As coaches, we spend a huge amount of time picking drills, set plays or skillsets that our teams need to work on at training.
We expect our players to tune in and focus, stay energised and then exert and apply themselves physically for full training sessions.
For many reasons, this is a tough ask.
So how do we build time for ‘play’ to mix things up? Here are 10 different ideas from elite coach and former Australian men’s team captain Heath Brown on how you can throw your trainings into the blender every once in a while and breathe new life into your sessions.
Netball has so many sports it can look to for transferable skills, so when you have a skill that needs works across the team, don’t just think about traditional netball drills and skills.
You can find inspiration in the footwork of tennis, the contested work of AFL, the ‘posting up’ of basketball, the mental and physical concentration required for dance routines such as hip hop or tap dancing, or the defensive structures of soccer.
So why not do 30 minutes of tennis drills or a dance class to re-engage your team?
When training looks flat, or your players are hanging their heads after a loss, get to the serious stuff of addressing the loss later, and instead start or interject a session with an energiser game.
Even the good old game of “knockout”, where everyone becomes a shooter, or the “golden child” relay race (ask your players – they’ll know it!) is guaranteed to beam smiles onto athletes’ faces.
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Or make your own up. I still to this day use games that were created in teams I’ve been a part of – including “Trapped nanna” and the “netball medley relay”, which probably don’t pass OH&S standards so I’d better not share what they entail!
Athletes turn up to training with massive cognitive load, due to the stresses of school, study, work and relationships. As coaches we manage physical load well (knowing how to recover athletes’ bodies), but we spend little time addressing the fatigue and clutter that exists mentally.
Mindfulness and meditation used to only be for the yogi-bears, but they are now considered mainstream skills that every athlete in any sport should use. Just like going for a jog or to the gym is to get the body in form, mindfulness practises keep the mind fresh and in form.
The practices are so simple to implement. There are several breathing practices in mindfulness toolkits, and a range of other tools to manage stress, fatigue and negative thoughts. Start a training session with a practise or throw it in the middle to refocus wandering athlete minds!
I recently made myself attend a mix of yoga and pilates sessions every day for a week, as my friend told me to see how it could prime and extend my body to start a day.
I was cynical (and am as flexible as mountain goat) but in the end I was being gobsmacked. The watershed moment come when we used pilates stretching exercises on one side of my body. I literally made my friend measure that side of my body reach, head to toe, compared to the other side, and I had extended my body by 5cm just through these simple exercises.
By the end of the session I worked the other side and had activated parts of my body that a conventional netball warm-up drill never does. Imagine a defender with an extra 5cm reach before a game, or a shooter or midcourter with an extended reach in a contest.
MAKE YOUR OWN WARM-UP
I almost always make players lead warm ups, and direct them to build in some kind of a game. With some teams this was simply giving them non-standard equipment (bouncey balls, skipping ropes, tackle bags, mini trampolines, medicine balls and board games to make a few).
I’ve always believed that warm-ups set the tone for games, and without some kind of gamification, player arousal levels can be too amped or too stiff.
Warm-ups are also a chance to show the opposition and the crowd what your unit is about. I’ve had many a moment where I’ve literally seen coaches and opposition players staring down our end of the court as we warm up with tackle bags or throw in a noisy, fun drill. Having them focus on us, and not themselves, was exactly the goal!
MAKE YOUR OWN DRILL
Some of you may have seen the “Bondi Junction” drill on thenetballcoach.com. This drill was actually created by some of my players over four training sessions, and added to by three different teams to create a number of variations.
Teams love creating something new, and you get them into ‘thinking mode’ while they design the drill.
Who doesn’t love a costume? Some of the funniest moments at training are captured via dress-up days. Now I don’t mean “mad Monday”-type attire, as it has to be practical.
Themes that I’ve seen work well include wearing your first uniform, dressing up as a mascot, coming as another sporting code, same hairstyle sessions and neon activewear nights, to name a few.
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Whether they be part of pre-season camps or pre-finals gatherings, a new level of bonding is achieved when you go into “camp”. I’ve literally watched as teammates become second family in one weekend away together at camp, or one night together reading out messages of support from family members amidst laughs and happy tears. Being in camp is where lifelong friendships are started and built, even more so than on court. And the impact this has on court – in trusting, in sacrificing, in backing each other up – is tenfold.
To break the routine of training around similar players each week, bring outsiders in to join a session and create a new buzz of energy. Many of the more experienced teams bring in male players for a different style, or I’ve even seen some parents showing their netball pedigree by heading out on court to train with their daughters. It makes for entertaining viewing.
As coaches we often get a sense for when the team or specific players are burning out.
Juggling work, school, sport and life is tough and sometimes something’s going to give. Rather than that let it get to the point that on-court performance burns out, I’ve found that impromptu nights off are quickfire ways to recharge players on the fly.
But make it conditional. For example, they might get a night off if they commit to getting an early night’s sleep, heading out with their partner for a movie or do something that chills them out.