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Coaches Network: Practice Planning

  • Date:
    Jan 8, 2019

Novice coaches might think they can just bring a team together for practice and "wing it," but that won’t be very helpful for young athletes looking for structure and direction. So we asked the USA Basketball Coaches Network:

How much time do you typically spend on planning and organizing each day's practice and plan for the upcoming week? 


Brian Robinson, head coach, Bishop McGuinness High School (N.C.)

Practice planning is vital to your team's success. Identifying the areas your team needs to improve and spending an appropriate amount of time in those areas without weakening your areas of strength should be part of your plan. Winging through a practice may work once in a while, especially if you have superior talent to your opponents. However, not building that habit of having a practice plan will eventually lead to inconsistency in your team's overall preparation while consistently leading to the same mistakes being made over and over in games, especially against quality opponents. Preparation is a huge part of a team's, and a program's, long-term success.


Don Showalter, head coach, Iowa City High School (Iowa)

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. 


John Olive, head coach, Torrey Pines High School (Calif.)

For the most part, how you practice is how you play. Practice with each drill should be timed out. More practice does not mean better results. Practice needs to be intense and seamlessly move from one drill to the next.

Our practice early in the season lasts two hours but as the season draws near the end, we may only go an hour or so. Identify the things you believe your team is weak at and drill those every day. As the season goes along you may find other issues that need to be worked on and others may become less important. Players learn by hearing, seeing and doing, so use all three techniques in your planning. Shooting and foul shooting are often overlooked when trying to fit everything you want to get done in your practice schedule. I believe that is a mistake 


Dori Oldaker, head coach, Mt. Lebanon High School (Pa.)

The amount of time and preparation for practices varies.  Sometimes, it is clear cut what we need to accomplish in a practice and sometimes we are preparing for the next opponent.  As soon as a practice has ended, I start thinking about the next day's practice and reflecting what went well and what we need to improve.  I like to keep each practice fresh with new drills and make sure our practices are not monotonous.  Also, I like to make sure that we are competing in each drill and providing energy throughout the practice.  In my opinion, as a head coach, "winging it" is not an option.


Our practice agenda has time limits on each drill.  We have our practice scheduled down to the minute and we do not run over, if possible, in any drills.  Also, I email a copy of the schedule to my assistant coaches first thing in the morning, so that they have ample time to prepare for practice.


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!


Scott Fitch, head coach, Fairport High School (N.Y.)

I am always working on my practice plan. The next practice plan starts right after the practice we just had.  I will always take a minute after practice to quickly review what I thought – things I liked, did not like. Was the focus and challenge for that practice met (or do we need to revisit it in the next practice)? Are there any individual players I need to follow up with, etc.?  While it is a pain to take a minute after a long practice, it will really help you as you set up your practice plan for the next day.

My practice plans change according to how many days we have until our next game and who the next opponent is.  I will write up my practice plan in about a half hour but I am constantly thinking about it and changing it (when I am watching a college game on TV and see something I might want to experiment with, or hear a story that I think will resonate with my kids about basketball or life, etc.).  My plans are very thorough and down to the minute.  I have seen coaches “wing it” – they may have a good practice but they always seem to leave out details that later will dictate the outcome of a game.

I once talked to a long-time wrestling coach that had won numerous state titles in New York and I asked him how he had such strong relationships with his kids.  He said he worked at it.  He personally called every kid once a week to talk and connect with them outside of wrestling (before you say you can’t do that, understand he had 74 wrestlers on his team that year).  I try to do this with my team – the reason I share it is because my practice plan may change based on these conversations.


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