There are plenty of basketball training tips that are useful for a coach to know, and there will always be another point of view, another way to do things, something else to add to your coaching style. But above it all, being organized and focused in the pre-season is the most important basketball training tip for determining your success in coaching basketball.
Your basketball training in the pre-season will determine more than anything else how successful a season your team will have. It is in these couple of months before games are played that your players will learn the skills they need to compete successfully - the individual skills, team skills, mental and physical attitudes. The actual season - the games they play - is where their ability to win will appear, but without a good pre-season they won't have the skills necessary to do this.
Assuming you begin practices 4 weeks before the season-opening game
The ideal situation would have all our players working all summer long on improving skills and conditioning. The reality is more likely that a couple of our players will attend a decent basketball camp, most will play some pick-up ball, a few will be working summer jobs and rarely find a moment to play ball, and one or two will actually work on developing their game. That's life. And they need some downtime, so as much as I try to exhort them to work at their game over the summer, I'm ready for the beginning of the pre-season to require lots of conditioning.
And a couple of weeks of hard conditioning never hurt any athlete.
At the beginning of the pre-season, probably half of each practice is taken up with intense conditioning drills; I also usually call a morning practice or two each week where we will just have a conditioning workout - maybe the 8-8-18 workout - and then 15-20 minutes afterward of some basic skills work - some easy passing drills or work on shooting technique.
It's bad enough when the other team wins; it's much worse when we lose. I don't intend to lose games simply because we run out of steam in the final five minutes, and there is no better time than at the beginnig of the pre-season to improve basketball-specific conditioning.
Every basketball player will be different, but hopefully by the end of the first two weeks, players should have developed a decent conditioning base and, as other aspects of the game become more important to teach, most of the conditioning drills can be reduced to fast break drills that require players to run and work at game speed.
Good fundamental skills can make up for weak strategy; but even the best strategy will not be able to cover up poor fundamentals.
Players need to know how to shoot, how to pass, and how to dribble. They also need to know how to move on the court, with the ball and without the ball. How to cut, set picks, fake and see the court. These essential skills every player needs to develop and refine before applying them in a game situation. The better they are able to perform them without game pressure, the better they will be when put in game situations.
So it makes sense that the first two weeks of fundamentals focuses on improving the individual abilities of players in these areas. Clear instruction and simplified practice drills build one upon the next until in the third week we start to pull back a little as we give more time to team situations - i.e., how to incorporate these individual skills into the team game.
I like man to man defense. Played well, it is tough to beat. And nobody - offense or defense - can hide. As a coach, I see its strengths in its ability to create a great deal of stress for the opposition, and to take away many scoring opportunities - after all, the man without the ball should be able to move much quicker than the man with the ball, so in a one-on-one situation the defensive player should actually have the advantage.
Having said that, there will be times when man-to-man will not be the best strategy - if, for example, the opposition has one really impressive big man that you don't want to get the ball, and you don't have a big man to match him up with, you may want to choose a tight zone to keep the ball out of the key and force a perimeter shot.
So while we may not use man-to-man defense all the time, we do use man-to-man principles in every defensive strategy we choose. So I start every pre-season with a focus on man-to-man principles. This tends to be as taxing on players as the conditioning drills - try defensive slide for five minutes without a break and you're quads will burn like never before. But without solid man-to-man defensive skills, no defensive strategy will work.
The first two weeks of defense focuses on individual movement, and after that we broaden the principles taught to a more team oriented approach - e.g., helping out on man-to-man defense, double teams, etc., and then introduce some zone and press defenses.
I always begin teaching our offensive strategies with fast break formation. I like my teams to fast break, and I always push it in that direction. It also fits in well with the overall theme of the first two weeks, which is about conditioning and basic skills.
Once the team is reasonably proficient with the fast break - after about two weeks - we start in on the other offensive strategies we will use throughout the year - the main offensive play is introduced; then a secondary offensive play or two. Finally, we introduce our press offenses. Once everything is introduced, we practice, practice, practice them all until they are second nature.
Special situations need to be reviewed, so that we are not taken by surprise in the game. For example, when we are tossing the ball inbounds during the game, we want to use that situation to set up a scoring opportunity. Likewise, when we have the ball in the last minute of the game, we want to be prepared with a strategy that will give us a good chance to score. These special situation plays are introduced in the last few weeks of the pre-season - after the main plays have been introduced and everyone is starting to feel comfortable running them.
Time spent organizing and carrying out a solid pre-season coaching plan is about the best basketball training tip I can give anyone coaching the game. If your pre-season is poorly run, you will spend a lot of time during the season trying to fix all kinds of problems and struggling just to stay in the game.
But when the pre-seaon is done well, it prepares you for a successful season and develops the team so next year is an even stronger season.