4 Keys for Better Practice Planning

As a coach, your job entails many aspects of both managing and teaching. This article will focus on key practice planning strategies to help you maintain team motivation, manage fatigue, and prepare your players for peak performance at the right time.

A seasonal practice plan should be based on:

The skills required for the sport

The athletes’ current level of skill attainment

What must be taught to improve performance

Optimal times for physical and tactical improvements

By creating a season practice plan, coaches can pace themselves to introduce new skills and increased difficulty during practice. Without such a guide, coaches will lose track of when they first introduced a skill, how much time they have spent cultivating that new ability, and when they need to add on.

The first thing a coach should do when creating a practice plan is to recognize the optimal times to work on physical and tactical improvements.

This means that a coach must look at the season as a whole and identify which times, such as at the beginning of a season, at a low point after a few games, or right before a championship, that will be optimal learning times for the team. During these times, coaches can most effectively drill players on new skills physically and improve processes tactically.

There are certainly right and wrong times to make improvements. When the team is gearing up and getting to know one another, they will be more receptive to changes in processes, drills, and sequences.

This is an excellent time to institute changes. In the middle of a streak of games, where the team is doing well, they will be less willing to try new things, because what they already have is working for them. Even though you may see problems and want to address them, your team may not be in the mindset to appropriately respond and make the necessary changes. For that reason, it is better to wait a while until everyone can step back and evaluate how things are going.

Once a coach recognizes the optimal time to make changes, they should create a practice plan based on periodization. This means that a coach sticks with one thing for a while before making a change or addition. There are periods to the season that must be respected in order to get the best performance out of players. When creating the actual practice plan, coaches should keep the following benchmarks in mind.

Establish Your Objectives

Any practice plan should be established to meet outcomes in the following areas:

Skill development

Knowledge of the sport

Physical conditioning

Personal social development

These outcomes are essential to creating and maintaining an effective, healthy team. By focusing not just on the physical but also the social and emotional side of youth sports, you will be more able to meet the needs of your assistant coaches, parents, and players.

To determine your outcomes, take a look at your team as a whole and identify the weak spots. What has your team notoriously done poorly? Where has it excelled? What can you as a coach do to pace your players and ensure that they improve during the year?

Monthly, Weekly and Daily Plans

Thus far, we have only discussed seasonal practice plans to reach seasonal goals. However, to reach your seasonal goals, you will need to create shorter-term practice plans.

When creating these monthly, weekly, and daily practice plans, keep your seasonal practice plan and seasonal goals in front of you, visible and able to be referenced. Start backward, working from the seasonal to the monthly to the weekly and finally to the daily. This makes it easier to break things into sections and periods, as discussed earlier.

Each monthly plan should address the major points of the seasonal plan and specifically relate to the seasonal goals. Monthly plans are going to be more detailed than seasonal plans, but they should not break things down into how a practice is going to be run or get into the nitty-gritty that we will discuss with the daily plans.

Weekly plans will, of course, be more detailed than monthly plans. They should also address the seasonal goals, but they should do so in a more immediate sense. Weekly plans should have more specific goals and objectives, and those goals and objectives should be tied to dates, numbers, or some other quantifiable measure.

Daily plans are the most specific, the most immediate, and the farthest removed from the seasonal goals. They are working, together as a whole, to achieve the seasonal goals, but it is obvious that in one day, your team will not improve enough to reach their entire goal.

For this reason, the daily plans should focus on specific skills, pieces of knowledge, and processes that you want the team to come away with. When you put all your daily plans together, you should see your weekly and monthly plans fleshed out; in other words, they should correlate exactly, so that you are supporting your larger-term goals with your daily activities.

How Much Time for Skill Development?

Basically, all practice plans need to be realistic. As a coach, you know what your players are capable of, and you know how fast they improve, on average. Take this knowledge, which may be inherent or carefully studied, and apply it to your practice plan.

By creating a plan that allows enough time for development and improvement, you create a sense of reasonableness in your team and invite everyone to participate in the plan. If you set goals and expectations that are clearly unattainable or daunting, your team will back away from taking part in the exercise for fear of failing.

To help determine an accurate time for skill development, take a look at past seasons and the time it took players to learn new things. Watch other teams throughout their seasons and do your research. Pay attention to the complexity of the skills you are focusing on, and develop a goal of when you want your players to be proficient in that skill. From there, build a plan that allows players to achieve that goal through work and repetition.

Getting Buy-In From Your Staff and Team

You do not coach in a vacuum, and you should not create plans in a vacuum either. Invite collaboration and input from assistant coaches. They, like you, have the interests of the team as a whole in mind and will help you create realistic timelines based on their intimate knowledge with the abilities of the team and the current skill level.

Sharing the practice plans with athletes helps them set important expectations. Just like having a course syllabus in school, having a practice plan helps athletes prepare themselves for important events and deadlines.

It also helps them set their own expectations about how hard they will have to work at certain times and when they can relax. By sharing this valuable tool, you help parents, athletes, and other coaches recognize and appreciate your vision for the team.