All effective basketball practices have the same basic structure. The basic structure forms the beginning, body and conclusion of a practice. Within each of these parts of practice the basic structure helps a coach plan, organize and execute a practice plan.
The structure a basketball practice can be broken down into three phases:
- Principle Content
Each phase has a purpose. The purpose of each phase can vary depending on your philosophy, the age of the players, the time of the season and the access to resources. Knowing the purpose of each phase directs your planning of practice.
This element involves all the components that go into starting a practice. Coaches often have a greeting, a warm-up and some starting drills or skill work to begin a practice.
I personally prefer any communications beyond a practice focus to be done after practice. I want the beginning of practice to be focused on what we have to do that day to get better. Often we don’t huddle or talk as a team before the start of practice.
Our expectation for players at the beginning of practice is that when they step on the floor they must do two things.
1. They must greet every player and coach already on the court with a fist bump (We don’t hand shake as it transfers more disease than fist bumps –Study: Fist bumps are less germy than handshakes). This is a time to connect with every player personally and often I will ask them about something specific to themselves. It could be giving them basketball specific feedback or advice, or it could be something about academics or an off the court behavior that is attention worthy.
2. Players find a partner and start two player BDT (What is BDT?) or specific skill work with a coach. We don’t want wasted time. When they step on the practice court the time to improve has started. We expect them to get to work.
Principle Content Phase
Depending on the time of the season the principle content of a practice varies. Early in a season the objective of a practice is teaching and learning. Big picture concepts and systems are introduced and developed. As the big picture is developed the next objective becomes repetitive. Reviewing and repeating concepts and systems becomes the focus.
As a season approaches a competitive phase where early season games are played the objective becomes competitive. The last objective is game preparation. Once your team enters into a competitive game schedule your practice objectives will be more focused on preparing your team and players to be more effective in games.
For me the body of practice is when we do our offense vs. defense work. A games approach is used mainly during the principle content phase of our practices. Regardless of whether you use drills or competitive segments, the principle content is the main focus of what you are trying to improve at that day.
As for planning the principle content of your practice, I begin with the end in mind. Each drill I use has an emphasis. I choose the drills based on what we need to develop or improve. For example we might need to improve our ballscreen defense. We choose a drill that will put our players in a situation where they will have to defend a ballscreen. That is the “end in mind” part of the drill selection and planning.
Since we use a games approach the drill is not just about the emphasis (the end goal). During that ballscreen drill we will coach offense and defense at the same time. I will let the drill flow and evolve so that we keep it as game like as possible. So even though our end goal is ballscreen defense we get more out of the drill because we are allowing our players to learn by playing the game.
We vary how practice ends. I never want our players to know when practice will end. I also don’t want to just end practice when the allotted time runs out. The way you end practice can create a positive or negative mindset going forward into the next practice or game.
Here are some examples of how we end practice:
- A great play. As our allotted practice time is winding down I wait for a great play. Some examples:
- Extraordinary play by a player.
- Exceptional display of teamwork.
- Successful defensive stop.
- Funny moment.
- Great hustle or effort.
- A challenge. Practice may not have gone well so challenge your players for the next practice or up-coming game. Plant an idea or create a physical/mental challenge for them to overcome as a group. This could be a moment where you develop grit and mental toughness in your players.
- Conditioning. Stereotypically coaches condition their teams at the end of practice. We try to avoid this as we want our practices to be full-court so we don’t have to do extra conditioning. The reality is for coaches who have limited practice time conditioning at the end of practice is necessary. If you do condition I suggest you do it off your practice court, especially if you have to leave your court at a specific time. This allows you to focus on basketball when on the court. The conditioning can be done in the hallway, on the stage, outside or wherever you can find space so you don’t take away from basketball practice time.
A cool down is also an important component of the post-practice phase. The main goal is to promote recovery and return the body to a pre-workout level. During a practice a player’s body goes through a number of stressful processes. Muscle fibers, tendons and ligaments get damaged, and waste products build up within a player’s body. The cool down can assist a player’s body in its repair process.
Watch a basketball cool down The Perfect Active Recovery Routine for Your Athletes
Lastly the end of practice gives us the time to connect with players individually and to address team motivations, messages and schedules. I would do this off the court so we don’t use up any practice court time. This also allows you to change the environment and focus so that your players pay attention to the information you share.
Practice Plan Example and Template
Coaches at all levels need to develop the skills to plan a practice to effectively develop and prepare their team. The three phases of planning a practice provide a good framework when considering what to practice and how to practice.
Sample Practice Plan: Coach Oliver University of Windsor