Turn your headache into your competitive advantage…
I used to SUCK at planning practices when I was a newer coach.
I tried to do WAY too much in my practices. I was terrible at figuring out how long things would take. I got flustered when things went off course from my plans.
As I got a bit more experience and tried to adjust, the pendulum just swung the opposite way: I tried to go more with the flow, but it just felt like we weren’t getting anything done. Practices were unfocused and lacked any energy or intensity.
Eventually I sat down to think about things and realized that sitting down to think about things WAS my exact problem. I wasn’t doing it.
It hit me like a ton of bricks.
These bricks, specifically.
I wasn’t being intentional about getting better at planning practices so why should I ever expect it to just happen?
From that point on, I made a change – just to see how it would go. I started reviewing how my practice went each night and figuring out what I could learn from it. My practices immediately started getting better each day. And it was cumulative. They didn’t just get better and plateau – they kept getting better with each day, week or month building on the last.
And I haven’t looked back since.
Now, a bunch of years later, my exact process has evolved. What used to be clunky, unstructured and inefficient, has become quick, slick and effective over the years. Like most of what we share with you at Attack Style Wrestling and at WinSmarter, our goal is to help you skip past all the frustration and trial and error so you can get right down to what actually works.
And that’s what I’m about to share with you now: The 5-Minute Practice Review.
Here are the three critical elements that make up the 5-Minute Practice Review and a bonus tip to really get it cranking for you effectively and quickly.
1. The right time
So, listen, this is where coaches always seem to push back when I tell them about the the 5-Minute Practice Review, but this is probably the most important part. You’re going to do your review RIGHT AFTER PRACTICE. I’m not talking about later that night. I’m talking about before you even leave to go home.
The sooner you can get to this after practice, the more effective it’ll be for you. I’ve experimented with all kinds of variations: at home that night before bed, the next morning when I wake up and so on and so on, so I feel confident in telling you: if you really want this to work well, do it right after practice while the day is fresh in your mind.
I mean, hey, this is the 5-Minute Practice Review – not the 30-Minute Review, not even the 15-Minute Review – you can’t honestly tell me you can’t find 5 minutes, right?!
Get it going for a few days and it starts to become automatic, quick and FUN.
Yeah that’s right I even dropped the “f-bomb” to describe it.
Pretty sure he’s using the same “f-bomb” I am.
The bottom line is when you wait till later for this, you will lose some critical thoughts or details that can really help you improve, and it decreases the impact of the whole review – learn from my mistakes!
2. The right questions
What’s really made this process so much more effective over the years was learning to ask the right questions. When I first started trying this out, I’d just sit there and ask myself: “How did practice go today?”
You can probably see why this isn’t a great question. It’s pretty vague and doesn’t give the direction you need to get great insights and to get them quickly.
The ability to ask great questions is usually what gets you great answers. So this is an area I’ve tweaked again and again over the years to get to the point I’m at now. I have a quick checklist of super-specific questions I ask myself each day that cuts right to the heart of the matter and really helps me figure out what I need to do next.
I’m going to share the specific questions with you below, but first I want to explain the rest of the system.
3. The right people
A few years ago, I added another element into the 5-Minute Practice Review that’s really taken it to a whole other level of effectiveness. I stopped just asking the questions to myself and started asking them also to my assistant coaches and even my team leaders.
As I saw the huge progress this quick system was giving our team, I started to realize it was built upon my observations. Much to my dismay, I quickly realized I only had one set of eyes and one set of ears. My observations were limited to my own individual perspective.
Every day, there’s clearly a lot going on in our practices that we don’t see or hear. So why just rely on myself?
Here’s the key though: I’m still trying to keep this to a 5-Minute Practice Review. When you start having multiple conversations, it can become real easy to fall down the rabbit hole and turn the process into something way too cumbersome for me to want to keep doing it everyday – five minutes only is key.
So here’s what I do: each day I grab one coach and one kid and ask them just one or two questions on my “checklist” – just as a quick check-in to get their quick thoughts.
Do I still miss some stuff? I’m sure that I do, but I’m also sure that tripling my observations, by talking to two other people for a minute each, is adding a ton of perspective and is well-worth the time.
Secret, amazing added benefit: when you proactively reach out to your coaching staff and your athletes to ask their opinions, they’re going to feel that much more valued. You’ll definitely see how, over time, this really increases everyone’s buy-in, engagement and motivation and the results speak for themselves!
BONUS: The right system
Now you might be ready to jump in and start implementing this in your own program – which is awesome! – but there’s one last key to bear in mind.
No matter how soon after practice you plan on doing your 5-Minute Practice Review… no matter how effective your questions are… and, no matter how many people you involve, if you don’t create the right system to make sure it becomes a habit, you’re not doing yourself or your team much good.
The idea here is to build this into your daily routine – to create a habit that eventually happens automatically.
So here are some quick tips to make that a reality:
- Consider the trade-off. Everyday, as I’m about to start my review, I remind myself that spending these five minutes is one of the most valuable investments I’m making in my program each day. The cost might be five minutes of my time, but the benefit is a team that continually gets better day after day. What a huge return on my investment – maybe the most valuable five minutes I spend each day. Pretty easy to do the review when I remind myself of that fact.
- Don’t answer every question. I have 11 questions on my list – get your own copy here – but I DON’T answer every question every day. Each day I skim the list and answer a few of the questions that I feel will be most helpful for me in that moment.
- Keep it to 5-minutes. A golden rule of habit formation is the smaller a habit, the easier it is to repeat daily. So I make sure to keep this to five minutes. There are definitely days I could let it go longer, but I try my best not too. I know that keeping it short will keep it happening everyday, and I remind myself that a great habit done everyday is much better than the perfect habit you never do.
- Make it easy. I make this as easy as possible for myself (and for you!) by using a checklist. I literally photocopy 50 of these checklists at the beginning of the season and leave the stack of them right on top of my desk. Everyday, I throw a copy on my clipboard before practice, together with my practice plan, and I’m good-to-go! No need for me to stop and try to remember the questions or even think about what questions I want to ask myself.
- Create a habit trigger. A habit trigger is where you pick one thing you’re already doing everyday and use it as a “trigger” for the habit you’re trying to create. For me it’s picking up my clipboard at the end of practice. I’ve associated that in my mind with the 5-Minute Practice Review and now every time I pick up my clipboard I automatically flip to my checklist and grab a coach or an athlete to speak to. Walking into my office after I leave the gym is my trigger to sit down and finish the review. I take the form home with me and refer to it the next day as I’m planning our practice.
So there you have it: the quick and easy system that I use to keep making our practices better and better.
The best part about it: it’s so easy to implement, it’s really quick to do, and it’s dramatically improved the quality of our practices.
You can start using it in your program today! Download your own copy of the 5-Minute Practice Review checklist right here (and get Attack Style Wrestling’s Definitive Practice Planning Guide as well!)
Hope this helps you guys!
Pete Jacobson has been a varsity HS coach in New York for almost 20 years. He also works with coaches of all levels through WinSmarter to help them get better at what they do, have a greater impact and go home happy. Check out 10 Insanely Powerful Tactics for an Amazing Team Culture for some of the most unique, impactful tactics you can use to build a Championship culture quickly.