Nathan Brereton is a State Performance Program network coach with Basketball Tasmania and has worked extensively in the Tasmanian state and development program. Earlier this month, he invested in his professional development by spending some time with the men’s program at Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence (‘CoE’) located at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. Below are some observations, many of which can be applied to some extent in other coaching environments.
Efficiency of Practice
It helps when there are multiple experienced, highly skilled coaches leading practice, however the efficiency in which each session was planned and run was impressive.
- Practice plans are produced with a great deal of thought going into the content and structure.
- Coaches meet prior to each session to discuss content, focus areas, responsibilities, timing and drills to be covered so there’s a complete understanding prior to the session.
- Practice teams are predetermined and written on the whiteboard courtside so players can organise themselves efficiently.
- Coaches hold the athletes accountable for getting themselves organised quickly to ensure reps are maximised.
- The collective group will often break out into smaller groups (e.g. guards, wings, bigs) so individual skills and concepts can be worked on. This is important given there can be up to 20 athletes practicing. The large number is a result of the NBA Global Academy’s recent desire to be involved with the program, which has expanded scholarship opportunities for Australian and global athletes, and the program overall.
The Boomer culture is driven early, as ultimately the program is aimed at developing as many Australian national team athletes as possible. Togetherness, mateship, and playing the right way are engrained in the athletes involved with the program, so it’s not surprising to see that many of the Boomers who chose to represent Australia at the recent World Cup, spent time at the AIS.
- Pictures of all previous scholarship holders line the walls of the hallway leading to the basketball courts.
- Video sessions and individual performance plans for existing athletes often reference skills and characteristics of Boomer athletes.
- A ‘Boomer of the week’ (and ‘Rising Star’ for NBA Global Academy athletes) is recognised weekly, and awarded based on conditions such as practice performance, recovery diligence, academics, studying video and volume of shots taken during the week.
- The group got together with the Opals who were in camp at the time to watch the Boomers World Cup semi-final in the AIS auditorium.
Individual Skill Development
A significant focus of the program is to develop the skills of each individual athlete within the context of team sport. Athletes are provided a full training load so that development opportunities can be maximised, and there is clear improvement between entering and exiting the program.
- Individuals, and small group sessions occur weekly, which focus on skills relevant to the athletes long term basketball position.
- Athletes are prepared for future basketball and learn how to play out of different concepts and actions.Rather than learn a particular system or sets, this approach helps ensure athletes will be compatible and effective in a range of different systems going forward.
- Athlete loads are managed closely with skilled strength and conditioning coaches working closely with the athletes daily to develop areas such as movement, flexibility, strength, explosiveness and resistance to injury.
- Shooting is a highly valued skill and is constantly developed within the program. Shooting forms a part of every practice session, weekly shots taken and made are tracked, and each athlete has a focus area specific to their shot aimed at improving their shooting in the long term. Volume shooting sessions occur weekly, where athletes participate in a variety of three point shooting drills with makes and misses recorded. A score of 70% is considered the benchmark for a good shooter. In one session, Taran Armstrong made a record 84/90 threes (93%) in the five minute shooting drill (one ball, one rebounder).
My visit was during the offseason of the program, which meant there was an increased focus on teaching offensive and defensive concepts, while also building and retaining physical bulk through work in the gym. As a result, the team practice sessions contained little 5 v 5 full court, but rather an increased focus on small sided games (‘SSG’).
- Each week there is an offensive emphasis of the week, a defensive emphasis of the week, and an overall emphasis of the week. These are discussed with the athletes during a team meeting at the beginning of the week, and then reinforced prior, during and post each practice. Examples include passing execution, active hands, talk, rebounding.
- Decision making is developed through the SSG focus with each session. SSG will cover a particular offensive and defensive concept and typically include a short rehearsal, breakdown, then practice. Both sides of the ball are coached during the SSG, with decision making developed through creating numerical advantages (e.g. 4 v 3, 3 v 2) and allowing the players freedom within each SSG.
- There was a high level of attention paid to developing the players defensively, with individual defence (slides, close outs), shell (working on different rotations such as sink and fill, cover down rotate up, help across rotate up) and guarding ball screens and wide pindowns.
- Offensively there was an emphasis on flowing into actions and concepts out of transition such as drag screens and wide pindowns. Other areas offensively included playing out of middle ball screens, x-cuts, gets game with the high post big, and playing out of the post and post skips.
- Finally, the level of coaching on display was impressive. Each of the coaches had a great feel for when to intervene, when additional teaching was required, and how to deliver the message with clarity. This played a huge part in the efficiency of practice and maximising reps as mentioned above. Some of the quotes of note included:
- “Get it straight, get it up, get it long” – form shooting and ensuring follow through gets it straight, swishes are derived from shooting it up, and footwork/balance ensures shots are long enough to be made.
- “Ball, hand, angles” – close outs and ensuring players call ball, carry a hand above the ball, and ensure foot angles are sending the offensive player where you want them to go.
- “Make some mistakes” – when working on ball handling, if players are not making mistakes they are not working hard enough.
- “Help inside out, not outside in” – off ball D, and reinforcing where rotations are coming from.
- “Don’t let fouls called/not called impact your practice” – coaches would manipulate fouls called or not called based on the intensity of practice. This helps players develop a next play mentality.
Overall, I’m incredibly thankful to Basketball Australia and in particular the program coaches for allowing me to come in and observe how they operate. It was a great learning opportunity, has provided me with additional motivation regarding my coaching, and I strongly recommend other coaches to get in and observe a practice when in the area.