24 Secrets to Coaching a Perfect Basketball Practice

Principle#1 Have a Plan.

Organization is the key. A coach without a plan will invariably miss teaching points. It is important that the players know that their coach is invested in helping them maximize their individual and collective potential. A coach with a plan sends this message. Planning also insures that the coach teaches as effectively as possible. This applies to more than only daily practices; it is essential to plan for the entire year and a basketball program. This may include a broad yearly plan that includes broad seasonal goals, off-season player development programs, fundraisers, individual and/or team camps, and off-season conditioning programs. Within the context of a basketball season, monthly plans can be very beneficial in determining appropriate times to introduce new schemes. Weekly plans offer more specific information about introducing skills in specific drills, and there been very useful to me in maintaining an appropriate practice rhythm and presenting material in a logical manner.

Principle#2 Keep practices quick-paced.

There should be little to no lag time between drills. Players are expected to sprint from drill to drill and to keep practices in constant motion. Basketball is a game of quick transitions and changes. For example, players must make

quick changes from offense to defense, defense to offense, and pressing defenses to half-court defenses. All require a quick mental and physical change of gears. A fast moving practice can help condition a player for such game situations. Also, aside from the time that a coach uses to teach a skill or to walk through a new scheme, players should make every effort to play their hardest.

Principle #3 Include as many competitive situations as possible.

This gives players the feel of games and develops the competitors drive that is necessary to be a winner. We turn as many drills as possible into mini-games with consequences for the losers, such as running or push ups. We also try to include some one on one play in every practice to keep a competitive tone as well as to work on game moves. Ideally, the players will develop a high level of competitiveness amongst themselves that will carry over into every possible applicable situation in practice. By turning as many practice situations as possible into competitive situations, the hope is to foster this competitiveness, or to unleash it if it already exists. Natural competitiveness is a quality that defines teams and is often a highly accurate indicator of potential success.

Principle #4 Allow some 3 on 3 play daily.

believe that 3 on 3 play is the best way to teach kids how to Think The Game. Almost all offensive play boils down to 2 or 3 man games. Examples of this are numerous and include UCLA cuts, Flex cuts, Shuffle cuts, and Pass and Screen Away action. All of these movements can occur in 3 on 3 play. Also, playing 3 on 3 allows the offense more room to operate. If, for instance, a teams offense features 2 low post players then the wings are rarely provided the opportunity to make back door cuts when being overplayed. In 3 on 3 play this option to back-cut is much more likely to be available. Also, 3 on 3 challenges the defense because there are 2 less help defenders on the court. This should force the defense to move more quickly and be more aware. In theory, 3 on 3 play helps improve both offensive and defensive play.

Principle #5 Hear, See, Do

Teach a skill by first explaining the skill, then demonstrating the drill, then having the player perform the skill. This is the most effective way to learn and retain knowledge from the players/students perspective. Teach by first explaining the skill, then demonstrating the skill, then having the players perform the skill – repetitively. Research indicates that we retain only 10% of what we hear; 20% of what we see; 65% of what we hear and see; but 90% of what we hear, see, and do. Developing understanding and communicating effectively (with impact) should be a coaches top priority. This multi-sensory approach promotes understanding far more effectively than less thorough methods.

Principle #6 Do not be afraid to critique.

Though there are certain times to -just let the kids play- I usually try to address every mistake I see. Though this may at times become tiresome to both coaches and players, it is absolutely necessary to the development of good habits. I try to keep criticism positive by using the Sandwich Technique. First I find a positive, then make my critique, then end on a positive. For example: John, you did a great job setting up your man, but next time makes sure to touch shoulders when you come off that screen. Keep up the hard work. This helps the player understand where he needs to improve without making him feel as though the coach is picking on him.

Principle #7 Teach using the Whole-Part-Whole technique.

This particularly useful when teaching team schemes, though it applies to aspects of individual play as well. When teaching an offense, for example, the offense should be shown to the players in its entirety so that they can gain a feel of its purpose. Then the offense should be broken down into parts so that the players can concentrate on perfecting different parts of the offense. Often this can be done through different series of 2 and 3 man games. Then, after different parts of the offense have been broken down, run the offense, again, in its entirety. This technique usually gives players and teams optimum results in understanding and execution. Teaching using the part method approach alone, on the other hand, often leaves the player without an understanding of how the skills he is working on fit into the big picture. Using the whole method alone is less effective too because it robs a player of the repetition required to master skills within the larger scheme.

