The 2017 season is at our door step and if you haven’t started planning your way to success, then you are in trouble! Fixtures start on the weekend of April 22nd in the Cape this year and this leaves us with less than a month to go before fixtures start and that isn’t much time. So how do we make the most of the time available to ensure that you reach your objective for the season?
Learn From last season
This is the first step and possibly one that I think is the most important. Ideally, at the end of last season you would have thought about the season and what you would like to do differently this season etc. Take stock of how your team performed, what weaknesses didn’t you address properly and maybe identify a few things that you would maybe tackle differently. There are a number of questions that you can ask yourself here:
- Was your team organized well enough?
- Did you teach them how to problem solve on the field and provide them with the necessary tools to do so?
- Did you take on too much responsibility and would spreading the load with a captain/assistant coach be better?
- Did you practice set pieces enough?
- What was the team dynamic like and should you have addressed issues differently?
- How did your team perform throughout the season and did your keep the intensity at practices throughout the season?
Define your playing style and philosophy
The next one is tricky as most coaches don’t really have a clue what sort of playing style they actually are aiming to train and if someone asked you to put your coaching philosophy into words you would struggle. Try and define your playing style in one sentence for with the ball and without it. Do you train your players to spray the ball forward as quickly as possible and kill teams with direct, quick hockey, or do you prefer to work them down with concentrated possession waiting for the perfect opportunity to cut through their defenses? When defending do you follow Pep Guardiola and aim to win the ball back within 6 seconds when you lose it in certain zones? These questions would help you define your team’s playing style, but you still need to define your team’s philosophy. How do you intend to coach them, interact with them on and off the field and do you micro-manage or do you have the systems in place to allow your team to be a little bit more self-sufficient?
Define Your Objective
This will help guide this entire pre-season process, and ensure that you maintain standards throughout the season. By defining your main objective for the season, and maybe one or two milestones throughout the season, you are making it clear to your team what you are working towards. Are you aiming to win the league, or are you going to be fighting relegation? This will keep your training in perspective as well as ensuring that players know what you expect from them. Be ambitious, but also realistic. If you finished second in the league last year and got promotion, don’t go and think that you can win the league this year. The secret to this is making it obvious to the team and ensuring that you have buy in. You can’t set the expectation to win the league if your team thinks they might be battling at the other end of the table.
How big should your initial squad be? How do you approach selecting players? These are great questions and ones that I can’t really answer directly for you. Once you have thought about last season you will have an idea of how big you would like your final squad to be during the season. I am on the rare side and like to run with 15/16 for a match, which seems to be rare in the club hockey these days, even right at the top. This means that I need to run with a squad of around 18 for a season as there are often injuries/unavailability each game. This means that I like to start with 20 in my squad during pre-season as it allows me to give a few players a chance and see a wider range of players. Maybe you missed something during trials and sometimes giving them a chance within your training sessions is the only way to see if they are going to cut it or not.
In terms of selecting players, I like to constantly try and think about how they would fit in the side. I like to run with 6 forwards, 6 links and 5 defenders in a squad based on the way that I play. There are normally a few utility players included that start to offer you different combinations and variations and you can only start to understand these opportunities once you have started training.
Plan Training Sessions
This is where we start to split the “wannabe” coaches with the serious ones. Identify how many sessions you have before session starts and identify areas that you need to work on before season starts. Plan each session to ensure that you are meeting your objectives for the season and so that you hit the ground running when it comes around to your first game. Have you payed enough attention to fitness, technical skill work, tactical formations, different play styles, short corner variations (both attack and defense!), as well as maybe one or two team bonding sessions?
Plan Practice Matches
The final piece to planning your training sessions is to ensure that you leave a few slots for some practice matches. The best way to get up to speed is to play against some opposition at a similar level to you, or ideally even higher. This match practice is vital to implementing what you have trained up to that point and ensures that your players are ready for the first game of the season. It allows you to address issues that arise and fine tune combinations or tactics that will need to be slick in just a few weeks time to have a successful season.
Take Stock of your gear
The last one is simple, but still important. Take stock of your gear and work out what items you are missing or would like to include this season. I like to have at least 50 balls to train with, 40 cones, a running ladder, two different sets of bibs and obviously a whiteboard with a few different colour markers.
Simply put: preparation is key!