" " How to Plan the Perfect Basketball Practice

How to Plan the Perfect Basketball Practice

The word ‘planning’ may conjure up all sorts of images for you. For me, it means sitting in the pub with salt shakers on offense, pint glasses on defense, and notes written on napkins! Let’s face it, we have all spent hours with our basketball buddies drawing up plans to dominate the league next season or fix a season that is going downhill rapidly, for me I have experience of both, one after the other, year on year, every season I have coached!

If either of these sounds like situations you have been in, I feel you. I must admit, the buzz of feeling you have solved the problem, and heading off to your next session is up there with seeing the fruits of the labour.

Although planning for some is second nature, for some it is a challenge. I for one found it easy to plan but as my teams struggled I realised I was putting out fires week by week, and finding it hard to get from A-B without being distracted by these fires. Therefore my plans seemed to lack direction for the long term.

In this edition of Pep Talks, I will help to take some of the pressure off you by giving you a structure or being a guide to help you plan. If you would prefer to tweak the finer details feel free, but I guarantee it will cut down some of the decision-making you need to do and make life a little easier. 

Timing

If you have a 90-minute session, I would recommend 10-minute drills. That will be nine drills in total. Why I hear you ask??? It’s quite simple, basketball drills can be fun for some, boring for others, hard work, easy, mentally heavy or light. Drills come in all shapes and sizes. If a drill is ten minutes long and the players know the time limits of the drill they can give maximum focus/ effort. Imagine, a friend suggested a walk, of course, you might just throw your boots on and head out but if when you are out they say, ‘we will be back in 5 hours you would have maybe brought drinks, snacks, a coat. Preparation! 

Drill Structure

The first minute is important. Can you demonstrate the drill and explain it in one minute? If not, is the drill too complex? Get the drill up and running with one group, preferably a group that struggles as your better players will be able to organise and get going faster. Give the key points and get going in the first minute. For the next eight minutes, you have some choices, you can sit back a little and observe or dive in and help. Leave some room for them to explore, and figure out technical/tactical skills. If you observe the whole group struggling you have three options:

  1. Let it go, see what happens
  2. Time out, stop everyone and repair
  3. End the drill and move on

The first option, Let it go, is a great option when groups have different problems, they may observe each other and fix, them or just switch on their problem-solving skills. You can drop some hints here and there to remind them of key points. The second option, Time out, is similar to a game. Players will be familiar with you calling time out. Use this when the issues are similar across the board but it is an easy fix. A slight misunderstanding, maybe. Finally, End the drill and move on. I learned this idea in Spain and I loved it. Sometimes the drill is just poorly designed or too complex and it is to finish. The players look frustrated or confused, and it’s not an easy fix.

Goal of the Drill

I have run drills before because they were traditional, look cool, or look tough but I was quick to change when I learned in Spain that each drill needs a specific focus. If you design your own drills like they do in Spain or take them from a drill book, you need to really think about why you are doing the drill. Is this drill solving a problem that your team has? If not then what is the point? Could you improve the drill to make sure the players are gaining a skill? Returning from Spain I spent three months, due to heavy defeats, teaching my players to break a press and designing all of my drills to make sure they would have no fear of presses. Each drill got them through each phase of the press (inbounding, the specific passes needed, dealing with traps, ball handling, spacing, getting over the halfway line etc), and when we started to see teams again in the second half of the season, we only lost by 50 and not 100 haha…presses were taken off when they were not working. Enough about me. In sum, it is important to have a goal in each drill, this will help you gauge whether the drill was a success and a step closer to your destination or not.

How much passing/shooting/dribbling?

The focus of your session depends on you!!! In Spain, at Club Estudiantes, every team shot the ball for a third of the session at least. The U10s I worked with dedicated three drills each session (10 minutes per drill) to shooting, one of which focused on technique the other two focused on putting the ball on the basket I.e. competitions. All teams went heavy on offensive technical skills and applied them in small-sided games or 5v5. Surprisingly, defence accounted for about 20% of the focus. I rarely saw defensive drills, it was more likely that the coach would share ideas, and encourage defensive intensity and use of live games that had winners and losers that encouraged players to try to get stops. As you can see there is a pattern here, offense offense offense. For you, the balance may be tipped the other way or you may have a good mix of everything. Whatever you do, plan for the season ahead, and commit to developing something. I have heard of coaches who have a “daily dozen” or approaches such as “we do three things well”, where the coach has made a decision for the team to go heavy on three things only and dominate games in those areas. At Estudiantes, the players could play 1v1, fast break, and shoot. That was a thread running through the club from U10 upwards, a commitment to developing will give your players an identity they will carry with them all season.

I’m so glad you followed us to the end of how to design and plan a basketball session – but don’t just stop there – there’s so much more that can help get those creative juices flowing. Try multiple ways of structuring your session to find out what fits your team best and let me know how you get via email, I’m always happy to help!

Goals

What is the point of this drill? What are we trying to achieve? I have picked drills because they look nice, they are tried and tested, or look like hard work, but did they achieve exactly what I needed? This reminds me of the coach I learned the most from in Spain, the U16s Head Coach (every drill I saw him teach is documented here ). I asked him during one of our early chats “which is your favourite drill book?”, he replied, “what is a drill book?”. I explained and he said that basketball would be easy if we could just plug in a drill to fix a gap in the skill set of our team. I asked him how he plans his sessions and he said he designs his own drills to solve a specific problem for his players. For example, if his group are boxing off well but not chasing the ball well when it doesn’t fall to a player, he would design a drill involving a race to the loose ball, therefore not only competing in the box off but also competing against your own team mates to retrieve the ball. I thought this was WILD!!! The idea that all drills are designed each week from scratch??!!

As I spoke to other coaches, this seemed to be the approach taken at the club. New drills, same skills. Mind blown, I set about designing drills with a specific goal in mind. Rather than a fast break drill, the focus was else where, the first pass, or how the point guard gets open. Furthermore, becuase the focus is on on specific detail, this meant the players could give their focus to that detail.  The rest of the drill was of course important, but the Spanish coaches let a lot go in terms of execution if a) the energy and focus was on the technique or tactic and b) if the correct decisions were being made.

In sum, what ever the goal of the ten minute drill, it is important to focus on that goal. Major emphasis on the GOAL rather than the EXECUTION.

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