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Preparing for Coaching Practice

One unspoken fear that holds many parents back from volunteering to coach youngsters is uncertainty about how to organize and run an efficient practice session for kids. That's a shame, too, because putting together a crackerjack practice for kids in any sport needs only the following ingredients:

  • Preparing in advance

  • Managing the practice time

  • Coaching by walking around

  • Planning "spontaneous" drills during practices

  • Having fun

Whether you're coaching the local swim team, a soccer club, or a peewee basketball team, an efficient and productive practice session starts with your preparation to ensure that the practice is worthwhile. Nothing is more boring or nonproductive than a practice session in which the coach simply stands around, circles the kids together, and says, "Okay, gang, what do you want to do today?" That's a sure sign that the coach isn't prepared.

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Instead, prepare for your practice using the following steps:

1. Several days before your practice session, take out a sheet of paper and a pencil.

2. Think about the last game the team played, or if they haven't played a game yet, determine in your mind which basic skills they have to develop in order to improve.

3. Jot down a quick list of those skills and drills you want to cover.

4. Keep in mind your total practice time available, and then block out 5-, 10-, or 15-minute blocks of time for each drill.

5. From there, start mapping out the order of your practice session.

For example, assume that you have practice on Saturday morning, and the practice time lasts for one hour and 15 minutes, or a total of 75 minutes. You have chosen six skills to cover. Spending 15 minutes on each skill will take 15 minutes more than you have. If you allow 15 minutes for three drills and 10 minutes for the other three, you allow no time for rest in between.

A more realistic plan may be to practice only five skills or to spend only 10 minutes on each skill so that the kids can take breathers and you can conduct some team business.

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Dividing your practice sessions into regimented segments or blocks of time allows you to keep to your schedule. It also ensures that the team works on all the drills they need to, and keeps the action moving along at a brisk pace. Be sure to bring a watch with you to every practice!

Here's a sample practice schedule for a youth basketball team:

First 5 minutes:

Two laps and simple calisthenics to stretch and loosen up.

Next 5 minutes:

A quick review of what the team did well and not so well last game. Always talk about the team -- never an individual player.

Next 5 minutes:

A simple drill, perhaps a line of lay-ups.

Next 5 minutes:

Defensive stance and lateral movement.

Next 10 minutes:

Rebounding and how to box out opponents.

Next 10 minutes:

Free-throw shooting.

Next 10 minutes:

Passing drills and how to hit the open player.

Next 10 minutes:

Running offensive plays and teaching basic give-and-go.

Last 15 minutes:

Controlled scrimmage.

75 minutes:

Total practice time

This simple act of thinking ahead about what the team has to work on makes each practice run smoothly and gives the kids a solid sense of progress toward their goals. Even better, when the session ends, you walk away with the self-satisfaction that your outline worked and that the action moved quickly.

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