We know practice planning is important. So, too, is practice structure, which is something quite different.
Yes, every coach needs to learn to plan what goes into a practice. But what goes into it and when and why are the hallmarks of the more complete coach. For instance, let’s examine a really difficult practice situation. You’ve just returned from an out-of-town tournament a couple of hours away. Your team played five games in less than 72 hours, having reached the semifinals on Sunday afternoon. Then you’ve got a practice on Monday evening and a game Tuesday.
What form does that practice take? The kids are physically and probably mentally spent. While a practice is expected to have certain elements like warm up, technical instruction, tactical instruction, fun and cool down, this particular one presents a special challenge.
What do you do when your team is playing four league games and has five practices over a ten-day span? How do you temper your own enthusiasm to teach lots of cool things with what the kids will be able to absorb?
And in recreational hockey, it’s not unusual for a team to go two or three weeks without a practice, then have a couple bundled in one weekend.
These are instances where the practice structure needs to change, sometimes to the extreme. I’ve seen coaches who, in similar situations, ran slow warm-ups, a couple of simple technical drills, a cross-ice small area game, then sent them off the ice 15 minutes early. There’ve been coaches of older teams, say bantam and up, who did some base tactical and positioning work and finished with some kind of fun activity like a shoot out.
That recreational level coach has to practically hit the “reset learning and expectations” button when the team goes so long without a practice.
We need to keep in mind that no one but the coach, who’s spent every minute with the team, knows how much the kids can handle. For the most part, they know when enough is enough or too much. Where things break down a bit though is how to reformulate the practice structure to take the situation into account as well as conditioning and learning principles. As well, how intense should practices at awkward times be? How hard should the drills be?
There can’t be any one answer to any of these questions simply because we’re dealing with a wide spectrum of abilities and ages. Still, there are some key points a coach needs build in. Next week, I’ll delve into some of those.
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