Functional Training. When training youth athletes, it’s important to keep practice and conditioning fun. As coaches, we not only want our time with them to be instructional and up-building, but also enjoyable.
Because, let’s be honest — how can athletes achieve optimal performance when they dread coming to practice? Definitely not ideal.
So, let’s make practice fun and make athletes want to show up, and want to perform. But how?
Before Anything Else: Good Vibes Only
I would describe my coaching demeanor as positive and demanding. I never demean any athlete, nor yell at them, or get in their face. I first and foremost find something to praise, and then I coach up the athlete. We critique together whatever issue there might be. As the athletes go through the workout or exercise or playtime, I demand total commitment.
A former Athletic Director of mine “criticized” that I was too nice. The old school philosophy of being tough + mean is slowly dying off. Too slow, in my opinion. Displaying kindness and positivity while demanding optimal performance are not exclusive schools of thought. Especially to this theme- adding fun to a workout or practice demands a positive environment. Positive and tough? Yes. Positive and demanding? Yes. Fun and mean? No. Please see yourself out.
Know Your Group to Find the Fun
Not every training group or team is the same. If you are a high school coach, the team’s personality can even change year to year, or even season to season (for example, the indoor squad is much smaller than the outdoor squad, therefore a personality shift happens when more athletes join the team).
It is tantamount for the coach, and in most cases the head coach, to spend time with the different group of athletes to figure out what their personalities are and what “fun” really means to them. Let’s face it — we know that your fun, coach, is different than theirs. But as a track coach, can you find a similarity between the distance runners and the sprinters? The throwers and the jumpers? It takes time, but it’s possible.
Competition Can be Fun
One of the best and easiest ways of adding fun to practice and conditioning is internal competition — team member vs. team member. In track and field, I did enjoy watching athletes have so much fun beating each other off the blocks, through the finish line, or getting better marks if they are jumping or throwing. Keeping the environment light and healthy makes adding times and marks a fun way to make practice mean more.
The same goes for the weight room. On Max Out days, my coaching staff and I would announce the leaders in different lifts to see who could beat who. While lifting safely and within their limits, the competition factor made practice fun and intentional. And since we didn’t do Max Out days very often, the competition factor made it more urgent and necessary to perform. On muscle endurance days, we would highlight some of the athletes doing better than the rest, and challenge the others to try to top them.
Some of the most fun my track and field athletes had was when we played games. We would play Capture the Flag, Assassins (you had a card of a specific athlete’s name and had to chase them down before they knew they were the target), or even traditional games like soccer and flag football. While there were specific goals to the games, the underlying concept involved running. Short sprints. Long sprints. Competition. Muscle Endurance. So while the athletes were doing other things than “track or XC practice” to the letter, we were still able to hit our workout goals.
Games are okay. Having fun at practice is okay. Coaches who say that practice isn’t for fun and games are missing out on huge opportunities to groom these young men and women into well-rounded athletes. So get after it, and have fun doing so.
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