Mar 29, 2018
Great Atmosphere
David Hoch

If you asked your athletes to describe the atmosphere at your practices, what words would they use? Exciting? Energizing? Demanding? Fun? Maybe even inspiring?

The tone of a practice doesn’t happen by accident — it is directly created by the coach. However, after a hard loss, during a losing season, or when parent problems or other issues have entered the picture, it can be difficult to make your practices a positive place. But it is at these times that your team most needs you to provide a great atmosphere at practice.

The following are some steps you can take to create an excellent environment at your practices. Whether you are in the middle of a winning season or your team is struggling, practice can be a place your athletes look forward to being, where they can grow and thrive.

Remember why you’re there. Our number-one objective in education-based athletics is the growth and development of young people. You are in the business to help young people become productive, involved, caring, and concerned citizens. One of the most powerful tools you have in this quest is the tone you set at practice every day.

Remember why they’re there. Look at the research, and you’ll see that the number one reason young people play sports is to have fun. This doesn’t mean practice should be easy or that it should be one big party. However, kids want an environment where they can share an enjoyable time with their friends and coaches. And in the same studies, winning games usually ranks third or fourth in what really matters to them.

Refine your teaching. If you observe a great teacher in the classroom, you will see someone who is constructive, supportive, and genuinely concerned about whether students are learning. You will not find intense criticism directed at the young people in the class or see the teacher berating them in any fashion. If a student makes a mistake, the instructor will try again to present the same material in a different way until it is mastered. Similarly, coaches who have great practices spend time thinking about their instructional approaches and techniques and work hard on the way they interact with their athletes.

Have a clean-slate approach. Come into practice with a fresh, positive, upbeat attitude every day — especially after a loss! While you definitely need to review the game and explain your plan to improve, you can’t create a great atmosphere by dwelling on the past and haranguing your players. Be controlled, business-like, and concise with your analysis, and always be constructive. For some coaches, this step is a major challenge after a frustrating game, but it has to be done in order provide the best possible educational environment.

Point out the positive. Provide an honest assortment of encouraging words in addition to the critical corrections of skill, technique, and execution. Much more is accomplished with a positive approach than with a constant steam of negative comments and reactions. Try throwing in, “You can do it! Keep trying!” You will be amazed at the effect.

Mix it up. Put on music during appropriate portions of practice, or use a brief fun drill occasionally in order to pump up the morale. Doing something a little different can pay huge dividends in the form of boosting attitudes and improving the atmosphere.

As a coach, you have a lot on your plate. But when your athletes look back on their experience on your team, the environment at your practices will be one of the things they remember the most. By putting thought and effort into creating a great practice atmosphere, you’re investing in success, both on and off the court. By the end of this season, you can ensure that, if you asked them what your practices are like, you’d be proud of the words they’d use!

David Hoch retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach. In 2009, Dr. Hoch was honored as the Eastern District Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. He was also presented with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Distinguished Service Award, and in 2000 he was named the Maryland State Athletic Director Association's Athletic Director of the Year. Dr. Hoch has authored over 460 professional articles and made more than 70 presentations around the country. He welcomes comments and questions and can be reached at: [email protected]

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