Coaches often bemoan the limited time they have to practice with and prepare their team. With most junior coaches restricted to 2-3 hours of practice time each week, the importance of planning each session to get maximum efficiency can’t be overstated.
With the challenges players running in the door from school or other activities and the next team’s session starting in exactly 90-minutes, planning and ensuring you move quickly from drill to drill, concept to concept is so important for coaches at all levels.
So how do we get “more drill out of every drill and more practice out of every practice?”
Here are some ideas in building your practice plan.
Less lines, more balls
Regardless of the sport, players don’t like to wait in lines for their next repetition or “turn”. Take a quick audit of your drills, can you add a basketball or two to create more activity or can you introduce another skill to get more drill out of the drill?
In AFL circles, they talk about “less laps, less lines and more balls”. The same can be applied to the basketball setting. Again, think about the structure of your favourite drill, can there be one or two elements to ensure it is a more dynamic learning environment? Can a drill that features lines be turned into something that can be practised in pairs or groups of three?
Incorporate skill into the warm-up
With limited time, each minute wasted is a minute lost. The warm-up is a crucial aspect of any session and coaches should incorporate a dynamic warm-up that includes the physical aspect (heart rate up, blood flow to muscles) and neural aspects (engagement and focus). Add a basketball component to this setting wherever you can. Even for stretching and functional movement such as lunges or squats, can this be done with a basketball in hand?
Plan the warm-up so it is progressive and allows you to move straight into a relatively high intensity opening drill or breakdown. Linking the physical warm-up to skill is important in not only using time efficiently, but in getting athletes engaged.
Skill aspects such as ball handling, dexterity or passing can be easily implemented into the warm-up and will ensure the tone is set of engagement and having a ball in hand. In the younger age groups, think about the importance of everyone having a ball for as much of the first eight to 10 minutes of the session to build dexterity and confidence.
The importance of time
Our game has more time elements than most other sports. From four 10-minute quarters, to the 24 second shot clock, to eight seconds in the back court, three seconds in the key, five seconds to in-bound and one-minute time-outs, our sport is driven by time.
That being the case, helping players understand the value of time in our sport is crucial and should be a component of your training session. Use the score-clock where possible, plan time blocks for each skill and concept and stay on time.
Basketball is such a game of skill that coaches, particularly youth coaches, have a wide range of skills to teach, drill and refine. To ensure players are receiving a holistic development and you are creating multi-skilled players, planning and being disciplined with time blocks is a must for the junior coach.
Consider splitting your session into training blocks and endeavour to stay disciplined with these allocations of time. While six minutes may not seem long enough to have a significant influence on a skill or concept, with efficient planning and a “game sense” approach it can be. Some coaches will use training blocks of eight minutes, with 10 being at the outside range of efficiency in the youth session.
In a 90-minute session, 10 minutes equates to some 11 per cent of total practice time, it does not take too long for three or four drills total and with warm-up you are towards half your session.
Think “plus one”
Time spent teaching drills is important, but also eats into the time young players are practicing. Every time you spend time teaching a drill, you are not necessarily teaching the skill. Drills are important, but time can often be wasted continually introducing and teaching new drills.
The same can be said in setting up the next drill. While variation is important in a training session, using drill series or progression drills can make for a more time efficient practice.
Think about the “plus one” system for building a drill. Have the players practice a skill in the 1 v 0 setting, then quickly get to the 1 v 1 setting. Add another offensive player to create the 2 v 1 setting, now you have aspects of numerical advantage and decision making.
This “plus one” mentality means you are not losing time introducing the “next drill”, more so you are growing the drill in a game sense approach. It is a great way to move quickly through practice and also has the benefit of exposing players to the different situations that happen in a game.
The game is a constant series of situations of numerical advantage or disadvantage and the “plus one” method allows players to enjoy success (a key aspect of learning) in this setting.
By building 1 v 0 to 1 v1, into 2 v 1, then 2 v 2 (concept development) and then the crucial 3 v 2 and 3 v 3 settings, players will have the opportunity to explore, create and learn the skills required to play effectively.
The “advent” of small-sided games as a key teaching method in sport is far from new in basketball circles. Basketballers have been playing 1 v 1, 2 v 2 and 3 v 3 since the peach basket days and these settings have always been a staple of training sessions.
Tailoring the small-sided setting to stimulate learning is the challenge and fits with the “game sense” approach to coaching.
Adding control mechanisms such as special confines, dribble limits or scoring variations is a great way to keep these small-sided games interesting for players and build on the learning. Part of experiential learning (learning by doing) is the exploration aspect, so coaches need to provide an environment through the drill where players can do just that.
Use of stations and positional skill components
Legendary founder of the “Five Star” Basketball camps in the 1960’s Howard Garfinkel popularised the use of stations to teach skill and ensure players got a well-rounded education in the game.
Stations have been a staple of basketball camps ever since, but this method can also be used to good effect in team practice, even with just one or two coaches.
Setting stations where small groups of players move through a host of skills or variations on the same skill is an effective use of time. While one coach will not be able to teach in great detail at every station, the setting does allow for high repetition and effective use of space and time.
With shooting for example, stations covering form shooting, catch & shoot footwork, shooting off the dribble and shooting off cuts can all be covered in four stations on one court, two each side of the basket.
Put 12-minutes on the clock and after the coach has provided clear instruction on the four skills or concepts, players execute each skill for three minutes before rotating to the next. In that 12-minute period, each player has the chance to get up 50-60 shots, in a wide range of settings, from different parts of the court and also make 50 or 60 passes to team-mates.
The other effective way to maximise time and learning is to include some positional skill components into your practice plan. At one of the end of the floor, have the perimeter players executing specific skills and concepts, while the interior players are at the other end working on their range of post skills.
Apply “TST” to as many drills as possible
Learning to compete is very much part of the development of any young player. Ensuring you have as many of your drills with a component of time, score or target (“TST”) is an effective way to encourage competition.
We have covered the importance of time in our game. Keeping score in shooting and other drills is another important way to teach competition, as is providing targets for drills. This is nothing new, but sometimes is forgotten as we move from drill to drill.
Recording scores and benchmark targets is also important. Coaches need to know what the realistic target is for each drill and once that mark is met consistently, change the benchmark to extend the athletes.