A friend emailed and asked for advice, as he volunteered to coach his son’s youth basketball team. As in many leagues, most of the players are beginners, and teams only practice for an hour or two each week before playing their weekend games (and people wonder why youth leagues are overly-competitive with a 1:1 practice:game ratio; leagues are teaching parents and players that practice is unimportant, and games matter most, primarily because practices are inefficient from a profit standpoint). Here is a sample practice plan.
First, in an 8-week league with 8-16 hours of practice time, you cannot teach everything, so don’t try. Concentrate on a few things.
Second, the game is the best teacher. With such little time to practice, perfect is not the goal. Use practice time to practice game skills. If a player wants to be good, he or she must practice the specifics on his or her own. A youth league is not designed to develop great players. That’s why the basketball-trainer industry is flourishing.
Finally, players want to have fun. Fun is not a bad thing. However, the fun should have a purpose.
Start of practice: Dynamic Warm-up
I use a dynamic warm-up so I can teach basic movement skills. Many children cannot move well anymore. If you cannot move well, you are not going to play well.
I want to make sure that players can squat:
I also want to teach deceleration:
Next, I want to teach an absorptive landing:
Additionally, I use other exercises like skips, hops, sprints and more.
I end the warm-up with a fun exercise like the Mirror Drill:
After the Mirror Drill, I usually play a ball-handling tag-game to continue developing movement skills while incorporating the basketball. A couple examples (from beginner to more advanced):
For the most part, unless the players are very young, that’s going to be the extent of my ball-handling practice.
Next, I might use a game like 2v2 Rugby to continue with ball handling while adding game elements like defense, passing and lay-ups.
Depending on what I see during 2v2 Rugby, I might move to a lay-up drill or a passing drill. An example of a lay-up drill:
An example of some passing drills (simple to complex):
I emphasize transition defense, so a basic progression that I might use in practice for transition play:
Some instruction on scoring in a 2v1:
Depending on the age of the players, I would also add some shooting drills and would scrimmage 3v3 half-court and 5v5 half-court and full-court.
One shooting drill:
I use a decision-training style of coaching, meaning that I ask a lot of questions to help the players learn:
I use the drills and games to dictate the teaching. I start with the game and move to instruction based on the performance in the small-sided or modified game, rather than starting with a lot of instruction before playing.
Obviously this is not the entirety of drills for a season. However, I honestly do not do very much breakdown work in terms of shell drills, press breaks, structured offenses, etc. I use game forms and teach through the game forms and if and when something needs to be addressed or simplified, I simplify through a drill and then return to the game.
For additional drills, check out Cross Over: The new model of youth basketball development and/or Developing Basketball Intelligence. For shooting drills, check out 180 Shooter.
By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League