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Twice the Results in Half the Time

By Brett Klika

If you work with youngsters, you realize the wide variety of skills they need work developing. You also acknowledge the limited time you have to work with them. All too often, coaches make mistakes in designing and implementing activities during a practice session. Time is wasted with erroneous activities at the expense of skill development. Running an efficient, effective practice integrating many different skills is essential in order to aid in the proper athletic development of youth.

For many coaches, the standard model of a practice is something like this.

  1. Warm-up (jog to some point and back, 1-2 minutes)
  2. “Stretch” (5-10 minutes of poorly executed static stretching on cold muscles)
  3. Drills (loosely designed, repetitive, no criteria for advancement)
  4. Scrimmage (often well-below game intensity)
  5. Conditioning (do something hard until coach is satisfied with level of “tiredness”)
  6. Post practice speech about how everyone needs to work harder

A majority of coaches from a variety of sports stick to this outline and have for years. They then hear me talk about adding extra things like balance, coordination, body awareness, speed and agility work, strength, core, etc. They look at their practice outline and there appears to be no place to insert the new work. This way of looking at practice time is not only outdated, it’s foolish and lazy. The coaches that complain most about not having enough time to implement a full spectrum of skill work are the ones that spend the most time with pointless activities in practice.

A study that I mention frequently by Dr. Tom Mckenzie looked at the way in which Physcial Education and Sports Practices were conducted with youth. He and his team observed thousands of hours of physical education and sports practices. During this observation, they would time with a stopwatch how long coaches spent doing certain activities. These activities were defined as:

  1. Non-Specific Praise (Go! Good!)
  2. Specific Praise (Good job using your arms while jumping)
  3. Correction (Don’t follow your man out of position. Stay in this area)
  4. Punishment (Do 15 push-ups for messing up)
  5. Administrative (Coach making phone calls, paperwork, talking to other coaches,
    setting up equipment, etc)
  6. Silence (Coach says or does nothing)

To the researchers’ surprise, they found that in the thousands of practices and classes they observed with coaches and teachers, coaches spent the majority of their time with administrative work. If you are a coach or a teacher, your job title is also your job description. You should spend your time with your pupils “teaching” or “coaching”. Correction and specific praise should take up a majority of time! Practices should be designed in a way that promotes this. Drills should have frequent opportunities for specific praise or correction. Punishment should be near non-existent. Athletes should clearly understand what they are to accomplish. Administrative tasks should primarily be done before practice or integrated in a fast, efficient way. General praise should be used to establish a positive, engaging environment. Silence is effective for observation in order to provide feedback at a later time.

Remember that skill development for beginner athletes is a continuum. You don’t need to break up practice into “warm-up, stretch, speed work, agility, plyometrics, power, skill, balance, etc.” With a well-organized program using effective exercises and drills, you can integrate all these skills into a short period of time. When working with youngsters, consider two aspects, general preparation (fitness, coordination, movement skill, strength, etc) and sport specific skill (game tactics, sport-related skill) work. If you can streamline and integrate your general preparation work with your sport specific skill work, you will optimize your practice time.

Now, considering what our goals are with a practice session, and that we can create an effective environment by preparing, streamlining, and integrating, below is an example of how a 90 minute practice can run. Keep in mind that the younger the athletes are, the more time should be spent on general preparation work.

1. As a coach, always show up before the players. Set up as many drills as you can ahead of time. This aids in the “flow” of a training session. It minimizes “administrative task” time.

2. First 2 minutes of practice. Start practice with a quick, objective discussion of what you are working on today. You may even call out some athletes by name. Waiting until after practice to berate players about expectations that were never clearly set is ridiculous.

3. 15-25 minutes: General preparation work. This is where the dynamic warm-up is integrated. During this period your goal is to raise and keep the heart rate elevated, activate proper mobility patterns and range of motion, develop a functional level of strength necessary for movement, practice proper movement patterns, and practice general athletic skill. This may include footwork, plyometrics, balance, basic strength, or any other aspect of general athleticism. For an abbreviated version of Fitness Quest 10’s Dynamic Warm-Up, go to . This not only raises their heart rate, but their level of focus. It sets the tone for the rest of practice.

4. Water breaks are timed at 20-30 seconds. Don’t break the pace or intensity of practice. With kids, it’s hard to regain momentum. If the coach displays a sense of urgency, so will the athletes.

5. 45-60 minutes; Sport Specific Skill Work or Game Tactics. Drills have a clear criteria and the pace is kept high. Every 5 minutes, an aspect of the drill changes. Athletes are very clear as to what is objectively expected from them. Few, if any, athletes are standing around and watching. This portion should provide a significant degree of “conditioning”. Scrimmages can be implemented into this time with some variable of competition manipulated to create and “overload”. For example, with soccer players, you only allow one touch on the ball, or create a situation in which players have to move more than normal.

6. 10-15 minutes Athletic Adaptation or “Conditioning.” If you are conducting an effective practice session, your athletes should receive a good amount of “sport specific conditioning” during your skill work. Post workout conditioning should consist of an energy system that is needed for their sport, but was not effectively addressed in practice. This can be done best by repeated game scenarios allowing for a large volume of repetitions with controlled and manipulated rest times. Conditioning can also be done as an oxidative “recovery” portion of training. Conditioning is not the time to merely run someone until they puke. If they get sick during sport-related skill work, you’re running an intense practice. They got sick within the confines of the game. They are out of shape. Shame on them! If they get sick during conditioning, most of the time they are doing something completely outside the scope of the game. They may have very little capacity to deal with the randomness of unrelated energy demands. Shame on you! Conditioning is about a high volume of repetition while dealing with fatigue. When deciding on conditioning, always ask “why?” What shortcoming of practice are you addressing? If practice is a joke and conditioning is where you make your impression, you’re a bad coach. Plain and simple.

7. 10-15 minute Cool Down and Team Address. The last highly valuable portion of practice is designed to get the body back to a homeostatic state. This is essential for recovery. This is where static stretching is of value. During this time, the coach has an opportunity to talk to the kids about any topics of value. On-field as well as off-field expectations, practice summary, specific praise to specific individuals, as well as “homework” are all great topics. Much of this portion of practice revolves around establishing expectation for behavior when the coaches aren’t in direct control. This may be on or off the field. This is where players learn true “mental toughness”. If a player runs because a coach tells him to, he is smart, not tough. When a player makes a favorable decision either on or off the field, they’re smart and tough.

If you work with youth, take a second to look at your practice outline. Can you get better, in turn, make your athletes get better? Remember, your athletes will respond as a reflection of their coach. Be a mirror of efficiency, effort, and excellence for your athletes to reflect.

Coach Brett Klika is the Director of Athletic Performance at Todd Durkin’s Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA. He specializes in youth fitness and athletic performance, overseeing a staff of 8 strength coaches developing programs for over 300 youth per week, both athletes and non-athletes. He presents around the world to both trainers and corporations with Todd Durkin Enterprises on a variety of health, wellness, and athletic performance topics. Brett contributes monthly to the award-winning “TD Times” newsletter. If you would like to sign up, you can do so by visiting, or use the contact form below: [easy-contact]

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