Coaches Corner: Practice Planning
Content in this post originally was published in 2015.
New or inexperienced coaches might think they can bring a team together for practice and "wing it," but that won’t be very helpful for young athletes looking for structure and direction. Here is some of the best advice we have gotten from the USA Basketball Coaches Network about how much time they spent on practice planning and some important things to consider.
Don Showalter, USA Basketball Youth & Sport Development Coach Director
For a practice session, I like to make sure I have everything covered, so just to wing it in practice will not get the job done to make your team better. I typically try to make the next practice schedule immediately after practice the day before, while that practice is fresh. I do not go with any drill longer than 10 minutes and try to make every drill competitive, meaning we keep score or go against the clock. I also assign players to teams for every drill. I do not allow them to pick their teams for drills. It generally takes me an hour or more to make the practice plan.
The other thing I like to do is look at practice schedules from previous years to make sure drills I liked are being used. I like to make notes as well on the practice sheet, so when I go back to look at the practices, I can look at the notes about drills and practice. I have always said that players do not have bad practices but coaches do. Having a practice plan will make sure coaches do not have bad practices, either.
Mike Jones, head coach, DeMatha Catholic High School (Md.)
We have a template that we use each preseason to map out what we want to do/put in/practice for the entire season for each month. For example, we want to have our core defensive principles, whatever full-court press, man offense, a zone offense vs. even and odd front, a press break, and 4 OB plays put in before Dec. 1 each season. How detailed we are and how much we put in will vary depending on the experience and basketball IQ of our team. We plan each week in advance. And, usually plan out each practice the day before.
It is very important to have a plan. For your assistant coaches, it allows them to think about where they can help, speak, emphasize details, etc. For your players, it shows that you are preparing. Your players will respect that.
You don't have to be married to it, but having a baseline to start from really helps.
Sue Phillips, head coach, Archbishop Mitty High School (Calif.)
For me personally, the day begins with an hour of film (self-scout and/or upcoming opponent). After analyzing the team(s) and personnel needs, it typically takes an additional 30 minutes to plan practice. Pre-practice planning is important for a variety of reasons: effective time management, full utilization of space and players to maximize reps, and to ensure that your team/individual needs are being met.
When considering preparation for the long term, keep a calendar of target dates to indicate the teaching timelines for various schemes in your system. When considering preparation for the playoffs, incorporate some “tweaks” into your defensive shell drills to rep the unique looks of a certain opponent. A steady diet of these varied looks will prove fruitful come playoff time.
Make it a point to stay on time and on task. If the team isn’t executing a particular drill well, move on and revisit tomorrow. If your team is demonstrating mastery on a particular drill, reward them by stopping that drill early and acknowledging their stellar execution.
When planning practice, drills should be "named" and "pairings" pre-planned. This will minimize the time it takes to transition from drill to drill. It is equally important to be creative in your practice planning to keep your players interested and motivated. Incorporate drills that emphasize fundamentals on both sides of the ball. Also, keep notes during practice to highlight your strengths or identify a needed area of work for a future practice agenda.
Make it a goal to save all practice agendas for the entire year, and at the end of the season create a spiral-bound notebook or digital file for future reference. Happy planning!
VIDEO: Get inspired by a peak inside a 2019 USA Basketball Men's National Team practice.