Five Suggestions for Running Efficient Practices

One of the comments that Kristen McDonnell made about Mansfield High School boys coach Michael Vaughan is that he runs efficient practices. Coach Vaughan says that players are expected to jog between drills. They keep a routine in terms of the skills they work on (which includes a heavy dose of shooting), but they mix up how they work on the skills. Here were five thoughts from Coach Vaughan on practice.

  1. No Time on Drills or Small-Sided Games

Coach Vaughan will write up a practice plan of different skills, drills, and games. He will not put a time to how long it will be however. If he tries something new and it is not effective he will ditch it quickly. Likewise, if the players are ultra-competitive, they will stay with that part of practice longer than he anticipated.

  1. Reorder the Practice Plan on the Fly

Coach Vaughan admitted that one skill their team struggles at is boxing out. Every coach needs to prioritize where they will spend all their marbles as Mike McVeigh likes to say, and Mansfield spends many more marbles on shooting than box outs. Most players also do not enjoy boxing out as a skill in isolation like they do shooting.

It is for this reason that Coach Vaughan might reorder the practice plan on the fly. Notice I did not say ‘make the practice plan on the fly.’ Let’s say the first two parts of practice do not bring out great energy. If the third drill is a very technical skill like boxing out, they will postpone that drill to later in practice so that the next drill elicits more energy from players.

  1. Some Practices are Relaxing

Coach Vaughan does allow for some practices to be what he termed as relaxing. He respects the fact that the season is a grind. Mansfield will schedule 23 regular season games (most teams play 20). They also have a goal of advancing to play a few more games in the state tournament. Over the course of the season they might have practices where they focus almost exclusively on shooting to give players a sort of mental break. They also try to turn the music up once per week.

By the same token, he does mix and match tough practices. Even in the month of February. The schedule will dictate what days the coaching staff tries to push the players and what days they will ease up the intensity.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Pull a Player out of a Drill

You get to know your players well. They get to know you well. As Coach Seth Stantial told me about a month ago, players need to run sometimes. The line is drawn as far as expectations are concerned, so if players are not meeting them they know there will be a penalty. Coaches might feel constrained by time and the long list of skills that need to be taught that day. If players are not giving effort, forget about quantity. Efficient practices require quality first.

Coach Vaughan’s philosophy and passion made sense to me. He correctly argued that games have negatives and positives. There are negative and positive plays, and there are negative and positive results. Our society is averse to using negativity in teaching, but losing has always been a much better teacher to me than winning. Ditto with mistakes over getting something right. Everything is contingent on the attitude of the person receiving feedback. Whether it is negative or positive makes no difference.

  1. Takes Advantage of Situational Teaching

The Mansfield program takes pride in trying to sustain small leads with a few minutes to go in games. In practice and film they teach players that the definition of a good shot is modified based on time and score. They want to lower the amount of possessions for the opposition to overcome small deficits.

They are also optimistic when they trail moving into the fourth quarter. And that stems from the mental toughness that they acquire through running through these situations in practice. One message that Coach Vaughan tells players when they face adversity is that the other team failed to put them away. It is his way of conveying that they are the better team and getting his team to believe the shooting and stops will turn in their favor.

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