Sometimes coaches spend hours perfecting session plans, making sure the activities are as beneficial and intricate as they can be, only to have the practice completely fall apart. This article will discuss 4 common reasons why your practice might not be working and how to fix it.
POOR EXPLANATION/DEMONSTRATIONEmbed from Getty Images
A common mistake that coaches make is simply just explaining something without a demonstration. The explanation and demonstration should go hand and hand and be used simultaneously. Demonstrating all aspects of the activity (rules, method of scoring, learning outcomes, method of restarting play, etc.) as you explain the activity will ensure all participants have an understanding of what they are supposed to do and get the participants moving much more quickly and efficiently than an explanation alone.
Players need to have a clear idea of an activity right from the very start. To ensure that they do, a demonstration is always best, no matter how many times the activity has been done before. There’s often a fear that the demonstration will take up too much time. But an activity with no demonstration only leads to confusion, taking up much more time than if a demonstration occurred in the first place. If there are different roles or complexities to the activities, every possible scenario should be demonstrated, including progressions when they are implemented. If you as the coach can’t demonstrate something yourself, it’s always fine to have a player demonstrate. I personally like to involve the players in the demonstration as much as possible and have them moving in slow-motion with me as I demonstrate specific rules and functions of the activity.
NOT AGE-APPROPRIATE, NOT FUNEmbed from Getty Images
Just because an activity works at U9, doesn’t mean it will work at U11. Sometimes activities just aren’t age appropriate and a lot of the time, we create things that are too easy for our players. If the explanation and demonstrations are up to standard, difficult activities can be understood and executed even at younger ages. But activities that are too easy can become boring and demotivating for the players. Having a defender shadow and follow the movements of an attacker might be good at the Active Start U4-U6 age, but beyond that, defending can easily be taught utilizing more game-realistic methods, such as a 1v1, 2v2, even a 6v6 battle or game. If an activity is either too difficult or too easy for the players, they won’t have the motivation and desire to make the activity work.
Practice activities can also miss the mark if they are simply not fun. It probably goes without saying that activities that are fun for eight year old’s might not always be fun for twelve year old’s. But we often try and do the same activities between different age groups. Other things that aren’t fun for kids include waiting in lines, the coach taking too much time on the explanation, and physical activity that does not include the ball or the sport-specific movements – such as running laps or “suicides.”
SIZE OF THE AREAEmbed from Getty Images
If you get any “tennis” or “ping-pong” action in the middle of a soccer practice, chances are the size of the area is not conducive to giving players time and space to make better decisions. Often times we may be tempted to reduce the size of the area when coaching a defensive topic, but we need to recognize if the defenders are doing well because they are understanding the topic, or if they are doing well due to the small size of the field. Deciding on the field size can be a difficult task. But it needs to be conducive to your number of participants and your intended learning outcomes. If your learning outcome is keeping possession of the ball and you have 15 attendees, playing on a 11v11 size field makes no sense as players will be too spread out, will be forced to make longer passes than necessary and will spend more time running than actually getting touches on the ball. Instead, a smaller field size where players are forced to make shorter passes and quicker decisions will allow for greater learning. To give another example, if at U8 you play on a 5v5 field, there is no need to make the field size any bigger than that size in a practice. If anything, it should be smaller to allow for more touches on the ball and more 1v1 situations. On the other side of the coin, giving the players more space to accomplish what you’re asking of them can produce positive outcomes for the players and the session topic. In a bigger area, players are simply less likely to make mistakes as they will have more time on the ball and decisions don’t have to be made at lightning speed. Therefore ensuring an adequate field size will always be a balancing act that the coach needs to manage and not be afraid to adapt and change mid-activity.
A useful metric for understanding field size for games or large-scale activities is to take the number of participants, multiply it by 3 and then add the age of the participants. For example, 12 participants multiplied by 3 = 36, the age of the participants is 12 years old, so a field size of around 48×48 or 50×50 will be a great field size to achieve your intended outcomes in a game.
IMPROPER WORK/REST RATIOEmbed from Getty Images
On hot days, players should be given more breaks for longer periods of time. On cold days, players should be given shorter breaks to ensure their muscles stay warm, mitigating the risk of injury. If the activity has gone on too long, especially if it’s high intensity, it’s no secret that the players will become tired and that you might not be able to get the best out of them. But if the activity is too short, the players might only have just gotten an understanding of the activity before their momentum becomes interrupted by a break. “King’s-Court”-esque games where 2 teams are playing at a time with 1 team having a short water break may work well and may be another way of conducting breaks without stopping the activity. Waiting in lines can also be a way to implement rest periods, but coaches must be careful with how long players are waiting in the lines. If the wait time is longer than the time spent doing the activity, then the players are getting too much rest and not enough work. Work-to-rest ratio is a very important consideration when designing the practice activities and it is one that may often be neglected by coaches.
So there it is! 4 Reasons Your Practice Isn’t Working. The work-to-rest ratio, size of the area, demonstration/explanation and age of the players are all important considerations when designing a practice. But they are also elements of a practice that coaches often do not spend enough time thinking about. Ensuring that some level of thought has gone into these four areas will help to stop your practice from falling to pieces and ensure that you get the most out of your practice time.
Thanks for reading and see you soon.
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