Every good coach knows that the success or failure of their training sessions is dependent on proper planning and preparation. That being said, it is essential that coaches design their practices in such a way that’s going to lead to a high level of learning. In this article, I want to discuss some practice planning ideas, as well as how to effectively structure your sessions in such a way that your teaching will have a positive effect on those you coach.
There are four steps to planning an effective practice session:
- The teacher demonstrates the skills that is to be worked on.
- The teacher demonstrates the skill that is being worked on, but also adds a few different errors. This helps the student recognize the common errors so they know what not to do.
- The athlete will begin practicing the skill while the teacher interjects and adds helpful teaching points along the way.
- The athlete performs a drill independently with little stops from the coach.
The very first thing that a good coach will do when it comes to planning a practice session is begin with the end in mind. Beginning with the end in mind means knowing what you want to accomplish in the session before you plan how you actually get there. Here are the steps that I suggest that you take.
- State the desired outcome.
- State where the player is before the session starts.
- List the steps that will need to be taken to close the gap between the two.
- Ask yourself if this is doable.
- If the answer is yes, get right to work. If the answer is no, go back and think of a different objective.
- Repeat the steps as necessary.
If the coach does not know where they want to take the player, it will take an insane amount of time to take the player anywhere productive. The coach may arrive somewhere good, but the path taken will rarely be the most efficient. It is important to note that there’s always an opportunity costs associated with player development. Anytime a coach elect’s to work on a certain skill, they are doing so at the expense of working on a different skill. For that very reason, it is essential that the coach selects the most important skill to work on in a session, rather than trying to cover too many things all at once.
Now that we know what the desired outcome and objective of the session is, the next step is to draw the roadmap as to how we will get there.
The roadmap must begin with establishing context for the skill. This is done so that the athlete understands the purpose behind practicing this skill. All good coaches begin their session with some type of “hook”. A “hook” can be a small-sided game that calls for execution of the skill, showing that skill in action from professional or college game, or the coach sharing a story about a success or failure they had any game that depended upon the proper execution of the skill. This is essential for the session because it sets the table by showing the reason why the skill is being worked on, and why the execution of this technique is essential to being a successful basketball player. A “hook” can be a fantastic way to get the players energized, engaged, and locked in before the session starts.
In the demonstration phase, it is essential that the coach break the skill down into a list of parts to help the student remember how to do the skill. This helps draw the athlete’s attention to the key aspects of the skill. It is important that coaches make this list “sticky” because human beings are not able to remember tons and tons of information for a long period of time. Giving too much information hurts rather than helps. When I use the word “sticky”, I’m referring to a memorable, short, and succinct phrase that helps draw all the athlete’s attention towards the most important aspects of the skill. Having these points also helps the coach provide feedback throughout the workout because they allow the coach to provide focused and succinct feedback. This feedback can either be corrective or praising, but it must be focused on the task list. By making a “sticky” list of teaching cues that works for the individual player, the player is able to remember and execute the key points of the skill with efficiency.
It is vital that this teaching phase is kept brief, as we want to maximize the amount of the time that the player is doing rather than watching. This concept is referred to as “time on task”. Time on task is the amount of time in a lesson that the student is actively engaged in practicing the skill at hand. All too often, coaches make themselves the focal point of the lesson by spending the majority of time talking when the student should be practicing. This is a crime in coaching. The best coaches are those that help the athlete learn by doing. Is there a place for demonstration? Of course, but it is vital that the demonstration remain as one small aspect of player development.
There are two ways to demonstrate a skill. The easiest way to do this is for the coach to demonstrate the skill. If the coach does not feel comfortable demonstrating the skill, or is unable to do so effectively, it is best that they show the athlete video of a high-level athlete executing the same skill. As you can imagine, taking the time to create a film edit in which the skill that is desired is shown can be time-consuming. That being said, many athletes enjoy watching a high-level athlete that they admire performing the skill and it can serve as a memorable hook that sets the table for the upcoming player development session.
Once the coach has created a list of steps that are necessary for the athlete to execute the skill in the proper fashion, the coach must also think of two or three common errors that may occur and, as well as plan for how they’ll be corrected. Anytime that there is a lack of understanding or an impurity in the technique of a skill, the coach must correct the problem immediately. Letting a problem go on for a large amount time will only make it harder to fix it in the future. It is best to show these common errors in your demonstration so the athlete understands what it looks like to get the skill wrong, and also knows how to get the skill right. This comparing and contrasting will help enhance the learning of the athlete. Showing the athlete errors and allowing them to help make corrections is the second phase of teaching. This phase is known as the “I do and you help method”.
Once these steps have been completed, the athlete must begin to get repetitions. We all know that people learn best by doing, and for that reason it is essential that coaches allow athlete multiple opportunities to learn in this way.
When you first enter this stage, it is vital that you introduce the skill with drills that do not place a load on the athlete that is too high above their skill level. The coach wants to structure every drill so that it correlates perfectly with the level of mastery that the athlete is currently stationed at. This is done by selecting an activity that is on the edges of that athlete’s ability. If coaches only do drills that allow the player to experience a high level of success, it is unlikely that any growth will occur. However, if coaches allow the athlete to engage and participate in drills that stretch them and cause them to think and struggle, the athlete will learn and grow.
Once the athlete has a good grasp on what they are doing, it is time to get game repetitions in. As I mentioned earlier in this article, the strongest way for the athlete that truly learn is by doing. A good coach makes themselves progressively more and more unnecessary, and thus in doing so, the coach provides the athletes with drills and strategies that they can do on their own time, as well as with the coach. There is no secret to success. If an athlete is going to excel in a certain skill, they’re going to have to practice for hours and hours and hours, both with and without a coach present.
The coach must equip the athletes with solutions and techniques that the athlete can apply on their own time so they can maximize their practice sessions. The above-listed method of teaching a skill provides the athletes with those tools.
Before the session concludes, the coach ought to give the athlete a test that provides an accurate picture of where they are in their mastery. This can be a drill that is done for time, for a certain number of makes or for any other scoring strategy. This also serves as a way to have the athlete play while they are tired and the pressure is a little higher.
As you may have noticed, I’ve used the word “mastery” often in this article. All too often, coaches make the mistake doing too much in a workout. Simplicity is the best strategy. Doing many things in one workout gives the coach the illusion of speed. The “illusion of speed” is another way of saying “activity without achievement”. Real speed is shown by mastery. A good coach wants the athlete to practice the skill until they can not get it wrong. Getting it right every now and then and moving on to many new things is not an effective player development strategy. If a student cannot master a skill in practice, is absolutely unrealistic to think they’ll have any success in a game. True speed and true success is measured in the contribution that the athlete is able to make in a competitive game situation.