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How To Plan An Effective Practice

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How to Plan An Effective Practice
by Sidney Goldstein Copyright © 2000, revised 2002

If you think Rembrandt or Van Gogh just sat down and painted works of art without planning, then you better think again. There is evidence that they often painted or sketched hundreds of prototypes before doing the real thing. So, even if your ego thinks you are up to their genius, you still need to plan.

Further, your success as a coach depends on how you plan practice, because players do in games exactly as they do in practice. Erratic or inconsistent play in games is 100% due to practice planning problems. Winning and losing is not the issue with coaches interested in teaching; improving the quality of play is the bottom line.

If you have read thus far, I won't preach to the converted anymore. Believe it or not, the easiest part of planning is the planning itself! Which drill you should do first is not the problem. Your problem is to figure out what your players need the most and how to fill the need.

I can tell you what they need because I have worked with players of all ages and have myself played at all levels from junior high to pro. Players need individual fundamentals. You need to understand how these fit into the schema.

1. The Schema

Beginning coaches and even experienced ones fail because they have not recognized what skills depend on other skills. For example, all offensive skills and even many defensive skills depend on a player's ability to pivot. A coach from a city high school in Philadelphia told me when he tried the pivoting drills some players actually fell over! And from my experience, even most college players need work in this area, even the ones in our videos. Another example is the skill of looking. That's right, I said looking. You will need to watch each player's head & eyes like a hawk in practice to make sure they are:
1- looking up when dribbling;
2- looking to the basket or ball on offense;
3- looking to the ball on defense and so on.
Here are some other schema or practice tips and keys:
Conditioning: Run your players using continuous motion drills for 15-40 minutes. Conditioning makes your players better athletes and players.
Defensive Footwork: Defense depends on footwork. It's real easy to teach, but you need to work on it. Footwork includes jump steps and running in defensive position.
Dribbling: Any player can be taught to dribble well, but you need to work on it. One reason to work on dribbling at the start of a season is that dribbling and defensive position are similar. So practicing dribbling helps with defense.
Offensive Skills: Probably the least practiced and most needed skills are cutting, faking, catching, passing, timing, communication, and looking. Your players don't work because players need these skills. Once players have these skills you can teach effective plays in minutes. Most of your practice time needs to be spent on these skills.
Shooting and Foul Shooting: If you think that simply shooting around or putting in the time shooting yields improvement, then you better think again. As Doctor Phil says, "Get Real!" Pro players spend zillions of hours shooting and not only do we see little improvement percentage wise, but often a player does worse. The obvious problem is the way folks practice shooting. In brief, the key to shooting is technique--the mechanical movements of the body on the shot. You want to improve technique and make it consistent. I have 3 videos as well as several books covering these methods.

These are some of the most important schema or ways to teach players. The way to find more schema is to look at the Table of Contents of either bible: The Basketball Coach's Bible or The Basketball Player's Bible. Better yet, read the entire first section on fundamentals, maybe 60 pages. Once you have the basic idea, then you must learn the lessons. Videos 3 and 4 also cover practice planning and how to get more out of practice..

2. The Lessons

The lessons break down each individual skill into parts. If you understand the lessons you can successfully teach every single skill like shooting, dribbling, and so on, to your players. All lessons can be found in The Basketball Coach's Bible. It will take you quite a while to master these. This is one of your goals. Once you have the lessons, you need to put them into a practice plan. Use The Practice Planning Guide for this.

3. The Practice Planning Guide

The Guide gives you an order for your practice. The details are in The Basketball Coach's Bible. Here is The Guide in brief:

1. Individual Practice- 0-20 minutes or longer
The longer you can get players to work on specific needs like pivoting, dribbling, driving to the basket, etc.,the better. Don't allow any other activity.

2. Continuous Motion Drills-15-40 minutes
Players practice basic ball handling and other skills while running. Do this first while players are fresh. Conditioning is a key to success.

3. Individual Skills or new lessons-15-40 minutes
Teach any individual skill. Dribbling and pivoting go first. Teach the offensive skills next. Initially and for a while, everything will be new.

4. Shooting technique-10-30 minutes
Teach the 3 levels of shooting starting from scratch. Spend only 1-2 minutes on each drill after introducing it.

5. Defense- 10-15 minutes
Defense like shooting needs to be worked on every day. Start at step 1 position, then continue to movement, etc as players catch on.

6. Individual, transition, team 10-15 minutes
Teach another important individual skill in this position at first. After players have a clue for all individual skills teach a team skill.

7. Layups 5-10
Do Layups everyday for at least 5-10- minutes. Make sure players do not miss shots. The most commonly used drill is maybe the least effective one. Their are many others to use.

8. Cool Down 5-10
It is more important to stretch after practice than before, because muscles will definitely tighten up after practice. The slow movement involved in layup lines and other warm ups loosen up muscles sufficiently, so stretching before is not necessary. Remember that stretching when cold can cause injury, so warm up before either a prepractice or a pregame stretch.

9. Individual Practice 0-20 minutes
Send home any players who do not want to practice individual skills as you have taught them. No games. This can be the most worthwhile part of practice.

Summing Up

Planning practice is just that, planning, It takes much learning and effort on your part. You must know the most important skills to teach and all the specifics concerning how to teach them. Then you must put all these lessons or drills into a practice plan. Of course, you must modify this plan as you go through practice. Watching players is probably the most important job. Remember that drills do not teach, only prepared coaches teach.

Your comments are welcome.
Sidney Goldstein, author of The Basketball Coach's Bible and The Basketball Player's Bible, has successfully coached both men's and women's teams over a period of 15 years.

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