Nailing down the logistics of practices is something that’s best done early. Logistics such as length of practice, number of courts, and the maximum number of players to plan for at any practice are important to get settled. These things can be influenced by the age of your players, the facility’s time restraints, the equipment available, and the number of coaches. Identifying these factors before your season helps you to plan accordingly.
Length of Practice
The factors that dictate the length of a practice are the age level of the team, the physical condition of the players, the time of the season, and the availability of the gymnasium.
The younger age groups (10 to 13) need shorter practices because they have shorter attention spans. Modified, middle school, and grassroots programs normally practice between one and two hours. Teaching segments and practice drills are changed frequently. Related games can be interspersed to add variety. It takes a coach who is both creative and technical to plan and implement an effective practice for younger players. These coaches must be positive and need to be able to change activities when the players get restless. They almost need to possess a magic wand!
Older age teams (14 to 18) can practice longer, but this doesn’t mean that long practices are the key to success. The quality of each practice and the objectives achieved are the most important aspects. Most varsity, junior varsity, and club teams practice between two and two and a half hours. College teams usually practice two to three hours. The added time allotted for older teams is used for multiple skill drills and tactical instruction.
Number of Courts Available
Two courts is the ideal number for a team of 12 to 16 players to practice adequately. Some college teams have the luxury of three or four courts because they usually have adequate space and support personnel to implement individualized position training and game situations. Most high schools have one court per team, and some varsity and junior varsity teams have to share courts. This is where creativity is a necessity, for example using off-court space for announcements, warm-up, stretching, conditioning, and cool-down. It may become necessary to use off-court space to teach certain aspects of the game, such as conducting a chalk talk. It is essential to use the actual on-court time for technical development, skill instruction, situation training, and gamelike drills.
Some coaches use flexible scheduling and multiteam teaching to make practices more effective. If the junior varsity and varsity teams each usually have a court, a combination practice session can gain court time. For example, one court could be used for setter training, and another court could be used for serve receive or defensive drills. Another option is to conduct a junior varsity team practice for the first time segment, then have a combination varsity and junior varsity setter training session, and finish with a varsity practice. Another option is to practice before classes or in the evening when more court space is available. Of course, a coach can beg the school administration for more court time, but usually a coach has to work wonders with what she has been given.
Additionally, a coach must be ready for the surprises that may greet her as she walks into the gym--the gym is being decorated early for the homecoming dance, the gym is filled with confetti from an earlier pep assembly, or the gym is filled with desks to prepare for standardized testing the next day . . . “Sorry, we forgot to tell you!”
Number of Participants
When planning any practice, the coach must know the number of players expected to attend. Most teams have 9 to 18 players. Some modified and grassroots teams have huge numbers because of policies against cutting players. Flexible scheduling and creativity in drills are essential when planning a large group practice.
A coach must have a policy governing absences from practice. It is smart to put the responsibility on the player. If a player is going to be absent for any reason, that player must notify the coach before the absence.
Consequently, the coach must supply the players with his phone number and e-mail address at the beginning of the season. The coach should also put the burden on the player to find out what happened at the missed practice and to be informed of any announcements that were made to the team. If the coach mistakenly assumes this responsibility, he will be on the phone more than he’ll be at practice! A team Web site is a great communication tool, if you have the option available, to use for additional updates and schedules.
When formulating drills, a coach needs to know how many athletes will be attending practice; however, a coach has to be ready for the unexpected. It is not uncommon for a coach to walk into practice and find out that Suzy went home ill from eighth period class, Jennifer had to stay after school for extra help, or the bus from the field trip is returning late. At the middle school level, where participation in many diverse activities is encouraged, kids are pulled in many directions, so priorities must be established. It is important not to pit kids and activities against each other. The supervising adults need to work out agreements with each other ahead of time. If two activities, such as volleyball and orchestra, are practicing simultaneously, the coaches/supervisors must split the time. It often is necessary to share practice time unless individual position training becomes a priority.
This is an excerpt from Coaching Volleyball Successfully.