Monday, April 17, 2006

Ultimatetalk Chat Request Line: Planning a Practice

Dave requested on Ultimatetalk Chat that someone post about planning a practice. I will give it a shot, but I acknowledge from the start that probably the most interesting thing about this subject is an assumed variety of perspectives and experience. I hope that folks comment on this post as that will most likely enhance my limited viewpoint.

When I first started planning practices, I struggled with the responsibility that allocating precious time to any task/skill/drill/scrimmage essentially defines that skill, etc, as a priority. So, while it is important to be able to plan a good practice, it might be even more important to define an overall plan for how your practices are going to develop over the course of the season. For example, at Wellesley, we are developing a "template" for what we are going to focus on at practice as we move from Sept to May. In the fall, the priority is teaching skills to new players. Most of our time is spent on throwing and catching. By April, however, much more time is spent on discussing tweaking our zone O, for example. We still work on throwing and catching, but the amount of time devoted to these skills is diminished when compared to September.

When looking at planning an individual practice, I think there are five components that make up a good practice. The amount of time spent on each will vary during the season, but all probably come into play at all practices. The five components are:

skills and drills
team strategy


I design my practices to flow in roughly the order above, and I work conditioning into the various phases.

1) Warm-up- Clearly, this involves some social throwing as folks gather, but I think a defined start to a focused warm-up process is positive. I also think that as the season approaches that a team can warm-up like they warm-up for games and this develops a positive routine. I think the typical jogging and stretching routines work well, but I am a firm believer in the various "active warm-up" routines that many teams do. I stole many of the exercises from Mike Namkung/Team USA via Gwen Ambler and added them to some of the exercises I learned from Bryan Doo. These exercises involve a variety of motions like lunges, shuffle runs, backward runs, etc, and also work on balance and footwork.

After the players heart rates have been elevated, I think warm-up can provide a nice segue to skills and drills. Typically, these are activities such as 10-throw, speed flow, go to, break mark drill, etc. To me, they serve the dual purpose of continuing to warm-up the athletes, but also working on fundamental skills.

2) Skills and Drills- After the "transitional" warm-up drills are complete, I think it can be beneficial to spend the early part of practice working on specific skills that need to be developed. This post is not an attempt at a skills and drills manual, but a few that come to mind could be cutting drills, dump drills, etc.

3) Team Strategy- It can be important at points in the season to allocate time for "walk throughs". This is time spent getting everyone on the same page on the details of things like stack spacing, set plays, and zone O and D. Time may be spent here doing specific run throughs/drills to get in reps on the ideas you are working on.

4) Scrimmage- Not much to say here. Hopefully, a scrimmage can build on the points you have been working, and you will be able to work on your execution. I think many teams approach a scrimmage as "the fun part of practice" and can lose focus.

5) Conditioning- Typically, conditioning in practice is sprint/fast twitch work. I think this is fine, and I like to weave conditioning into the practice and I find that conditioning can provide a good transition between your phases of practice. I also like to do things like: game to 3, shuttle runs, game to 3, sprint relays, etc, before doing a longer scrimmage to end practice. I know a lot of teams do sprints at the end of practice and I think this can be valuable as well.

In terms of the length of practice and the time allocated to the five components, I think that the minimum amount of time for a great practice is about 2 hours and the maximum is around 3 hours. As I said before, I think the time allocated to the five components will change during the season and its determination should come from a overall plan for what you want to accomplish between the beginning and end of your season.


Miriam said...

I definitely agree that developing an overall plan over the season or at least a few weeks is a good idea. It helps to break your time into chunks and then decide what each chunk is about. This really helps you to focus your practices. At Michigan, the coaches and captains meet every two weeks to do this planning. We do both long and short range planning. For instance, we might say that January will be all about teaching our offense. The first week will be the basic structure, the second week modifications for common scenarios and the third week review.

