Pre-Game Warm-up Drills

Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at

How do you get your kids ready to play a basketball game? The key factor to consider is, how much time do you have? In high school games, there is usually at least 20 minutes for the team to prepare. But for most of the coaches working with junior high school and elementary school age players, you're often blessed with a grand total of about five minutes. I believe that organized and well-managed pre-game preparation is an essential element of a successful basketball game. Teams that are emotionally charged and physically warmed up have a significant advantage over teams that show up at the last moment and/or clown around through their warm-up time. This topic is broken down into three parts. The first section has suggestions for the younger players with the assumption of a few minutes to get ready. The second assumes that you have at least 20 minutes on the court prior to the game. The third is a sampling of warm-up drills to try.

Arrival Time
How early should your kids come to the game? Coach's preferences vary greatly on this question, from no specified time to as much as an hour and a half. You must decide how much time is reasonably needed. Probably the biggest reason some coaches stipulate 45 minutes or more of a cushion before the game is that they want to avoid the agonizing experience of counting players as they wander into the gym at the last moment. Another coach's nightmare is calling players' homes to try and find out where they are. Generally, the kids want to be there bad enough that they aren't a problem. Their parents, however, may not be as enthusiastic about arriving at the gym an hour early for a 9AM Saturday basketball game.

If players are showing up late, it will be necessary to discipline them. The most effective way is to withhold playing time. Most leagues with mandatory playing time minimums allow exceptions for disciplinary cases. One of the lessons coaches need to teach is the value of showing up on time. Tardiness indicates lack of respect and commitment to the team.

I like to have my kids dressed an ready to go on the floor 20 minutes before the game. That provides enough time for a quick talk and a chance to watch the end of the preceding game.

Some coaches like to invest a half hour or more talking about their game plan. The amount of time spent orating is a matter of style, of course, but it can be overdone. In my opinion, if the message is short and concise, the kids have a better chance of remembering what was said. Cover the goals of the defense and highlight player's personal expectations as appropriate. Talk through the offensive plan. If you have enough room, walk the players through a compressed version of the offensive set and specialty plays. Use a chalkboard, an erasable court diagram or a simple paper/clipboard combination to illustrate your points.

In some gyms, its nearly impossible to find a quiet place to talk. If you are in a school, you may be able to find a suitable hallway. Worst case, you can talk to your kids in the stands or the corner of the gym. The more distractions there are around you, the harder it is to get the players to listen.

Do not make your presentations a one-way show. Ask players direct questions. Ask for their suggestions. Ask them to demonstrate or diagram a play. The concept is to get each player personally involved and committed to the game plan. They will take ownership more readily if they have a part in the plan's creation rather than just being the objects of the plan. This works well, even with the younger kids. For example, when reviewing the offense plan, you might ask a player how and where he/she thinks a screen should be set. The answer will usually be exactly what you have been practicing. The player feels good because the answer was known and accepted. Sometimes, a creative player will suggest a surprising alternative. When this happens, listen very closely. If it is easy to implement and may have immediate benefit, use the suggestion. If you do, the entire team will get excited about thinking of ways to win. If the idea doesn't really fit into the game plan (or you know it won''t work), offer to try it in the next practice so that everyone can learn it together.

Please don't be a dictatorial coach. Life is simpler but poorer when there is only one way to do things. Insist on proper execution of fundamental skills, but when it comes down to playing the game, help your players discover their creative powers. That way, within the structure of the offensive plan, they will be able to recognize and exploit opportunities.

Get your kids in the habit of stretching. I have never seen an elementary school aged player pull a muscle, but I have seen it many times with high school kids who did not stretch and warm-up enough. Players can stretch while you talk or you may make it a separate activity. Have one of the players lead the stretching. 5-10 minutes of stretching will help prevent injuries.

Dress for Success
Sometimes, even in tryout sessions, I am amazed at how kids will dress for basketball. I have seen players with their shoes untied, shorts around their knees, pencils behind their ears, sucking on tootsie-pops, jerseys pulled over and behind their heads and jewelry of all kinds, looped around or pierced through their bodies. Some of these effects are clearly unsafe, and all of them inhibit the ability to play ball. So what is more important, style or performance?

At whatever time you choose for the team to be ready to play, insist that they are dressed properly. It is common for the kids to postpone tying their shoes for some reason. If it is time to take the floor and start the warm-up routine, and some kids are stopping to tie their shoes, it not only looks bad, but precious time is lost.

Problems to Watch For
Do not hesitate to stop your pre-game routine if it is going poorly. Sometimes the kids are just in the wrong mood. They may look sluggish. Or, they may be clowning around and not concentrating. There have been times that I have known who would win the game just by watching both teams warming up. Such behavior generally appears as the kids get older and they play a greater number of games over the course of a season. The grade school kids are almost always fired up and may need to be calmed down to play their best.

If the kids are missing an unusual number of lay-ups or running at half speed, walk out on the floor, stop the activity and call them together. Remind them that the other team is taking the game very seriously and wants to beat them. Remind them how they felt the last time they lost a game they could have won because they weren't mentally ready.

