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Practice is precious. This is the time when athletes master the fundamentals, develop and hone their skills, and learn to play together as a team. It may sound cliche but practice is really where games are won. As a former collegiate athlete and captain, I constantly thought about what my teammates and I could do to make practice as effective and efficient as possible. Whether your team practices once a week or every day, it is important to make the most out of the time spent. Here are 5 tips to making sure that you and your team get the most out of practice.
1. Preparation is key
It starts long before stepping foot on the field (ice, court, or mat…). Encourage your players to get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, eat a high energy meal and leave time to digest. They should make sure that all of their equipment is ready to go. These things aren’t just important for game day, they are also necessary for practice. By minimizing all of the distractions that could hinder performance (being hungry, tired, unprepared) athletes set themselves up to play their best.
2. Set goals
It’s hard to measure improvement when you don’t know what you are working on. Encourage your team to decide on a few things that they want to improve on before every practice. Players should set individual goals as well. Have them focus on small and specific things such as changing a stance. This gives kids a source of motivation and purpose and is easier to work on than a more general goal such as scoring a certain number of points. Patrick Cohn, author of The Ultimate Sports Parent blog, did a great post on this idea of mini-goals: Help Sports Kids Set Goals Without Expectations.
3. Warm up
Preparing the body for competition is crucial to having a good practice so always set aside the first 10-15 minutes of practice for warm up. If your players skip the warm up, they will not be at their best for the first hour of practice and have a much higher risk of getting injured. You can choose to do the same routine every time or you can change it up with different drills and plyometrics. Just make sure to get the muscles warm, the heart pumping, and to always stretch.
4. Change it up
It’s important to practice like you play and no game is ever the same. Obviously you may prefer to keep a certain structure to practice but try to change it up by introducing different drills and games throughout the season. You can ask the players for their input and have them choose the next drill. Every once in a while, throw in some cross-training with different sports that incorporate the same fundamentals of communication, field awareness, and endurance.
You already set goals at the beginning of practice, now is the time to reflect as a team and individually to see if they were achieved. Bring the team together after practice to stretch and talk about what went well and what could be done better. You could even discuss things to work on at the next practice. Everyone appreciates a little pat on the back so try to balance constructive criticism with positive feedback.
Do you have suggestions for making the most out of practice time? Post a comment and share your ideas.