Powering Through the “Lulls” of Preseason

Recently I sat down with a fellow coach, and with August upon us, the discussion turned to the upcoming preseason.  The main topic was the lull that most of us experience scheduling-wise during preseason. That is,  a week into preseason with a game still two weeks away or classes have begun with a game still weeks away. There is the monotony of the practices with a game still far-off.  Everyone is on edge and tired from competing against each other.  The tempo of practice can take a real downturn and your players can be on edge with a very short fuse.  As much as you emphasize over and over again the importance of taking advantage of these practice opportunities, all your players know is that they will spend the next two hours hitting the same players that they have for the last two weeks.

After the discussion I thought about all the planning we had for preseason practices. That includes the practice plans, scripts, play cards, position manuals, etc.  Yet none of this planning included preparation for that “lull period”.  Listed below are some of the ideas that we have used in the past to power through this “lull” in preseason and keep motivation and tempo at a championship level.

Throwback Thursdays– We picked up on the social media craze of Throwback Thursdays, #tbt, in coming up with this motivational idea.  Whether it is an old school movie or old school rapper, the players have the whole practice to come up with their selection.  Any turnover they recover or force is rewarded with a second entry for that player.  Each week a different player gets to decide the throwback topic and judge the winner.  I have found this keeps a positive vibe throughout practice with even our offensive players putting forth their entries without taking away from the focus needed in practice.  Meanwhile, the rewarding of a second entry with any turnover adds a turnover mindset.

The Bucket Hat– Last season I finally broke down and started wearing hats at practice.  With getting older and my hair getting thinner, it has become a must for me.  The guys like the bucket hat as it is different from what a lot of coaches wear and, for the moment, is the IN thing.  During preseason I wear the bucket hat on the first day of practice.  From then on, it all depends on turnovers that the players I coach or the defense as a whole, creates.  If we get a turnover at a practice, I wear the bucket hat during the next practice.  If there are no turnovers during a practice, then the bucket hat stays in my backpack on the sideline at the beginning of the next practice.  If I am not wearing the bucket hat during a practice and the group gets a turnover, the defender runs over to my backpack and will bring me the bucket hat to wear.  Finally, if I am already wearing the bucket hat and they get an interception or recover a fumble, I will snap up one side of the hat, if we get another, then I will snap up both sides.  Again, it is a turnover mindset to keep the defense focused on making plays.

Music During Stretch– During one practice last year, our field hockey team was about to play a game on another field when their pre-game music started playing.  Our guys could hear the music and started to get a bit of a hop in their step.  The tempo of that practice increased and that got me thinking.  How great is music in getting us, as people, in the right mood.  So we started using music during stretch, letting a different senior pick a song each week along with a coach.  This helps get our guys excited for practice after a long day of classes and they start looking forward to it.  This was reinforced in me this summer with a number of different Division I camps I attended played music during most or all of the practices.

The Number– Give the defense a turnover number at the beginning of practice.  Let’s say 3.  They need three turnovers in practice today, during team periods, or they will run a gasser at the end of practice for each turnover they are short.  This is a great motivational technique we have used because of the turnover mindset but also because they might come into the last team period in practice needing a turnover. It is very relevant to game situations and they may say, “We need a turnover on this drive.  We need to get the ball back to our offense to tie this game up!”  Combining this with any turnover gets that defensive group off the field (first team defense gets an INT in a drill- then the first team defense is off the field and the second team defense is on) allows them to take the ball into the end zone and celebrate properly.

Just four ideas to consider in helping your team through what is the “lull” in preseason that we all experience.  Please feel free to comment below or share any motivational techniques you use to help power your players through the lull of camp.  Any questions or comments can also be emailed to me at jmcdonald@wesleyan.edu.  All the best as you get ramped up for your preseason!