Preparing Training

Thursday, August 10, 2017

By Daniel Pratt

ďWinning the ball & clean hands should take priority.Ē

Something that a lot of coaches donít think about until too close to the start of pre season is; ĎWhat are we going to train over the next week, month or whole pre season?í 

Obviously at the highest levels of sport the time and energy available to do this is made available, however at the mid and lower levels this is not a luxury you always have available. This doesnít mean you canít be prepared well enough to get good balance on what you train throughout a whole pre season. 

The coach at community level is also often the fitness coach, team manager, recruiter as well as many other roles. So being prepared and organized early can save a lot of stress and rushing when other issues become more important. If I was to summarise it in one sentence, pre season training is about preparing your players to execute your game plan effectively. So training should be based around that. 

There is no competition to compare yourself against in pre season, so being planned is the best way to work out if you have covered what you need. In season you can work on what you are not doing effectively based on performance (areas for improvement), but we donít have that luxury in the pre season.

An issue that I see when I visit community level training is what is actually being trained. It either isnít in line with that level of football or it isnít going to help the players execute under pressure. So a great starting point is to recognize what you have available regarding player talent and what resources you do have to access. 

It is very difficult to get good outcomes from training if you donít have the right support. Your assistant coaches need to have an aligned and collective view and philosophy on what you are trying to train. This is the primary reason why you should plan ahead with your pre season, so an individual session or even drill has clear objectives and outcomes. This minimizes mixed messages to players and allows your coaches to coach or manage accordingly, even to the extent of you not having to be there to oversee a session.

So you have your pre season dates mapped out. Some rough training times. Lets say 5:30 Ė 7pm Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with optional Saturday mornings. Thatís not a lot of time to work on skill, fitness and a game plan. Probably four hours per week once you take out junk time that fills a session. Not a lot of time to train.

Understanding what your group needs is very important. Personally if I were to train any team, whether it is Auskick through to AFL, it would be doing the basics well. Sometimes we all forget that. 

Having been involved in all levels of footy, if you canít win the ball and handle it cleanly, you canít do anything else you want to train. So setting time aside for basic fundamentals of football is critical. Winning the ball & clean hands should take priority. This doesnít mean you need to do it all session, but you should make it a staple of your training for the whole season, not only pre season. 

Be creative with these drills, this will keep your players motivated and enthusiastic. Even drills as simple as players kicking ground balls to each other 5 metres apart before they go for their warm up lap can have significant influence on clean handling at ground level. Think about it like this. If your players do that for 5 minutes every session before training 3 times a week for the whole year, thatís a lot of time. Fifteen minutes a week for 30+ weeks, including pre season. That is a lot of time on a basic fundamental. If you make it a competition, they will do it every session without you asking them to do it. 

Make a list of fundamentals of the game that you want to work on, what can be done pre training, and what you need to do in training. This will allow you to assign time according to the importance of that fundamental.

A trap that coaches can fall into is over training what you would call basic skill in a non-pressure environment. Doing lane work for 20 minutes isnít going to help your players make decisions and execute under pressure on game day.  Being technically sound to handball or kick is important but how often do players get pure possessions in a game? Most AFL clubs now break down their drills into smaller games, for example a 5 v 3 handball game. This is a decision making drill, a skill drill, which isnít reliant on the sharpness and cleanliness of a pure lane kicking drill.  Skill is more about the outcome than what it looks like. When your players are able to execute under pressure rather than look sharp in lane work, their performance and the teamís performance will improve. 

All your training should be pieces of a puzzle for your game plan. If you are a high handballing team you need to train being clean and sharp with hands. If you a high kicking team, you need to be good at retaining the ball by foot, so that is what you focus your training on. You now need to put it back together. Usually when you work on one part of your game plan as a team, say your ball movement, there is only going to be one ball in the drill with 18 Ė 30 players. 

This is why everything else you train is so important to preparing your players to execute when it is their turn. For example, if you train just team ball movement (1 ball drill) too much, they wonít have the confidence or skill to execute your game plan. However, if you donít train it enough there is no structure to what they will do in a game, resulting in players becoming confused and not working together.  It's all about balance.

If you are prepared and plan well, you can manipulate things as you go. If you know what is coming up, you can review what you have done and alter what you need to as you go. Reviewing what you are doing is no different to reviewing a game:

  • Is what we are doing effective?
  • Did that drill work?
  • Are we getting the outcomes we wanted from that drill?
  • How can we coach this fundamental better?
  • What will make this drill better? 

There are so many questions you can ask if you are planned well. You train what you need based on the teamís performance in season. Pre season is about preparing players to execute your game plan effectively.

Here is a basic template for planning your training:

  1. What are your teamís priorities?
  2. Have an outline of your pre season with time set aside for those priorities. Remember you need balance.
  3. You can populate your sessions in the short term, post reviewing what you have already done (the week prior).
  4. Have a training session template. (An excel sheet works well)
    a) Fundamentals Ė (Groundballs 5 mins)
    b) Skill drills Ė (Lane hands/kicking 10 mins)
    c) Game Plan Breakdowns (HB game, Defense, Kicking Game 3x7 mins)
    d) Game Plan Training (Ball Movement 10 mins)
  5. Send your coaches what they need prior to training. Email out training for the week, send through the pre season / season outline. They will appreciate being inner sanctum.
  6. Review each session or each week with your assistant/s, they will see things you donít.
  7. Make necessary adjustments.

Once you get rolling, all that is required now is step 5, 6 & 7. If there are any major issues you can always go back and review your outline & priorities. This is worth reviewing 3 or 4 times over a pre season.

Finally, you only have a limited time to train what you need and get your players up to speed with fitness and health. Be creative with your training, there is never enough time with the footballs. Never forget the importance of your resources, the buy-in of your support staff is critical, make sure you use them effectively. Never forget that offense, defense and winning the ball are all part of your game plan, you need to train them all. 

Lastly if I were to only give one take away point about training, basic fundamentals are the most important thing to train. 

* Daniel Pratt is the current Backline and Team Defence Coach at the West Coast Eagles

This article was written as part of the requirements for AFL High Performance Coach Accreditation. 

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