Developing a patient team can be one of the most difficult aspects of coaching. Young and inexperienced teams tend to rush through sets and often leave scoring opportunities unexplored. These teams need to reduce turnovers and play with more purpose. So finding the right drills and competitive practice games becomes a challenge. So here’s a look at a basketball passing drill that works on both the offense and the defense simultaneously.
Basketball Passing Drill: Passing Lanes and Patience
The Passing Lanes and Patience drill promotes multiple things. For the offense, it promotes patience and making good passes. It stresses the importance of working for great shots. It also helps build habits like crashing the offensive boards.
For the defense, this drill promotes getting into the passing lanes, blocking out, and limiting teams to one shot. It stresses toughness in taking charges and playing hard without fouling.
Coaches implement four 2:30 minute quarters for the drill, with a 45 second break in between each segment. The two teams split time as offense and defense, alternating after each quarter. Subs can be incorporated with each dead ball situation.
Coaches set a specific number of passes the offense must complete. (We do 6 passes.)
The offense “scores” 1 point if they reach that number of passes without a turnover or deflection. They also get 1 point for each offensive rebound. The offense gets 3 points for made three-pointers, but 4 points for a made two-point field goal. We stress working for great shots.
The defense “scores” 1 point for each deflection of a pass. They get 2 points for a steal, and 3 points for limiting the offense to one shot in a possession. They get 4 points for each charge drawn. The defense loses a point when a player commits a foul.
Emphasize the importance of getting in passing lanes to get deflections & steals. On the line, up the line is a way of life for our program.
Discuss scoring with teams & ask them why they think 2’s are worth more than 3’s in this drill & ask them why they think securing a D-Board after one shot and taking a charge are worth so many points.
Kyle Brasher Gibson Southern High School
Social Studies Teacher
Lady Titans Basketball Coach
Gold. Basketball turnovers. What do these two items have in common? The answer is more than you may realize! As all coaches know, a turnover in basketball is one surefire way for your team to be defeated each and every game out. Not only do turnovers mean you do not get a field goal attempt, if the turnover is a live ball turnover, it could mean an easy bucket for your opponent. So basketball coaches seek new and innovative ways in reducing turnovers.
Gold is one of the most precious metals on earth, and an item that has monetary value. Gold is something that people want to protect and ensure that they retain. When playing the game of basketball, we like to think of the basketball as a piece of gold, We like to think of it as something that is very precious, which we hope to retain more than we lose. So using special gold basketballs to aid in reducing turnovers created a competitive practice game with stakes.
Reducing Turnovers with Gold Basketballs
As a program, we instituted gold basketballs in many of our live scrimmage segments to help encourage our players to be more focused on reducing turnovers. Players do not like the punishment of running; players will do almost anything to avoid running, so as a staff we decided to tap into that mindset and try to become a team that commits fewer turnovers.
In live scrimmage segments, we place three gold basketballs out for each team playing. (To create gold basketballs, we found three old basketballs that would not retain air and spray painted them gold.) During the scrimmage, each time a team commits a turnover, they lose one of their gold basketballs. Once a team has lost all three of their gold basketballs, we stop the scrimmage and that team gets on the line to run. After their run is complete, they only get two gold basketballs back.
It is imperative that they retain a high level of focus in not turning the ball over. Once those two balls are gone and they run again. Then, they get the last ball back. Once that final ball is gone and they run, they get all three back and we repeat the process again. The goal is for the players to understand the value of limiting our turnovers and putting ourselves in the best position possible to succeed.
Limiting Use (and Turnovers)
The Gold Basketballs are not something we use every day. As a staff, we feel they may lose their luster if we commit to doing them every practice. We utilize the balls once or twice a week. If we have a game where we just committed a lot of turnovers or an upcoming game where reducing turnovers is important, we may utilize the balls a tad more.
It has given our players a visual cue to look at and realize the importance of retaining possession and putting ourselves in the best position to succeed in all game situations.
Basketball team building can be a difficult task. Whether a coach is looking for bonding events or building morale through game awards, building a positive basketball culture remains integral.
Developing a Positive Basketball Culture
A positive basketball culture is the first thing you will need to build in your program. You will need to fight for this every single day in every thing you do–from the weightroom to your open gym sessions. When you face adversity your culture will be able to overcome any negativity if you have a strong foundation.
