Learn how to manage the difficulties of basketball practice!
Every coach has his or her personal style and philosophy for organizing basketball practice, each singular and unique to his or her personality, demeanor, and temperament. We attempt to get in all that we need to get in that for that day or the week, hoping we cover every skill concept that our players and team need, to better equip them for the stress and competition of the game. The results of effective practices should be reflected in preparedness and game plan execution, and in other various analytics and data, we used to chart and measure individual player and team improvement (i.e., increased shooting percentage, reduced turnovers, improved defensive field goal percentage allowed, etc.).
“Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” – Anonymous
However, what happens if we do not see the results? What happens if practices lack in energy and focus, or we have to reteach skills with little improvement, or we are not effectively building on skills and concepts from practice to practice? In these cases, it may mean that we need to adjust some basic aspects of practice management.
Dr. Randy Sprick, educational consultant and primary author of Safe & Civil Schools Series which focuses on effective behavior management in schools and classrooms, highlights five areas on which educators, for his audience, classroom teachers, can concentrate to best manage the educational setting so that students can be available for learning. As the gym or athletic field is our primary classroom for learning, these five factors translate and adapt quickly for our practice planning to create an environment in which our players can effectively learn what we need them to learn. These areas can be conceptualized in the acronym which we will borrow from Dr. Sprick: S.T.O.I.C.©
Structure • Teach • Observe • Interact Positively • Correct Fluently
As it applies to our primary teaching setting in practice, consider the following:
Structure: Organizing your training is probably the most important factor contributing to conducting an active basketball practice. Like any lesson plan, have you outlined your goals and objectives for the session? What concepts and skills will drive practice? What is the purpose of your drills or activities you use and will they meet those goals? How much time will each exercise need? What materials do I need? What are my expectations for player/team behavior, effort, and focus? Are my expectations clear, simple, and concise?
Teach: Am I using effective teaching methods to teach these expectations, concepts, and skills? Do I physically need to demonstrate these skills or have a player or coach display, or can we just quickly review and discuss? Am I physically able to show these concepts? What stage is the player or team in about learning the skill; is it Exposure, Information Processing, Repetition, Competence, or Mastery? Are they ready to move on to something else? Do we need to go back and reteach the previous skill/concept? Do I need to use an alternative approach (i.e., film review, team talk, etc.)? Am I checking for understanding and competency?
Observe: How do I know they are learning? Am I effectively able to monitor, watch, and supervise my players during drills in practice? Do I have a trained coaching staff who understands my expectations, knows the concepts, skills, and exercises, and can support the teaching and monitoring of players so they can learn and master skills and concepts? Is it possible for every player to be observed by the coaching staff? Do I have a system and method finding and supervising? Observation and proximity are key elements in communicating to a player that the skill they are learning is important and that they are accountable to learn and master it.
Interact Positively: Often overlooked and underestimated, but extremely important to an effective basketball practice, how our coaches and players positively interacting with each other? How are coaches giving feedback when players are doing well and meeting expectations? Are coaches able to spot when a player does a skill well and gives him praise? How often are coaches giving praise and positive feedback, depositing positive interactions in a player or team’s piggy bank so that when he or she has to criticize or call a player out, that player is not deflated? Is the attention or praise solely contingent on play and meeting expectations or is it founded in developing a personal connection (non-contingent) with players? Is the praise genuine? Players feed off of an active relationship with coaches, and will often find themselves motivated to do all they can to meet coaches’ expectations when they have a productive relationship with the staff. Building relationships that last with players involve a greater positive interaction to correction ration (+ > -).
Correct Fluently: Teaching not only involves praise and positive interactions to build skill, but it involves feedback and correction when a player is not doing skills correctly, needs to break a bad habit, or is not meeting a behavioral or team expectation. It is an aspect of teaching and learning which we cannot avoid; correction is necessary and in many ways, the easiest tool we have in our toolbox. However for some teams and players, loud and intense singling out or demonstrative and dramatic directives or feedback may not be effective. The way we correct is as important as the way we praise. In fact, that type of aggressive correction loses impact over time as players begin to tune out the noise and the message from the coach, even if it is honest and truthful. Correction often works better when it is quick, direct, concise, calm, consistent, and immediate. “Drive-by” corrections hold just as much, or even more, weight than a lengthy speech or tirade. In a season, you may only have 3-4 instances in which a coach’s forceful and invigorated talk with a team may be useful or even necessary, so use them wisely.
Although this is not an exhaustive list of factors, S.T.O.I.C.© presents a reasonable and impactful approach to reviewing the effectiveness of your basketball practice. The basketball practice needs to be a fun learning environment in which players are building and developing confidence in the game because they are being challenged and within those challenges, they see themselves and the team improve, and they are strengthening a bond and connection with teammates and staff. Practice environments like this have the greatest chance of success to build strong players and teams.
We will spend time in ensuing articles reviewing these factors in more detail. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave a comment below or email me at:
For more information on Safe & Civil Schools and S.T.O.I.C.©, please refer to
Good luck as you start your seasons!
Russell Raypon, M.S.
USA Basketball© Licensed Youth Development Coach
Associate Head Coach, Clovis High School Boys Varsity Basketball (Clovis, CA)
Credentialed School Psychologist, Fresno Unified School District (Fresno, CA)