Decision-Making Reps in the Pre-game Warm-Up

by Paul Cortes
Head JV Boys Coach, Jewish Community High School of the Bay
Youth Basketball Coach, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department
AAU Coach, Bay City Basketball

One common lament from coaches is that players don’t come out “ready to play”. We complain that our players don’t start playing hard until the game is well under way. While this could be due to player work ethic, the coach’s motivation skills, or simply a disparity in talent, a key factor in whether players are ready to play is the nature of the pre-game warm-up. Part of that is getting players to warm up hard, to work up a sweat. The other part of it is mental.

If the perception-action coupling and contextual interference are key aspects of performing a skill, we can’t truly feel that our players are ready to play unless those aspects of performance are included in the pre-game warm-up. In essence, the cognitive load of playing the game must be switched on before the game starts. If players wait until the game begins to start executing their decision-making skills, there’s going to be a breaking-in period. The body is warmed up, but the brain isn’t. There’s a difference between being ready to move and being ready to play.

Here is a drill from Fran Fraschilla that warms up on-ball defense and dribbling against pressure (click to enlarge):


We’re a pressing team, and reading the ball handler’s body, gauging distance and speed, and taking proper angles are all integral parts of picking up your man full-court that simply doing zig-zag slide drills don’t prepare for. This is also an effective ball-handling drill, as reading the defender’s body, gauging distance and speed, and creating proper angles are all integral parts of dribbling against pressure.

Here’s a drill from Bob Hurley that warms up transition offense and defense in a 2-on-1 situation, as well as quick outlet and advance passes (click to enlarge):


I talk to my players all the time about the importance of the 2-on-1. Basketball is in a sense a game of creating and taking advantage of 2-on-1 opportunities. Instead of having a 1-on-1 mindset, players should have a 2-on-1 mindset. The former garners attention to the individual and leads to individual accolades, while the latter is team-oriented and leads to wins. Since creating 2-on-1’s is a big part of my coaching philosophy, it makes sense to have a 2-on-1 drill in the warm-up. This is a great drill that flows really well and solidifies our team identity.

If the nature of our practice is changing, then the nature of our warm-up must change as well. If any of you have other game-like drills that you use that would translate well to the half-court warm-up setting, please feel free to drop them in the comments below. The two drills that I’ve included are drills that I use in practice that translate well to this setting. We’re a man-to-man press, get out in transition type of team, so these drills fit well with what we do. Including the cognitive load and increasing decision-making reps has helped us get a feel for the game and conclude the warm-up ready to play. On the whole I’ve noticed, since I started including these drills in our pre-game routine, that we’re getting off to better starts because we hit the ground running right from opening tip. 

7 thoughts on “Decision-Making Reps in the Pre-game Warm-Up

  • Coach Cortes, I’ve enjoyed your input on this site.
    We used to play 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 by having the offensive players spread out along the 3 point line and the defensive players on the baseline. One of the defensive players or coach would roll the ball to an offensive player and they would play.
    – It would put the offensive player at a slight advantage
    – The defensive player would have to make a decision on whether to contain run a shooter off the line
    – The offensive player had multiple options

    One possession and rotate

  • Paul:
    With JV girls and freshmen boys, I used the warmup time to run a practice, as much as possible. I played everyone so I was unworried about fatigue.

    I have also been thinking about routines and so forth…should the first 10 minutes of practice, for instance, be the same as the pre-game warm-up to create the routine?

  • Thanks, Mike. Simple, but effective. I like it.

    Brian, I think it depends on a lot of factors. For example, you might get the full court in the beginning of practice for a limited time, and you might want to take advantage of that and not waste the time doing halfcourt stuff. I coach AAU, so we never know how much time we’re gonna get. Also, since AAU tournaments are often 3 games a weekend, I am worried about fatigue, to an extent. I wouldn’t say worried, but I monitor it. so I adjust based on how far apart the games are and how many we’ve played.

  • I use 4 v 4 live warm up after a classic layup and shooting mix. The players really look forward to the live action during warmup. Unfortunately the first time I ever did it a player twisted their ankle for two weeks, but since then nothing to speak of. Personally I feel we begin games better than any opponent.

    I’m also taken aback by a previous comment in this chat; shouldn’t practice start the same way? Makes sense to me

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