By: Donna Papa - Univ. of North Carolina
Originally Published in: Practice Perfect Softball - NFCA
Provided by: Human Kinetics
In developing my program goals, I begin with the end in mind. So my starting point comes at the end of each year. An important question to ask yourself is, What do you want to accomplish in all phases of your program? I evaluate what we have done as a program overall - things we have done well and things we need to improve on. After I determine that from my perspective, I get my staff to weigh in on it. One area that always makes the list is how we run our practices and what we include in practice. More times than not, we conclude that we want to make the practices more challenging by adding more competitive elements and more consequences and accountability. I have learned that you need to be flexible when executing a practice. You may have planned an awesome practice on paper but then realize as it unfolds that a drill is not working or that you forgot to include a particular element. So as you are giving direction to players, you may change one part of what you are doing. The change may not be listed on the practice plan, but you know at that moment that it is the right thing to do. I am not afraid to make changes. You can't be so stuck on your plan that you can't tweak it on the fly if necessary. I know that many coaches post practice plans for their players, but for a number of reasons I don't do that. Posting practice plans puts you in a box with your players. If you have to make changes within the practice, they may question why. Additionally, if they are not fond of a drill, they may predispose themselves to an attitude about it. But I do share with them for each drill what our goal and standard is for that particular drill or segment of practice. You should also set time frames for each area of practice. For example, we allot 15 to 20 minutes for our warm-up, which includes a dynamic warm-up, ladder drills, and stretch cords for arm care. Following that, we spend about 10 to 15 minutes throwing and doing our dailies defensively. So I know that the first 30 to 35 minutes is devoted to warm-ups before we get into the meat of our practice.
At times I have a certain time frame planned for a drill and wind up cutting it shorter or extending it. Likewise, during a hitting drill I may realize that the activity needs a more competitive element in it, so on the second round I change it up. For example, we may be doing an angle toss hitting drill in the cage. For a right-handed hitter, we toss at an angle to simulate a curveball on the outside part of the plate. In the first round I let them hit it without any consequences. In the second round, they are out and lose reps if they pull the ball or roll it over. I wanted more accountability in the drill, so I made an adjustment that was not in my plan. You have to be willing to be flexible. You may want to use a specific drill but realize as you are doing it that the team or individual is not executing it as you had hoped, so you need to make an adjustment. Things often look better on paper than they do in the execution. As a rule, I always plan more than I need and put an extra drill in practice - a drill to use if time allows, as a backup.