When Should We Stop the Action?

This entry is part 16 of 20 in the series Practice

Some of the most important decisions that we make as coaches are those that deal with how we conduct practice.  As coaches, we decide how our practices operate.  We choose how much we teach individual skills versus team concepts. In addition, we choose how much we let the players play; we also choose how often we stop the action and when we let them keep playing.

Every second of every practice we choose to stop the action or let it continue. Do we stop the action to reinforce a positive moment?  Should we stop the action to correct a mistake?  Do we let the action continue until someone makes a mistake?  Should we let them play through their mistakes? Do we stop the action to change drills? Do we keep things moving to get repetitions in the current drill?

Stopping the action gives the coach the opportunity to teach. Stopping the action allows the coach to get a player’s undivided attention to either congratulate a positive action or correct a mistake. This means the action must start again. It means that the players stop moving.  If the players stop moving enough, they can lose their conditioning.  Stopping the play makes the practice less game like. It can create unnatural stops in the action which doesn’t allow players to finish a play.  This can condition players to think they have multiple chances to get it right.  It can bring too much focus on the “previous play” and take focus away from executing the next one. It can make us spend more time than we planned initially, or it can cut the number of repetitions that we get through in the prescribed time. Players don’t like it when coaches stop the action.  They want to play.  Even if it’s not a live situation, players would rather think they are doing it right than the opposite.

Letting the play go, provides more game like scenarios. Keeping the players moving improves conditioning.  Keeping the action going allows players to learn how to have that “next play” mentality. However, it’s very difficult for players to correct mistakes “in motion”.  Stopping a play to congratulate a good play has a stronger impact than letting the play continue, even we make a positive comment after the play ends. Keeping the action going may mean that some mistakes aren’t corrected. This could be acceptable or harmful depending on the type of mistake and the player who is making it.  Letting the action continue keeps players happy. It gives them a sense of confidence that they are doing things correctly.

Basketball is not football.  We don’t have a huddle after every play, and we don’t have one group that plays offense and one group that plays defense.  We can’t take our offense to the bench while the defense is playing to show them how we can do better on the next possession. Our players play both ends.  They are constantly transitioning from one to the other.  They have to learn how to play through mistakes, but they also have to learn how to do things correctly.

So there’s the problem.  Here’s one solution.  A lot of the basketball specific part of this blog talks about the teaching progression.  Coaches can teach offense at the individual skill level first and gradually add multiple offensive and defensive players on the court with multiple actions.  When coaches teach progressively, it gives the coach a clearer focus.  As a result, it helps the coach decide when he or she should stop play and when he or she should let it continue.

I believe that the practice plan needs clear emphasis for each drill.  Two or three things might be more important that will make practice stop no matter what segment of practice.  However, for each segment of practice there should be a clear and intentional emphasis for that segment.  The coach should know (and should communicate to the players) that this is what is important about this segment. It maybe that the coach decides that the only thing that is important in this segment is the physical effort. Maybe the only thing that is important is that players make a ball fake before every pass.  The coach might decide that everything defensively is important in this segment but what the offense does isn’t important in this moment.  Maybe the coach decides that everything on both sides is important.

Once everyone knows what’s important, now the coach has a better idea of when to stop play.  The coach can look through a practice schedule and have an idea of how much practice will be stopped today.  If coaches feel like practice needs more fluidity, they might take out one segment and put in a segment that will be more free-flowing. Maybe that gives the players a mental break or maybe it allows them to condition a little more.  If a coach feels like the practice won’t be stopped enough, they may change it up to give the players a physical break. If there are a couple of things really need to be taught and emphasized today, then make it important and teach it.

I think every coach has their natural tendencies to either things go or stop and correct each mistake.  Both have their benefits and their drawbacks.  I think we have to get away from always doing what’s natural to us and think about what our team needs in each segment of practice. If we teach the game in an organized and progressive way, we know exactly what we can expect our players to execute correctly and we can stop the action for those things. Everything else we have to let go because we haven’t taught them those things yet.  If it’s so important that they do a certain thing correctly at this exact moment, then teach it and make it important.

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