The Five P’s of Youth Practice

Posted on Jun 08 2021

The bulk of the coach’s work is completed on the practice court and coaches are continually looking for ways to be more effective and efficient. But what are the key tenants of running a valuable and successful practice?

Let’s explore the 5 P’s of youth practice as a checklist for improving your training sessions.

  1. Have a Plan
  2. Use games of Purpose
  3. Coach in Prompts, not lectures
  4. Punctuality
  5. Praise

Have a Plan –

Common sense and most coaches will have a written plan for each session. These plans vary from an Excel pro-forma, to rough dot points scrawled on a sheet of paper in the coaching folder during a workday lunch break.

Some aspects to consider with the plan –

  • How fluid is your practice plan?
  • Can you blend one drill into the next without significant change or intervention?
  • How long for each drill? – think drill series rather than individual drills
  • Coach in progressions rather than blocks
  • When and how much do you play?
  • Does it look like basketball?

Many Australian coaches have been strongly influenced by US collegiate coaches and have a very structured and almost rigid practice plan. Detailed planning is important and documenting the process is valuable but having a dynamic learning environment is crucial.

Use Games of Purpose – 

Another wat to say “small-sided games” or a “games approach to practice”. The term “Games of Purpose” has been “borrowed” from Basketball Ireland Under 16 Head Coach Paul Kelleher.

Your practice should always have a clear purpose and likewise, players should understand the purpose behind each drill or breakdown. There are numerous articles, videos and clips available on small-sided games and your job as coach is to slot the ones into your practice that have a clear purpose for what you are trying to teach and achieve.

Coach in Prompts – 

Long-time college and NBA coach Mike Dunlap introduced the teaching cue “Praise, Prompt and Leave” into Australian coaching. It speaks to the importance of being concise in teaching and correcting.

Providing prompts is an effective way to stay concise and ensure you are coaching in “sound bites”, rather than lectures. Identify an aspect of the skill or concept you want to intervene on, present it, then move onto the next thing.

This will ensure you are constantly providing worthwhile feedback and instruction to all players and not getting stuck on teaching one athlete or focusing on the one aspect of the game for too long in each session.

Punctuality – 

Time is a key aspect of the game and basketball has more time elements than any other sport. Consider the 24 second shot clock, 14 second reset, 3 seconds in the key, 5 second to get it in-bounds, 8 seconds in the back court et al. Quite simply, basketball is a game of time components and coaches need to teach that to their players.

Managing time as coach starts with punctuality. Start the session on time, every time; finish the session on time, every time; be early to set-up and ensure practice time isn’t lost in the set-up.

For the youth coach, being punctual is a valuable way to stay on the right side of your team’s parent group. If the parents know you start on time, every time, they will ensure their child is there ready to go. More importantly, finishing on time will allow busy parents to manage various commitments with siblings and work.

Praise – 

Praise is more than simply chanting “good job” on the sidelines. As a coach, it is important to praise effort, execution, change and improvement. In practice, praise is as much about acknowledging behavior as it is about simply being complimentary.

What do you value in practice? Do the players know? Do you praise or acknowledge these actions and behaviors? Are you specific in your positive feedback?

Obviously there needs to be a balance, but without question, Praise is an important element of the 5 P’s.

The Sixth P?

A reminder of the importance of the sixth P – Players.

Practice, like games, is about the players. Many coaches will espouse that practice is “their time”, a setting where they can teach, influence, impact and develop. No question all those things are relevant, but practice is about the players learning, growing, developing, understanding and competing.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *