This is the first basketball season in almost 30 years that I haven’t been a part of a team, either playing or coaching. The best part of having this extra time, is finally being able to attend and observe the practices of other coaches and colleagues I respect. I’ve learned a ton already; here are 5 things that have stood out about the most successful teams and coaches’ practices I’ve observed so far:
1. The players have fun. This seems simple, enough, right? But we all know the season is a
grind, and it’s so easy for outside pressures to have a negative influence on the fun elements
of the sport in its purest form. The most engaging practices I observed featured:
· A lot of game play, both full-side and small-sided games
· Great plays were celebrated. Players were allowed to appreciate their success and
encouraged to cheer the successes of others
· Laughter and light-heartedness. The coaches joked with the players. The players could give it
right back to the coaches. And the players were comfortable laughing at themselves and
each other. It was all light-hearted; positive intent was assumed and respect was maintained
both ways. These teams were then able to regain focus right afterwards and resume the drill
or next possession
2. Positive Coaching is the Norm. These coaches were amazing at maintaining standards and
accountability while still giving mostly positive feedback. Negative feedback focused on
criticizing the action, not the person who made the mistake.
3. Punishment Running is Limited. These teams got their conditioning in other ways, typically full
court games. Coaches were able to get their points across and correct mistakes without the
threat of punishment looming.
4. Coaches Embrace the Spirit of the Drill. This was where I saw these expert coaches shine.
They understood clearly what the purpose of their practice segments were and coached to
them. I heard one coach intro a small-sided game by listing the constraints and finishing with
“But make sure you keep playing unless you hear a whistle. I might let some things go; I need
you to trust that if I do there’s a reason for it.” I saw another coach running a 3v3 No Dribble
game watch one of his players make a great cut, receive an off-target pass that knocked him
off balance, then use one dribble to regain balance and attack space along the baseline to
hit a teammate in the corner for an open 3. When the defensive team protested the dribble,
the coach quickly explained that calling that dribble a turnover would make the situation less
game-like, and because the player had used the dribble to regain balance and find space,
he was letting it go. This was expertise in action: it’s knowing/embracing what’s important
and letting the other stuff go. I can’t wait to incorporate this into my practices in the future.
5. Everyone is included. These coaches found ways to limit time standing in lines or on
sidelines. They mixed up teams regularly. They found ways to get reps for the kids further
down the bench. One team I watched had their JV and Freshman teams scrimmage right after
Varsity finished. The players further down the bench on varsity played in the game to get
more reps. The whole varsity team stuck around and cheered for their teammates. The culture
was so positive; everyone left the gym that day feeling good about themselves, and I’m sure
felt excited to come back to practice the next day, too.
My biggest takeaway here is that none of these 5 things are technical. They are really practices, designs and behaviors that any coach can implement to make their practices more engaging and to build a stronger team culture. I’ll be on the road at practices all season and I’ll be sure to update you as I see and learn more. Thanks for reading-