When you have the opportunity to play against opponents with little on the line, don't just go through the motions.
June 14, 2016 by Guest Author in Opinion with 1 comments
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This article was written by guest author Scott Gatto, a coach of Brandeis TRON1.
Practices can get boring. They can be monotonous and stagnant. Playing against your own team two, three, four times per week. Guarding the same teammates over and over, getting comfortable with their tendencies. Knowing that he can’t beat you on an under cut, knowing that she only has that high release backhand break and you can sit on it as a mark, knowing that you don’t have to follow your matchup on a deep cut because that handler can’t huck it.
This is when practices can become too comfortable, when we allow routine to prevent us from pushing ourselves into uncomfortable situations so we continue to learn and grow. This comfortable feeling can encourage bad habits that will crop up when it comes time to actually compete against other teams at tournaments, faced with new and unpredictable matchups.
But what if you could play against non-teammates more frequently? What if you could practice against your opponents without a competitive result on the line? A joint practice may be just the thing your team needs.
Here are five tips for making the most of the opportunity.
1. Schedule Against The Correct Opponent
A joint practice may only work in certain instances. You may only want to try this with an opposing team that is not in your division (DI vs DIII or college vs club) or not in your section/region. While it is most helpful if you can find an opponent of roughly the same skill level so you can get meaningful reps, you may not be willing to share plays or internal language with an opponent who you know you will meet later in games that matter.
Take the time to find an opponent where neither team will be motivated by or concerned about deception; this type of practice is ideally going to be a chance to try that new zone you implemented or those new sets plays you’re trying to work into your offensive scheme. With the right joint practice partner, you can show your opponent these things without having to worry about them figuring out — and later exploiting — your weaknesses or seeing all your plays before the Series.
2. Have The Right Attitude
Joint practices only work if everyone on both teams is willing to learn from and with each other. Part of the value of these practices is doubling the number of eyes and perspectives available to assess and offer pointers to players. If a foreign team’s coach comes in to give feedback or teach drills, it can be easy for players to not listen to her/him as there is no preexisting mutual respect or trust built up. The same goes for if one player gives another one feedback or advice.
There are lots of different ways to structure how cross-team feedback gets delivered, but being in a mindset that is open to such input is crucial. Trusting that everyone is trying their best to help is key in this situation. Overall, it is imperative that coaches or team leaders establish an atmosphere that is fun, constructive, and positive.
3. Do More Than Just Scrimmage
It’s easy to go into this type of practice and want to just play. Scrimmaging allows you to try out your larger team schemes against fresh opposition and learn quickly how new opponents may react or counter those strategies. However, practice needs to be about so much more than just playing. It is your best chance to make sure all players get loads of reps on specific skills and movements that make up those larger team schemes.
Use smaller groups and more focused drills to get the most out of joint practices. Allowing your players to guard or mark people they are not used to facing or seeing new moves and fakes in drills and on the practice field can better prepare all players for future games. Even when you are playing, mini and five-pull are great alternate scrimmage options that increase reps.
4. Assign Specific Goals For The Scrimmage
You always want to go into practice with goals, both individually and team-wide. For example, players should be trying to work on their individual footwork while going through team handler drills, or working specifically on fronting or backing cutters in a downfield cutting drill. Any drill or scrimmage that encourages players to just go through the motions without learning or reinforcing something new is a waste.
One unique opportunity afforded in a joint practice is tipping the other coach or team off on what you do well or not well so you can artificially increase specific scenarios during game play. For example, if you want your team to work on IO throws to dumps, ask the other coach to have his players focus on placing a no-around mark on your throwers. Another example may be if your team needs work with zone offense, ask if the other team can throw a variety of zones and defensive looks so your players have to recognize and mentally adjust rather than getting comfortable playing against the same zone over and over. All of these are great ways for your team to fail, grow, and learn — just be sure you are willing to return the favor if your opponent has specific things they want to practice as well.
5. Flatten Playing Time
Practice is a great, “safe” place to get everyone reps. Playing against an actual opponent instead of teammates creates a tournament-like atmosphere that can easily increase your team’s competitiveness and desire to win. However, it is critical to remember that this is an opportunity to play newer players or underclassmen in a game-like situation that won’t affect your team’s power ranking.
Mix and match who guards the other team’s best players, give players the opportunity to play a different role than they normally would, or play lines that might not traditionally play together in an actual game. Your younger players may surprise you and rise to the occasion, increasing competition for key roles on your team and improving your overall squad depth.
There have been many articles on how to push your teammates or the players you coach into uncomfortable practice situations to make them better. Joint practices are just another tool to have in the kit to ensure that routine doesn’t get in the way of continued growth.
I want to send a big thank you to all the players on the Brandeis and Harvard men’s A teams for their willingness to learn and participate in our joint practice this spring. Special thank you’s go out the Harvard coaches Mike MacKenzie & William Dean and fellow Brandeis coaches Lily Steponaitis & Sam Dinning for their planning and insight. ↩