Coaching Basketball: Competitive Practices

Coaching Basketball: Competitive Practices

I recently received the following question about coaching basketball and competition in practices: I am a new coach at the HS level and I am looking for drills that will make the boys want to practice (instead of scrimmages) and I also want to create a program where the boys are “not afraid to fail”. An example is where I have witnessed coaches make the players run if they miss a lay-up and so on. I do not want that kind of program, I want to reward them for getting back up and trying again and again. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

This article addresses
“Drills that will make the boyswant to practice (instead of scrimmages)”
“I want to reward them for getting back up and trying again and again”

A: Any coach in his or her first year of coaching high school basketball should be congratulated! What basketball coaches do is extremely important in the growth and development of the kids they work with. I think that these questions are questions that a lot of coaches ask when they shift from coaching youth sports and go to the high school level. Hopefully my these responses will provide insight:

1. Make the boys want to practice:

In my experience, getting kids interested in practice happens when you can find ways to make things competitive. This can be done in a couple of different ways.
Kids can compete against a personal goal or the clock (i.e. setting a goal to score 100 points in 3 minutes of running the three-man weave shooting drill). If you can set benchmarks like this and give your players something specific to work towards, you usually be able to maintain their interest.
Often the best way to make practices competitive is to scrimmage. Scrimmaging is practicing; in fact, it’s the most realistic type of practice. As a result, it’s something that you should try to do as often as possible.

That doesn’t mean that you should just roll the balls out and “let the kids play”.

As a coach you set the parameters on how scrimmages look in any given practice. I think the scrimmaging you are referring to when you say that you would ‘rather have your kids practice than scrimmage’ is uncontrolled scrimmaging, or scrimmaging without a purpose.

When you scrimmage, to maintain a focus on growth and improvement, consider “scrimmaging with conditions”.

The conditions that you set will depend on what area of the game you’re working on. You have literally hundreds of options.

If you’re working on executing your halfcourt sets, then you might want to consider scrimmaging one possession at a time.
As you get more advanced and your players are able to maintain their poise and focus, practice one possession at a time but add in a transition component – i.e. – the offense begins to scrimmage by running its halfcourt offense against five defenders. Instead of stopping play at the end of the possession, allow the defensive team one quick break to the other end of the floor.
By allowing the defense to switch to offense and by forcing the offense to switch to defense you’re integrating conversion, which accounts for at least one third of game play. If you’re like most coaches, your experience with your players is that they want to “just play”. There’s nothing wrong with this tendency; your job is a coach is to encourage it while at the same time controlling it so that it is productive.

2. Making the boys ‘not afraid to fail”.

I don’t think that it’s necessarily unhealthy to have kids do push-ups when they miss layups. It’s also not necessarily unhealthy to “punish losers”.
Basketball is a competitive sport; if you want to be able to compete well in games, you have to mirror that competitiveness in practice somehow. That means that there have to be “losers”, in the same way that there has to be a winner in any contest.
It is entirely up to you to determine how you choose to frame these outcomes in your practices. If your tone is negative and punitive you may very well create situations where kids are afraid to fail.
Or…you can take the same practices, but reframe them around themes like development, growth, etc.
If I’m coaching a good group of players I hope that they have a personal expectation to make all of their layups. If I did have to have them do push-ups for missing their layups it wouldn’t be to punish them or to crush their spirit; it would simply be because I want them to hold themselves to standards that they are capable of reaching. I will often run Every Pass with two balls for 2 to 3 minutes at a time during the transition portion of my practice sessions. As my teams improve, one of the conditions of the drill is that we have to hit every layup or we do pushups.
Initially, we might do one push-ups for every layup missed. So, if there were 15 missed layups during the drill then at the end of the drill we do 15 push-ups.
As the team gets better we might up the ante so that they are doing five push-ups for every missed layup. So, when we’ve improved to the point where we are only missing three layups, we again do 15 push-ups. Eventually, with every single team that I’ve coached, we get to the point where we don’t miss any of our layups.
That skill development occurrs because we set standards for ourselves and don’t allow ourselves to settle for anything less than that standard. Most of the time we achieve that through administering what some would term “negative reinforcers” like push-ups.
But the tone and the approach is not negative at all. We are teaching ourselves how to set and reach small goals. As a result, we are teaching ourselves how to be winners. There is nothing negative about that outcome.

I think the best advice I can give is “don’t shy away from having winners and losers in your practices”. You want to have winners and losers as often as possible not because you want to make kids afraid to fail, but because you are teaching them how to succeed. The kid that continually loses & continually picks himself up and keeps trying should definitely be admired for his courage. However, it doesn’t have to come at the expense of working to reach our team’s potential. (Ironically, even that kid – the one who always picks himself up – never wins anybody’s admiration if he never loses.

The focus should always be on playing to the best of your individual and collective ability. Playing to your potential is a skill that can be developed, in the same way that a jump shot is a skill that can be developed. The best way to develop that skill is to create situations that inspire the level of effort required. and…the best way to do that is to compete.

I think that as a coach, you sound like you definitely have your kids best interests at heart.; As a result, I’d wager that your practices could, from a distance, look exactly the same as the practices the negative practices that you referenced. At the same time, the tone of the practices would be completely different – as would the level of growth.