The general course of the year is similar to George's plan at Wellesley.
The fall (sept-dec) is mainly about recruiting new players, teaching them the game and getting them hooked. This past fall, besides lots of throwing and catching, this fall, we barely ran any drills at first. Just played lots of 3v3 and 4v4 on small fields. In small games, no one can hide so everyone is involved. It's a lot of fun. Gradually we taught some basic strategy. I thought it was a pretty decent way to start out.

The flow of a given practice is a little different from George's but it has the same components.

Warmup (jog, stretch, active stuff)
Sprints / conditioning
Throws (still and/or moving)
Skills/ strategy for day

I was told long ago that if you are trying to build fast twitch muscles and improve speed, it is not done well when your already tired, ie at the end of practice. That builds endurance. So, we do our sprint stuff early. Of course, we still do conditioning through practice to work on the endurance too.

BTW, we did "3 points of ultimate" on Saturday. It was tough, but the team thought it was very good. They were happy when I said it was the only time we'd do it before regionals.

Sprinting early also sets us up to be tired by the time we get to throwing. It's harder to maintain good form and focus when you are tired, but it's closer to what happens in a game. We vary the throwing warmups (standing- short (try with 2 discs!), medium, long; moving- ameoba, nietzsches, giveNgo).

I used to be a fan of doing lots of drills, but almost all of the drills that I know don't really have much to do with game situations or our particular strategies. So now, we hardly do any of those drills. Instead, we make up drills (or maybe modify one that we know) that specifically address the concept we are getting at for that day's practice.

Scrimmages to defined point totals are a good idea. We typically break the team into two or three squads that play together for several practices in a row so they can develop chemistry.

luke said...

i do walk throughs and chalk talk after 'social throwing' and before any organized warm-up... this might include walk throughs of the drills, how i want kids to mark, how to throw or fake, what the zone 'o' should look like... whatever we are working on that day that is new... and sometimes just for review... sometimes i use the white board, some times i position bodies... then we get into it...

that's based on my own personal experience and preference... i HATE interrupting practice to 'talk'. it ruins the whole 'workout' aspect...

gcooke said...


Great comments.

One of the main skill drills I continue to do is the dump drill. Otherwise I agree that the drills we do are very specific to certain situations.

I actually don't view practices as a chance to work on endurance in the strict sense of the word (as defined by the heart rate measures I have outlined in other posts). I agree that sprint work before throwing is valuable, and that sprinting at the end of practice is good for working on running hard when tired, but I don't think that it actually benefits the athletes in terms of improving their ability to process oxygen over a long period of time.


I agree that the ebb and flows need to managed carefully. I generally find that walk-throughs reinforced by actually doing the ideas in scrimmage work well, so, to me, that necessitates doing the walk-throughs a bit later in the practice, but I agree that they have to be very clear and to the point.

I also have specific goals in terms of achieving the "workout" for the day, so as long as I get to it...I am ok with that.

Lastly, I think there is value in forcing the athletes to have periods of activity right next to periods of quiet. This, to me, is somewhat similar to what happens in a game, so I think it is beneficial for the players to have to a) maintain focus while inactive, and b) be able to get into high gear quickly.


luke said...

good thoughts.

here's what i mean... more clearly... you stress VERY clearly in walk through what you will work on... it MUST be practice specific... then... you restress it... but keep it quick...

as far as going from 0 to 60... that's great... but we practice in 35 degree weather a lot... so i try to minimize injuries... in games, in similar situations, i tell kids (as i did to players when i called lines)... get ready, your going in on the next zone point... or get ready... next d is you. i don't believe in just throwing people in the game...

when the weather is warm (today it was ... 65 degrees!)... i modify the plan. but, try using the pregame chalk talk: in teaching, it's the equal to the 'warm up' activity. you focus people, so that even the warm up is done with focus...

gcooke said...

Hi Luke,

Thanks for following up. That makes a lot of sense, especially as it is cold there.

Perhaps my post comes across as overly rigid. Yesterday, for example, we walked through notes from Yale Cup after warm-ups, and then moved on.