Like a lot of parents, I spend a significant time each fall on different fields around town watching youths at various levels practice. As a coach sitting on the sidelines, this is one of the most excruitiating times of my day. From my experience, youth baseball is the worst. During the years I've spent watching my sons little league practices it's no wonder their development is slow and they loose interest...the practices are boring and a waste of time.
This week my son had lacrosse practice on the adjacent field to a high school boys soccer practice. So I sat in the space between the two field and watched. I couldn't believe what I saw.
The soccer practice started at 6:30pm (well at least it was supposed to start at 6:30 but nothing really happened until 6:40). They started practice, like many others, with a team meeting. All the players sat on the ground while the three coaches addressed the team. At first I didn't pay too much attention to what was being said, but when the talk was still going on after a 10 minutes I became more interested. The coaches were asking for more commitment and effort from the players. As the head coach talked, the assistants chimed in randomly. After 20 minutes, this talk was still going on. By this time the sun set behind the hills and the field was becoming colder. By the way, earlier in the evening, it had rained and the field was damp and grass wet.
A little after 7pm the talk ended and the team started their warm up. Actually the warm up looked pretty good. It consisted of a series of dynamic skips and drills that kept the athletes in constant motion for 15-20 minutes. During this time the coaches were off the the side talking to a plain clothed adult that I can only guess was a parent. None of the coaches commented or coached during the warm up. When the athletes were done, they wandered over to the coaches and waited.
Now its 7:30pm, the field is started to get dark and cold. One assistant coach split the team into two groups and sent one group to one end line and the other on the opposite side of the field. Then he yelled, "Go" and the teams ran/jogged to the opposite end lines and back. For the next 15 minutes they repeated this with inconsistent effort and recovery time.
At 7:45 it was too cold and dark for me on the field and I retreated to the warmth of my car.
On the adjacent field a youth fall lacrosse league was practicing. Lacrosse is a spring sport so this is recreational and development season for this league. It consists of middle school boys with a range of abilities ranging from the first time they've picked up a stick to a few years of experience.
At 6:25 the coaches told the players to get their gear on and then at 6:30 sharp, they sent them on a warm up lap around the field. As this lap ended the group circled around a few team leaders and performed a static stretch routine. The coaches spent this time talking on one side of the field, presumably working out the details of practice. At 6:45, when team finished stretching, the head coach called the group together and announced the practice plan for the day and introduced the first drill.
This large group instruction consisted of external cues and organizational information... very appropriate given that this was the third practice session of the season with athletes that are not familiar with the routine or sport.
The first drill consisted of the team in groups of three passing the ball back and forth. Both assistant coaches helped organize the groups and spread them out on the field. During the drill the coaches circulated in a waterfall progression offering quick, short, and concise internal cues. At one point during the drill the head coach blew is whistle, the team stopped, he yelled, "All Eyes on Me! One Voice" and gave the team one short external cue. Then the drill resumed. A few minutes later, the head coach ended the drill brought the team together and explained a second drill. This process continued through five different drills until it was too dark to see the ball.
I think this is one reason why lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in America.