Making Youth Basketball Practices Count

When I helped coached a baseball All Star team one year, I couldn’t believe how the head coach was kind of all over the place without any sort of structure. The practice usually started with this head coach who was actually a friend of mine having a cup of coffee with me and another assistant coach and talking about last night’s Yankee game that was on television. If practice was scheduled for 5pm, it was more like 5:15 or 5:20 before we started to do anything. This is the same coach who beat me out for the league championship and earned the right to be head coach. And I pride myself in running efficient practices. Talk about a let down! Anyway I was the good assistant adding ideas and suggestions when asked as best I could. On the flip side if you have ever heard about the way Rick Pitino of Louisville and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke run their practices, I’m told by people who have watched them that hey are run with incredible precision. Can youth basketball practices be run like big time college coaches do?

Practices have to be organized and thought out and planned with drills and back-up drills. In youth basketball most teams don’t have the luxury of having their own gym and the key to open the front door to practice whenever they want. If you are a college coach, your practice time is dictated to you and it is up to you to fill in the time with the most efficient practices you know. In high school you must be organized from start to finish. In youth basketball, most of the coaches work a full time job so their organization time might not be as efficient as professionally paid coaches. But on the youth level we are up against a lot so we really have to spend time on drills and time management. You owe this to your team. Your players will look up to you and whether you believe it or not you will have an impact on their lives either positively or negatively. Here are some suggestions to get your youth basketball practices to run better.

1)Develop a philosophy

You should develop your own coaching philosophy. Even if you are coaching six and seven year olds, having your own philosophy is a great idea. It can be an emphasis on ball handling or maybe rebounding but it should be some aspect of basketball that you feel you are an expert at and will help you win games and improve your players. And remember that if you are coaching youth sports for your son and daughter you will be getting the same kids on and off for the next six to ten years and they will learn your philosophy.

2)Run practices to the age level

Similar to having your own philosophy is to coach to the age of your team. If you are coaching nine and ten year olds, you have to keep your practices and drills as simple as possible. Remember that if you have to explain every drill more than once or twice, you are wasting time. If you want to start running complicated drills that might be hard for some players to grasp, you will be wasting the time for your whole team.

3)Write down each practice from start to finish.

In this digital world with iPhones and tablets, I still organize my practices on an index card. I find this is the easiest way for me to refer to it. I also make sure I do it in pencil so I can make changes easy enough before practice starts. I try to have every minute planned. One year in our town, gym space was so limited that the youth basketball teams were only given 45 minutes and a half court to practice one day a week. That season turned out to be one of my most successful basketball seasons I ever had. I had to be more creative with drills and the way I ran my practices but it worked!

4)Teach your team to be on time

This has always been a pet peeve of mine. If your practice time is limited it is important to have your team there early so you don’t waste one minute when the team practicing before you gets off the court. And when you are done with your practice make sure you get off the court right on time to respect the coach and team that follow you. Coaches remember this and there is always positive payback if another coach sees this respect.

5)Dual purpose drills

I had the pleasure of getting to know our local high school coach who ran crisp practices from start to finish. He explained his philosophy to me that you have to achieve more than one goal during each and every drill. If you are doing a team shooting drill, you must combine say passing, dribbling or conditioning into this drill.

6) Be flexible

Don’t be a hardheaded coach and refuse to admit or blame your players if a drill doesn’t work. Sometimes it just doesn’t! I’ve had drills work one year with my basketball team that did not work another year. It is unexplainable but you have to be flexible as a coach. And if you are stuck in your ways, my best advice is to learn to become flexible. The best coaches in the world are able to change and adopt. I remember the head coach of the New York Giants football team Tom Coughlin was stuck in the same way he coached for decades. He was on the verge of being let go when he had some self-evaluation and made a lot of personal changes to adopt to NFL players of today. The result was he ended up winning two Superbowls and is the oldest coach in the NFL and still going strong as I write this.

7) Drills, Drills & More Drills

Prepare at the beginning of the season with as many drills as you can. Categorize them as far as rebounding, shooting, defense, passing, ball handling etc. In today’s computer age you have a litany of resources right at your finger-tips with the internet. Prepare before your season starts and break down each practice by the minute. This will be hard at first but once you get the hang of it and you learn the drills you like, the work is minimal.

8) Observe other coaches

When I first began to coach youth soccer I knew nothing about the sport. I approached our local high school coach asking him if I can come down and observe some of his practices. This worked out great and set me off on the right track! Spend a little time if you have it and contact successful coaches and ask to come and observe. Most will allow you to do so.

9)Be yourself

Many times young coaches try to copy famous coaches or coaches they had while growing up. You should be yourself and develop your own coaching personality. There is nothing wrong with taking bits and pieces from other coaches you admire but you have to establish yourself as your own coach.

There is an endless list of advice for coaches who want to run effective youth basketball practices. In most cases with all things being equal, the teams that practice better will usually win. Be yourself when you coach and prepare!


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