planks in the center of the court as a team and once that is complete we run some full-court suicides in three waves (sprint, shuffle, backpedal). Obviously, depending on the age, you are able to pick and choose what type of stretch you want to do, strength training involved, and what type of activities you want to complete before moving on to the next section of practice. Some examples to incorporate in dynamic stretching includes:
- Defensive shuffles
- And many more…
Teaching Fundamental Skills (Total time: 30-45 minutes)
This section may be considered the most important part of the practice, where coaches work on skills related to basketball, such as, passing, layups, shooting, and rebounding, just to name a few. I feel like this section of the practice should also take up the majority of the time for each session. These skills involve coaching the athletes how to properly execute the skill and drills incorporated to teach when to perform the learned skill. Coaching players how to perform the skill allows them to learn the technique; however, including the said skill in the drill will provide the athlete with the experience and repetition to become comfortable with the learned skills. Some tips for this section of the practice include:
- Coaches want to ensure that the drills are within the athletes’ zone of learning – not too easy, that they are bored and not too difficult that the athletes are frustrated
- Drills are challenging enough so that the athletes are learning and improving, while enjoying themselves
- Athletes should always be moving – not so much waiting around and standing in line
- Give plenty of time for each drill in order to ensure maximum effectiveness and experience with the skill
- Drills must be appropriate for the age and ability levels of the participants and relevant to the sport
Incorporating Offensive/Defensive Sets (Total time: 5-10 minutes)
In my opinion, this part of the practice should be short, because depending on the age, is probably not as necessary for children under the age of eleven. I have seen many coaches take time away from the skills development phase in order to accommodate time for teaching set plays and emphasizing that their young athlete’s memorize them to use in games. I mean, I guess it is important to have plays; however, at the younger ages, the focus should be on having fun and developing fundamental skills. Having a section for teaching offensive and defensive plays are important; however, I don’t believe dedicating the majority of the time to it is all that necessary.
Scrimmages/Games (Total time: 20-30 minutes)
I believe this section of practice is important because it allows players to be given an opportunity to practice the skills learned in a game situation. For me, I always set aside at least twenty minutes for a scrimmage or game-based activity for my athletes. They thoroughly enjoy this part of the practice because it embraces their competitive nature and allows them to work on that sweet crossover or euro-step in a game. Most of the time, I have more than ten players attending practice, so we also engage in games such as 3-on-3-on-3 that way all my athletes are getting the chance to work on their skills and not having to be sitting for long periods of time.
Cool Down (Total time: 5-10 minutes)
This part of the practice is also very important and as a coach right now, I am known for always skipping this portion. A cool down is important because it allows the body to decrease in temperature and static stretching helps the lactic acid flow through the body. The cool down also helps reduce the injury rate and sore muscles in the morning after the practice. This part of the practice allows the coaches to address the players about how the practice went, upcoming games and tournaments, and any other housekeeping issues.
In conclusion, having a practice schedule is extremely important to have in order to focus the majority of the attention on watching the players and encouraging them during the practice. With that said, coaches should try to develop a practice plan each and every time they practice. By having a practice plan, coaches will help their athletes improve at a faster rate, have organization throughout the practice, and the practices will be more efficient.
The absolute bottom line in coaching is organization and preparing for practice. – Bill Walsh
Let me know what you think by posting your comments, thoughts, and opinions below. How do you execute your practices?
Chery Bennett is the Domestic Development Intern at Canada Basketball. She is currently pursuing her Graduate Certificate in Sport Business Management at Humber College, and has a passion for basketball and a former athlete within the sport.