Practice sessions are an integral part of player development. Players spend more time at practice than at games. One of the soccer teams that I coach practices all year round. When the year is over, they will have attended 111 practice sessions. That is about 160 hours. Compare that to the 63 games that they will compete in. All in all, they will have spent 70% of their time this year in practice.
Since players spend most of their time practicing, we need to make sure that they get the most out of these practice sessions. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your practices.
Always have a plan. Before you get to practice, write down an agenda and use it to conduct your practice. List the activities, the order in which you plan to run them, and the duration. Use the breaks to talk to the players or set up the next activity. Make sure the entire practice time is accounted for. By organizing your practice, players will not be standing around doing nothing.
Get to practice early. This will give you time to set up your first drill. Start on time. If players come late, they will see that they have missed out and will be motivated not to be late again.
Keep attendance. Attendance is an important statistic for a coach. Different coaches have different policies on attendance. I know some coaches who will bench players if they miss all the practices during the week. My own policy is that attendance is not mandatory. However, I stress to all the parents and players that the more practices they attend the faster they will develop. I also use attendance as motivation. For example, players who excel in practices are selected as captains for the next game. No matter what your attendance policy is, keep track of attendance because this information is useful.
Do not let players disrupt practice. I am lucky to have a good group of players on my teams. We rarely have disruptions at practice. The key is to let players know up front that disruptions will not be tolerated. To do this, I implement a three strikes rule. A player gets three warnings before I call their parents to pick them up from practice. Players quickly realize that they are there to practice, not waste time.
Try something new. Every now and then, try something new at practice. Keep things fresh and interesting. Keep them guessing. This will keep them curious and coming back for more. For example, you can try a new drill or invite a guest trainer to warm them up. I am lucky to be the coach of an older and younger soccer team. Every now and then I will ask some of the older players to run a drill for the younger players. It amazes me to see how something as simple as that is so fulfilling to them.
Always end your practices with scrimmage time. What good is practicing all of these skills if they do not try them out in a game situation? Always give them time to try things out during a scrimmage, while the skills are fresh in their minds. I reserve the last half of all of my practices for scrimmages. This is the time when I keep quiet and let them play uninterrupted.
Get feedback. Listen to your players during and after practice. Find out what worked and what did not work. Talk to other coaches and see what makes their practices successful and fun. All of this information will help you improve the quality of your practices.
Let me know what works at your practices. I would love to hear new ideas.