The Pace of Practice

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Name of blog
Blog author Bob Walsh
Blog post date 2012/10/11
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The Pace of Practice

One thing I feel a lot of coaches overlook is the pace and tempo of their practice. Coaches will spend a lot of time preparing a practice plan, but when they do I'm not sure they spend enough time on the tempo of the practice and how it will flow from one segment to the next.

The pace of practice is important because you are trying to best represent the intensity your team is going to find in a game. Challenging your guys consistently at practice, moving quickly from drill to drill, is the best way to do this. You want the intensity of practice to remain at a high level, and if there is a short period of dead time from drill to drill you break that intensity. It's amazing how often I see this at different practices I go to - coaches taking a break to talk, drills taking a long time to be set up, players drifting in and out with their focus and intensity. The tempo of the practice gets fractured, and the kids have a hard time maintaining the intensity.

There is so much in a practice that can be sorted out before you get on the floor. How many teams you are going to have for drills, and who is on which team, is one of them. It's amazing how much practice slows down while the head coach tries to figure out what teams he wants in his head. You can sort out the teams you need and the partners you want for drills before practice and keep it on the practice plan, or even have an assistant do it. You are making practice much less efficient if you don't take care of this stuff ahead of time.

Another way to keep the pace of practice up is to let your players sub themselves. So much time is wasted when the head coach starts to sort out in his head who he wants to get reps and what combinations he wants to play together. I don't see how a couple of more reps with certain groups is worth the tempo of your practice slowing down the way it does. Let your guys come in and out, and don't constantly stop practice to arrange certain teams. If you have combinations you want to see, let the players or assistant coaches know what you are looking for before practice, or mention it to them as the practice is moving. The pace of practice is too valuable to have it affected by certain combinations that you want to see. There are ways to take care of these combinations ahead of time without sacrificing the tempo.

When you put practice together, you should plan it in segments that will flow well into one another. Find the drills that complement each other and are easy to get into from one to the next. If you need certain teams for drills, group those drills together with the same teams, so you aren't constantly stopping to change teams or set up the drills. You want to avoid those 30 second to one minute lulls in practice that consistently let the kids to cool off and mentally shut it down. You can take care of a lot of that with the way you plan practice.

I'm not saying practice should never slow down. You need to give your guys a break, and you should build that in to practice. But when it's time to give them some water, stop everything and tell them to get a drink for two minutes. Give them a break that mirrors the kind of breaks they will get in a game. But clearly define when it's okay for them to shut it off and take the break, so they don't get comfortable with a lower level of intensity during the actual practice. When practice starts again, make it definitive so they know the right level of intensity is expected immediately.

If you keep the tempo of practice up throughout, your are demanding that your guys make decisions and compete in drills at a high level of intensity. You aren't asking them to turn it on and off, you want them to keep it on the entire time. You control the work rate that they have to prepare at, and get them comfortable making decisions under high intensity. Great effort, focus and intensity are expected from drill to drill without any break. You will also make your practices much more efficient, spending less time to get more done.

Take a close look at the pace and tempo of your practices. There is a lot that you have to pay attention to as a head coach, but the pace you practice at is very important and often gets overlooked.