Ten Minutes (or fewer) to Tip-off

1. Talk with your team a half hour before the game. Go over the game plan and individual responsibilities.

2. Specify which drill or warrm-up activity will be used so there isn't any time wasted.

3. Have the kids stretch while you are talking with them.

4. Once the warm-up is started, you should have time to present your lineups tp the scorekeeper. To save time, pre-print the scoresheets with the players names and numbers listed. Under the topic, "Downloadable Tools" you will find a scoresheet that is set up for this. If you find yourself writing out lineups every week, it will cost you time and maybe a technical foul if you write down the numbers incorrectly.

5. There will time for about three drills. Start with a drill that has running, passing and layup. Switch to a different layup drill after a couple minutes. Let the kids shoot for the last couple minutes. Drills are provide below to maximize shots for all the kids.

6. take a few moments to watch the other team. Maybe they have a drill you like. You may notice certain weaknesses that you can exploit a little later.

7. Have your game plan in your mind. Give the kids a 20 second recap of the important items.

Eleven Minutes (or more) to ShowTime

If you have the time, perform the conditioning and fundamental skill drills you should be using every practice. Players should run through ball handling drills. Spend more time shooting and include free throws. In a strange gym, allow up to 1/2 hour for shooting (if you have the time!) Don't be shy about making the players execute their half court offense. The team's ability to execute a play is much more critical to the play's success than keeping it secret from the opponent until tip-off time.

Run half court 3 man weave drills. Also suggested are 3:3 and 2:1 sets to simulate game action.

Many coaches like to break from warmups at 10 minutes to game time to discuss the game plan, then return to the floor for the last 4-5 available minutes.

The Drills

Four Corners


This is a good opening drill. It looks good and it gets the kids running, passing and shooting lay-ups.

One player is in each of the four corners. The rest line up under the basket. The drill starts when the ball is passed to a halfcourt corner. This play can go either direction, depending on whether the pass goes to #1 or #2. Run it so that each player has a few left handed lay-ups and a few right handed lay-ups. Let the team captain call decide when to change sides by yelling, "Switch!"

The only rule to remember is take the place of the person you pass to. Its that simple. #5 passes to #1 and takes #1's place. #1 passes to #3 and takes that corner.

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Players should anticipate the pass a little. Here, #4 has left the corner a little early to get the pass from #3. When #4 passes to #2, #2 should be on the move to the basket.

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After #2 makes the lay-up, he/she goes to the end of the line under the basket. #6 takes the ball and passes to #5.

#1 passes to #3 and takes that corner. #3 passes to #4 and will be the next shooter after #4 drives in for the lay-up.

The players always pass to the same person and always take their place.

When the players are comfortable with the drill, add a second ball. When the rebounder passes ball to the halfcourt corner to start the drill. The next man in line has a second ball. As soon as the passer of ball number one is in position, the second ball is introduced to him. The play doesn't change, but now there is one ball chasing the other.

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Two Lines, Two Balls


This is a fast-paced layup drill. Each line has a ball. In the left line, the ball is held by the second player, #2, not the first player, #1. #1 starts the drill by going to the top of the key and then reversing down to receive the ball from #6 and make a layup.

If you want, you can stand near the top of the key and make the players go around you. This prevents shortcuts and gives you a good look at the action. If your team is high school age, its best to stay out of the way altogether.

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After passing the ball to #1, #6 does the same move a #1, but in the opposite direction. #1 goes to the end of the other line, not to his original line.

#7 gets the rebound and prepares to pass to #2.


#2 duplicates the move by #1. #3 is responsible for the rebound from #6's shot and the pass to #7

#6 goes to the other line after shooting.

Long Short


This is fun drill that ensures each kid gets an equal opportunity to shoot. When the kids are shooting freely, the shorter players often miss out as the taller players get the rebounds.

Players #1, #4 and #7 each shoot a three, get their own rebound and make a lay-up. Then the shooter passes the ball back to  the same line. He then goes to the next line to the right so he can shoot in a different spot.

In practice, it's fun to use this drill as competition. The long shot counts 2pts and the lay-up 1pt. Players must stay in the same line. The first team to score 15 points wins. Then rotate the lines and repeat. The first team to win three games wins the drill.

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Two Lines, Half Court #1


Instead of ordinary layups from two lines, add elements to include additional skills. In this drill, the left hand line passes to the corner, then receives the ball in a give and go situation. After the layup, the shooter goes to the right line.

The right hand line gets the rebound and passes the ball to the next shooter. In this diagram, #6 rebounds then passes to #3.

#3 then passes to #6 and cuts to the basket.

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Two Lines, Halfcourt, Jump Stop


Player #2 drives to the free throw line and then jump stops, passes to #6 and then gets the rebound and passes the ball to #3.

#6 simply shoots and goes to the other line.

I don't know what happened to #1. He must be tying his shoe.

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