“Novices argue tactics, and experts argue logistics”
~Erwin Rommel, WWII German General
Former Los Angeles Laker head coach Pat Riley once said that he would spend three hours planning a three-hour practice. I have no doubt that a significant portion of this planning time was spent detailing practice activities. I am equally confident that substantial attention was paid to the order of events, coaching staff assignments, statistical information to be taken, time allotment for each task, etc. In a recent blog post, I presented five “time sucks” guaranteed to waste time inside a training session. In this post, I will recommend five items to consider implementing to foster the efficient use of practice time.
Practice is the most critical time a coach will spend with a team. The practice preparation and time management process is arguably the most crucial aspect of the coaching process. The level you’ll play in tournaments is based on what is accomplished in practice. Therefore, practice planning mandates a coach’s best effort to perform in the most professional manner. If the court coach cannot devote sufficient time to this process due to other time commitments, the club director or a lead coach must provide the framework for a good training session.
Front-load the Practice Content to the Players
The night before practice, use the available high-tech options to communicate the content of the upcoming practice to the team. Include technique keywords, video of the offensive or defensive concepts/techniques to be practiced, upcoming scouting reports, statistical goals for practice, etc. Every player should walk into practice with full knowledge of the information they should be responsible for knowing (for example, “what are the three keywords we use for the forearm pass?). The process of front-loading information will save lengthy and time-consuming explanations. Quizzing players on daily practice content will keep them on the “edge of their seat” and foster their practice readiness.
Use Practice Tools to Assist in Time Management
I use a whistle to quickly get the team’s attention or move on to the next drill. This form of communication has been discouraged as being too authoritarian. Perhaps so, but it sure does save time. I write the practice schedule on a whiteboard that details the activity, teams, partners, time increments, statistical goals, etc. All drills should be at an uptempo pace. The slower the pace of the practice, the more the players’ minds will wander. Players should be aware of ball chasing and drill administration duties. If possible, have a name for a drill or activity. Having names for activities will reduce the time spent on explanations.
Spend Substantial Time in Pre-Practice Planning Logistics
If you want an excellent example of effective practice logistics, observe any college football team in a practice session. You will see a finely tuned logistical machine. No time is wasted, everyone is aware of the order of events, and when a horn sounds, the players know exactly what is next on the agenda. When planning a training session, the focus of many volleyball coaches is the content of practice. Rightfully so! However, the challenge is to blend good content with managing time efficiently. To succeed in this area, the coach must focus on practice logistics.
- Make sure necessary equipment is ready and located in the correct area of the gym. If you use boxes, have them on the correct court and easily accessible.
- Are towels, stat sheets, computers, and scoreboards ready to go?
- Effective management of support personnel. Who will keep score, take stats? Who is setting up the camera(s), and where do you want the camera located? Is there any aspect of the session that needs to be recorded from a different camera angle?
- During what portion of practice are stats being taken?
There is no doubt there are other items, but I’m sure you catch my thought pattern. Don’t waste time arranging logistical items during practice. Staff members should have their assignments relative to the logistical organization. Developing a practice checklist will assist in making sure nothing is overlooked.
Feedback on the Fly
Practice is the time for quality repetitions, not to listen to the coach pontificate about some aspect of the game. Make your expectations known at the start of the activity; then, all feedback is done while the activity continues. If you need to speak with a player, pull the player out while allowing the activity to proceed. If another court is available, take a player to get some focused repetitions, then plug them back into the drill. Use video as an essential feedback tool. Have a monitor close to the court so non-participating players can observe their performance in drills and receive feedback from the staff. Extended feedback by the coach is accomplished outside the practice environment.
Post Practice Evaluation and Debrief
Coaches should review the practice from an organizational, logistical, and performance perspective. Too often, if coaches evaluate practice at all, they restrict their evaluation to a player or team performance without questioning the organization of the drill, the order of activities in practice, or if the practice achieved the stated objectives. It is time well spent for the coaching staff to view practice video from both an organizational and time management perspective. Could a drill have been organized better? Did the coach spend too much time talking instead of the players being active? What modifications might be in order moving forward? Did the players receive sufficient contacts to improve? If not, why not? Drill organization? Time allotted? What is on the agenda for the next practice? Lastly, organize the pre-practice planning and front-loading information for the players for the following session.
There is no question that this level of planning takes time. However, if the logistics of practice are in place, the chances of having a productive session are increased.