The Worst Basketball Practice I Ever Witnessed by John Mietus

The Worst Basketball Practice I Ever Witnessed by John Mietus

The sad part about this story is that it’s not unique, it’s not unusual, and it’s highly recognizable by most coaches around the country. Here’s what I saw at the worst basketball practice that I attended recently:

Worst Basketball Practice Warm Up: Conditioning/Running Lines/Static Stretching

Why it’s ineffective: No basketball involved. No context or skill development.

1. 3 v 0 weave passing.

Why it’s ineffective: No defensive pressure, no chance for players to improve at handling game conditions.

2. Partner shooting, 10 shots from the same place

Why it’s ineffective: This drill eliminates the “read, plan, act” learning method that all players must operate under to improve. Players get grooved into one read, one plan, and simply perform the act of shooting. This drill usually produces much higher results in shooting percentages in practice, but does not have the carry over/retention that coaches would want in a game.

3. Rebounding box out drill. 4 v 4 with the coach shooting a basketball to start the drill

Why it’s ineffective: All defensive players are given too much information about when and how the shot will be taken and who to box out. This drill removes game context from rebounding and makes it a rote memorization drill that again has no transfer and will not improve team rebounding ability in games.


4. 5 v 0 offense.

Why it’s ineffective: Because 5 v 0 basketball does not exist. A defense of some sort will always be in place and it’s primary goal is (or should be) to take your team out of structure. The more randomized a defense can make the game, the less likely a robotic team will be able to react and make plays.

5. 3 v 2 continuity

Why it’s ineffective: No pressure on the offensive team to perform skills and an unrealistic non game-like situation wherein players are always given more space and more time than they would have in games.

6. Four corner passing

Why it’s ineffective: Because passing without pressure is a non-existent basketball skill. If a player cannot perform a chest pass under (at minimum) game-like conditions, that player cannot perform a chest pass. Four corner passing simulates exactly nothing game-like.

7. Pivoting drills with one player

Why it’s ineffective: Because pivoting without context is not a skill. Do players need to learn how to pivot? Yes. Do they need to learn how to do it while operating under actual pressure and discomfort? Resounding yes.

8. Layup lines

Why it’s ineffective: This is another skill being taught to players that does not actually exist in competitive basketball. If we want our players to make layups, the best way to teach them is to put them in game-like situations and see how they perform, make corrections on the fly, and then continue to put them in situations where they can perform the skill against defensive pressure. No amount of uncontested layup line practice will improve your players’ percentages under game conditions.

9. Dribbling around cones/dribbling multiple basketballs

Why it’s ineffective: Without defensive pressure, this amounts to a lesson in trick learning. The real skill of handling a basketball is about dealing with pressure, making excellent reads, protecting the ball from a defense, and consistently executing good decisions. No amount of fancy dribbling skill can replicate this learning process, and it’s for good reason that most of the players on the And1 MixTape Tour did not make good game condition ball handlers.

10. 5 v 5 full court 1st vs. 2nd team scrimmaging with no parameters

Why it’s ineffective: Although this scenario is technically “game-like”, it has several distinct flaws. First of all, it robs the starting five of a chance to push itself against more difficult competition. A starting lineup that spends all of its time operating against a second unit from their same school is not going to improve. Better to mix up the teams and let players fight it out for superiority under more even conditions.

Secondly, with no parameters, the coach has given too much freedom to act in ways that might be detrimental to the team on game day. Without precise demands on every act, players will drift away from the fundamentals that they should be applying to game situations. Game-like practice is the only way to truly get better, but it must be clearly noted that game-like practice does not mean simply scrimmaging for two hours every evening. In order to be game-like, an offense and a defense must be present. Beyond that, coaches can tweak practice to meet their individual team needs. Do not get lulled into thinking that scrimmaging is making your team better. Scrimmaging under increasingly difficult parameters will make your team better. Scrimmaging with no parameters keeps you running on a hamster wheel.

