Practice Planning Process

By Randy Sherman


A look inside the practice planning process by examining a one-day “snapshot” of a basketball practice plan.

Practice planning is an art form best learned through trial and error. There is no perfect plan or template. Coaches must tweak their process until they feel what they are doing with practice time elicits the most transference to competition.

Using a single practice snapshot, let’s examine a practice plan section-by-section (see figure below). This is an example of a “normal” practice workflow we used with our teams.


Here are some assumptions to consider before we start:

  • High School/AAU varsity level team
  • Team uses a motion offense and plays man-to-man defense
  • Practice session is 90 minutes – two hours in length
  • Practice plan visibly posted in common areas for players to see
  • 12 varsity players and a gym with six goals available
  • Head Coach and assistant coach present
  • Team is somewhere near the final stages of full installation of motion offense
  • Pressure Man-To-Man defensive techniques have been introduced during a defensive part of the calendar known as “D-Days”

Below are more details on each section of the practice plan.


Dating and recording the practice number of your plans can be helpful for filing purposes. Keep plans in a single document or folder on your computer and file the hard copy in a binder.

Numbering the practices allows for referencing, tracking progression and organization. It also allows for reference to practice plans from previous seasons to see if you are on track compared to seasons past.

As players trickle out of the locker room and onto the court, using a pre-practice drill that reviews something introduced the day before give player something to do prior to the formal start of practice (beside working on dunks and halfcourt shots).

In the snapshot below players are working with a passer and taking shots while utilizing the cuts common to motion offense.

Warm Up Phase

Players should jump right into action here. When properly conditioned athletes can spring right into action. A gazelle does not get a chance to warm up before running from a cheetah.

During the dynamic warm up phase begin with high intensity footwork drills using ladders and cones. Here and in the dynamic stretching period below the athletes are working on speed, agility change of direction and functional movement training more so than “warming up” in the traditional sense. practiceplandetailsGuard/Post Breakdowns

During this position work period encourage players to be “selfish” for these minutes. This is their time to work on their shot, their dribble weapons, their post play. Gobble up this time and work on your game.

Typically this block has an offensive focus such as the one listed during this snapshot. Guards are being introduced to the motion offense techniques of setting and using a down screen with minimal interference. They will apply this moments later and throughout the rest of the practice session against live defenders.

Post are working on leverage drills and reading cross screens with live defenders on the other end of the court.

Use this time to develop players, add decision making drills pertinent to each position grouping, get shots up stemming from common offensive actions and to groove technique.

Like a golfer goes to the driving range before playing a round, players work on individual skills before jumping into the “team” portion off the practice.

Transition Period 

During this portion of practice the bulk of 5-on-5 play takes place. As a team, players are transitioning from offense to defense and vice versa.

Use a variety of transition offense techniques to condition your team to play out of rebounds and live ball changes of possessions. Add “if/thens” to the play where players must read whether to “pitch ahead” or get into their offensive flow via another method.

This is an uptempo, intense and full court portion of practice. Quick corrections and minimal stoppage is the goal here. In the example above, the team is learning to emphasize early post entry to the rim runner if the read is there.

They are also being forced into facing a set defense in the 2.5 Trips drill where they are tasked with seamless flow from transition to halfcourt offense.

Live Session

The game of basketball is about making decisions. Players must make them and coaches must design practices that put players into decision making scenarios as often as possible. This is particularly needed for motion offense or read-based teams. No time is spent rehearsing sets or patterns while maximum time making decisions is built into the plan.

The remainder of the above practice plan does just that. During the live session play is scaled from 2-on-2 to 4-on-4. Using a limited number of players during this session increase the number of decisions per player.

All of these mini-scrimmages are competitive in nature. There is a winning duo, trio or quartet in every drill. The teams will be playing while following the motion offense screening and spacing rules.

Also, all groups in the tables above are s-curved meaning that players are grouped by ability to create competitive balance during the live session.

During 2-on-2 the play is usually restricted using various constraints. The bulk of 2-on-2 is done on the halfcourt with an unguarded passer. Here the team is working on reading down screens and flare screens.  In each duo there is a screener and a cutter.

3-on-3 play can be a solid mixture of full and half court action. Use various games that feature three live offensive players. The extra space afforded by reducing the number of players benefits the offense and challenges the defense.

Vary the games you use from practice to practice and use restrictions to emphasize different objectives. In the snapshot above the team will be playing 3-on-3 Cut Throat, but there are many other examples of 3-on-3 games available.

Anything performed 3-on-3 can be modified to 4-on-4. At the four-player level, lean heavily towards full court drills that incorporate transitioning from offense to defense. Drills starting with an advantage or disadvantage situation are valuable as well.

As a four-out motion offense team, this portion of the plan has a high resemblance to actual game play where the offense is playing from four spots and following the screening and cutting rules.

Practice planning is perhaps the skill a coach can refine that gives them the utmost competitive advantage. Time on the court with your team is a finite resource and effective planning can set your team apart.

Questions to ponder:

  • How does your practice planning transfer to the game?
  • How do you equip players with decision making power in practices that will build learning?
  • Is their “fluff” in your plan? Are there things we spend time on in practice that we do only because it’s a “good” drill?

These questions and more are worth examining as practice season nears.

Continue the practice planning conversation: 

For help with practice planning and more check out the RAMP program.

Explore and use the Twitter hashtag #PracticePlanningTips as well!

Any questions: Contact me. Happy to talk hoops any time day or night! If you would like to be added to the motion offense and pressure man defense mailing list, email and let me know!

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Randy Sherman is the owner and founder of Radius Athletics - a basketball coaching consulting firm - where he consults with basketball coaches at all levels on coaching philosophy, practice planning, Xs & Os and teaching a conceptual style of basketball. While a head basketball coach at the the interscholastic level, Sherman's teams won 197 games in nine seasons.
Jan. 12, 2015 – Tampa, Florida, U.S. – JAMES BORCHUCK | Staff..Leto boys basketball coach Mike Heben talks with players during practice at Leto High School in Tampa Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. (Credit Image: � James Borchuck/Tampa Bay Times/ZUMA Wire)

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