A practice plan is not the same as practice structure.
As a rule, we do a decent job of showing coaches what constitutes a basic practice plan, that there are elements practices must have. We see outlines in coaching clinics, manuals, and online. There shouldn’t be a minor coach in Canada who doesn’t know it.
Structure, however, takes that fundamental plan and shapes it to situations and times of the season. It takes into account fitness principles like intensity of drills, game schedules, numbers of players attending and other variables.
Therefore the structure of practices is largely variable. Competitive level teams with multiple practices per week may devote large chunks of each or even entire practices to certain skills or tactics. Yes, the principles of practice still need to be there: fitness, fun, feedback and so on. I recall seeing one coach not long ago who spent nearly an entire early season practice on team play without having ever introduced individual or small group tactics first. It didn’t work. The practice was ponderous and boring.
Let’s say a coach wants to steer away from the routine practice structure and just do flow drills one evening. Why not? As long as the drills are age and level appropriate and there are sufficient feedback interventions, it should work. It’s an atypical structure but there’s a reason for it. Similarly, a coach decides to forego drills entirely and just have small area games. As long as the reasons are justified (eg. increase the compete level of a AA or AAA team), this is also acceptable.
Along this same line of atypical practices, a coach wants to devote the entire session to puck handling and passing drills. Does the coach understand that, while skill work is important, it can become tedious? This practice will need a mix of high and low intensity drills with some challenges in order to keep the players engaged. Basic drills won’t cut it for long. Moreover, skill work needs to be fun. What kid wants to work at something that is, well, work?
With a practice, there have to be ebbs and flows. The rest periods are an obvious low intensity point as are the coaching interventions, when feedback is given. But even then, a coach may choose to have a flow drill run for 10 minutes with no stoppages and instruction given only at the beginning of it.
What’s wrong with a practice that has nine 5-minute drills? Nothing, even though the structure is contrary to the norm.
Is a coach wrong to have a practice with all high-intensity drills of varying types? Again, no, because we can’t tell at first glance the rationale behind this different structure. Perhaps the coach has a stretch of two weeks with no games and five practices, so he/she feels it necessary to maintain some intensity and an “edge.”
It’s okay to fiddle with practice structure if it’s for the right reasons.
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