New design to set the stage for practice

 In Anxiety & Nerves, Coaches, Control

There are a variety of reasons to design practice sessions that set the stage for what you as a coach want to happen in practice – you want to facilitate and ensure everyone gets the most out of practice and performs at their best.

Let’s talk about some tips to ensure that happens.

1. Pre-practice warm up

Where does setting the stage to have the most optimal practice begin? Well, at the beginning of practice of course. ? Athletes warm up physically but do they warm up mentally? In my 1:1 work with athletes, I help them develop an individualized plan to ensure they show up in the right head by warming up mentally. Here are some things a coach can do to help them get into the right headspace.

Help athletes figure out what headspace they need to be in to perform their best. Some will need to be calmer, and other more pumped up. Find out what athletes need to be calmer before practice and what athletes need to be more pumped up and provide ways to get them there. For example, suggest they listen to music before practice. The music must match the state they are trying to get themselves into – calmer or more pumped. Music is commonly used by athletes to get them into their optimal headspace. An alternative to helping athletes be calmer is deep breathing – in through the nose and out through the mouth. These are just a few ways to mentally warm up. Give your athletes five minutes at the start of their training session to do what they need to do.

2. Practice expectations – yours and theirs

Of course, you have expectations of practice but it’s also important for athletes to have their own. Why? This helps them to realize what they think they need to work on and gives them something to focus on during their training sessions that keeps motivation high. At the start of practice, ask athletes what one or two things they want to work on (that are not outcomes) and talk about how those items can be the focus of practice in whatever else you are doing. You can still have your expectations. Those are always inherent in how you design practice but when you allow athletes to develop their own and then combine them, it empowers the athlete to own it.

3. Let athletes be a part of decision making

As a coach, you can remain in charge of practice but can also let your athletes make some decisions. Empowering them allows them to feel like they are part of the team. It starts to disintegrate the us versus them. In coaching, we’ve adopted this top down mentality, but athletes don’t work well in this kind of model and function much better when they are a part of the process. Ask your athletes what they want to work on and how they want to work on it. Use 15-20(30) minutes of practice to work on it.

4. Feedback

Constructive criticism doesn’t need to be harsh or embarrass athletes. There is much research that supports this as being abusive. As a coach, it is important to get to know your athletes and how they best handle feedback. I understand that in the middle of practice it’s hard to remember what everyone needs or wants, but that is the foundation of your coaching relationship with them.They will value you more when you know and treat them as individuals.

Beyond that, athletes will respect you a whole lot if in general you are positive role model, affirm effort (versus outcome), encourage risk taking and handle mistakes as a learning experience versus the end of the world.

5. Have fun

It is possible to have fun and work hard. I understand that coaches get concerned that they will lose control of practice if they allow their athletes to have fun. This is where good role model and excellent expectations come into play – when you model appropriately, they are more clear about your expectations and know you are there for them as athletes and people…everything shifts.

6. Post-practice reflection

It’s important for athletes to have a way to think about practice after the fact. Why? Generally, if an athlete has done something well, they’ve succeeded. If an athlete has done even one thing poorly, they’ve failed. This is not the best way to look at practice. Here’s a tip for a template. Again, give your athletes 5 minutes at the end of practice to write this down.

  • What went well? It’s important to see the positives. Positives are tied to motivation and confidence. They also help athletes to realize, it’s not all crap and they can walk away feeling better about their performance.
  • What was challenging? As humans we remember this stuff forever but if we can write it down (or talk about it) it’s cathartic and doesn’t get stuck ping ponging around in our brain.
  • What do I need to work on tomorrow? This is important because it takes athletes from an emotional place to an action oriented plan and gives them a goal for the next practice.

Practice and competition

What happens in practice also needs to happen during competition. All of this is important all the time. It’s part of being a conscious coach. Initially it might be hard because it’s not something you are used to doing but there are huge payoffs. Try the one thing that resonates with you for one month and see what the outcome is.

This also allows you to be a part of developing a more positive and mentally prepared athlete for training and competition. When an athlete knows what headspace they perform best in and how to get there, they:

• are motivated and invested in the process
• participate in more decision making
• can handle the right kind of feedback
• understand they can have fun and still perform optimally
• can objectively evaluate their performance

Coaches can practice the same process and watch the results multiply for them and for their athletes.

Also see more information on The Difference Between Practice and Competition.

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