1. Plan it to the minute.
Go into practice with a plan. Carefully decide your goals for the day and plan the drills you need to implement to accomplish those goals. Script out how much time you want to spend on each segment and keep in mind that most people have short attention spans. Try to keep drills to 5, 10, or 15 minute segments.
2. Time your segments.
If available, use a scoreboard to time your drills and segments. By doing this, you will be able to stay on task and keep practice moving at a desirable pace.
3. Longer is not better, better is better.
The old thought that the longer you practice the better you’ll get is not necessarily true. It’s not the minutes you put into improving your craft, but what you put into the minutes you’re working that make the difference. A practice that lasts an hour and a half that is constantly moving, utilizes every available second efficiently, and is focused towards accomplishing specific goals is much more impactful than a three hour practice that has a lot of down time, is disorganized, and lacks focus.
4. Don’t spend too much time talking.
Too many coaches fall into the trap of stopping practice to talk to their players for an extended period of time far too often. Stopping your practices frequently to talk disrupts the flow, takes away from the time your team is playing the game, and can lead to your players becoming disinterested. While there certainly is a need at times to stop play to discuss things with your team, try to coach your players while they are playing or pull individual players off to the side to make an adjustment to avoid the pitfall of too many disruptions to the flow of practice.
5. Establish routines.
One of the best ways to look at practice is that it is your classroom. A best practice in teaching is establishing routines in your classroom. This allows for your class to flow more smoothly without interruption and gives students familiarity with procedures. This can be applied directly to your practices. Some examples of establishing routines are: setting up the gym, players stretching before practice, starting practice with a huddle and your thought of the day, warm-up routines, implementing drills that are used often, methods of closing practice, and more.
6. Manufacture opportunities for players to lead.
All too often as coaches we lament in the fact that we wish we had more leadership on our teams. What we fail to recognize, however, is that leadership skills aren’t something that most people are born with. Those skills are acquired through practice and learning. As coaches, we need to not only talk to our players about developing their leadership skills, we have to put them into situations where they can be leaders. Practice is a great opportunity to do this on a regular basis. Have players lead familiar drills, give their teammates commendations or suggestions for improvement, have them coach each other for segments of practice without a coach interfering, engage them to speak in huddles or team meetings, and find areas to give them choice.
7. Make it competitive.
It goes without saying that the best practices are competitive in nature. Find ways to make each segment and each drill that you plan competitive. This could mean keeping score or simply setting small or large goals. We need to teach our players how to win (and lose) and the only way to accomplish this is to make practice competitive.
8. If it’s not working, move on.
If there is a skill or concept you’re trying to teach during a segment in practice that your players are not grasping, don’t feel like you have to stick with it until they master it. Basketball is a game that has many layers, and if you focus too much on one area you may end up neglecting something else that is of equal importance. If your team isn’t understanding what you’re trying to teach them, move onto the next area of the game. You can always come back to that difficult concept later on or at the next day in practice.
9. Have fun.
We have to remember why our players started playing basketball in the first place – to have fun. Although it is hard work becoming a better player and building a championship team, we can never forget that playing basketball should be fun. It’s ok to joke around with your players or plan a segment where the primary goal is bringing a layer of fun to practice. It will lighten the mood, create more player buy-in, develop team camaraderie, and will give people a chance to step back and refocus on their goals.
10. Avoid using meaningless drills.
Every drill that you use should have a purpose. The concepts that each of your drills teach must fit into the system of play that you are implementing with your team. Just because a drill looks great doesn’t mean that it will have a positive impact on what you’re trying to accomplish with your team. Also, don’t feel the need to have 20 rebounding drills and 30 shooting drills. If 3-4 drills work great for a particular concept, then stick with them. This way you won’t have to waste valuable practice time introducing new drills that teach the same exact skills and concepts of the other drills you’ve already used with your team.
11. Organize your players during practice.
Have a plan in place for organizing your players in practice. Plan out who is working together at what baskets for drills. Divide your players into their shooting groups. Split them up into teams. Find ways to have your players interact with everyone on the team, not just separating them between starters and bench players. Plan how you’re going to organize your players before practice as it will eliminate time wasted on splitting players into teams at practice and will ensure that you don’t miss out on pairing people up or separating them as you had originally intended.
12. Teach more than basketball.
If you win 20 plus games every year and collect championships, but you aren’t making a positive impact on the lives of each of your players than you are not a successful coach. The responsibility of being a basketball coach is much greater than developing skilled athletes and winning games. Basketball is an avenue in which to teach important life lessons. Use practice to teach athletes about work ethic, communication, how to work in groups to reach collective goals, humility, dealing with adversity, and more.
13. A quiet gym is a losing gym.
If all you hear in practice is the squeaking of gym shoes on the floor or the coaches blaring out instruction, then your team is lacking in one major area – communication. Teaching your players how to communicate is essential to your overall success. Emphasize that a talking practice is a winning practice. Don’t just expect them to talk, teach them how to talk.
14. Give proper attention to skill work.
When you are preparing for a game and are working on your offensive attack or taking over your opponent’s best player or action, it can be hard to fit in skill work to your practice plan, especially in the heart of the season. Even though you have a million things to cover, you have to make sure you carve out time each day to work on the fundamentals. Without the proper fundamentals and the necessary skills, even the best game plans will go to waste.
15. End on a positive.
Try your best to end practice on a positive note. This can mean sharing a positive message with your team or ending with a fun, competitive drill. No matter what happens during the two or so hours of practice, you want your team leaving feeling good about basketball and looking forward to the next day of practice.