Learning from the Oregon Ducks – Making Practice Meaningful

I already wrote an article tying the Oregon Ducks’ philosophy into basketball practice, but as their success continues and high school practice starts, I wanted to emphasize two points: pace and simplification.

Generally, coaches attempt to add sophistication or complexity to improve performance. Once players master one set, they add another and another to give the team multiple options and to force the opposition to scout more and more options and plays.

From a practice perspective, what is the least active part of practice? The answer differs between programs, but 5vo walking through plays has to be among the least active aspects. Rather than add more sophistication, which increases the amount of time spent walking through plays 5v0, simplification reduces this time of inactivity.

What do you do with more time for activity? Increase the pace and competitiveness of practice to improve conditioning in game-like situations.

In my “Coaching Basketball” class that I teach to undergraduate students, I asked the class for the things that they disliked the most about playing sports. Practice, conditioning and coaches screaming topped the list (several students are Division-I athletes, so it was not because these were soft players who never succeeded). When I asked how to make practices more enjoyable, the first answer was to make drills more competitive or to scrimmage more.

Last season, I did very few drills. Because we did the same drills, I never had to re-explain a drill. Therefore, we could move more quickly from activity to activity. We also ran a very simple system with one offense and one defense; therefore, we never walked through our offense or defense 5vo, increasing our activity.

By simplifying in these two ways – drills and system – we increased the pace and competitiveness of practice, which eliminated the need for conditioning. Players played harder because they knew that they did not have to save themselves for sprints, and we developed a competitiveness that transferred to the games.

While this approach may not be appropriate for every level, I suggest simplifying things before adding complexity. If the drills work, relate to game situations and incorporate a competitive element, players probably will not be bored doing the same drill nearly every practice. On the other hand, changing drills frequently may lead to boredom if it means the coach talking too much and if the drills lack relevance to the game.

Once you simplify to the essentials, you eliminate much of the wasted time and can increase the pace of practice. I know one coach who spends 30-45 minutes doing warm-up drills that he despises because he feels like his team must practice for two-and-a-half hours. Why waste time for 45 minutes to lengthen a practice? Why not shorten the practice to make players and parents happy and focus on the essentials?

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

3 thoughts on “Learning from the Oregon Ducks – Making Practice Meaningful

  • At our practices we do pretty much the same things everyday. After we do a dynamic warmp-up we do skill waork followed by (in no particular order) transition defense, offensive cut-throat game, defensive cut-throat game, ft’s and then 5v5 scrimmage. EVerything is competitive and based on a different scoring system daily depending on the emphasis. Scrimmages are played to 8 by 2’s and 3’s with no restirctions. Everyday, the same thing with the main emphasis on keeping it competitive. Our kids love it and it was mostly their ideas. We would be seriously suprised if any of our plaers said they were bored. We go non stop with water breaks during drills when they get off. Best decision we ever made was to narrow our focus and practice time and increase the pace.

  • Great article! I love competition in practice it’s the best way to get better. If we give kids the basics and teach them how to be competitive winning will follow. Short intense practices are a good way to go especially high school girls who have a difficult time focusing.

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