ON THE LINE! Finding the practice sweet spot.

ON THE LINE! 25 distracted, chatty, vacant expressions looking past you have finally tested your limit.  You’ve tried yelling, redirecting, re-explaining, calling them out by name, but nothing is working.  Performance is suffering because practices are starting to feel like a waste of time. You are dragging them through the season. Where is their work ethic? Where is your sanity? Where is your blood pressure cuff…

RUN! Run until IM tired! Run until you think this is important! Run until you care!

Sometimes we are just running ourselves ragged trying to drag our kids to the work ethic we know they need to have in order to be successful, but it’s not working, is it? You can’t force kids to want something, but we keep trying anyway.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about making practices fun, about making them positive, about calling out their successes and not using punishments. But your team needs discipline, not rays of false sunshine thrown their way, what choices do YOU have??? How is being positive going to get them to work harder. I think more running….

It’s time to change our drill structure.  What we are trying to do is take Intensity and throw it at them.Then, if we are nice, we throw in some occasional FUN activities here and there to balance our approach. But instead of balance we just send a mixed message about what we are all about.  We were raised to see things in an all or nothing process but there truly is a better and more balanced way. Instead of alternating fun and misery, let’s build something that addresses the way kids learn most effectively.

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Here’s the old school model– One end of the spectrum is a practice that’s intense, drills, sprints, no socializing, water breaks in 30 seconds or else, running and push up punishments, intimidation. Can be effective but usually not long term. The other end of the spectrum are games that have little point to them other than fun. Also drills that don’t have much point and aren’t really attended too, it’s more like recess and free play and doesn’t lend much other than perhaps some team bonding. Lots of fun but now our team stinks..hmm not really what mom and dad are paying for.  We can alternate intense and fun but that doesn’t really get us anywhere because the kids don’t get much out of either scenario. After the fun part it’s impossible to drag them back  into any kind of intensity. What we end up with is a seesaw effect – up down up down- no one ever knows which mode the coach is in until….GET ON THE LINE!!!!!

OR we can build something all-together new. I call it the learning sweet spot, and if you can find it as a coach, your program will THRIVE.

Think about your job.  When you’re unattended and there’s no direction how much do you accomplish? On the other end, when your boss is breathing down your neck, micromanaging every move and making you miserable trying to push you to produce more and better work, how does that feel?  Not so good, right?

Let’s find the sweet spot! As you see there are three options inside that area. You can be perfectly balanced, or lean more towards fun or more towards intensity. But you always stay inside those lines so that the learning never stops and the kids never say they’ve had enough.

First you have to ask, what skills do we need to improve on the most right now? Perhaps it’s ground balls – a safe bet for almost every team.  I can throw them into game-like scenarios and make them run until they get it right…(not sure how running improves ground balls but we seem to like to try that anyway..) OR we go back to the beginning and make picking up a clean, quick ground ball a rewarding experience.

EXAMPLE:  Starting with a partner, one is the judge and the other is the scooper.  Throw a ton of ground balls out on the field. The scooper has to go find a ground ball, pretend there is an opponent on their left side and box out, scoop the ball cleanly on the first try at full speed and then roll it out for another person to pick it up. If they do it right their partner/judge gives them a point.  At the end of a minute they switch and the partner with the most points stays in and competes with the rest of the team until you have a small group of ground ball winners.  Next step, they are competing in groups of 4 (2v2 competitive ground balls) Build it up until you have 4 to 6 competing against each other.

Why is this different than any other drill you normally do? It’s only partially different, but the differences are incredibly important. Think about the elements involved here:

  1. A teammate is holding them accountable (something that will benefit them in practice and on the field)
  2. They are competing in something that has an immediate reward (getting to continue on and compete at the harder level)
  3. They are self-motivated to hustle.
  4. They are being rewarded only for doing it properly
  5. Attention is being put on the skill being done correctly instead of mistakes
  6. It can go all the way to a full game scenario but starts with the individual mechanics that usually are really at fault anyway, no matter what level they are playing.


When attention can be gained by doing something correctly, players will work harder. Yes, fear is a motivator that can work, but its short term in nature and creates a barrier to performance on the field. A player who has fears about mistakes will risk less, think too much, and freeze under pressure. Or they quit. As a coach it makes you feel like a shmuck..definitely another con. Why risk that when there’s another way?

Players not paying attention? AGAIN? Take a look at your drill. It may be a great drill, super intense and have all the right skills to practice but are the lines too long? Is it complicated? Is there any reward or any motivation to stand out? Are they doing the same drill foreverrrrrrr? Is there any fun involved at all?

Practices that balance work and fun at the same time produce incredible results. How do I know this? Because my specialty is rebuilding and starting teams. Because I tried it, repeatedly, it’s the only kind of practice I now run, and it never fails. No we aren’t running around playing silly games all practice because I’m highly competitive and my goal is to develop players as fast as possible, and to win.

But every drill has these elements involved or we don’t do it:

  1. A reward for doing it right (moving on, call out of praise, high five..always!)
  2. An element of fun (1v1 to goal, winner has to give the loser a piggy back ride back to the line etc)
  3. A limit on time so they have only a short amount of time to get it right and something they have to focus on (motivation to concentrate – like having to count how many steps the person in front of them took before shooting and call it out before they can go after the loose ball)
  4. Short lines (multiple drills or stations whenever necessary)
  5. Peer accountability (give each other feedback, count for them, direct them, etc)


Kids will work intensely at fun, so putting an element of fun inside of learning every skill is so much easier than trying to force them to work harder. They have a built-in motivator system but we have to use it!

It doesn’t take long to adapt your practices to that sweet spot. You know you have it when at the end of practice the kids say “It’s over already??!!”  That’s a great sign. At the next game when they get excited about taking those skills onto the field and come off the field saying “Coach I did it!” Well, that’s another great sign. When the players start congratulating each other for mastering skills from practice at games, your team is thriving in the sweet spot. Expect great things to happen! At the end of the day, there should be more reasons for high fives then for punishments. They can leave practice sweaty AND smiling. And that goes for you too!

3 thoughts on “ON THE LINE! Finding the practice sweet spot.”

  1. Nice article Kate!
    You know you hit the sweet spot when your players refer to a drill as the “fun drill”.

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