Principle #8 Repetition is the mother of learning. Create Habits.

Basketball is a game of habits, and the only way to develop the correct habits is to practice them over and over again. Research indicates that it takes 21 days to create a habit; this translates into a need to spend practice time repetitively and correctly drill the skills we want to see at game time. If you teach a player a skill such as coming off a screen once, he might understand the concept in his mind. But the only way to get that player to consistently come off screens correctly is to have him practice the skill over and over again. Also, once the skill is taught, the repetitions must be done at game speed. Once that skill becomes a habit, a coach can expect to see real results at game time.

As a coach it is often tempting to get caught up in a coaching “chess match”, implementing more than is reasonable for a team at any given time in the season. However, I think this approach contradicts the tenet of the repetition and robs players and teams of success by over complicating things. Some would term this “over-coaching” This explains why the coach that adds a new play in the middle of a game rarely sees results; the players have not really seen or done what the coach has shown them.

Principle #9 Daily Dozen

Every year I make a short list of the things I feel we must do well to win. I make sure that we work on these things every day. The actual drills might differ but the skills being developed remain the same. These things are part of the “daily dozen” that are part of every practice. Most years include such things as: Defending the ball-handler full court, closing out on the shooter, off-ball defense, shooting and the primary fast break. I have a drill (or 2) for each that we run every day. This helps create the repetition needed for these skills to become habits.

Principle #10 Love your Players.

This does not mean that a coach should try to be buddies with the players. The coach is often the bad guy because he must be critical and insist on a level of discipline that players might want to resist. It is absolutely necessary that the coach be consistent and hold high expectations. However, players should also know that underneath everything the coach loves them. They learn this when the exhibits consistent, stays positive, supports a player who is going through a tough time or a player who is in the right, and being there for a player each and every day. In the end, players will respect the coach that sticks with it every day, even when times are tough. The wise coach never holds a grudge; each day is a new day and a fresh start.

Principle #11 Treat players as individuals.

Different players have different individual needs. Some players respond to a coachs stern warning for poor effort; some respond better to being pulled off to the side for a quiet reminder. Similarly, a poor effort in a drill by one player may indicate a lack of interest while for another it may be a sign that he is confused and needs the drill explained more clearly. It is important for the coach to tune into players needs and respond appropriately. Remember: being fair means giving each player what he or she needs, not treating every player in exactly the same way.

Principle #12 You will be successful at what you emphasise.

This concept relates closely to the Daily Dozen. A team can only be great at a few things. Teams are ultimately a reflection of the coach; in a way they become a reflection of his personality. The coach who allows sloppy play in practice will get exactly that in games, while the coach who demands effort and execution will eventually see results at game time. The tough coach who believes in grind it out defense will eventually get that from his players. Consistently emphasize the right things (a full effort at all times, unselfishness, quick and proper execution, etc.) and results will come naturally.

Principle #13 Start Well: Set the Tone.

I believe the first 15 minutes of practice are the most important. I think it is a big mistake for players or coaches to ease into the practice, moving slowly and without precision or being overly social. How a team begins practice usually sets the tone for the entire session. Teams should come in enthusiastic and focused on playing and learning basketball. They should be loose and confident, but businesslike and focus. It is beneficial for the coach to clearly communicate that he expects players to walk into the gym every day with the correct mindset. It can be very difficult to change the tone of an unfocused practice.

Principle #14 No practice is better than bad practice.

If a team is practicing with no interest or enthusiasm, the coach should respond progressively in an attempt to turn things around. I usually start by stating my expectations and changing drills. Sometimes, for reasons beyond my understanding, teams will struggle with certain drills, including ones that are commonly used and well-executed. Practice will sometimes improve after a simple change-of-gears such as this.

