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Planning Objective Driven Practices

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Have you ever sat down in a morning meeting with your coaching staff and asked, 'Ok guys, what should we do today in practice?"

Well I have and invariably someone will suggest one drill and then someone else will call out another and of course I'll have an idea or two. Before long we will have a whole list of possible drills and competitions written on the white board.

After a minute or two of studying the board one of the coaches will point out that we've already run a particular drill two or three times that week and so we should consider doing something else instead.

Eventually all the suggestions and ideas are pared down to a workable and agreeable group of drills and activities that will become the day's practice plan.

That same scenario, or at least something very similar, is probably conducted by hundreds of coaching staffs and repeated day after day and season after season. However, while that method of practice planning has definitely worked for a myriad of successful coaches, I have recently discovered that there may be a better, more productive way to get the job done.

Several months ago I read a book called "Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better." It was written by Doug Lemov and Erica Woolway and is intended primarily for classroom teachers who are looking for ways to teach more effectively. Rule #5 is "Replace Your Purpose with an Objective" and I honestly can't wait to test it out in our practices.

The authors suggest that many teachers (coaches?) are purpose driven instead of objective driven and clearly explain the differences between the two.

1. An objective is measurable. Instead of simply deciding to work on your man to man offense today try establishing a measurable objective that says "Let's run through every single offensive option without turning the ball over before shooting it unless we have an uncontested layup. And let's work on it until we can do it four out of five times."

2. An objective is manageable. To be effective an objective needs to be age and skill appropriate and while it doesn't have to be easy it does need to be "doable." For example, an objective of being able to throw ten perfect behind the back passes or make seven out of ten pull up three pointers would not be suitable for grade school players. Instead of helping them get better an objective like that would only discourage and frustrate the players involved.

3. An objective should come with mastery guidelines which the authors describe as one or two things to focus on when doing it correctly. Most coaches do this already but I wonder if we don't stress and emphasize too many things when we should concentrate on only a couple of important yet highly specific concepts.

4. An objective is made ahead of time. We can't establish worthwhile objectives while we are walking into the gym for practice. Good ones take time and sometimes lots of it. Lemov and Woodway relate a story about a principal who once asked his teachers what percentage of their time did they spend on planning their classes and what percentage on defining their objectives. The majority of teachers said it was 90-10, 95-5, or 80-20. However, the teacher who was long considered to be the best in the school said he spent 80-90% of his time defining his objectives and 10-20% planning the actual activities.

From now on I am going to do a better job of starting with the specific outcome I want to achieve in practice and then work backwards from there. I fully anticipate that I will need to set aside some of my favorite drills, the ones that we sometimes do simply because we've always done them. I'm hoping that this change will help us become great at a few things at a time instead of having a more generalized approach. If I pick the right objectives I'm confident that I can help our players improve more quickly which should translate into more wins.

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