I came across a short article on the subject of training session beginnings. Honestly, it kind of wanders around a bit, but it brings up some interesting concepts. The main point is there are some things you can do to get things rolling efficiently and effectively. They boil down to having a good training focus, using games at the start of practice, and setting clear expectations. I want to tackle them in reverse order.

Expectations

I am of the school of thought that you should be on time. I absolutely hate being late myself. It’s a respect thing. If you show up late that means you don’t respect the value of other people’s time. As you can imagine, I set an expectation with my teams from the first meeting that practices will start on time. Especially with fixed and limited gym time, to do otherwise means wasted opportunity.

That said, I have definitely been in situations where this has been an issue, as I mentioned before. One of the more interesting of them came when I coached at Exeter in England, and it was actually motivated by the players. The leadership of the teams became fed up with people straggling in to training sessions. They decided to implement team punishment. For every minute someone was late (to include not yet dressed and ready to go), the team had to do a minute of physical exercise.

Now, generally speaking I’m not a fan of that kind of approach. Did we have much less tardiness from that point on? Yes, we did. I think, though, you can attribute a lot of that to the higher level of expectations. Especially on the women’s team there was a major focus on advancing in the playoffs (they reached the national semifinals). The expectations of being on time for practice was part of what they saw as commitment to the team goal.

The point is clear expectations go a long way.

Beginning with games

The reason the author of the linked article endorses beginning practice with a game is that it’s something the players enjoy. If they know the session will start with something fun, they’re more likely to be there, ready to go for an on-time start. This is a reasonable rationale. I wrote about the importance of practice starts and finishes in the Structure things to keep them coming back post.

The other potential advantage of starting with a game is that it can give you a way to deal with stragglers. Sometimes we can’t avoid players coming in late for one reason or another. If you start with a game where the numbers can be flexible (like Winners), you can work players in as they are ready to go.

Training focus

The other part to getting practice off to a strong start is to have a training focus. The article speaks mainly from the perspective of each player having one of their own, perhaps that they write down. I think this is potentially a quite useful idea when you have a general training session – one that isn’t team focused. This might not be a common situation for those of us coaching teams, but think about open gyms, mixed training sessions, and things like that.

Even when you have a team training objective, though, the players can still have ones of their own. They should just be tied in with the overarching one. This could be a situation where you given each player an objective. Or perhaps you guide them in coming up with their own.

The trick to something like this, though, is reinforcement. It’s all fine and good for the players to have something specific to work on. If, however, there is no reminder mechanism, the tendency is to forget.

What about you? What sorts of things do you do to get your player immediately engaged in practice? Leave a comment below.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently Technical Director for Charleston Academy. His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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