How to Get the Most Out of Your Team Practice

Derek Brown

We ask our players to give their best effort every single day they walk on the court, field or track. We say things like, "If you aren’t going to give me your best today, then don’t come at all", or "When you step inside these lines it is go time, leave everything else going on in your life outside." Constantly reminding them to be prepared to get better in practice, but as a coach, are you orchestrating the team to get the most out of the day as well?

To obtain the excellence you demand, there must be a system in place that helps your athletes succeed. Without the right system it is like demanding greatness from a powerlifter, but only training them with elastic bands and yoga balls. It won’t work. Your team may work hard, but it is up to you to train them smart. Here are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your team practices.

Competition

At some level, every player in their respective sport has a love for competition. It is the driving force that takes them to the next level, and the characteristic we all want to see in our players. You can have them do all of the drills you see in instructional sports videos during the offseason, but team practice is when you fuel that competitive fire.

They work on individual drills to develop their skills regularly, but practice is the only time where the competition of a game can be simulated. It could be as simple as one on one defensive back drills, competitive ball security drills or full blown scrimmaging. Whatever the drill may be, the more you include competition, the more your players will be fully engaged in practice.

Adding more competition gives both the players and coaches a long list of benefits. Players can see how much their individual skill work has improved as well as gain confidence in practice from game-like situations.

As a coach, you can assess the skill-set each player brings to the team and the toughness they will exhibit in the games. We have all heard of the “practice player”, the kid who wins every basketball shooting contest, but as soon as the game starts they disappear. That has a lot to do with the psychology of the player, but the constant simulation of a real game can help them break through the mental barrier tremendously.

Practice without competition is not only boring for your players, but it lacks the one key substance every player and coach thrives off of. Add more competition to practice and you will see a greater sense of urgency, focus and drive amongst your players.

Switch It Up

If you plan to do the same drills, every practice, every day, then you are cheating your players out of getting better. Repetition is key for skill development, remembering plays and understanding the game as a whole. Yes, I agree. However, coming into a practice with the same setup as the day before will become extremely monotonous to your players.

The last thing you want is for your players to lose concentration and begin to “go through the motions”. At some point, they will learn the practice schedule and exploit it because they are not being challenged.

In every sport, there are a plethora of drills, practice schemes, competitions and techniques to choose from. Why not switch it up? Keep your players on their toes and ready to perform for you day in and day out.

As a coach, we like to stick to our philosophies and what we feel works best. That should not keep you from being able to develop practices that fit the same ideals, but with a unique structure.

It is similar to having our players walk into a classroom every day, with the same lesson plan, same structure, and the same practice exam, but expecting them to perform differently on the test. Not going to happen!

Get creative and use your expertise to continue to challenge your players in unique ways. Keep your philosophy but bring it to them with different points of view; you never know which player you might get through to that day.

Build Chemistry

Sorry coach, as much as you want to, you can’t compete for your players. When your team is in the game, it is on their shoulders to work together and come back with the win. Practice is the best time to build that team chemistry.

First, you must develop the camaraderie and build the trust. Put your team through drills that require them to work together to succeed. These drills can be in practice, but can also be incorporated into the weight room, on the track or with team bonding events. It doesn’t matter where these activities take place as long as a strong foundation is established.

Once they have the trust, it is your job to test it. Put them in situations that might arise during the game and see how each player reacts. Do they come together? Do they start to point fingers? Who is the leader?

In team sports, it is crucial to understand the identity of your team and which players will be an extension of you during the game. Building the chemistry and testing it during practice will be your greatest indicator.

Conclusion

Team practice is crucial for your success in pre-season training as well as during the season. The teams who are efficient and can obtain the most benefit from every workout are often the ones who remain on top. Use competition, creativity and trust building drills as much as possible to secure your spot with the best of them.