Basketball coaches at any level have a limited amount of time with their players. So maximizing practice time, especially entering a new season, becomes paramount. At the youth level, this remains a stark reality. Coaches might only have their players for a few hours a week. No matter the level, basketball coaches invariably spend time practice planning.
Basketball Practice Planning
Most basketball coaches have their own approaches to practice planning. Some minimize the pre-practice work, opting instead for what feels right in the moment. Others build off of the previous day, or something that stood out in the last game. A coach might scribble notes on a pad or random slip of paper. That paper usually finds itself tucked behind the elastic of the coach’s shorts.
The key to a good practice plan will always be efficiency. Coaches must consider not only what their specific goals are, but how those goals will be reached within a given time frame. Youth leagues often limit practice time. Even high school teams find themselves forced into a given time slot at the school’s gym.
The best practice plans can be constructed on one sheet of paper. This paper focuses the goals and approaches for the day. Having a wide view of practice allows a coach to establish a logical progression through the drills. The plan can also keep a general timing structure, although flexibility is key for any coach.
By listing the drills and concepts clearly on the practice plan, coaches know exactly what the focus of each practice segment will be. This will eliminate any lost time between drills or segments, maximizing contact time.
Sample Practice Plan
Every coach should know the amount of time available to them for practice, both how long each practice will be and what the schedule looks like for the week.
From there, it’s a matter of dividing the time of each practice. These segments will have specific focuses. Segments might include warm-up and stretching, individual skill development or larger team concepts.
One helpful inclusion for any basketball coach’s practice planning is a drill library. Having the different drills listed directly on the plan itself will facilitate movement from segment to segment. The drill library can include not only the drills themselves, but also the specific focus points for development.
Having a drill library also allows a coach to vary practices from session to session. Sure, each coach will have a core set of drills they like to implement, but falling into a rigid routine is something to avoid. Keeping practice fresh can only benefit the players and maintain engagement.
Beyond that, varying the practice plan itself allows for the drills and segments that invariably will be cut short because others went long to be incorporated into the next practice.
Developing basketball defensive systems stands as one of the most important aspects for any coach out there. While designing offensive plays might be more fun, crafting the right defensive system might make more a difference between winning and losing. A good defense feeds directly into offense and it makes scoring that much easier.
Many coaches believe it’s better to sport a simple offense and complex defense, rather than the other way around. How a coach crafts their team’s defensive approach often dictates the very identity of the team. Also, not all players, particularly at the youth level, will have the same natural abilities on the offensive end, but most players can be taught complex defensive schemes and excel.
Basketball Defensive Systems
One key consideration for any coach, when creating their basketball defensive systems, should be the capability of the team. Depending upon the skill level of the players, a coach needs to adapt their system to fit what the team can actually do. The system itself becomes the terminology the coach decides upon, and what each call represents for the players on the floor.
One particularly useful approach when designing a defensive system is to divide the court into quarters. “Four” represents full court. “Three” represents three-quarter court. “Two” represents half court. And “One” represents the three-point line.
Dividing the court in this way allows for the defensive system to have clear calls from the sideline. This concept is also very simple for players to understand.
From there, a coach needs to decide what defensive approaches are best suited for the team.
Basketball Defensive Systems Optionality
What makes a defense complex isn’t the core concept itself, but the constant variations. If a team were to run the same base defense through each possession, it’s only a matter of time before the opposing offense feels comfortable and adjusts. This is increasingly true as the competition improves.
So when a coach decides upon their defensive approaches, most will settle on a base defense, but also install variations and special attacks. For example, a team’s base defense might be man-to-man, but a coach will also install a half court zone, as well as some sort of press. Some coaches layer multiple defensive approaches as a season progresses.
Once the base defenses are installed, players run through the different progressions to understand the key principals. A coach will have a man-to-man defense, then perhaps zones with even fronts and odd fronts. Players practice with each approach and learn the specific terminology. From there, it’s a matter of bringing the system together.
The calls from the sideline would combine the defensive approach and the pickup point. So one call might be: “Red 4” which would signal to the players a full court, man-to-man press. Another call might be “Blue 2”, which would be a half court, 2-3 zone.
Coaches can play with the terminology and defensive approaches, but the optionality is what makes these basketball defensive systems complex. Constant changes frustrate opposing offenses and create opportunities for the defenses.
Most basketball coaches often search for staples for their practices. These staples always make it on the practice plan, no matter what the focus of that day might be. Players become comfortable with these progressions and often master specific skills over the course of the season. One of the most valuable basketball practice staples is 4-on-4 Cut Throat.
4-on-4 Cut Throat stands as a favorite drill among young players because of its game-like nature. For coaches, 4-on-4 Cut Throat provides each basketball practice with the opportunity to stress and develop specific elements of the game.
4-on-4 Cut Throat Basketball
4-on-4 Cut Throat is a high-energy, high-movement drill. Coaches divide their teams into sets of four, with two groups on the floor at all times. Through each progression, players navigate the possession, looking to score or get a stop. As each possession ends, the successful team (the one that scored or made the stop) stays on the floor, while the losing group comes off. The waiting team comes on and fills the vacancy.
Coaches can allow the players to free play, or can install specific needs in a possession. The free-flowing nature of the drill allows players to learn on the fly. Whatever a coach decides to emphasize in the drill often translates directly to the game.
Once the players are on the floor, coaches layer specific commands into a possession. If a coach wants to focus on spacing, they might outlaw ball screen. If a coach wants to focus on movement, maybe players must pass and pick away. There are any number of layers that can be added to this drill.
The emphasis of this drill is to build solid offensive and defensive habits. The goal for each team remains staying on offense. Although this drill can be altered to be 5-on-5 or 3-on-3, the 4-on-4 set up might be the most effective for incorporating specific offensive elements. 5-on-5 tends to get bogged down in the half court, especially with good defensive teams. And 3-on-3 often provides the offense with too much space.
The hidden value of this drill remains the opportunity for coaches to provide direct instruction to the teams that lose a possession. As the losing team comes off the floor, a coach can immediately pull them aside and talk through what went wrong while the other two teams progress through the drill.
Youth player development can be an avenue for coaches to share their love of the game. But if a team is going to be successful, it takes more than just love. Coaches are tasked with improving players both individually and within the context of the team. So youth player development often takes center stage with young teams.
To maximize their time with their players, coaches need to manage their time well. And one of the most important tools to optimize shared time is a detailed practice plan. Coaches that just roll the balls out often find their practices lack the focus and intensity necessary to improve the team.
Youth Player Development: Practice Planning
Different coaches have different approaches to practice planning. Some youth coaches zero in on specific basketball skill that need development, while others take a more free-flowing view. Some coaches scribble notes on a sheet of paper and tuck that folded plan into their waist band, whole others meticulously craft a minute-by-minute split using an app.
Whatever the preferred approach, it remains integral that coaches have a plan in place to maximize practice time.
A valuable practice plan lays out the exact avenues of attack a coach wants to explore. Especially early when youth basketball development is at its peak for the season, plotting out points of emphasis can be particularly useful. What exactly do you want to accomplish during this practice session? Often writing those specific goals aid in achieving them.
From there, coaches can sketch out the best outline for the day. Teaching drills and execution is key in youth player development, but haphazard approaches can often sabotage valuable practice time. A detailed practice plan might help a coach that wants to get to a number of skills and sets focus on key developmental aspects.
What daily drills will you include? How much teaching happens before a drill? What does the debrief look like? These are all important questions coaches should ask themselves prior to the start of any given practice.