Should Coaches Participate in Practice? – By Daniel Scarpino
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Do this! Do that! Move here! Move there! – Coaches are full of instructions – They have them up their sleeves, stored in the back of their minds, in their shoes, and in their pant pockets. Coaches give players instruction all of the time. It seems standard, though – Coach says & players does – Simple, right? Fundamentally, perhaps. However, we hardly ever see our coaches participate in training with the players. Should coaches physically partake in practice? – Let’s find out.

As coaches, it is our job to give proper and correct instruction for our players to perform. It is also our job to observe and assess player performance on a scale that is relative to the sport that we coach and relative to the level/standard of play. Typically, a practice will look a lot like a coach circling up the players, giving an instruction(s), and then have the players perform the instruction while the coach stands on the perimeter of the playing area. This makes it easier for a coach to assess the players and the session at hand. But anyone can say, “Do this. Do that. Move here. Move there”. Players, more times than not, will listen, but there is certainly a point of saturation. At some point, players will wonder, “Can my coach even do what he/she is telling us to do?”. A legitimate and fair question.

Coaches who have extraordinary knowledge in their sport may never have to demonstrate or participate in a training session. Their voice is empowering, their understanding of the game is brilliant, and they can paint a picture by their language alone. However, most players and people love a visual representation when trying to learn things. It gives a better understanding as to what has to be done and how it should be executed. Not only that, it shows the players that their coach knows not only what they’re talking about but that they know how to perform the task as well.

Here’s a good set of principles to follow as a coach:

  • When a portion of your practice requires absolute assessment – DON’T participate – Here, you need to be a coach and evaluate what is happening in the session
  • When something may be unclear and there may need to be some demonstration – DO participate – Show the players what you mean and exemplify it through a visual representation
  • If you, as a coach, are unable to perform a drill/activity (e.g.- injury, fitness, etc.) – DON’T participate – You can have an assistant coach demonstrate, you can have the exercise/activity demonstration uploaded to an iPad or alike device, or you can have a player demonstrate and make tweaks as they are doing the drill/activity exemplar
  • When a portion of the practice doesn’t require absolute assessment (e.g.- fun games, skill games, fun scrimmage) – DO participate – Get involved with the players and have some fun. They’ll love it!
  • If you are coaching a session with a large number of players – DON’T participate – There are already enough players and enough assessment that you will have to do. Use your eyes, not your body
  • If you are coaching a session with few players and you know that an extra body will help/be beneficial – DO participate – Lend your body to the session and be a helper to the players by participating

In conclusion, it’s not so much a question of, “Should coaches participate in practice?”. But rather, it is more, “How does my potential participation affect the players that I coach and the training session itself?”. More times than not, your participation will be appreciated and adored by the players. They will respect you for it, they will admire your playing ability, and they will become grateful for your willingness to perform practice-related content with them. There will be times where your participation is not warranted (see above). In those cases, you can be the atypical coach. But if there is an opportunity for you to workout with the players while assessing them in the process, then go for it! Run with them, pass with them, shoot with them, and work with them. You are still the coach, but you are actively participating and showing that you are in unison with them in the process of practicing/training. The principles provided above will give you the indication as to whether or not participating is beneficial given the event that is occurring during your practice. Don’t be afraid to get involved every now and then. Happy coaching and happy playing, everyone!

Daniel Scarpino