Practice Planning

Develop, communicate and flexibly execute a holistic “practice plan.” 

WHY: When coaches are able to design, communicate and flexibly execute a plan for training sessions guided by short and long-term goals, instructional aims, demands of competition, athlete needs, safety, and available resources, they provide an intentional structure for athletes to maximize their sport participation outcomes. Planning practices  enables coaches to strategically shape the quantity, timing, sequencing, and delivery of technical, tactical, and social-emotional instruction and feedback. Planning also provides a platform for the sequencing and periodization of physiological outcomes. Flexibility (within planning) allows coaches to make adjustments based on adverse circumstances, a change in resources (space, people, equipment), or based on ongoing observations.

HOW: Well-planned training sessions maximize the use of physical space, equipment, and resources (including parents and other coaches) in order to keep athletes safe and engage them in activities as much as possible. The coach plans training sessions with an eye toward progressively building physical, technical, and tactical skills, developing social-emotional aspects of sports participation and simultaneously providing variety and innovation that allow for enjoyment and engagement. This process is often facilitated through the use of routines/practice segments - warm-up, cool-down, deliberate practice and play, reflection, and etc. Optimal practice plans strike a challenge-skills-exploration balance so that athletes are asked to do things just beyond their reach - experiment without the fear of failure, and practice problem-solving -  but not too far above or below their abilities. The coach keeps practices fresh by facilitating opportunities for athlete input, changing the pace, incorporating new methods, technologies, or equipment (where appropriate). The coach is also aware of the potential modifications and adaptations that might need to be made in the plan. They are able to flex and change elements of the plan while retaining the overall instructional and developmental aims and goals to some degree.   

Video Examples

In an ideal world, (a high-ranked PAC 12 Conference volleyball team practice, for example), the coach has time and additional resources to go over the practice plan with the athletes prior to the work out. In this video from the University of Washington Volleyball team, there are several characteristics of an effective practice planning on display:

  • Head coach utilizes a board for the visual representation of the practice plan

  • Practice plan is based on the analysis of the past competition v. Oregon (can also be based on the upcoming competition or team goals depending on the day of the week or the annual training phase) as well as on individual needs of some of the athletes

  • Each drill has a purpose and it is explained by the coach, sometimes at lengths, and athlete input is incorporated

  • Head coach specifies the type of feedback/instruction his assistants will be giving players based on each drill to avoid confusion 

Most coaches working with youth athletes today have to share facilities with other groups/sports as well as utilize help of assistant coaches and/or parent volunteers. Therefore, in order to effectively and flexibly execute a practice plan, coaches must strategically utilize the space available and communicate the details of the work out to the support staff and the athletes. In this video from a youth diving program, the head coach takes time to go over logistics and the sequence of drills to the assistant coach and the divers. Note that the structure/progressions of this practice are defined based on technical and developmental goals of the athletes.


Practice is Everything: Learn How the Seahawks Practice (shown above) 

Coaches have different coaching philosophies, program objectives, coaching styles, resources, and types of athletes they work with. The key is to design a practice plan that is holistic, developmentally appropriate for your athletes, safe, engaging, and matches the competition demands for your sport. In this video, you will learn how Pete Carroll, the Head Coach of Seattle Seahawks approaches practice planning and what aspects are key for his program (preparation, energy, efficiency, framing communications, and more). You will sense the energy just from watching this video, enjoy! But remember, this is just an example of how to plan and run a great practice - you don’t have to be aggressively chewing gum and running around to put your athletes in a position to succeed on and off the field.

Jr. NBA - Practice Planning Curriculum

These easy to use interactive practice planning resources from the Junior NBA are for basketball coaches working with athletes of all levels. If basketball is not your sport, simply use the structure as a template for your sport. I particularly enjoy how these practice plans approach athletes' development from a holistic perspective and allow time for developing the technical, tactical, physical, and social-emotional skills.