How to Never Have a Bad Practice

develop leaders motivate your team

The Guaranteed Routine to a Good Practice

I’d spent about 10 hours preparing for practice. I’d watched film of previous practices, scouted film of our next opponents, and met with my assistants regarding what we should do during the next practice. Every minute was planned to a T. I was amped up and ready to go!

Then, minutes after practice started, it became very clear my team did not prepare like I did. They were not nearly as excited, nor as ready to get better as I was. Their focus was on something entirely different, and it definitely wasn’t basketball!

So, what did I do? I encouraged, cheered, and clapped! Still, no improvement.

So, I pulled the team together asked them, “Everything okay?”

I got some yeahs, and some okays.

“Well, let’s go!” I exclaimed. Still, no improvement. I kept trying to stay positive and encouraging as we moved through the practice plan, but I was losing my patience. We weren’t getting anything out of practice. My frustration only started to build, until eventually, I blew my lid!

This didn’t just happen the once; it was a common occurrence in my practices as the season waned.

Those Days

Every teamsome more than othersis going to have “those days” when people show up unfocused, unmotivated, and out-of-sorts. As coaches, it can be incredibly frustrating when we sacrifice our time, we are focused, we are prepared, and we are ready to go, but our team is not!

Typically, we start by encouraging, then we beg and plead for them to wake up! When that fails, we either explode on them or go home and complain about them. Neither of those coping mechanisms are productive, and we will have only missed out on a huge opportunity by implementing them.

You Get What You Tolerate

Before we get into what that opportunity is, it’s important to note that we get what we tolerate and allow. Far too often, as coaches, we are so focused on the tactical and technical development of our team, we ignore certain behaviors and move on to the next part of our practice instead.

However, if the effort, attitude, and focus are unacceptable, then nothing else in our practice will really be effective, will it? So, it’s incredibly important to establish some simple non-negotiables and some clear standards of what is acceptable. Until they get the behaviors right, they shouldn’t move on to the rest of the practice!

The 10-Step Process: Your Team Quick-Set

No matter what team, level, or sport, when I coach, I implement a “quick-set”. This is the way we start our warm-ups, both in practice and in games. Here’s what it is and how you implement it:

  1. Pick five simple but relevant drills for your sport.
  2. Spend a practice teaching these drills to your team.
  3. Next, ask them, “What would excellence look like in this drill?” Look for specific behaviors, like sprinting to the back of the line, high-fiving teammates, encouraging each other, calling names for the ball, etc.
  4. Designate a time for each drill (1-2 minutes maximum), and then explain steps 5-9 to them before you start.
  5. Start Drill #1 and set a timer or clock.
  6. Step back and observe. Don’t say a thing!
  7. At the end of Drill #1, if every single player is not following through on those behaviors, then just tell the team, “Keep going for another minute.” This is a signal that not everyone is following through on those behaviors.
  8. Keep resetting the drill until everyone commits to those behaviors. If you hit three resets, you may need to bring them together and ask, “What’s happening?” and “How can we do this better?”
  9. When they complete one drill, move on to the next!
  10. If, after a lengthy time (I’ve done one drill for as long as 15 minutes!), your team fails to meet the acceptable standards, then one of two things must happen: Either you lower the standards or send them home.

Practice is a privilege; if they aren’t going to work hard, have a good attitude, and be focused, then they lose the opportunity to get better. Simple.

When you do this, a few amazing things will start to happen:

  1. No practice will get started on a bad note, because you won’t begin practice until the standard has been met. Players will tire of these drills, and they will get it right, so they can move on to the parts of practice they enjoy!
  2. Players will start to encourage and remind each other when they are not meeting the standard. The team won’t want a single reset, and so, five seconds into a drill, if one player isn’t committing to the drill, their teammates will encourage them.
  3. Players will start to lead. They will stop the drill when it’s not going right, and they will start to fix it themselves, as you sit back and make them figure it out on their own.

The Biggest Opportunity

When we fail to hold our team to high standards and empower our players to hold each other to high standards, we miss out on a huge opportunity: We all have off-days, but what separates good teams from great teams, and the mentally weak from the mentally strong, is their ability to overcome the bad days.

The challenge of a bad day provides an opportunity to build character and mental toughness. So, use it!

-J.P. Nerbun

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