Running practices as a player-coach – first steps
When leading practices as a player-coach it is easy to say: “Don’t use a stick, use a whistle and clipboard all the time.” But you are still a player, you get better from having your stick in your hand. You are also part of the team and that includes fooling around with your teammates. This can undermine your authority and make your coaching job harder. But your biggest problem by far is that you need to practice with the team as well and get your repetitions in. Being a player-coach as the word already indicates, combines two challenging tasks, so there has to be a trade-off. Your goal as a player-coach is to find the sweet spot between helping your team to get better and improving yourself. You want to make the most of this trade-off.
From our experience a very thorough practice organization with detailed practice plans is a must-have. The biggest issue with practice planning is that you need drills and a practice organization which is doable while you practice with the team. The following picture shows our practice plan from February 5th of this year.
Task as a player-coach during a practice session
The tasks of a player-coach during a practice session can be broken down into four parts:
- focus on your own game,
- perform when you are tired,
- watch your players and correct mistakes,
- push players to go harder.
If you are trying to do all of those things at once, you will fail miserably. We learned that you can do okay while focusing on two things.
How much coaching a drill needs depends on the goal of the drill. Basics and theory need more attention from you as a coach, while drills where the basics are known and the goal is to get as many repetitions as possible, need less. This is the time to push yourself and the team to go harder.
For example, when you introduce a new drill you most likely need to be 90% coach in order to explain the goal of the drill and the basic rules. (On a side note: notice the word goal is in the singular form. A drill should only have one main goal.) At the beginning you will need to watch everyone closely to correct mistakes and make sure everyone executes the drill with the main goal in mind. The second time you run the drill will only need to explain it in the beginning and then you can join in. The third time you just call out the drill and push yourself and the others to go harder. How fast you can progress from coach to player depends on your individual players’ practice attendance though.
Times where more attention is usually needed:
- Introduction of a new drill – make sure everybody got the idea of the drill
- First minutes of a drill – watch your players so they do the fundamentals properly
- Conditioning drills – someone needs to motivate and push the team
Times where you can get away with less:
- High repetition drills – everybody knows them and most of the fundamentals are done properly
- Game-type situations – a full-time coach would correct mistakes on the side while keeping the drill running; as a player-coach use quick time-outs to correct mistakes
Random tips we found to be very useful:
- Wear a wrist watch or tape one to your gloves (be prepared that it gets destroyed, so choose a cheap one).
- Make use of default substitutions within drills – e.g. after every clear or offense plays three balls, etc.
- Have a clipboard and a whistle on the sideline when you want to explain things or to get a high intensity drill started.
- Publish your practice plan to your team before practice so they can prepare and see that you have a plan.
- Never make a practice session up as you go – being a player-coach is very demanding already, do not make it even harder by making up practices on the fly.
- Playing 6 on 6 is fun, but doing more 1 on 1, 2 on 2, or 4 on 4 usually helps newer teams/players to understand the basic lacrosse concepts.
- Let the players bring their water bottles next to the drills so you do not have to plan a “coffee break” during practice.
- Try to get as much help as you can: ask injured players to keep time, coordinate substitutions, help setting up drills; have senior players warm up the goalies; make captains keep up the pace, motivate and push the team.
- Teach the goalies to coach themselves (if you have two) or teach an offensive player to work with the goalie.
There are many ways how you can give some tasks back to your team, for example utilizing injured players, making players like the goalies more independent during the first minutes of practice, or having the captains run warm-up as well as using them to motivate the team and to keep practice running at the required pace. As a player-coach it is the small things and your preparation that make you and your team achieve their goals.
Again your time plan needs to suit your team. You know your team best, how much they can learn in one practice session, how many reps they need to get things right. We also learned that a new drill always needs more time to explain and walk through than you would expect. A drill that has been introduced already can be 5-10 minutes shorter, and a high repetition drill does not have to be longer than 10 minutes. You can see these times in our practice plans, but as mentioned, you know your team best. So we hope we gave you some first basic tips on how to run your practice more efficiently as a player-coach.