The next logical response is to stop practice and have the team run sprints. The purpose is not to punish; it is to teach the team the importance and value of practicing well. The coach should communicate this to the team; if he does not, he will lose a valuable opportunity to teach his players and he might run the risk of alienating them unnecessarily. Initially, I might only have the team sprint the length of the court and back in ten seconds or run a suicide in 28 or 30 seconds before returning to practice. If we have to stop practice again, the amount of running will usually increase substantially.

If nothing works, it is better to end practice. I would rather have my players go home than watch them watch them reverse any momentum they have been making by replacing good habits with bad ones. I try to communicate that they are only hurting themselves by forcing themselves to start from scratch in developing winning habits.

When a coach ends practice it does not need to be a personal attack on his players, and it should not generate any animosity off the court or the next day. It is simply a teaching tool and a message that effort is always expected and that teams change every day. It is the coaches responsibility that his team moves forward every day rather than slide backwards. If mistakes occur that requires discussion wait until scrimmaging is over.

Principle #15 Make your drills fit your system.

Some drills look great on paper but might not necessarily complement your teams style of play. Try to avoid any situations in practice that wont occur in games. There are tons of drills out there. If you feel that a drill you use might not be the most beneficial for your team, do not be afraid to find, or even invent, one that fits better.

Principle #16 Condition with the ball!!

Basketball requires excellent conditioning. Put simply: if you are out of shape, you ca not be an effective player. It follows, then, that conditioning should play a prominent role in every practice. Many coaches accomplish this with sprint drills such as suicides. While such drills may build toughness, I have often felt them to be a waste of practice time. The game is played with the ball and the only way to make real improvement as a player is to play with the ball. There are innumerable drills that serve as excellent conditioners that simultaneously teach the skills of the game. These drills accomplish the dual role of conditioning the player and improving skills. Another plus is that players are typically much more enthusiastic about running these types of drills than sprints

Principle #17 Incorporate transition in to every possible facet of practice.

Basketball games are often won and lost in transition. This is especially true at the high school level and below. Transition usually yields lay-ups, whether from steals or from the fast break. The team that gets the most lay-ups will usually win the game. Conversely, the team that forces its opponent to play 5 on 5 every time down the floor puts itself in a great position to win. Therefore, it is imperative that teams condition themselves to convert quickly from offense to defense and vice verse. The only way to achieve this is to stress transition as often as possible. For example, when a team is working on its ½ court offense the defense should be allowed one quick fast break after every offensive possession before returning to ½ court play. This way the offense gets into the habit of converting quickly to defense every time the opponent gains possession and the defense is conditioned to quickly change ends of the floor every time it gains possession. Both offensive and defensive conversion occur so often in basketball, they must be given the same amount of attention as ½ court situations

Principle #18 K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

This acronym is an absolute MUST for all coaches to remember. A coaches job is to teach fundamentals and give the team what they need to play as well as they can. Love of the game seduces many coaches into viewing basketball as a chess match. They install numerous offenses and defenses and making numerous wholesale changes throughout seasons and game in an attempt at complete control. What this coach forgets is that if the players are at all confused or are fundamentally unsound they will not perform well. Give the players a few effective things and resist the urge to add more until they have the ability and confidence to consistently execute what they already know. More often than not, poor play is a result of fundamental errors within a system. Without mastering those fundamentals, no system will work well. The coach who focuses on correcting those errors will find that he has plenty of adjustments to make without changing offenses or defenses. A coaches job is to give the players what they need to know, not to show the players everything he knows. I like to compare over-coaching to pouring a gallon of water into a shot glass; the team will not retain most of it anyway.

Principle #19 Scrimmage!!

Some coaches and teams scrimmage very little, if at all, during practice. I think it is absolutely necessary to scrimmage. This is the best way to simulate game conditions. Many coaches are afraid that scrimmaging (especially early in the season) is too sloppy. That is at times true, but it is a barrier that teams must work through to succeed.

A coach can limit sloppiness by Scrimmaging with Conditions. Examples: 1. Focus on zone offense by scrimmaging, but do not allow any fast breaks. This will force the offense has to execute against the zone every time down court; 2. If players dribble every time they catch the ball instead of getting into triple threat position, make a rule that possession is lost every time a player fails to catch and read. 3. If there is no ball movement, a coach can require ball reversal on every possession unless there is a wide open lay-up. Including these types of parameters helps emphasize important facets of the game while keeping scrimmages under control early in the season.

