At the youth level, the success of your practices depends on the emotional energy you display, the activities and drills you plan and execute, and the order in which your practice activities unfold. You are the conductor of your orchestra and in charge of the music’s rhythm and tempo.
Although you need structure within your practices, you also must recognize when you need to let your players run for fun and to release energy. The quality of your practices often depends on you managing this energy and not letting it go in a direction that disrupts your instruction and practice goals.
Here are a few tips for youth coaches on recognizing those moments and how to handle related disruptive behavior.
Age-appropriate PracticesThe age of your players of course affects the nature of your practices. Younger boys and girls have more difficulty focusing their attention for extended periods. They require more physical activity relative to instruction time. You need to do more showing than telling. For younger kids, make sure that you move them quickly from one developmental drill to another. For all ages, scrimmaging is a fun activity, and an opportunity for you to "coach kids up" during the play. Use scrimmages as a reward, and in the proper measure. Your players will look forward to this part of practice.
Dealing with a Lack of FocusEvery youth coach encounters those practices where his or her players are hyper-active, non-attentive, or both. You probably know the signs: Players staring across the court or field at something or someone else. Side conversations continuing during your instruction or too many irrelevant questions. Play where rules are ignored, accompanied by laughing and giggling. And it's not just the youngest—even older kids regularly lose focus.
When you see this behavior spreading among your players, it's time to get physical. By “tiring” your team, you help your players settle down, making them more likely to listen to your instruction. Select a high-energy drill or have your players scrimmage for a short period of time. After your players have expended some energy, you will usually regain their attention. Then move quickly into a period of instruction. With younger players, you may realistically only have five to ten minutes of quality teaching time before you must once again engage them in physical activity.
If your players are listless and the energy level of your practice seems low, also consider running the team in one form or another. Sometimes your players need a kick to get going.
A Mild ReprimandFinally, when your players don’t respond to your instructions, are talking while you talk, causing disruptions, or are otherwise disrespectful, you need to reign in this behavior. Even if it's only a few players, engage the whole team in a physically demanding activity. For example, send your players to the end line for some “suicides” or sprints. Besides releasing the excess energy that possibly drove the behavior, this mild reprimand will remind all of your players what you consider unacceptable behavior. For most players, these races are actually fun—but they still send a message.
You have your practice schedule and goals. But sometimes you need to flow and react to the mood of your players. Try to recognize the signs of when your players need to run and then inject the appropriate activity into your practice.
Copyright © 2014 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved