We all know what it looks like when a player zones out and stops listening, especially if you work with younger kids. We also know what it's like to stand around while a coach just talks and talks, instead of getting the kids moving after a demonstration or two.
You have to keep your players' attention in order to make the most of your precious time at practice. A helpful tip we use all the time is Time Your Games. This applies to any part of your practice- stretching, line drills, 1-on-1's, 4-on-3 Fast breaks, etc. Timing your drills keeps things fresh for your players, keeps things organized for the coach, and can help keep practice fun.
Use this rule of thumb- Your players' attention span in minutes is about the same as their age in years. Therefore:
- 10-year-olds ~ 10 minutes: Your practices should be broken up into roughly 10 minute segments- passing/catching, defensive footwork, 2-on-1's, etc.
- 15-year-olds ~ 15 minutes: You can work on the same skill, drill or game for roughly 15 minutes before your players stop making progress and improvement.
- 20-year-olds ~ 20 minutes: Even at the college level, coaches don't do the same thing for more than 20 minutes very often.
Wear a simple digital watch to practice and use the timer. Restart the watch at the beginning of every new drill or game.
If you have too many players to do one drill in 10 or 15 minutes, then you might think about doing two different stations at the same time so that each player gets enough repetitions out of each drill. Remember, you are trying to maximize touches on the ball, repetition and muscle memory for each of your players and each individual skill or behavior you want to emphasize.
Keeping time also imitates game situations. For example, telling the losing team there's still five or six minutes left can inject some fight and intensity into your drill or game. We like to keep score in our practices. And hey, your players might even learn how to go hard to the cage in the final ten seconds when they're down by one, because they will have been in that situation before in practice.
Make sure your players get the chance to play both sides of the ball. Switch the teams halfway through your drills and play the same game. Or give each kid 10 or 15 minutes on each side of the ball. Especially at the youth level, and even in high-school, developing well-rounded athletes is one of the most important things you do as a coach. Way more important than winning. This is how you get the type of run-and-gun players like they had back in the old days.
Timing your drills and games can help you schedule in water breaks and give you a couple minutes to figure out "What do we do next??"
This can also keep you from talking too long if you can see the clock is ticking.
Try this out at your next practice and tell us how you like it!