Jon Gordon is a master teacher on culture and I strongly recommend you check out some of my favorite books of his–The Energy Bus, The Power of a Positive Team, The Carpenter, and You Win In the Locker Room First.
When you start to establish your culture and identity as a positive team, you will then need to establish some core values for your program. We stole ours from Alabama and Nate Oats: Max Effort, Continuous Learning, and Selfless Love. We even tied Bible verses into these so we can reach our players spiritually.
Our program spent some money and put some cool signage up to improve our facilities with these words all around it for our players to see daily. The important thing is, you must fight for these values daily as a coach and hold your players accountable to them!
We talk about these values daily and what it means to live them out on and off the court to develop the entire individual. A few things we do is ask a player at the end of practice or a weight room session to name a core value. Then we will ask them to tell us how one player on our team lived it out today and why. This gets our kids thinking about the values constantly!
Getting Player Buy-In
When you are building your culture, you have to have players buy into your culture. One way you can do this as a coach is to have your players have some input. We asked our players to create a vision statement and standards they would like to live out daily that correlate with our core values.
One tip I got from a few experts on culture was don’t limit yourself when setting goals. For example: we want to win districts, go undefeated at home, and go to the State Tournament.
While those are great things, oftentimes everyone has those same goals. And what happens when you lose that first game at home? What happens when you don’t win districts but you can still advance? Or an even better question: what if your players do get complacent when they accomplish winning districts and going undefeated at home?
You can get complacent and think you achieved enough and you fall short of going even further than what you were capable of doing. So we made a vision statement instead that has seemed to really motivate our players to the next level.
They came up with the following: The FCS basketball team is a united group of brothers here to glorify Jesus through the game of basketball while exceeding the expectations of others, with the expectation to win everytime we step on the floor.
A few standards our players came up with through guided discussion include: Accountability, Communication, Elevate, Grit, Selflessness, and Servanthood.
Kids have to have fun with the game of basketball and so do coaches! Basketball is a long season, and in a lot of ways it’s year round with post-season workouts, summer, pre-season, and in season. One way to avoid any burnout is to celebrate little things. Celebrate progress in the weight room. Celebrate winning two games in a row in season. And celebrate simple things like winning a situational segment in practice!
Another tip to have a positive basketball culture comes with making time for relationships with your players. Something I got from T.J. Rosene at Emmanuel College and PGC Basketball is to write out the names of three players on your practice plan and have a meaningful conversation with those players that day. Mix up the names each practice and you will be able to reach all of your players consistently.
Use Your Assistant Coaches
As coaches we have to trust our assistant coaches–we hired them for a reason! A tip I want to suggest is to delegate your work and let your assistant coaches lead in some areas of the program. For example, in the pre- and post-season, my assistant coaches lead all my weight room and skill development days. As the head coach I serve as the manager and see the big picture.
My assistants will run everything by me and make sure it is in alignment with what we are trying to accomplish. This allows your players to hear someone else’s voice and allows you to save yours more so for the season! You also are helping your assistant coaches who want to move on to become a head coach one day.
I would also encourage you to write out other areas of your program you can delegate to your assistants. I really like the defensive end of the floor, so I call one of my assistants the “offensive coordinator.” We run a read and react/dribble drive hybrid offense, so I give him free reign out of that to come up with ways to improve our offense, drills, small sided games, etc. This also limits my film, as he will watch everything on us offensively and I will watch everything defensively.
I hope you found some useful tips and strategies that have worked for our program. Best of luck this season!
As we continue to address the topic of summer, I find it’s time to start talking how the improvement happens for a player in the summer. First, you have to understand that many other steps have to be in place before summer begins for the biggest improvement to happen. There is still a lot of effort that needs to be made on the coach’s part to make growth happen. Here is my pre-summer checklist, note these actions can happen right now if needed.
Summer Team Basketball Work
1. Player Evaluation with an End of Year Meeting
I believe development is at its strongest when supported and guided by coaches. Take the time to meet with your players after the season. Talk about what skills they need to work on, but also enhance the strengths that possess.
2. Schedule available times throughout the summer for players to work on their game.
Society and the game has changed so much. You hardly see players working on their games in their driveways or the local parks. Players tend to do things when organized for them. Create a calendar that players can see in the advance so they can plan with their parents on to make time for getting better.
