A Few Thoughts on Practice Planning

You’ll notice that our practices are intentionally made up of small segments. It’s critical to keep things moving. It’s critical keep things fresh. One day we may start practice by introducing something new. The next day we might start with something that we’ve been doing since Day 1. We have ended practice with a transition defense drill, ball handling, stations, and 4 on 4 over the past week.  I would like to have even more variety in our practices. We’re going to cover many of the same skills and concepts every day.  But we’re going to try to find a different way to do that every day. We’re going to constantly challenge our players to execute a skill or apply a concept in different ways.  That’s the game of basketball.  No two possessions are exactly the same, so why should we run the same drills over and over again.  I’m still trying to figure out more ways to do things than I know now.

My philosophy is that if we want to spend 10 minutes on something, let’s do it twice in two different parts of practice for 5 minutes. That way players don’t get bored with it. They don’t have time to get too frustrated. If it takes 5 minutes to explain something, then we should probably break it down into smaller pieces. I don’t want players to have to handle too much at one time. I want them to be able to focus on one or two things and get better at those one or two things. Then we can progress and build on what they have learned. Even as much as we have broken things down, I think we could do it more, and I think we would get better as a result.

For example, it was very interesting the other day when we were talking about defending back screens. This was the first time that we did this. In the first segment, I had all of the returning players go through it since they “knew” what to do. This way the newcomers could watch listen and learn without having to get frustrated that they could not figure it out. The returners struggled even though they have been working on this concept.

In the second segment the new players got their opportunity. It was amazing how much better the new players did. They were able to hear me repeat the key points of emphasis. They were able to watch the returners both fail and succeed. Now when they had their opportunity, they were better prepared. Maybe they didn’t succeed initially, but they “got it” much more quickly. Had we spent 10 minutes on it, the second group would have been tuned out by the time it got to be their turn. The first group who was frustrated didn’t have time to linger on their frustrations.  They were able to move on to something else.  We ran the drill, then ran a couple other drills, and then ran the drill again. Things worked out really well.

When you have to teach a drill or concept it takes time.  Maybe you run out of time.  Maybe they all don’t get it.  Maybe they all don’t even get to try.  This is where planning a second or third segment is important.  At least everyone can get a repetition.  At least they can get an idea of the skill or concept.  That’s ok. We’re probably going to rep it again tomorrow anyway. And if we need to rep it for two or three more days that’s fine. It’s all about building habits anyway right? How many times have you been able to teach a new skill or concept in one day and players automatically do it habitually?  Of course they didn’t.  So now the second day, things go better.  They come in with a fresh outlook.  They understand that you are being patient with them through their learning process.  They are willing to try hard again to get better.  You can still have high standards with the expectation that they will continue to pursue that goal and reach it eventually.

I’ve just had too many experiences where my stubbornness makes me want to do the drill til they get perfectly. Well now we’ve killed the energy in practice and not gotten other things done that were on the schedule. Not to mention, I’m really mad when they come in the next day and do it well right off the get go.

I think we have to be honest with ourselves about how fast players can really learn a skill or concept. Some players will learn faster than others, but at the end of the day it takes time and repetition. Knowing what to do and doing it are different. So let’s not expect perfection immediately. Let’s allow them time to get better. Let’s let them know that it’s going to take repetition to make it habit. Just because you do it right one time, doesn’t mean you’re going to do it right every time. Just because you do it wrong one time, doesn’t mean you can’t do it right.  And so we’re going to keep working to build consistency. Every day, every practice, every drill, every rep is a step towards betterment.

I think there’s a progression that players go through in learning something new. I believe we have to let them go through those stages. First they have to have a general conceptual idea of what we’re trying to accomplish. This is not necessarily skill related. This is what we’re doing it, why we’re doing it, and how it fits into the overall picture. Once they grasp the general idea, now I think we can hammer on the small details. Some things are obvious.  Other things may not be so obvious.

I think it’s very important to control what our players think about. If we give them too much information, we are leaving it up to them to decide what they think is important. If we limit the information we give to them, now that’s all they have to think about. If they are thinking about anything else, we can remind them of the task at hand.  Get better at this.  Here and now.  Just this.  Nothing else.  Now of course we progress.

There is no magic pill.  There is no magic drill.  There’s only a persistant consistent and dedicated effort to get better every day.