How many things do you think get accomplished during a practice? You would be surprised at how important that time is to the team, the the functioning of the team and to your season plan. Here are just a few things that I can think of occur when on the practice field.
- a time to developing team culture
- a time to finding out who is injured
- a time to be social
- a time to get to know the parents under less stressful conditions
- a time for athletes to ask questions
- a time to discuss future activities
- a time less stressful time discuss any concerns with the team
- a time for skill acquisition and refinement
- a time to prepare for your next competition
Softball Practice Planning
One of the most important things to ensure that your practice runs smoothly and without confusion is preparation. This to some degree actually starts when you are preparing for your season and considering the milestones that your team would like to accomplish when you and your team look back on the year. The second consideration when planning out your practice would be what you already know the team needs to work on. A third consideration would be any feedback that you may have received from players after your last meeting or competition.
Then you need to look at the resources you have available for your practice session. Where is the practice going to be? What equipment or facilities do you have available for the practice? How many assistants or helpers do you have and to what capacity do you have them? Do you need to research any information with regard to the technical or tactical components that you will be working with during your practice?
Your athletes also need to be considered. How many will be attending the practice? What are the skill levels of your players? Are there any variations in skill levels with your players? What is the work ethic of the athletes? What is the psychological state of the team? Will there be any distractions? Are your players taking part in other activities in addition to playing ball that might be a distraction? How is their off the field environment, school, home, friends etc.?
Wow. That is a lot to consider when planning your practice. Many might feel that a practice is simply a rehearsal of skills and almost a warm-up for an upcoming competition. To some degree it is however it is much more than that. Everything we do as coaches in preparation for that practice and during the practice is going to have an effect on the season and the team that we are leading for the season.
Now… what is the time frame and how do you add all of that into the 1.5 – 2 hours. It is suggested that anything over 2 hours is when you begin to lose the focus of your athletes particularly in the younger stages. It is better to have a practice and then a break and return to the field in order to maximize the retention and to keep your players focused and engaged for the practice. If you are running an additional practice the warm-up can be much shorter as everyone will likely still be warmed-up to some degree from the previous one as long as the time in between does not exceed 30 minutes.
When explaining drills and concepts to the team try to be short and concise. A practice is just that. Practice. The more time spent talking and explaining, the less time there is for actually doing the drills. If you need to, consider how you will be explaining the drills and information so that there are as few words as possible but they make sense. If you need to have a skill demonstrated use an athlete that is good at it if you are not. And you might not be. Not all of us coaches played in college and there is nothing at all wrong with that. You can even use different players for the demo. Notice which skills the players are good at, and use them so that you can promote players confidence. If you rotate around the group through the season you will avoid the perception of favoritism and it will help players to feel a part of the process. We don’t ALWAYS have to be the center of attention 🙂
It is critical that you end practice on time. We all know how tempting it is to run one more drill or to explain one more tactic. We ask our players to follow our schedule so we need to also follow it. There is not much more frustrating than being a player (or a parent) that is waiting for the “OK see you next time” 🙂 It is known that when the buzzer goes, we no longer have the full attention of our team as they are already on their way to their next destination. I guarantee also that if your players know they get to go when the time is up then they will be much more focused during all of the activities because they know the parameters and that they are not going to change.
It is a good idea as well to have some activities hidden away up your sleeve so that if you finish early you can throw one in to fill the time. It may be too that the team is not responding the way that the drill is intended or perhaps they are not ready for the activities you have planned. You need to recognize the signs of this and be willing to change the direction of the lesson to accommodate the environment. It is common for new coaches to feel that they need to follow the plan to a “T” and not deviate at all from it. This can be stressful for you and the players will notice it. Flexibility is critical to ensuring a good solid practice that everyone with take something away from …. including you.
The Warm Up
The warm up pre-game activities should be dynamic, fun and involve all muscle groups that will be used during practice. Which in this game generally means all of them.
Sample Dynamic Warm Up Activities
- arm circles 10-15 sec. (1 in each direction)
- straight leg kicks 30 X 2
- leg swings 10 – 15 seconds (each leg)
- high knee walk 30 x 2
- butt kickers 30 x 2
- lunge walk – forwards and backwards
- 60 ft at 25%
- 60 ft at 50%
- 60 ft at 75%
- 60 ft at 100%
In order to ensure that your players are able to get the best benefit out of the activities you have planned for them, begin with the tough tasks first. This will allow for the best comprehension as the minds are fresh and ready to go. Schedule the simple and routine activities for after new tasks so that they feel pumped and ready to attack the drills with confidence.
Catch them doing something right
look for opportunities to commend the players. Everyone does something well and one of our jobs is to ensure that the athletes know that. Encourage the team to give positive comments to each other and discourage the opposite as we all know can occur.
The most important part of the practice is the easiest. If you can allow yourself to do it. HAVE FUN! We are all in this amazing sport because it is challenging, it includes others in the activity, it requires thinking, and there are many opportunities for success. Does it get any better? When your players know you are having fun it is much easier for them to have fun because they are not tense and know that they can relax and go for it. If they are afraid to take risks because they feel that you will get angry with them then it will inhibit their abilities that may be better what you see due to the player being afraid of your reactions.