Let them play. Do not stop every possession of a scrimmage if that was not your original intent. Make corrections in the flow of the scrimmage by using key words and short phrases that players can recognize and use without stopping. Use substitutes to pull players out when more focused communication is needed.

Principle #20 Utilize the teaching tools at your disposal.

Use stations to maximize the use of extra baskets. Use jump ropes to condition and enhance hand-eye-foot coordination. Use football blocking pads in stations to simulate the contact that occurs on shots in the paint. Use a Big ball or Shrunken Rim to increase Shooting accuracy, and a weighted basketball or a medicine ball to improve strength and speed up passing and ball movement. Use any tools you have at your disposal to improve or speed up team development. Keep in mind, however, that these types of aids are peripheral to repetition and conditioning in player development, and should only be incorporated into practice when using them does not disrupt tempo or conditioning.

Principle #21 Expect Mistakes.

It is very easy to become frustrated when several mistakes occur during practice. I have found this especially true at the beginning of the season, where I have at times felt that we would never be able to properly execute important fundamentals, much less a team offense or defense. Later in the season, I have experienced the same feeling when a team has an average or poor practice following a period of success that has caused my expectations to grow. I have found it beneficial to balance this by reminding myself that mistakes occur constantly in basketball. My role as the coach is to continue to correct the mistakes and to provide players with the repetitions needed to eliminate them permanently. Even then, players and teams will go through stagnant periods where old mistakes will pop up. My philosophy tends to be: as long as the players are giving consistent individual and collective efforts, I can accept mistakes as part of the growth process because I trust that we will continue to correct them and move forward as a whole. When mistakes are the result of poor effort or disinterest, my response is much more harsh and my communication much more critical.

I remind myself often that, quite often, the team that makes the most mistakes wins. This may seem counter-intuitive, yet it happens so often because many teams that make more mistakes are also teams that play faster and more aggressively. Often, the having the courage to play with all-out effort despite looking silly at times has far greater impact than playing with cautious reserve.

Principle #22 Stations

Utilizing Stations can be very beneficial simply because they optimize time and resources. Stations can be used to teach many different skills in a short time, teach different skills to players by position (i.e. guards and bigs), or provide the repetitions required to master one or two skills. The intensity and short duration of well-run stations provide excellent anaerobic conditioning, which is critical in basketball.

Principle #23 Define Discipline.

It is important to define what is meant by the term discipline early on with teams and players. In the context of team and individual performance, discipline describes a team that: sticks to its game plan; makes consistently good decisions; maintains a high level of play when fatigued; maintains excellent conditioning; and, very often, is a Winner.

Any suicides, push ups, or other activity that I hand out to my players and teams are given in order to teach them how to become the disciplined winner just described..

It is important hat the coach work very hard to approach kids with a Clean Slate every day. If the coach is able to do this, the idea of punishing players based on a grudge or a selfish need to exert control becomes one that the coach would never entertain. I try to make my expectations very clear to players and foster the belief that Discipline, despite the negative connotations attached to it by many people, is one of our primary objectives each year. Players that buy-in to this philosophy usually come to feel that playing on undisciplined teams is not enjoyable at all, because the people involved lack the common vision, shared growth, and level of respect from their peers that typify disciplined teams. These players will come to expect and sometimes even embrace the coaches chosen -Discipline- for breaking rules, for poor conditioning, and for poor effort. They realize that the coach who does not respond to these types of problems is short-changing the team, by failing to teach them to become winners

Principle #24 Be Yourself.

A high school coach typically spends around twenty hours per week with his players during the season. As many players begin to play basketball year-round as early as 4th or 5th grade, coaches at all levels maintain contact with players throughout the year as well. At the high school and middle school levels the coach has constant contact with his players He is around his players so often that they will see the real him. Players will know if a coach is projecting a fake personality. A coach that pretends to be something he is not, or who tries to emulate another coach will ultimately lose the respect of his players. Consistency is extremely important, and the only way for a coach to be truly consistent is to be himself. Emulating someone else might work for a day but over the course of time players will respect the coach who is true to himself.
Josh Stinson is the author of perfectpractice.net, and online basketball coaching resource.

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