Structuring a well-organized plan for practices
After more than 40 years of coaching high school basketball, it has become apparent to me the importance of having an organized practice plan. How a coach sets up his or her practices and how effectively they are run ultimately determines a team’s success.
I have watched many programs enjoy success early in the year, but as the season progresses they don’t make the necessary improvements. Then there are teams that have little talent but improve greatly during the season and end up with a better record. To me, it’s the daily practice sessions that make the difference.
Practices that are highly organized, demanding and emphasize the fundamentals are the key. All practices should emphasize effort, team play and attitude. All teams should practice how they play, and players need to steadily improve in practice. You can’t go through the motions during the week and expect to perform at a high level on game night.
Coaches should not be overly concerned about how smooth their practices go. Sometimes, practices may get a little ragged. That happens when players are practicing hard and competing, and that’s not always a bad thing because games rarely go smoothly and according to plan. Players must be able to adjust to unexpected situations, and what better way to prepare them than by putting them through intense practices.
Teams that I have coached, regardless of talent, have generally shown steady improvement throughout the year, and I believe a major reason is how we run practices. A good practice is one were you have concentration, competition and communication. This structure works for us — yours might be different — but I highly encourage a lot of repetition of in the areas of the game that you stress most. Your practices need to be sound and productive. Don’t worry about doing a lot of the same drills every day, worry about how hard your players work in these drills and how well they execute them.
Here is the practice plan that has worked for me, starting with free throws and ending with scrimmage play.
We always start practices with free throws. Right away, it emphasizes the importance of free-throw shooting. Almost every year a coach can look back at three or four games and say, “If we would have just made our free throws, we would have won.”
We also like to shoot free throws first because, in a way, it’s form shooting. The players are fresh, relaxed and concentrate more.
Every day we jog and stretch, work on foot quickness and vertical jumps, and do push-ups/sit-ups. After that, we might mix it up. One day it’s all stance and footwork, but on another day we do full-court ball handling or basic shell work. We do whatever we think benefits us most at that time of the season.
Passing, catching on half court
We have a few basic half-court passing drills we do every day. Which you choose is not as important as how well your players execute them. We emphasize two-hand passing, two-hand catching, meeting the pass, V-cuts, catch-and-rip, being strong with the ball and pivoting under pressure. We stress chest passes, bounce passes, overheads and pass fakes. We want to be sound with the ball.
We have nine different shooting drills. Each practice we use three of them, and we change the shooting drills at every practice, using all nine of our drills over three days. We work on shooting off the pass and off the dribble. We incorporate shot fakes and pass fakes in the drills, and we emphasize quality passes.
Our shooting drills reinforce shots in the fast break, man offense and zone offense. Coaches should tailor their shooting drills to their offensive systems.
Post, perimeter breakdown
We break into post and perimeter groups every day. Just as in the shooting segment, we have about 10 to 12 drills for each position, mixing them up from practice to practice. Post players work on positioning, how to post, target hands, the catch and the move. We also work low post and high post. A big emphasis is for post players to be able to pass out of a double team.
Perimeter players work on different dribbling moves (crossover, between the legs, behind back, inside out, pullback crossover, etc.). There’s a big emphasis on ball toughness and being able to handle traps. The perimeter players also work on shooting and 1-on-1 moves.
We are an inside-oriented team, so we put in a lot of time feeding the post. One drill begins with a dribble over from the point to pass into the post, and another drill begins with an entry pass to the wing. We emphasize feeding the low post from below the free-throw line and feeding the low post from the free-throw line area as both posts “duck-in” hard. Post feeding is an important skill and should be drilled on a daily basis.
2-on-0 side pick-and-roll
One of our offenses features a lot of side pick-and-roll action. For that reason, we incorporate pick-and-roll into every practice. We work pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop, and pick-and-slip action. If you’re going to run pick-and-roll basketball, you need to spend time running it in a dummy 2-on-0. There is a lot involved in timing, setting a good screen at the proper angle, ball handler waiting for the screen, setting your defender up by ball faking to the baseline, coming off the screen hard with two dribbles, and making the proper decision.