Your first practice sets the tone for your upcoming season, and it is important to create a proper first impression. Often in a new coach's rush to get players out on the field, you might forget something as basic as introducing yourself and your assistants. Take a little extra time to prepare for this session, and be ready when the players arrive.
In general, the players and parents will know your specific team rules and policies because you've explained them during a pre-season meeting. If this is the case, simply provide a quick review to remind your players and any parents who stay what is expected.For logistical reasons, many coaches prefer to hold their organizational meeting in conjunction with their first practice session. If you do this, remember two things: Meeting before the practice can leave young players bored and restless. Meeting after the practice could lead to problems with parents rushing off early without really listening.
At the recreational level, it is common for coaches to know only a few of their players by name or face. The same is true for the players who will tend to cluster near the teammates they know and ignore the ones they don't know. Your goal is to get everyone to learn everyone's name as quickly as possible.
At the youngest age levels, you might want to bring stick-on name tags for players and coaches. Some teams have even made inexpensive scrimmage/practice shirts using plain cotton T's and fabric markers to draw on a name and number. At the very least, keep a 3x5 "cheat sheet" listing the player's name and 2-3 identifiers (e.g. Caitlin C./long blonde ponytail and orange shorts). Repeat the names as often as possible throughout the practice, and have your players do the same, switching partners and teammates for various activities. Repeat this process as necessary through the next several practices.
There are also several name games you can play.
As you learn your players' names, you will also learn a little bit about their personalities, skill level, and knowledge of the game. Younger players (U-12 and below) should not be locked into set positions, so it's not as important to find out where they prefer to play. Please realize this is a frequent area of disagreement among coaches, and players vary considerably. For every shy pumpkin who freaks at the slightest change, there's a ferocious feline ready to take on any challenge. Adjust to your young players' needs to maximize their individual success.
With older teams, you might find certain players have definite preferences and strongly resist being put into unfamiliar positions. Recognizing these preferences early can help you plan ahead, whether you want to keep the player in a favorite position or help the player adjust to a new position.
You also need to make an early assessment of your team's overall abilities and each player's individual skill level. This will help you plan practices that are most effective at developing skills and an understanding of the game. The reality of most recreational teams is that you will find a wide range of interest, ability, and experience. You will need to challenge the talented while reaching out to the newbies as well. There are a number of ways to address mismatches without causing problems during practice.
If you were unable to get volunteers to serve as assistants during your pre-season meeting, it's not too late. Parents of young players tend to stay at the practice field, and you should quickly round up 2-3 helpers from the crowd. These parents can tend to minor injuries, watch over discipline problems, help retrieve balls, or serve as assistant coaches. Problems can occur when your assistants don't share your philosophy or focus only on their own child. If you're not sure you have the right folks for the job, wait a few practices before officially naming your assistants.
Last modified 12 March 1999.