Saturday, June 15, 2013

Important Points to Consider When Planning a Basketball Practice
By Michael May

When you think about it, is there anything more important in your coaching responsibilities and duties than planning an effective practice session? John Wooden once said, "Failure to prepare is preparing for failure." Obviously the level of player talent you have in your program will be one of the strongest determining factors in the level of success you will achieve. But where the rubber really meets the road in utilizing that talent to its fullest potential is your ability as a coach to create the most effective practice plan possible. Of course you can create the greatest practice plans ever devised but they must be carried out with great discipline and execution on the practice floor on a consistent basis.
Quite a bit of information has been written on how to structure a daily practice plan. Keeping drills short, making drills competitive, and having players move quickly from one drill to another are some of the important points that can help maintain intensity and productivity on the practice floor. However, when you look at the big picture, how do you determine what to practice and when? This requires some serious thought and analysis because there are a number of factors to be considered. From where do you draw your information in determining what your weekly practice outline is going to be? And what about the daily practice plan?

The Master Practice Plan
You are one step ahead if you have a general idea of what fundamentals you are going to teach your team as well as when you are going to teach them in practice. It begins with the first day of practice and ends with the last. A master practice plan is a schedule of all your practice sessions and an outline of what is going to be covered in each of those practices for the entire season. Practice time is precious as you all know, and it is every coach's goal to make the most of it. A master practice plan will provide a foundation for the season. It will provide you a reference point in creating monthly, weekly, and daily practice plans. The master practice plan by itself is too broad and general to provide the basis for creating a daily practice schedule. It is not set in stone, but rather it is flexible because coaches have to be flexible. Here are some benefits of having a master practice plan:

1.     Creating a specific playbook--It allows you to be organized in terms of defining your system of play for the season.

2.     Having a better understanding of your own system--It helps you to analyze and identify all the individual component fundamentals that you want your players to learn.

3.     Using the right tool for the right job--It causes you to evaluate and update your list of drills that will enable you to effectively teach those fundamentals that you have identified.

4.      Preparing for the big game won't sneak up on you--It gives you a better perspective of your whole season as it unfolds.

5.     If you are prepared, you shall not fear--It provides the organization and preparation necessary to promote confidence in the program to everyone, from the coaching staff to the players.

"I am not a strategic coach; I am a practice coach." John Wooden

Bringing Technology Into the Picture
It may sound a bit overwhelming to think about what you are going to practice in February but February will come around all too soon. For those coaches who have created a master practice plan and are using it consistently, you will probably agree that the most difficult part of the whole thing is creating the first one. But it generally does not change much from season to season.
Using computer technology can make creating a master practice plan easier. Using a word processor, calendar-maker, database, or spreadsheet program can definitely help save time in a number of ways. It is easy to make changes and modifications to your plan because it is stored as a file in your computer's hard drive. All you do is open the file and go to work. You can also make multiple copies of the plan at any time.

Creating a Master Practice Plan
There are different approaches to creating a master practice plan. The plan is generally broken down into three phases: (1) Preseason (2) Midseason and (3) Conference and Postseason. It is important to remember that what you cover will vary from one phase to another. The following is a suggested procedure for creating a master practice plan:

A.   Playbook- This is where it all starts. You must have a specific system of offense and defense in place before beginning any kind of practice planning. It should include the type of team offense and defense you are going to employ, special set plays, or special situations, etc.
Using a simple word processor will allow you to create a playbook that you can edit, update, and store in a file in your computer for easy access. Word processing programs make it very easy to create a format that will make your playbook look truly professional. You can insert charts to help you create categories or topics to help you organize your system of play. You can even make multiple copies from your computer to give to your coaching staff and players.

Here is an example of a basic playbook that you can create using a spread sheet program:



Set Plays

Full-court Pressbreak

Half-court Pressbreak

Man to Man

UCLA Hi Post

#1 Fist
#2 Lob
#3 Cross
#4 Clear

4 Across








Man to Man


10- 1/4 Ct.
20- 1/2 Ct.
30- 3/4 Ct.
40- Full Ct.

12- 1/4 Ct.
22- 1/2 Ct.
32- 3/4 Ct.
42- Full Ct.

B.    List of Fundamentals: Once you have your system of play in place, it is important to identify all the necessary fundamentals that your players will need to know to execute that system in a game. Both team and individual fundamentals need to be taken into account. If your offense against man-to-man defense requires a screen-and-roll to be executed, then that involves two players. This would be considered a team fundamental. You should also consider physical conditioning such as weight training. Your ability to break your system down to its component parts and identify the necessary fundamentals is crucial in determining what you will eventually cover in practice.

You can compile your list using a word processor. It is just a question of organizing topics and sub-topics for categorizing the fundamentals. Using a database program is an even better way to do it. A database allows you to create fields or categories to specifically organize information. You could break the list down into individual fundamentals and team fundamentals. Within the individual fundamentals category you could create post and perimeter categories, etc. This provides you an easy way to be highly organized and very specific in identifying the fundamentals of your system.

C.    Drill Directory: Earlier it was mentioned that having the right tool for the right job is important when it comes to the use of drills. Identifying the type of drill you are going to use to teach the specific fundamentals to your players is crucial to your success. There are a number of factors to consider in choosing which drills to use such as the number of players it will involve at one time, the number of baskets necessary, etc. Once you decide on your list of drills, you can then organize them into meaningful ways much as you did with the fundamentals list.
Again a database program will allow you to create categories such as two-man, three-man, four-man, and five-man drills. You can categorize your defensive drills into zone and man-to-man. Within the man-to-man drills you can create sub-categories such as "on ball" and "off ball" defense.

D.   Practice Calendar: The practice calendar will provide important information to you in determining your overall master practice plan. The amount of practice you have before your first game, stretches where you will be playing a number of games with very little practice time, and the amount of practice before your conference opener are all important factors to be considered. You also need to take into account practice time during holidays, mid-term exams, etc.
A calendar-maker software program is a valuable tool in laying out the entire season's schedule. You could actually do it on a word processor but you would not get the same visual effect as seeing the months, weeks, and days in a calendar format. The program allows you to enter text in any specific day to indicate practice times, game times, etc. After entering all your available practice times, you will then have a better idea of what needs to be done in terms of covering specific thing in practice.

Putting It All Together
Using the calendar maker program, you can now begin to lay out a general plan of what you want to cover in your practices throughout the season. Using your list of fundamentals, drill directory, and practice calendar as references, you will have a much better idea of what you want to do and when. Some coaches will put down the specific fundamentals to be taught along with a few of the drills to be used. For example, December 12th- On Ball Defense: Zig Zag Drill, Around the World One on One, etc.
An important point to consider when you are allocating time for different aspects of your system is to decide what percentage of time during a game you will use the things you are trying to teach. In other words, it is important to spend the majority of time on the areas that are used a majority of time in a ball game.
It is also important to remember that the master practice plan is a general outline of things and can be and will be updated and modified as the season goes on. That is the advantage of using computer technology in your planning. It is very easy to update your drill directory, practice calendar, etc. You are just a click of the mouse away to keeping your program organized and on track. If it were only that easy with our players!


Michael May has been a highly successful basketball coach for 28 years on the international, junior college and high school levels. Currently he is president of "Practice Planner Live Software," a new cutting edge web-based practice planning solution for coaches at any level. Please visit to register for a free 30-day trial or e-mail him at

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