Early season practice planning

Practice planning is – or at least should be – a major part of any coach’s efforts. Generally speaking, the wisdom goes that you should probably spend about as much time developing a training plan as executing it. That said, the question still remains what elements you should include. This is the subject of a question I saw posted the other day, in particular with respect to early season plans.

How do you generate an effective practice plan? I struggle in the beginning of the season when I see new faces, different levels of talent, a need to work on fundamental basics for some girls but not others, pressure to throw a lineup together for an active preseason, and it’s just me.

The approach I generally take with a team at the start of the season is to first try to evaluate where we’re at in all the major facets of the game. By that I mean I want to get an idea of where both individual players singularly and the team collectively are relatively to where I think they need to be. Having that information lets me develop my training priorities – both short and long term.

That being the case, I like to develop initial session practice plans which incorporate a bit of everything – serving accuracy and consistency, serve reception, offense, and defense. Of course I try to do that in as game-like a fashion as possible, but I don’t mind stepping back from that if there’s something I feel like I need to look at more directly. You need to see enough repetition for each player to have a sufficient basis for analysis, which may require more of a “block” than “random” focus in some respects.

The key thing to keep in mind here is that the top priority is assessment. Training is a secondary priority, of course, but for these initial sessions it’s not the most important thing to be thinking about. Once I’m done with the assessment process, training takes over as top priority.

Let me offer an example.

In a couple weeks I’ll start training with Svedala. It will be my first time working with these players and in almost all cases the first I see them on-court in person. Before I can figure out what to prioritize for training I need to know where the players and the team is at from a number of different perspectives. My plan is to have them spend the first practice basically just playing a number of different games to get a general overview. Then, in the subsequent sessions, I’ll narrow the focus down to look at certain things more closely based on what I saw in that first session.

Having said all this, chances are there are certain things that you know you’re going to need to work on in training. For younger and developing players, serving and passing are usually right at the top of the list, as an example. You can easily incorporate training of the things you know will be priorities right from the start, and build in opportunities to assess other areas around that.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.