Running an efficient ultimate practice session is something that all coaches want to accomplish. It is important to keep players focused, keep them engaged, and keep them learning. But how do you do this? In the URCA Classroom, Keith Raynor gives some tips and tricks to help you run a practice smoothly. In his presentation, he models a plan based on a cutting-focused practice, but the principles he outlines are suited for any training session. The following is a breakdown of some of the ideas Keith lays out.
You can’t cover everything in a single practice. It is important that you have an idea of what area of the game you want your team to improve in, then sculpt a plan around that. In Keith’s video, he models a practice about cutting–but you could also focus on marking, defensive sets, dump defense, or any other detail of the game that you want to teach.
You should always have an idea of how long each activity will take. You don't want to spend 2 or 3 hour practice on just 2 drills—or worse, you don't want to find yourself at the end of practice without having enough time do everything you wanted to do. When scripting each activity in practice, always plan for a few extra minutes to give yourself some wiggle room. This allows you to spend a bit more time if players are struggling with a particular concept, or it can just be used for water breaks or other small delays. If you find yourself ahead of schedule, you can always spend extra time scrimmaging or in a drill later on in practice.
While staying flexible with the timing of each activity is a good thing, you should never want to start or finish practice off schedule. If your players have committed to a 2 hour block, you should respect that commitment by starting on time, and finishing on time. Consistently straying from your set practice times will make it difficult for your players to plan their own personal schedules, and simply does not give your players the respect they deserve.
Limit yourself to using no more than 2-3 huddles per practice. This is related to the issue of timing—when you spend too much time talking in a huddle, you are taking away from time that you could spend practicing and developing skills. A huddle is appropriate at the beginning of practice (or immediately after the warm up) to set the intention of the team, as well as at the end of practice to review everything and to deal with logistics. If necessary, you can call for a huddle during practice. For instance, if your team is losing focus or obviously not grasping a core concept, you may want to give them a brief pause, hit reset, and refocus on the task at hand. However, you should try to limit these as much as possible to maximize time spent training.
You can let your team run the warm up on their own. This gives you some extra time to set up a field or finish preparations before practice. This is also a way to develop leadership by designating one player as the “warm up captain,” and making them responsible for gathering everyone together and leading them through the warm up. Additionally, your team can use this as a way to transition into a focused practice mentality. The warm up can be a way for players to “depressurize” from the outside world, and zone in on ultimate for the next few hours.
Begin with a simple drill, following the warm up, that involves lots of running, catching, and throwing. This can be seen as an extension of the warm up, as you are “warming up” your players’ disc skills.
It is important to be mindful of not only what drills you are running, but what order you are running them in as well. Choose drills that build on each other and develop skills in a logical progression. Additionally, a good drill isolates skills in a game-like situation. It is obviously valuable to develop players’ skills in a way that translates into games, and making sure that your drills mimic some aspect of an actual game is key way to accomplish that.
Following your warm up drill should be a drill that introduces the focus of that practice. In our cutting practice, this is a 2v2 cutting drill. This is a simple example of a game-like situation. Cutters will always find themselves needing to work in tandem with another offensive player to move the disc, which is exactly what this drill is focused on. By isolating this aspect of the game into a small drill, players can quickly get lots of repetitions working with each other, and can more easily observe what works.
The last drill in this model practice is 4v4, or “mini.” Mini is one of the most common practice drills around, and for good reason. Just like the 2v2 drill above, mini is another example of a small-sided game that increases repetitions in a game-like scenario. 4v4 gameplay shares many similarities with the flow of 7v7, but it removes a player’s ability to hide on offense. Everyone has to be involved, everyone has to be moving a lot, and everyone has to be getting a lot of touches.
Sometimes there is just not a substitute for getting players on the field and playing. After all, the joy of playing the game is what drives your players to compete. Scrimmaging is typically best done at the end of practice. This way you can incorporate everything you worked on earlier in the practice and focus on that in the scrimmage. However, the scrimmage should not just be an unrestricted style of play. Rather, you should be comfortable pausing the scrimmage and calling timeouts to ensure that your players’ focus is where it should be.
One way you to direct players’ focus where you want it is to create rules—what Jools Murray referred to as “constraints” in her talk. For a cutting-focused practice you might specify as a constraint that a player may not throw to the player that threw to them. This limits a cutter’s reset options, and forces them to consider more downfield options. The key to an effective constraint is that it encourages players to accomplish your desired goal, but does not prescribe an answer. Instead, your players must solve it themselves.
Finally, remember that each and every practice is an opportunity to get better. Making the most of these opportunities over the course of the season will help your team reach its potential and perform as well as possible at tournaments. Keith’s presentation in the URCA Classroom is one of many that will aid in this goal. Every day that goes by is one day closer to the end of the season—don’t wait, sign up to the URCA Classroom today!
Keith has been playing ultimate for over 15 years, in addition to coaching for seven years at the college, club, and professional level. Beginning his career at Paideia, Keith played at American University and club in DC and Atlanta. He has formerly coached Emory Luna women's ultimate, and is also a Senior Editor and the Women's Coverage Coordinator at Ultiworld.com.