Before I go into the individual talks, I’m going to mention a few things I’ve learned from watching the conference:
- The Seattle based-presenters have repeatedly mentioned that there’s not enough wind in the Pacific Northwest. As someone who has been hard pressed to find a practice space that doesn’t feel like it’s located inside a tornado, I have zero empathy for them. Please, please, take some of ours.
- If an ultimate coach watches another high level sport, it’s almost certainly basketball (I am also guilty of this). I like to think it’s because we all share the same fantasy of doing this to someone.
- The conference presenters who are schoolteachers really like to do their talk in the classroom. I like Josh Hartzog’s the best, because he has ‘ZOG’ above the whiteboard, with a clock standing in as the ‘O’. Do his students call him Zog? Is he the coolest teacher ever? These are questions I need answered.
- Tim Morrill is hands down the most excited person to be here. If you transcribed his talk, it would only use exclamation points.
- There are exceptions, but it generally seems that any talks on strategy, practices, and drills are geared more towards youth and less experienced teams, while the fitness talks are for older and more experienced players
Sion– It’s pronounced Shawn– Scone
Important For: New coaches and player-coaches; teams looking to improve their drill library; People who watched Mario O’Brien’s season scheduling talk.
I think this presentation should have happened after Mario O’Brien’s on season scheduling. Drill design is the a perfect small scale complement to Mario’s talk, and there’s a bit of topic overlap in the Q&As of each.
Sion does an excellent job explaining the little details that turn rudimentary drills into great ones and how practices can be optimally designed. I have a checklist from his talk that I’m going to run through each time I’m planning a practice in the future.
To kick things off, he talks about ‘Setting the Scene’, something he does before running any drill. He explains how the drill fits into how the team wants to play, and when the drill should be applied during a game. It may sound trivial, but coaches shouldn’t assume this sort of information is obvious to every player, and reviewing it helps achieve buy-in.
Sion then breaks down different types of drills (skills, tactical, and game scenario), before getting into the factors that limit drill design (number of discs and players, weather, how far into practice you are). A key takeaway is to focus on learning early in practice, and then mental strength towards the end, a sentiment echoed in Tiina Booth’s talk.
He then goes into how to actually construct a drill from scratch, and things to consider to keep the drill flexible so it can be tweaked in the future. This might be the most useful part for people unhappy with their current collection of drills.
Highlights of the Q&A include discussing Drill Mode vs Game Mode, running scrimmages with specific rules, and insight into structuring drills for tryouts.
Important For: Anyone in charge of their team’s schedule and practices; People who watched the Drill Design talk.
Mario’s talk was much like Sion’s, but on a larger scale. Honestly, this talk might provide the biggest bang for the buck for the entire conference. There’s some nitty gritty I’m going to glaze over here, but the core process is to figure out what skills and tactics your team needs in order to function, then map out your season schedule, paying special attention to checkpoints like major tournaments or holidays, and finally put together a schedule of what skills and tactics are going to be practiced at each practice of the season, prioritizing learning based on need and the predetermined checkpoints.
Now, as any coach (or product manager) will say, it’s impossible to stay perfectly on schedule. There’s always something. Mario smartly suggests leaving practices immediately before and after a tournament unplanned. Before the tournament they can be filled with last minute needs or act as a scheduling cushion for what you had planned but haven’t been able to cover yet, and the post-tournament practices can be used to immediately focus on weaknesses exposed during the tournament.
The Q&A portion was particularly great, and clocks in around 50 minutes. Mario aspeaks on topics relating to the main talk, such as working with players that outgrow the plan, how to deal with large skill gaps on teams, and good times to revise your original schedule. Because of the relationship of season schedule to practice planning (alliteration!), the Q&A delves into designing specific practices as well.
The most impressive thing I got from Mario is the sheer amount of planning that goes into a team. The man has back-up practices ready to go for every situation, whether it’s low attendance, surprise weather, and anything else that might derail the original plan. It’s a lot of work, but that amount of planning helps keep things flexible and running smoothly.
Important For: Youth coaches; teams that aren’t gaining many yards on their in-cuts.
Zog’s talk is the most immediately applicable of the conference so far. He lays out a progression of five(!) cutting drills, taking players from setting up and making basic in-cuts, to being forced to make rapid decisions based on defender positioning, to improving timing and flow of cutters. Each drill is illustrated on a powerpoint, and several have an accompanying video demonstration. Very helpful stuff.
As a youth coach, most of Zog’s Q&A focuses on working with young players. He talks about his preferences for cycling through drills, improving timid cutters, videos that can help with footwork (RISE UP gets yet another shout out), and how to get kids focused on in cuts for big gains, instead of making difficult, shorter cuts for only a handful of yards. There is also great response on how a player can use their upper body to help facilitate changing direction, which is applicable on all levels.
Important For: High level players looking to up their training.
Tim is really passionate and knowledgeable about this sort of work, and with one of the longer talks so far, it’s also obvious that he’s eager to share. And his topic, offseason training, is clearly a big component of the competitive game.
That being said, I have almost zero prior experience in training other than casually hitting the gym, so a lot of this presentation went over my head. This is a talk for players serious about fitness and who have enough time to properly execute a training regimen. I’m sure coaches can pull some good information here for use during the season, but Melissa’s talk on structuring warm-ups is better in that regard. Tim repeatedly emphasizes that this work should be done in the offseason and then curtailed.
The Q&A here is filled with people asking for advice dealing with certain injuries or techniques. It was sometimes difficult for Tim to give good advice without being able to physically check out the questioner, but he does an excellent job anyway. If nothing else, you can get ideas of questions to bring up with your physical therapist or trainer.
One interesting note is that Melissa acknowledged after the talk that there is always going to be some discrepancies when strength and fitness trainers give advice. These discrepancies happen almost exclusively in the little details though, and there is wide-scale agreement on the general ideas and execution. I appreciated her being upfront about this, as I could easily see people watching these presentations, hearing some conflicting information from their own trainer to top it off, and quickly getting confused about what the right way to train is.
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