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Early Season Practices and What to Focus On

Early Season Practices and What to Focus On

I wrote this article a few years ago and wanted to share it as it still contains some valuable ideas about what coaches should be focused on during the early part of their seasons

Early season practices- Habits of great coaches

In our discussions with MIAA coaches, the number one mistake they see youth league coaches make is to focus too much on running the X’s and O’s and not focus enough on skills and fundamentals. Players are reaching the HS level without a solid foundation of skills. Unfortunately, too many youth league coaches spend the majority of their practices on running plays rather than working on stickwork skills and groundballs. Sure, their teams may be able to run a clear or ride better which may lead to more goals and victories but are they doing their players harm by not focusing on fundamentals? Sure, their teams may win the championship because they run intricate plays on offense but can all of the players catch and throw with both hands? Can their players develop their own “game sense” and athletic IQ? Do they exhibit proper defensive fundamentals? Will they learn to look for odd-man opportunities and how to exploit them? What happens to that player when they leave that team and play for someone else? Will they have the skills to contribute to that new team? Youth league coaches feel that by winning a championship, their players are in a better position to jump to the next level. Unfortunately, the manup plays and rides etc… will not follow with the players to that next level, but the skills and fundamentals will travel.

Plan out the preseason practice and write down all of the areas that you will need to have in place. Look at how many practices before 1st game and figure out a logical progression of what you want to focus on. Do you really need to have 5 manup plays and 3 types of offensive sets? You can certainly add those others into the game plan as the season progresses. What can you focus on to best prepare your team and players for success. For example, while focusing on fundamentals, you can build up progressions into 6v6 situations. Coaches can add more pieces to shooting and passing drills/activities. It’s all about logical progressions and building up to 6v6 or full field.

Make all activities more game-like and competitive. Learning to be competitive is a skill that coaches need to teach every day in practice. Plus, it brings energy and fun to practice.

Any 3v2, 4v3, 5v4 and 6v6 should also start with a groundball and 2 passes. If players learn that after scooping a groundball they need to quickly move the ball with a pass and that receiver needs to also quickly pass, they will learn about the importance of shifting the defense.

Name your drills/activities. Kids love to have names for all of the activities that you do in practice. It gives them a special bond with their team mates in that outsiders/parents will not understand. It gives them a little more ownership.
Instead of calling it the “5 Star Passing Drill”, name it “Army Drill”. A 4v3 transition drill can be called, “Hopkins Drill” Of course, when you call out the next drill, say, “Bulldog!!”, you might have to quickly explain, “that 4 person shooting drill!”

Keep the activities/drills short with minimal time in between. Most will be under 10 minutes. If you have enough coaches, stations work well, especially with the younger players. Make sure that the stations are independent, but not random of each other. The stations should relate to that practices’ focus. For example, if the focus is going to be on groundballs followed by two passes and really trying to instill this in the players, then the stations might have 1-2 groundball activities, 1-2 quick passing stations and 1-2 passing on the run stations.

If you are working on running some clears or manup plays and these are scheduled to go for 15 minutes, what happens if your team isn’t “getting it”? Do you continue until they do, while skipping over the rest of the practice? Most HS and college coaches agree that it’s best to stay on schedule. If the players aren’t getting a drill or situation in 10 minutes, they won’t be getting it in 30 minutes. Make a mental note to revisit that activity the next practice and be prepared to see success. It’s amazing that the same drill flounders on one day but quickly works the next.

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