3. Workout Resources
You need to provide workout for your players. I have developed my own and used others in the past. Please email me if you need workout resources
4. Summer Camp
When I was Varsity coach, I ran a camp early in June. During that time, I took the time to teach the players the workouts during the camp. The rest of summer, I provided gym times to do the workouts on weekly basis three times a week.
5. Less emphasis on games more dedication on getting better.
Some players will play more than 40 games in the summer if they play the AAU circuit. Players need to understand that games will only help your game in small amounts, but direct workouts of basketball skills is where development happens. You can’t be a great shooter by just playing games. It takes repetition just like any other skill in basketball.
6. Develop a culture of hard work and improvement
At my end of the season, I tried to highlight the players who improved the most from the previous season. Usually, it’s those players who committed to the summer are the ones making the gains.
For example, I had player who told me at the end of his junior season, he was going to score 1,000 points in his career. I said, “You will have score more than 500 points in one season.” We worked together to make this goal happen. He learned to create his own shot with learning how to be a rim attacker. His growth is one of many stories I share with players and parents about the importance of getting better.
Your team is only as strong as its weakest player.
Basketball Practice Breakers are fun and challenging 10-minute activities that help break up the tedious practice schedule. The monotony of a set practice schedule might lull your players to sleep in some cases. These activities help breakup that monotony and serve almost like ice breakers at the start of any season.
Basketball Practice Breakers
Basketball Practice Breakers stem from a long-held classroom management technique from elementary and middle school. Every player will have their name listed on “The Practice Breakers Board.” They each get 1 Point for every “Practice Breaker” activity they win, including tiebreakers if necessary. At the end of the year, whichever player has the most points gets a symbolic reward or prize from the coaching staff.
What usually works best is an item or symbol that best represents the spirit of “Practice Breakers”, which is all about working hard as a team everyday, but having fun and staying loose as well. Something personalized that the players can wear in class on gameday is always a big hit.
For example, an old style sport coat embroidered with the phrase “P.B. Champ,” the more goofy looking, the better. Something inexpensive that will make your players laugh whenever they wear it or see it, but will also mean something special to them as a season-long accomplishment they have to earn. I encourage coaches at all levels to be creative in implementing new ideas for “Practice Breaker” activities and rewards/prizes. Here’s 3 fun suggestions that work really well:
Basketball Practice Breakers: Opposites
1) “Opposites”: A 10-minute scrimmage where every player can only use their opposite hand to dribble, pass, and shoot. Their strong hand can only be used to catch passes, and as a guide for shooting and dribbling transfers. Coaches ref the scrimmage to make sure everybody’s sticking to the rules. Every player on the winning team gets 1 point for “The Practice Breakers Board”.
This activity is hilariously fun, but also strongly encourages each player to work intensely on developing their opposite hand. It gets them in the habit of forcing the issue, and experiencing the intial ups and downs along with the rest of the team. “Opposites” is a tremendous team confidence builder, and is truely a blast. Have fun!
Basketball Practice Breakers: Half-Court Heroes
2) “Half-court Heroes”: 3 players spread across the halfcourt stripe. They will all back up several feet, and with a running start at the coach’s whistle, will each take a halfcourt shot at the same time. The challenge is for them to choose the proper height, distance, and speed that will allow their shot to arrive at a different time then their 2 teammates. Thus giving their shot a better opportunity to go in.
The only true rule is that all 3 players must shoot at the same time. Coaches ref this activity as well, and often join in with the team, which makes it even more fun. The player with the most makes at the end of 10 minutes, gets a point on “The Practice Breakers Board”. Your team will love it!
Basketball Practice Breakers: Stick and Pick
3) “Stick and Pick”: The coaches select a specific shot for every player to shoot. Whoever makes(sticks) it first, gets to pick the next shot for everybody to take until the next make, which can be any shot they want, regardless of the difficulty. The more difficult each shot becomes, the safer it becomes for the current leader to protect their point for “The Practice Breakers Board”.
There are only 2 simple rules. First, the shot must be attempted from no more than a few feet beyond the 3 point line, and must be shot from in bounds. Second, the line must rotate in order every practice, so each player gets the chance to be the first shooter. It’s very similar to “H.O.R.S.E.”, but is so much more challenging and engaging.
The last player to make a shot at the end of 10 minutes, will of course, get a point on “The Practice Breakers Board”. This is also another great opportunity for coaches to participate whenever they see fit. Enjoy!
