How to Improve your Basketball Practices

December 21, 2015
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Many of you coach with limited available practice time. You only have access to a couple of practice slots a week. Or you only have a short time allotment during the times you practice. You can improve your basketball practice by planning with three characteristics in mind. The three characteristics of basketball practice, or what I call The 3 C’s of Practice, are accounted for in every one of my practice plans:

  1. Concise
  2. Competitive
  3. Challenging

We design practices to be fast paced, efficient and game-like. We don’t want to practice for two hours when we can get what need done in an hour and a half. I came to this conclusion when I was an assistant coach. The number one complaint I heard from all the levels I coached was there was too much wasted time in practice. There was too much talking, too many useless drills and too much waiting time that took away from the action of actually physically practicing. Players like to play basketball in practice.

A coaching mentor of mine told me once that the sign of a great practice is when your players aren’t clock watching (meaning counting the minutes until practice would be over). The number one reason we practice the way we do is athlete satisfaction. Our players enjoy fast game-like practices. I also like the game-like translation of practicing fast and keeping the practice active. By physically practicing as much as possible we feel like we condition far more within practice so we require less separate conditioning work. 

The 3 C’s of Basketball Practices 

The 3 C’s represent my daily reminders when planning practice to design a practice that increases athlete satisfaction and is game-like. 

  1. Concise

I want our basketball practices to be brief but comprehensive. This concept applies most frequently to communication. We also apply it to practice efficiency.

When you’re concise in your communication, you stick to the point and keep it brief. Your players don’t want to practice longer than they need to. They also don’t want to hear you talk for six sentences when you could communicate your message in three. We feel by practicing with a games approach we can be concise in our practices because we get right to the point. Instead of needing three drills building up to the game application, we get right to the game application.

To help us be concise we focus on time-on-task (keeping our players engaged and on task) and maximizing active learning time (the amount of time they are actually learning). Player’s learn by physically practicing, active listening, asking and answering questions and staring purposefully. Planning practices with these goals in mind keeps our practices fast paced and concise.

  1. Competitive

At all levels I have coached my teams have kept score in practice. The simple reason is because in the game we keep score too. We want to simulate game conditions as much as possible in our basketball practices. We keep score in our shooting drills and all of our offense vs. defense drills.

I feel players are more engaged when competition is involved. Part of sport is putting yourself or your team against another player or team and seeing how you measure up. This competitive pressure increases engagement and helps us keep players on task as there is always something at stake.

If handled properly competition adds a fun element to practice. Using competitive drills can lead to a bad experience, but that usually has to do with consequences and emphasis a coach places on winning and losing. Just like with a game we respect the process rather than the outcome. The win or loss in a drill is just a way of measuring yourself or your team in a moment.

competitive basketball practice

Since I value competition in practice, I choose drills or games in which a score can be kept. We keep score based on what we are emphasizing. It is not always scoring that counts as a score. Sometimes a team only gets three-points for a made three-point basket if it is preceded by a penetrate and kick, an extra pass or a post/offensive rebound kickout. We can also give points for offensive rebounds if that is something we are emphasizing. I can manipulate the amount and type of competition we have in practice by choosing certain drills or games over others.

  1. Challenging

Players can experience productive struggle when given tasks just beyond their abilities. The best challenge is one that requires a player to put effort into achieving it. An optimal challenge is above the player’s current ability, but not so difficult that it seems impossible. Challenge in our basketball practices should require a player to take risks and struggle to achieve success.

Struggle will come as a result of creating challenging practices. Practice, effort, risks and determination are required to meet the challenge. I plan our practices to ensure that player’s will struggle. If they can do something well then it is a coach’s job to add another layer to increase the challenge. As a coach I adjust the challenge when improvement is made. As effort and practice leads to improvement, I increase the challenge.

challenge and learning

Effortless practice performance is not a desirable way for your players to learn and grow. I know it makes you feel good as a coach when your team is executing a drill perfectly. Unfortunately all it does for your team’s development is build a sense of confidence at being able to do a task (not always a bad thing but not desirable all the time).

Instead plan basketball practices to include optimal challenge. We can add many layers to create optimal challenge.

Layers to Increase the Challenge

  • Increased Competition
  • Add Basketball Decision Training (BDT)
  • Time Constraints
  • Extra Players (Instead of 3-on3 play 5-on-5)
  • Change the rules
  • Change the playing court dimensions

As coaches we provide support for solving a challenging problem through different approaches. The most important approach is to create a safe environment where players feel comfortable taking risks and struggling. Struggle is an uncomfortable but necessary part of learning. Productive struggle is not about being in pain or becoming frustrated so to help players embrace struggle we have to let them know that mistakes are welcome and necessary.

Connecting the Three C’s: Games Approach to Coaching Basketball

A games approach to coaching basketball connects perfectly with our three C’s of basketball practices. Almost everything we do in our basketball practices involves offensive vs. defensive players competing and challenging each other to improve. Each player is an active participant in there, and the teams, growth and development. Everyone is responsible for helping us be concise in practices leading to more efficient and effective practices.

characteristics of practice, games approach

In a games approach to coaching basketball players are introduced to a game requiring skills that are both tactical (what to do) and technical (how to do it). Players practice the skills in conditions that relate to the game. The players develop an understanding of the game and identify the technical and tactical skills required. If necessary the coach may intervene to assist players with technical skills or discuss tactical aspects.

We feel the benefits of using a games approach are:

  1. Promotion of game activities very early on in skill development.
  2. Players perceive the tasks associated with the sport as easier.
  3. Mass participation of team members in each and every activity or drill.
  4. Players view this approach as more fun, exciting and engaging.
  5. Maximize activity time.
  6. Allow players the freedom to play without rigid systems that limit decision-making opportunities.
  7. Everyone can participate and succeed in because individual needs are met by modifying games to suit varied skill levels.
  8. Can use small-sided games as a progression in the exploration and development of a strategic approach to the game.
  9. Each player is challenged but at the same time achieves success.

My fundamental goal as a coach is to improve the performance of my players in my basketball practices. A games approach to coaching basketball allows me to more easily account for the Three C’s of Practice. Planning for these practice characteristics within a game-like practice helps players to control and be responsible for their performance. This will improve your basketball practices.

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2 Comments

  1. As a 51 year old Level 3 coach coming back to coaching after helping my kids through most of high school. Î’m wondering how a games approach goes along with the notion that drills (teaching sequences)should be no more than 7 or 8 minutes long . How do you build your practice plan and how much flexibility do you allow yourself ?

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