Effective Practice Planning Tips for Youth Sports Coaches

Effective Practice Planning Tips for Youth Sports Coaches

Ever watch a youth sports practice session where it seemed like the players were floating around aimlessly?  Or maybe they were involved in activity to some degree, but it almost seemed like their involvement was happening at about 40% of full effort?  Frustrating to watch, right?

Or maybe you have had those practices yourself? I know I have!

Legendary coach Mike Candrea once stated that quality practice planning (and practices) lead to the “foundation of developing the physical, mental, and emotional skills of our players.”

But having a plan is one thing…what about having a good plan?   In this guide we will take a look at 6 practice planning “necessities” to help you have more productive practices this season. Whether you coach baseball, fastpitch softball, basketball, or anything else these tips will help!

Also, be sure to check the very bottom of the page for a bonus video series on practice planning! 

Let’s begin!

Practice Planning Tip #1: Have a Clear Starting and Stopping Point for Each Drill

When you begin outlining your plan for the day, it helps to have a clear starting time and a stopping time for each drill.  If you don’t you will get through far less of your entire practice plan for the day.  The temptation for all of us is to continue with a drill until the players do it “perfect” (whatever that means).

While there are DEFINITELY times go “overtime” with a drill, this should be the exception rather than the rule. If the 10 minutes is over and the players effort was good, then move on.  You can always come back to the skill tomorrow if necessary.

Going too long with parts of practice will lead to more boredom and frustration for your players. And you will have difficulty getting to other important parts of the game.

Practice Planning Tip #2: Put the “Big Rocks” Toward the Beginning of Practice

Sometimes as coaches we become “creatures of habit.”  We get in the routine of doing hitting first, defense second, baserunning last, etc.  Be sure to switch things around from time to time.  Have the “big rocks” in mind when planning your practices. 

Whatever your “big rocks” are for that day, it can be helpful to put them towards the front half of practice. Some days this may be skill reps, other days it might be strategy drills.  It all depends on what needs the most work based on game performance, yesterdays practice, etc.

But if it is a top priority, try to avoid putting it last on your plan. Why? Because if you coach an outdoor sport you might get rained on and have to cut practice early.  Or, which is more probable, you may simply run out of time. And we all know that when this happens it is almost always the last thing on the plan that gets pushed off until tomorrow.

Tip #3: Have a Manager or Assistant Coach Remind You of the Time

If you are like me, you will get going, and your 10 minutes assigned for a drill goes by very quickly.  To help me stay on track, I will often assign my manager (or an assistant coach that isn’t involved heavily in the drill), to “keep me on time.”  I will have them tell me when I’m halfway, and also when I am approaching the end of the drill.

For example, “2 minutes left, 1 minute left, times up, etc.” Doing this one small thing will help you get more of the things accomplished on your plan!

Planning Tip #4: Use Practice Stations

In this video, Coach Mark Ritchhart gives a few pointers for using stations during your practices, as well as some general coaching tips. Click the video to learn more!

NOTE: While he is using his softball team to demonstrate, these concepts will apply to any other sport as well!

As a recap, here are the highights of what Coach Ritchhart covers in this video:

  1. Use stations to work on multiple skills all at one time.
  2. Keep practices moving quickly at all times.
  3. Try and keep practices upbeat at all times. 
  4. Train player and coaches to be in charge of certain stations. In other words, delegate!
  5. If things aren't working, don't be afraid to change your plan "on the fly!"

Planning Tip #5:  Write Down Your Own Reminders

We often have things that pop into our heads during the day that we “need” to do for our team.  For example, speaking to a player about playing time, giving an encouraging word to a struggling player, re-teaching a specific part of a skill, or maybe even what equipment you need for parts of practice.

Your practice plan is a great place to make a note for yourself. Putting notes on your plans can give you the “jolt” that you need to remember something that you might otherwise forget!

Tip #6:  Do Your Practice Plan on a Computer and Print it Off

As a coach, you are busy. Unless you are a college coach, this isn’t likely your full-time job. So there will be times where you need to throw something together with pen and paper at the last minute. Don’t beat yourself up when you need too. Life happens!

But whenever possible, I recommend typing out your plan on a computer or electronic device.  This way you will have it on a file that is easy to refer back to when necessary. Personally, I type notes on the bottom of every plan regarding the “big rocks” for future practices. Because of this, I refer back to yesterday’s practice plan each day to help me stay organized.

I cover this in detail in the video #2 below...

It doesn't matter what sport you coach. Effective practice planning does take work.  It takes time, thought, and organization.

Hopefully these six simple steps help you with more effective practice planning for your team.   

Once you have a good foundation, you can try different things until you find the perfect”system” that best suites you!

Now for an even more in-depth series on practice planning, keep reading below for our 3-part video series!  


Editors Note:

At Covey Sports, we started as a website focused on information for fastpitch softball coaches. The video series below was created early in our company, which is why Coach Covey mentions softball players specifically a couple times.

However, the information applies to coaches for other sports as well!

Video #1: Planning Essentials For Getting Started


Video #2: Over The Shoulder Planning Session


BONUS #1: Practice Objectives Spreadsheet: CLICK HERE for PDF, and CLICK HERE for Word
BONUS #2: Skills Priority List: CLICK HERE for PDF, and CLICK HERE for Word
BONUS #3: Sample Practice Plan: CLICK HERE for PDF, and CLICK HERE for Word


Video #3: Incorporating Mental Toughness and Competition Into Your Plan


So there you have it.  Six basic tips & an in-depth look at how to plan for practices!  We hope you find this helpful and we look forward to serving you on your coaching journey!

By the way, if you haven't already, be sure to follow us on Facebook & Instagram!  We'd love to interact with you there!   

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