When I was younger, I had the privilege to attend many basketball camps. Each camp had its strengths and weaknesses within the time I spent there. Now from coaching point of view, a camp is only effective if you take what you learned and put into practice. I spent a lot of my parent’s money and my own getting similar instruction all over the state of Wisconsin. What I have learned through my experience of attending, viewing, working camps, and running my own camps is that effectiveness resides with specific focus and training. Provided is my keys of picking a basketball camp for a player or players in your program.
Picking a Basketball Camp
Many camps cover a mile long of material, but it only scratches the surface. Some camps try to cram in drills for too many skills without ever allowing a player to grow in a specific area. One of the key questions to ask when picking a basketball camp is if the coaches concentrate on any specific skills. That will give you a guide to what they can offer your youth player.
Players come to youth basketball camps at a variety of different skill levels, so its important to consider how good the player actually is. You don’t want a beginner landing in a camp for AAU tested talent.
The camp’s environment should be one that provides learning opportunities for each youth player. The best camps challenge players to grow physically and mentally. Players should be constantly learning when involved in drills, practices and scrimmages. A camp that builds on basketball IQ is a major plus!
Parents often forget to ask other coaches and players for feedback on potential camps. Sometimes a coach can recommend a reliable colleague. Or a teammate can suggest a previous camp they’ve attended.
The daily camp schedule stands as another important deciding factor for many parents. How much time is dedicated to skill development? How much time is dedicated to playing games? Are there competitive practice games? If there’s too much scrimmage time, there might not be enough skill development available for your youth player.
Offseason development remains one of the most important elements for any basketball team. Both players and the program as a whole need to focus on skill improvement during the long summer months between seasons. While there are plenty of approaches a coach or player might consider, the use of a basketball shot tracker can be one of the most impactful.
Basketball Shot Tracker
Now, we’re not talking about the wearable sensor here when discussing this shot tracker. No, this tracker uses a traditional statistical logging sheet to give a player or program a wide view of a shooter’s performance.
This tool is a particularly one because it helps the players and the coaches better understand an individual’s strengths as a shooter. Sometimes the eye-test works, but other times, having black-and-white statistics helps paint a clearer picture.
The sheet itself sports columns for two-pointers made and attempted, three-pointers made and attempted, as well as free throws made and attempted. This simple set up affords the shooter with a clear view of the areas where they need improvement.
The sheet can be adapted to further breakdown shot attempts by area on the floor. By having the players log their makes and misses, the coach incorporates accountability to the offseason workouts.
Coach Collins sits down with Coach Patrick O’Neill of Ulster University to discuss developing basketball culture and practice planning. Coming from Ireland, O’Neill needed to developing his program’s culture largely from scratch.
Developing Basketball Culture
O’Neill says their team culture is comprised of three essential pillars: values, attitudes, and goals. He calls values the standards of behavior, often a judgment of what is important in life. Attitudes are defined as the way a player thinks and feels about something. O’Neill defines goals as “the object of a person’s ambition or effort.” Also, “an aim or desired result.”
O’Neill leaned on four keys during his coaching career. He says honest communication stands as one of the most important elements within his program. He also said he realized he needed to up his coaching game, focusing on preparation. The other two keys he relied upon were balance and understanding.
He empowered his players to take ownership of their own development, and he understood the individual circumstances for his players. O’Neill made it a point to make himself available and approachable to the players as well.
But O’Neill admits it wasn’t all perfect. He learned very quickly “shoehorning” a player into his philosophy could be counter productive. Good coaches adapt their approach for each new collection of players they come across. He also admitted being totally positive, especially in the face of defeat, did not work.
Coach O’Neill went on to discuss his approach to practice planning.
O’Neill approaches each session with a detailed plan of attack. He portions off practice segments with specific focuses. Some of the sections include warm up, skill development, and team-wide work.
Within each section, O’Neill’s practice plan lists the specific drill that will be conducted. In addition, he adds the points of emphasis during the segments and drills.
This level of organization allows O’Neill to maximize practice time and move seamlessly between focuses.
Planning any program’s basketball practice remains one of the most important aspects of coaching. No matter if it’s a preseason workout, in-season session, or postseason shoot around, a well-organized practice produces meaningful results.
