Practice - Preparing for Basketball
Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's
Notebook. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Things to Consider
A good practice includes scheduled time for warm-up, personal skill
development, team play (such as defensive strategies or half court offense work),
situational plays and review and correction of past performance.
This is very important - Expand and refine player's game
vocabulary. Many times the players do not understand the coach's directions because basic
terms are not defined, i.e. lanes, picks or seal. Make sure you understand the terms, too.
Players may be embarrassed to ask for clarification and make assumptions instead.
Be sure players understand what you are talking about. Often coaches have the
impression they have been heard in practice only to discover in the game that the team is
actually confused, or is missing a conceptual link between the lesson and its application.
To avoid this phenomenon:
- Explain the smallest details
- Demonstrate the skills
- Ask players to demonstrate the skill and explain it to their teammates. Some players can
copy actions without understanding. It is easy to see if they understand if they can
- Avoid clichés such as "step it up"; they are interpreted differently by every
Try to prevent your team from developing a dual personality. Too often players develop
a set of behaviors to get through practice but when its game time they resort to the same
old habits and styles they have always known. Develop and rehearse your game plan in
practice. Stick with your plan during the early season games. It may cost a game or two,
but the team must always strive to implement the game plan that they practiced. The
alternative is to have the players abandon the plan as soon as the going gets tough. When
the players bail out, the usual result is chaos. The worst thing is for the players to
abandon the plan but win anyway due to the opponent's ineptitude or a lucky break. Such an
event assures future loss of discipline.
Tips for Successful Practice Sessions:
- Never lose sight of the value of gym time. Get the most out of every minute. Coaching
speeches can be done before or after the workout.
- Insist on execution excellence; situations, plays. Never practice carelessly or without
direction. Always work to improve some facet of the game. Uncontrolled scrimmage in
practice is a waste of time and a potential liability for injury.
- If practice is sloppy due to fatigue, loss of interest - STOP!
- Praise constantly and sincerely
- If discipline is a problem, remove the offender from practice temporarily. Younger
players can be told to sit on the sidelines and watch. Ask them to tell you when they are
ready to return and behave.
- Insist on timeliness and effort no substitutes
- The activity is more rewarding and interesting if it provides challenge
- Encourage parent involvement, audience
- Use positive reinforcements instead of punitive. For example, when shooting in pairs,
instead of requiring low shooter to do pushups, offer positive reward for winner. Often,
recognition of effort is sufficient.
- Offer positive inducements for extra effort or creativity. Example, when using daily
running as conditioning, earned "lap chips" (privilege of not running one lap or
suicide) dispensed at coachs discretion can be redeemed at players discretion.
When players are breathing hard after a few hard running drills, take the opportunity to
make verbal points or ask questions to test basketball knowledge while they are catching
- Use statistics to measure individual and team performance at appropriate tasks or
skills. A team running event or a collective shooting percentage are cases where the group
may be motivated to improve. Players enjoy seeing their improvement recorded over time.
They also learn how changes in technique often lower performance at first, before it
climbs to new heights. Often good suggestions are abandoned if immediate improvement isn't
seen. Young players should envision long term results.
Early Season Practices
Although excitement runs high during pre-season practices, its also a
frustrating time for the players because their skills are rusty and they are not in top
condition. Fatigue promotes errors and errors are embarrassing. It is essential to work on
conditioning and basic skills early in the year.
- Players may become discouraged with the emphasis on conditioning and drills. They will
prefer to scrimmage. Motivation may be a challenge. Help them realize the purpose of the
- Insist on the most fundamental skills - there is no point in working on man to man
defense if the players have habits such as crossing their feet.
- Teach and rehearse passing techniques and dribbling skills. It is amazing how few young
players can make a strong, accurate chest pass or dribble interchangeably with both hands.
Reluctance to use offense plan
- not familiar enough with the process
- under pressure, players resort to instincts formed in street play
- immature players have a tendency to overcome with strength, not brains
Early wins promote overconfidence
- lose incentive to practice or develop new skills
- gloss over details, play becomes sloppy
- lose sense of urgency in games until its too late
Sample Practice Plan
The practice plan can be as simple an outline or a grocery list.
Here's what we did at a recent practice:
- Warmup / conditioning
- 10 minutes - easy run, down and back full court. First we jog a few laps
back and forth. Then, picking a different player each time to lead the run,
we run different way, backwards, side-steps, etc. Everyone must keep pace
with the leader who goes at 3/4 pace. Then we run some hard laps or
- 10 minutes - players are breathing hard, relax, stretch and listen. I
tell them practice goals of the day. We talk about the last game.
- 10 minutes - full court drills with passing, layup and defensive
elements, ie 3 man weave down, shooter plays defense 2vs1 on way back. Might
change drill every 3-5 minutes.
- Offensive Review
- 5 minutes - reviewed BLOB plays (baseline out of bounds)
- 10 minutes - introduced sideline out of bounds (SLOB?)
- 15 minutes - 5 on 5 offensive set review and execution
- Defensive Review
- 10 minutes - Reviewed 221 full court press details (also press breaker at
- 10 minutes - Controlled scrimmage with practiced element
- Shooting Practice
- 10 minutes - Shooting drills (we use contests to make it more fun)
Practice over - 90 minutes.
Notice there is no work on fundamentals. The
reason is that we are in our YMCA season with very limited gym time for
practice so concentrate on team skills. When the high schools season starts,
there will be daily practice with roughly a third dedicated each to
fundamentals, conditioning and team skills. If we were a younger team, we
would spend much less time on conditioning and much more on fundamental
Its common to come up with a game plan or a
list of things to work on in a practice, but it is also important to list learning goals
for the team to accomplish over the course of the season. Such a list makes it easier to
transition from one team skill to another and have some sense of completion at the end of
The season plan is a long range outline that organizes practice activities to meet the
goals of the season. Before you begin, you must evaluate the strengths, weaknesses and
potential of your team. Age and experience are critical factors. You do not want to bore
your advanced players by having them dribble around pylons, for instance. Most teams do
not have the luxury of unlimited practice time, so these hours should be budgeted