As football coaches, one of the dilemmas we often face during the course of a season is balancing keeping players fresh and engaged, while still feeling like you’re getting the enormous amount of work done that is required to compete at a championship level.
Whether you’re in high school or college, a number of factors come into play there – including injuries, restrictions from the athletic training staff, and simply what is required to feel like you and your guys are prepared heading into each game.
What if the solution was to have just one traditional, yet short, practice a week? That’s the decision one major college head coach made a few years ago.
Mike Neighbors, now the head women’s coach at Arkansas, was the head women’s basketball coach at Washington from 2013-17. He was able to put together an impressive run there, but a turning point happened for him in year two. In the brief history of his explanation of short and limited practices, Neighbors explains that he had seven players on his Washington team and shared that he felt like they could never practice effectively with a full team on the court between injuries and needs in the training room. Neighbors shared that he felt like they had a good team that year, but just couldn’t get over the hump because of their practice limitations.
So while on the way home from visiting some family, he made the unconventional decision to practice just one day a week from December on. Monday’s were an off day, Tuesday was a day to see the trainers with any issues, and on Wednesday’s they would practice. Those that couldn’t practice that day didn’t play that weekend.
“What we saw happen is people getting healthy on Monday and Tuesday, we had incredibly good practices on Wednesday, prepared on Thursday, played on Friday, took off Saturday, and played on Sunday.”
“As we started to do that, we started to get better and improve. Lo and behold, about a month after doing that, we beat Stanford in a huge upset. They were like #2 in the country at the time. That just spring-boarded us through.”
The Huskies made the women’s tournament before exiting in the first round, and the next season they followed the same basic blueprint and made a improbably run to the Final Four.
The kids are fresh, they’re happy. I’m not going to over-coach this game. It’s pretty simple what we’re going to do. The scouting report is out there on us.”
“To me, if you turn your team over to your team, that’s a sign that you’ve done what you’re supposed to do in the off season.”
“It is unconventional, but I will never change.”
Neighbors’ record since adopting the approach? 23-10, 26-11, and 29-6 at Washington with three straight tourney appearances as well as a Final Four in year two and a Sweet 16 appearance year three, and an improvement from 13-8 in year one at Arkansas to 21-14 and an appearance in the WNIT this season.
See the full video below.
This story from @coachneighbors about "unconventional training methods" is far too long to air in a 10 pm sportscast, but it's great. Watch what he says about the benefits of short and limited practices. pic.twitter.com/f887miD0R3
— Kyle Deckelbaum (@KATVKyle) March 24, 2019