11. 25 straight free throws.

This is a waste of time. The shooter is able to read, plan, and act uniquely only one time, the very first free throw. After that, the reading and planning disappear and it becomes a rote repetition under non game-like conditions (i.e. almost never is a shooter going to attempt more than three straight free throws in a game). The most important free throw to shoot is the first one, after that, the shot loses its context.

There are many excellent resources on why these and many other drills are so wildly ineffective (yet so widely used) to train basketball players. Some excellent resources include Unconventional Coaching by John Leonzo, and Fake Fundamentals by Brian McCormick.

Click on the pdf link to download the The Worst Basketball Practice I Ever Witnessed Article:

The Worst Basketball Practice I Ever Witnessed by John Mietus

8 thoughts on “The Worst Basketball Practice I Ever Witnessed by John Mietus”

  1. As much as I understand working under game-like situations, players need to learn and refine skills on a daily basis on their own. This is the real way to better your skills. Tell Stephen Curry that dribbling two basketballs is a waste of time. After individuals work on honing their skills, then they put them into game-type situations to see how well they do and what they need to work on. If you don’t teach someone how to do a layup and have it be repetitive, how do you expect them to perform in a game situation. You shoot free throws repetitively to get into the same rhythm every time you walk up to the line. You must first develop skills before putting them into a game situation. This is part of our problem in today’s game, coaches do not work on fundamentals and honing player’s skills.

    1. Coach Waples,

      I personally agree with several thoughts that John offered in his article. I am not a two ball guy. I know several NBA Skill Development coaches that hate that concept and some that love it. I think that it depends on the coach’s philosophy. I prefer game like situations.

      I am big about not shooting more than two free throws in a row. Plus I put a win / loss on if you hit both free throws or just one or none.

      There is more than one way to skin a snake. I think that making coaches think… is a good thing.

      I wish you the best of luck this season.

      Coach Peterman

    2. It’s an interesting idea: working on skills on your own. In basketball, there are really only two types of skills: Shooting and Decision Making. While shooting is a hand eye coordination skill and can be worked on “alone” to some degree, it would be better served to teach shooting in game-like situation as well. Decision Making cannot be worked on alone because without other players, there are no decisions to be made. I highly recommend “Fake Fundamentals”, an e-book by Brian McCormick for further exploration of this topic.

  2. Its one thing to criticize but not to have options for doing the practice the correct way for each criticism seems like bad practice as well. I would have liked to see some suggestions so to help coaches become better coaches.
    I agree with learning the fundamentals and often some players are not ready for intense pressure.

    1. Phil,

      I personally loved John’s article, because it caused you to think. Coaches need to not be robots. You have to coach to your personality.

      I will ask John to write an article with some suggestions for you.

      I think that everyone needs to learn the fundamentals, but practice is where you get better as a team. I do 20 minutes of skill development for each players, but if they want to get better then they need to get in the gym.

      I loved your comments and opinion. Thanks for your response. I wish you the best of luck this season.

      Coach Peterman

    2. Phil,

      That’s a good point and I probably should have offered more concrete examples of what would be better. Most of my articles on the site are searchable and have more significant positive spin on what can be done. I do highly recommend the books by McCormick and Leonzo, as well as anything by K. Anders Ericsson on skill acquisition. The main point of the article was point out that “traditional” basketball practice doesn’t really do much to get better at basketball. Teams AND individuals should be getting better all season long, but it is the job of the coaching staff to create the environment for them to do so. If they aren’t improving, it’s on the coaches to change.

  3. Teaching my 3rd grader how to spell makes no sense, she should begin writing novels immediately! Hogwash, stop reinventing the wheel. Basic, 1 on 0 fundamental drills are the basis for learning, not these “sexy” and flashy new drills you see at some clinic or NBA practice. Its a step by step process. The best coaches are HS, D3 etc. Not some guy who put NBA players thru shooting drills for a living!

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