Coaching Today

Structuring Practice Sessions

 By Tim Ottmann, CAA

Structuring Practice SessionsPractice planning is essential to the success of a sport. Developing a good practice structure and constantly evaluating and revising your practice plan can help you get the most out of your athletes. Below are some suggestions when it comes to planning practices.

  1. Start practice at an odd time, for example 2:56 p.m. instead of 3 p.m. By starting practice at an odd time, more athletes will pay attention to the start time and be on time more often.
  2. Have specific goals in mind for every practice. Write them down and share them with your athletes before practice begins.
  3. Meet briefly with your athletes before and after practice. Review the goals and expectations for that practice prior to starting. At the end of practice, bring them together and comment on the day’s practice and give them important information about upcoming events.
  4. Limit your practices to two hours in length or shorter. It’s difficult to keep their attention span and quality of effort much beyond two hours.
  5. Whenever possible, group kids according to age, size and ability for drills and scrimmaging.
  6. Have a written practice plan for every practice and follow the schedule as close as you can. Keep these schedules in a notebook to refer to during the year, or from one season to the next.
  7. Build in time for more experienced athletes to teach those who aren’t as skilled.
  8. Don’t post your practice schedule. When the practice schedule is posted, kids pace themselves and save their energy for the strength/conditioning part of practice.
  9. Build in natural water breaks whenever possible.
  10. Have your athletes wear a practice uniform. This takes the guess work out of what’s acceptable practice apparel, and portrays a more professional image.
  11. Have a good mix of drills, skill work and competition built into each practice and  keep your athletes moving. Also, vary the structure of practice to help keep kids interested and motivated.
  12. Practices should get shorter and shorter as the season progresses. This also keeps kids motivated and reduces injury.
  13. Practice the day of competition, but not very long. This allows your athletes to “blow their lungs out” prior to the actual competition, which will result in greater success.
  14. Put team captains in charge of a specific part of practice. This gives them the opportunity to develop their leadership skills.
  15. Bring in experts every once in a while just for a change of pace. They may say the same things as you, but because it’s someone different it will have a bigger impact.
  16. Have a backup practice plan in case of inclement weather or facility conflict.

About the Author: Tim Ottmann, CAA, is the assistant principal/athletic director at Ponderosa High School in Parker, Colorado. 


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