Scrimmages and Offensive Instruction in Practice

A coach emailed a question regarding Blitz Basketball and my use of scrimmages to teach my basic offensive sets and defensive strategy.

I do not spend practice working 5v0 or walking through defensive rotations in a typical shell drill. I scrimmage, and after a player is finished, I use the play to teach a concept if something needs to be corrected. I generally do not stop the action in the middle of the play.

As I answered his question, I realized the philosophy behind my coaching style. I do not expect perfect execution in a game. Many coaches do. Many coaches want their players to execute the play exactly as they draw it on the blackboard. I think the game is messy and unpredictable. I believe that my team’s success depends on the players’ ability to adjust and adapt during the play and to make the best decision.

If I stop the action in practice when a play becomes messy, how do the players learn to adjust and adapt? In a game, I can use a timeout here and there when the play gets messy, but I do not have enough timeouts to use to control every possession or prevent every mistake. Therefore, at some point, the players have to fend for themselves. However, if they never get the opportunity to adjust to their mistakes and make decisions to adjust to the new reality, how can I expect them to make good decisions in a game?

An old adage is that you have to practice perfectly because there will be game slippage. If you practice perfectly, the adage goes, you will perform at 70-80% in the game due to the slippage. However, if you practice at 70-80% at practice, the game slippage will result in a performance closer to 50%.

What if the adage is only half-true? What if the game slippage occurs because the players do not learn to adjust and adapt to new situations during their perfect practice? What if there is little to no game slippage when practice is imperfect and players have to make decisions constantly and then receive feedback after the play about other options or better possibilities?

My practices often looked disorganized this season, and our game performance was sloppy at times because we looked so disorganized. However, we honestly had very little to no game slippage. We generally performed better against our opponents than we did against each other. Skills that we rarely executed correctly in practice scrimmages (traps on the press, pick-and-rolls on offense) suddenly happened over and over in games.

Some of our success was a talent differential, as we played teams whose starters were not as good as our players off the bench. However, we played teams with equal or more talent, size and speed, and executed as well against them as we did in practice. Our performances were not perfect, but I do not expect perfection. I have yet to see a team play perfectly.

Therefore, to maximize performance, do we strive for perfection in practice so we perform close to perfection after the normal game slippage or do we practice at something less than perfect, but eliminate most of the normal game slippage?

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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