How to Attend and Watch Basketball Practices to Learn

September 5, 2019
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At this point I cannot honestly tell you how many practices I have attended. I have attended practices around the world, and at all levels of basketball…. youth, professional, collegiate and high school practices. Because of this I wanted to share some ideas about how to attend and watch basketball practices. I will explain how and who to reach out to to attend and watch basketball practices. Also, what do when you arrive, when you are watching the practice, and what to do afterwards. 

Action Steps to Attend and Watch Basketball Practices

Most of my answers will reflect trying to attend a college or professional practice, as generally it is much simpler to attend and watch basketball practices at the high school and youth levels.

Who should I contact?

Contacting a head coach directly is generally not as effective as contacting someone below the head coach. This is what makes it harder to connect with NBA coaches as their information is not listed as openly as collegiate coaches information is. I suggest not contacting the administrative assistants either. They will just forward it to the person who makes the decisions anyways. 

At the collegiate level the director of basketball operations is the go to person. Their information can usually be found on the athletic department’s website. It is not always available on the team’s specific basketball page, but rather on the athletic department’s directory. At the professional level, outside of open practices open to the public, you really need to know someone, or know someone who knows someone one or two degrees of separation. 

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What if they say no?

Don’t be offended if they say no. I fully respect no. Just like with recruiting, hearing yes or no are both good, as regardless you get to move on. Also, whatever an organization’s philosophy is about being open or not to coaches attending practices is to be respected. 

More frustrating than hearing no is when you hear nothing. This is why I suggest reaching out a couple of weeks in advance. It is not unusual for someone to tell you to reconnect the week of the practice but at least you have planted the seed. It is your responsibility to reconnect. Even if they don’t say this, always follow up a day or so before to remind them you are coming and to ask for any specific details about where to access the gym. 

What should you say in your email?

What to say in your email when you reach out to attend a practice. Be specific and to the point. Nobody wants read long emails. 

Hey Coach,

My name is _____ and I am the head coach at _______. 

[If you have a personal connection say it here...] Coach ______ is a mutual acquaintance and he suggested I reach out to you.

[If you don’t have a connection, I’d suggest something like this...]
I really align with your ____ (style of play, philosophy) and I was wondering if it would be possible to attend and watch basketball practices. 

[If you have a specific window of time you are in the area than state it...] I will be in the area these dates so if it is possible to attend and watch basketball practices so please let me know any options during this time. 
 
Thanks in advance for any communications

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Why you should check, check and recheck?

This is my general philosophy about any trip I go on. I value being on time, so check in advance the traffic, directions, parking options and confirming the practice time, and where to access the facility are all to be planned in advance. Sometimes your host will tell you where to park, but never expect them to pay for it. That is definitely not their responsibility. Just like you wouldn’t like your players to be late and disrupt a practice, you should not disrupt their practice. Be early. Wait patiently. Sit where they tell you to sit.

Don't expect to get to watch film sessions?

Most teams do film before or after practice. I have never asked to attend a film session. I feel that is an overreach. Some places let me know in advance that the film is happening. Some let me know I can attend the film sessions. Some invite me at once I am there. Others don’t. Either way is fine. I am always grateful I am there.

What to do when you arrive?

Follow the instructions given. Usually a staff member will escort you to where you should sit. Sometimes they give you a practice plan. Sometimes they don't. Be respectful that you are in someone else's gym. Even if I am sitting beside another coach watching, I try not to talk during the practice, especially when a coach is coaching. Just think about what you expect from an ideal visitor in your practice and act the same way. The occasional quick word to another guest is cool but you are there to observe, improve and respect their process. This goes without saying too, but, stay off your cell phone and make sure the ringer is off. 

Can you post your experience on social media?

I have learned through mistakes. Do not take a picture or video, or post it to social media without permission from your host. Most will not mind a picture being posted saying you are at practice but still ask. Often I am told in advance whether it is OK or not. If I don’t get a chance to ask at the moment, I will follow up on my thank you email, and ask if it would be OK to post a picture. Generally video is not allowed, but again just ask. Some places are very open, and some are not, and either is OK.

Will I meet the head coach?

Don’t expect anyone to come over and say hello. This may be surprising, but I have been to many gyms where the head coach, assistants and staff do not talk to me. It is not how I would do things. I welcome every coach at the beginning of practice. I spend time with every coach after practice, and my players, all know to introduce themselves at the beginning or end of practice to every guest in our gym. Certainly this happens at some places, but there are many, many practices where, outside of the person who directly hosted me, I had zero interactions with anyone.

What to say after practice and how to leave

It is OK to hang out a bit after practice. Players and coaches will leave, or some will hang out and shoot, or work with players. Unless escorted out or specifically told to leave, these are good times to hang out and hopefully get some one-on-one time with a coach. 

If you do talk to a coach always be complimentary. Prepare something to say. Start with a positive and ask a question you have thought about during practice. Focus on technical, tactical and philosophy. Stay away from talking about players. You are not a member of the media. Coaches love to talk about their program and practices. You're more likely to have an engaging conversation if you stay away from media type questions. 

This is not the time to impress the coaches or to position yourself for a job. This is the time to ask a few questions, add a few comments, and if asked, answer a few questions. Don’t expect to be asked any questions, but many coaches have always asked me my thoughts and takeaways. Saying all thisknow when to leave as coaches are all busy and respect their time. You can always get a feel for this.

Be grateful

You can never say thank you enough. 

How do I follow up?

Send a follow up email, text or a written note. If the basketball program lets you share a picture give the basketball program or head coaches a shout out. It is easy to be grateful so express that in your social media post. Generally that is the end of it. On the rare occasionsome coaches I meet follow up with me and keep in touch. If you would like, at the end of their season, send another follow up of appreciation and acknowledgment of their hard work during the season to open the door to conversations during a less busy time.

Can I share what I learned?

Again learn from my mistakes. Learning for your benefit is the point of attending a practice. Sharing with your inner circle is fine. Publishing or speaking publicly about the play calls, inside information etc. is not cool. Believe me, I have tons of stuff that I could share from all the practices I have attended and have learned to err on the side of caution always.

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