Coach Collins sat down recently with veteran basketball coach Sean Doherty to discuss his approach practice planning. Coach Doherty currently serves as the head boys coach at Hamden Hall Country Day. Doherty sports more than 20 years experience coaching basketball, including stops as a former Division-1 assistant at Holy Cross, Western Kentucky and Quinnipiac. In addition to those duties, Doherty also served as a top assistant at Division II powerhouse Assumption College, as well as being the former head coach at Salem State.
Basketball Practice Planning
Coach Doherty urges all other basketball coaches to be organized. He suggests meeting with staff to discuss daily and weekly practice plans. If coaching without a staff, he still recommends detailed planning, including a written plan for players to see such as a “Daily Improvement Sheet.”
He calls it integral that coaches have a firm understanding of plays/drills need to be cover during season heading into their first practice.
Doherty also recommends a weekly plan for the team, which includes off the court events. He likens this to lessons plans for classroom teachers.
Doherty says: “Practice is where we create our winning culture.” He calls for accountability should be in all segments. He also recommends tracking Effort Stats. Part of the culture development includes teaching “great teammate” elements, such as: run to guys who fall/take charge, make a huge hustle play, bench up and down, high fives, emotion at right time, etc.
To handle winning and losing correctly, Doherty recommends competitive practice games. This also aids in accountability.”Enthusiasm and Energy is a huge part of all our winning habits,” Doherty says.
Developing the right series of basketball shooting workouts remains one of the most important aspects for any basketball coach. No matter the level of the team, the correct drills that teach and reinforce fundamental skills stand as valuable part of any practice plan.
Basketball Shooting Workouts: 4 Rounds
The first drill to consider incorporating into your basketball shooting workouts is called “4 Rounds.”
This drill can be done individually or within a small group setting.
For this drill, the shooter progresses through a series of spots in the half court, focusing on form and rhythm.
The first two shots from any of the sections remains a form-shooting attempt. The player should use only one hand and focus specifically on release and spin.
The next two shots build on the form-shooting element, now incorporating the guide hand. But with these shots, the shooter still does not leave the floor with the attempt. For the final shot in the section, the shooter steps beyond the three-point line and shoots from there. That attempt should incorporate all of the fundamentals for proper form, elevation and release.
As the shooter progresses through this sequence, they must keep track of their makes. Any miss moves the shooter to the next section. The goal of the drill is to make as many attempts as possible while maintaining proper form throughout.
The name “4 Rounds” comes from the drill’s set up, since every shooter progresses through the drill four times. 100 stands as the most points a shooter can score.
One way to stress proper form with this drill is to require “perfect shots” with the first two attempts in each section. A “perfect shot” is one that’s made without touching the rim. This can also be adapted to be a useful competitive practice game.
The “Burner Drill” stands as a useful sequence either in pre-practice warm up or in post-practice wrap up.
For this drill, a single shooter takes three-pointers for five minutes. One or two additional players provide rebounding and passing support for the shooter.
As the shooter navigates the five minute time limit, he or she should focus on form and elevation. The shooter must set his or her feet before each shot attempt. Shooters should also get in the habit of preparing to shoot before the ball even arrives in their hands.
Shooting for five consecutive minutes often leaves the shooter gassed. The drill “burns” the shooters energy. But it’s important for the shooter to maintain the proper form even in the closing moments of the drill.
This drill can be adapted to be an individual workout as well, with the shooter retrieving the ball after each shot attempt. In that case, the shooter can take shots from a variety of spots along the three-point arc. This, too, can be adapted to be a competitive practice game.
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. And during the planning stages, including a favorite basketball drill might make practice all the more enjoyable.
Coach Nabil Murad has been working in the Education & Sports Sector for more than 10 years. Nabil has a proven track record of developing players to achieve their full potential using tailored development programs and a variety of motivational methods. Murad is currently in Austria working with Gmunden Swans youth basketball program to develop players along the player development pathway.
This is a full-court competitive practice game that allows coaches to install a specific play or set, while also practice key defensive principles. In the half court, the offense runs their first action against a full compliment of defenders. If this action results in a basket, then the offense and defense switch. But if the defense gets a stop, then it’s a full court game.
The defensive stop flows into transition offense as that squad seeks to score. Only points scored off of defensive stops count in this competitive practice game. This game should flow back and forth for several minutes before coaches change anything.
Emphasis: Defense. Basketball coaches that incorporate this competitive practice game look to establish the mindset that the team needs to focus on getting defensive stops before getting to the offensive end of the floor.
