I'm sure when you read that title, you were thinking I had some brand spanking new technology or something that would catapult your team to greatness. That's not what I've got … I'm telling you to practice better. But what does that mean?
According to Daniel Coyle, the author of The Talent Code , in his post " A Gauge for Measuring Effective Practice" … practicing better is just a matter of following a four-step process.
How to practice better
Reaching & Repeating. Reaching means stretching our athletes to the aftermath of their abilities and repeating those reps … no "mindless" reps where skills are performed incorrectly or halfheartedly. We've got to continuously challenge our players to want more. If they reach for a skill, even for just a portion of practice, then we're making our team better. If we sit down with our coaching staff before practice and make a point of demanding only correct actions from our teams, their brains may hurt … but they'll be getting better! I do not know if you can ask for that kind of focused intensity for the entire practice, because I believe that scrimmaging and playing is a wonderful teacher as well.
Engagement. Which is better? Team A warms up at the beginning of practice and while they're playing, they chat about their day, they connect with one another after being apart all day, and maybe even tell a few jokes. Team B, on the other hand, gets half as many touches on the ball because their coach is roaming the gym, stopping and correcting as everyone plays. Coyle would say Team B is going to get better quicker because they are getting multiple quality touches (and quality corrections) during the course of their warmup. This will require that the coaches are engaged just as much as the athletes.
Purposefulness. This means we can not always practice a skill in a vacuum. We've all had the player who's a rock star in practice … she's the queen of the drill. But put her in a game / scrimmage situation (where she's got to react to external influences, communicate with teams, and make snap decisions) and she completely fades away. We've got a sense of purpose to each drill. That purpose is not just to get better at a skill, but to get better at what they're actually doing … playing the sport! Our practices should entail skill building, of course, but those skills should include learning to compete, learning to communicate, and learning to perform under pressure.
Strong, direct, and immediate feedback. I've always seen my role as coach as one of diminishing importance … if I'm doing my job correctly. When I first take over a team, or have a bunch of newbies, I'm constantly yapping because my goal is to equip them with answers to team problems. Whether that problem is lagging team energy, not controlling the ball properly, or difficult handling the pressures of the game. As I'm with a team for a while, they start to self-correct, because they've been in that situation before and they can remember what I told them the last time. My goal is that my teams are never confused about why things are not going according to plan. They may not yet have developed the skills to properly affect change, but they know what needs to be done.
We spend most of our time in practices, let's be sure to use them to our advantage!