We all enjoy working on things when we pick them. This is a truth that applies to all ages and workplaces. Yet in sports we expect players to give full effort in drills when we give them no input on the skills that we are working on or the drills that we are using to improve those skills. By giving players some choice into the activities of the day, coaches can improve their overall motivation and engagement.
Increase Engagement by Giving Players a Role in Practice Planning
Allowing for choice has long been a simple motivational tool used by parents and educators. One of the original parenting tips is to give kids a choice between two options. When people pick an option their brain is hardwired to be more engaged and happy with the result. As a parent all you have to do is make sure both options are good for you so both choices result in a positive impact. This same basic principle can be easily applied to football practice with your position group and players to increase motivation and engagement.
Related Content: Youth Football Practice Planning
There are two major ways to offer choice inside of a practice. The easiest way is to have the skill picked out and have two drills that work the specific skill. From there you can give the players the choice as to which drill they would rather use to improve the skill. When you begin to talk with the players about why they chose the drill you can gain some great insight not only into the players, but into the drill itself. There have been multiple times where players have picked a drill because they say it works a specific move or skill that I didn’t even think about.
The other option for adding choice into a practice plan is by having players pick the skill they are going to be working on. This is normally done late in the season or in the offseason when the base skills have been developed or you have time to work on a variety of skills. This is as simple as asking the players which skills they think they need to improve on and would like to work the next day. Once the players have picked the skill they want to work on you can come up with the specific drills you will do as a team to improve them.
For more mature groups you can allow them to pick specific skills that they want to work on and allow them some independent time to work these skills. This only works with groups where players are intrinsically motivated and realize the impact of a focused practice session. With these groups, I have found it can be beneficial to allow them 5 to 10 minutes where they are able to work any specific skill set that they need to improve. This is particularly effective with the Offensive Line and working pass protection sets. The lineman can set his partner in a look that he expects to see in the upcoming game or that he has struggle with.
It is incredible how much giving athletes the ability to make choices can affect their motivation. Players are no longer doing the drill that the coach has written down without any understanding of why they are doing the drill. Instead they are working on a drill and skill that they picked because they know it will make them better players. Not only does this lead to better effort in focus in the drill, but it also leads to leadership within the unit.
(See Also) Secrets to Effective Practice Planning