Developing the right basketball shooting drill remains one of the key elements for any successful coach. Considering the sometimes wild variation of skill level within a team, it’s important that these exercises can maximize any player’s potential. Coaches sift through hundreds of options and seemingly countless variations, hoping to find something that works for their team.
Coaches know that not every player can do everything on the floor. Players have their strengths and weaknesses. And it’s the task of a good developmental coach to find the right drills to improve upon those weaknesses while growing those strengths.
Basketball Shooting Drill: Around the Horn
Around the Horn is a useful basketball shooting drill for players at any level. This drill also provides coaches with the ability to set up individual workouts as well as integrate team elements.
Players might recognize a version of this drill as the old playground game “around the world.”
This drill emphasizes repetition. The shooter progresses through seven spots, arrayed around the perimeter of the floor.
Depending upon the skill level of the shooter, this drill could being near the key, in the midrange, or beyond the three-point arc.
As an individual exercise, this drill involves the shooter taking their shot, then tracking down the rebound. This drill can be adapted to include a rebounder and a passer. Those additional players would also find value in this drill, considering they get to work on other skills as well.
To implement this drill well, the shooter must maintain the proper shooting form throughout. Getting their feet set and hands ready to receive the pass also stand as important elements to this drill.
Adding the timing element allow for the player to focus and provide max effort through the progression. This could also become a competitive practice game.
Basketball Shooting Drill: M-Drill
Another valuable basketball shooting drill is the M-Drill. In this sequence, a shooter navigates a timed progression of shots while a teammate rebounds and feeds the ball.
The shooter moves through five perimeter spots on the floor, taking a shot from each one. The shooter can’t move on to the next spot until they’ve made a shot at each stop.
This drill adds an element of urgency through the one-minute time limit. Shooters must progress quickly and efficiently, concentrating on their form, foot work and movement.
The M-Drill is designed to be a multi-round set. The goal for each shooter is to make it to the next round. Round one involves the shooter making one shot from each spot. Round two increases the number to two makes from each spot. The subsequent rounds also increase in makes, but the time never does.
The goal for each shooter is to remain focused and disciplined despite the time crunch. This drill can help in developing end-of-game situations as well.
Preparing for end of game situations are crucial for basketball coaches at any level. Often times, however, this remains overlooked when developing their practice plans. Coaches continually drill aspects of an offensive set or a defensive approach, but sometimes forget those end-of-game scenarios.
Competitive practice games stand as one useful tool. These drills inject energy into practice that’s usually reserved for game nights. Competitive games, especially ones where the losing team feels the consequences, allow coaches to bring a high-level of energy to the practice floor.
Another thing basketball coaches should consider is developing specific in-practice scenarios to prepare for those end of game situations. These scenarios might play out during a controlled scrimmage. But adding specific elements like time and score will aid in that preparation. Something like, asking a team to hold a single-digit lead for three minutes. Or maybe the “best” player is not available due to foul trouble. Options are only limited by the coach’s creativity.
Check out the YouTube link below for a specific discussion between coaches on how to deal with end of game situations. In this segment, coaches use real game footage to talk through the options available.
For any coach, practice planning and building culture are keys for any successful basketball program. How a coach integrates these elements into their team approach speaks to their preparation and expectations. In this extended episode of the Coach Unplugged podcast, Coach Collins sits down with Coach Jeremy Thompson of Monroe College to discuss the approaches within his program.
Coach Thompson on Practice Planning and Building Culture
Coach Thompson stresses consistency and culture in his approach to practice planning. He often integrates quotes of day, like “If you don’t practice, don’t expect to win.” His plans often include both offensive and defensive emphasis points.
Thompson enters his third season with the Monroe Express women’s basketball program in 2021-22. In his first season with the program in 2019-20, Thompson led the Express to a 19-13 overall record. It stands as the team’s second-ever Region 15 Championship Tournament win.
Thompson was previously with City College of New York (CCNY) as associate head coach. In his final season with the Beavers, Thompson helped lead the team to a CUNYAC Final Four appearance.
Thompson began his women’s basketball coaching career at Staples High School in Westport, Conn. He served as the head freshman coach in 2013-14 and the assistant varsity coach in 2014-15. Thompson coached the freshmen to the No.-1-ranking in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Conference (FCIAC) among freshman teams in 2014. The varsity team made the FCIAC playoffs in 2015 under Thompson’s tutelage.
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 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.