Basketball Strategies
Make Practices Effective with Practice Goals

All your basketball strategies begin to take shape in practices. Whether you plan to win the state championship, or rebuild a team, or improve your season record - none of these are accomplished without effective practices, used to build skills and organization, teamwork and stamina. Season objectives are important, but without defined practice goals, you will be highly unlikely to see any basketball championship banner in the rafters.

So, how do we go about creating these practice goals?

Begin with your overall pre-season coaching plan, as this outlines how you will handle the most important block of time you have in which to prepare your team, how and when you will teach them the skills and plays that they will use throughout the season.

Once this is done, you will be able to break down what you need to accomplish at each practice so that you push your players consistently forward through the overall plan, building on what you have done previously to take a step ahead to what you want to ultimately accomplish.

Basketball Strategies: Creating Practice Goals
Individual Practices are not Stand Alone

First of all, realize that no practice is a stand alone practice. The first practice of the year begins after tryouts, during which you would have noted the strengths and weaknesses that your new team has so far demonstrated. Thus, you begin your first pre-season practice with an idea of what you need to improve upon - and drills appropriate to this.

Every practice after that needs to build on what was done in the previous practice.

Consider your practice plan - every practice should contain some instruction on skills development, some instruction on offensive and defensive plays, and some instruction on conditioning and strength.

Break them up. Look to your individual skills and create for each a progression from teaching basic fundamentals, to more advanced use of the skill, to game-situation use of the skill, to the game itself.

The same can be said for plays and conditioning - break them down into basics, then improve upon the basics step by step until they are game ready.

Conditioning - as mentioned in the pre-season coaching plan and then given more detail in the conditioning drills page - should be a main focus at the beginning of the pre-season, and then afterwards should be a constant as every practice should run a couple of conditioning drills at the beginning and perhaps at the end.

So, the practice goals we'll look at here will be for skills and plays. Some aspect of skills and plays should be included in each practice, and all are part of a continuum. Your approach to coaching both skills and plays must take into account how far along that continuum your players have come, and how far they need to go.

Basketball Strategies: Creating Practice Goals
Crafting Effective Practice Goals for Skills

Your skills goals will depend on the development of your team - you need to be observing your team's overall skills level and create goals according to what they can do, and what they need to do next, in order to move them along the skills continuum.

  • At the end of each skills section, jot down on your clipboard what your players were doing well and what they needed additional instruction on, and note anyone that stood out as particularly struggling. Try to assess each player at least once over the course of 3 or 4 practices (you likely won't have time to assess everyone in every practice unless you are blessed with several assistant coaches).
  • When you sit down to plan your next practice, review those notes and include in your practice plan specific drills that will improve those weaknesses and build on those strengths.
  • Note in the sidebar of your practice plan any suggestions for improvement that you should mention during these drills (e.g., "Many of you were shooting flat last practice - lets have everyone focus on shooting with good arc in this drill.")

Thus, your basketball strategies and practice goals for your skills section become linked to your players' progression.

  • e.g. Today's Practice Goal for Shooting: that all players are able to shoot consistently with good arc on their shot.

Part of doing this successfully is to break down each of the skills into their basic components and ensure each component is addressed and assessed throughout your practice sessions.

Basketball Strategies: Creating Practice Goals
Crafting Effective Practice Goals for Team Plays

In a sense, teaching offensive and defensive plays are a little more straightforward than skills, and the basketball strategies used to teach them are thus a little more obvious. Skills can be broken down and taught, but even then players can forget or slack off on the various aspects - e.g., players can get sloppy with their passing, pick up bad shooting habits, etc. Skills need constant work and repetition.

Plays are introduced piece by piece and worked on practice by practice, and players begin to see them as a pattern to follow, not as aspects to remember. The more they practice the patterns, the more they become ingrained in their memories. They may get lazy when they are asked to run the play for the tenth practice, but the pattern remains in their memory.

Thus, the first step in teaching a play is to break the play into its parts. Plays can be configured in a variety of ways, but generally, a good way to break plays up is:

  • Setup - in what positions on the court do players start the play?
  • Central pattern - most plays have a pattern they follow and repeat. This will be your basic pattern that, if it all falls apart, the team returns to its set up and starts this pattern again. There will be several scoring opportunities involved in this central pattern
  • Options - additional mini-plays that are run off the central pattern. These may have a repetitive aspect, but more often they return to the central pattern for a reset.

You will find most of the offensive plays on this site follow this organization.

Basketball strategies for ensuring your team understands and is able to run your plays would stem from following each of the goals below in order, for each play you introduce. Move from one goal to the next as each is accomplished, and don't push too quickly - a play can't be ingrained in one practice.

Without defense:

  • For players to understand where and why they must set up in the positions assigned them
  • For players to be able to run the central pattern (no scoring opportunities used) without mistakes
  • For players to run any scoring opportunities off the central pattern without mistakes - as each option is called out by the coach
  • For players to run the full central pattern (using the scoring opportunities as they are called out by the coach or point guard) without mistakes, at game speed
  • For players to run any Play Options without mistakes
  • For players to run the entire play - central pattern with scoring opportunities and options - as they are called out by the point guard, at game speed

With defense:

  • For players to run the entire play - central pattern with scoring opportunities and options - as the defense is broken down and scoring opportunities open up

Note that the basketball strategies and practice goals in this section centered on offensive plays, but defensive plays would be introduced in the same manner.

Again, the main focus here would be on approaching each of these components as though they are on continuums, judging how far along the continuum your players have come, and deciding what the next step would be for them to move closer to the ultimate goal.

Also realize that there is way too much that goes into good practice planning and management to be discussed in one page. We've dealt with basketball strategies for skills development and introducing plays on this page, but we also want to instill team work and sportsmanship, responsibility and dedication, and a host of other attributes in our players.

These practice goals are perhaps the most obvious, but there is no end to what we hope to accomplish when we set out to become a better basketball coach.

"Luck is not something that happens by chance. Luck is earned through dedication, work and determination."

-Katie Mickley

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