A Coach’s Guide to Developing a Youth Basketball Practice Plan
This quote alone by the “Wizard of Westwood” John Wooden reflects how important it is for coaches to have a clear youth basketball practice plan:
“I would spend almost as much time planning a practice as conducting it. Everything was planned out each day.”
Practices are the greatest opportunities coaches have to impact the basketball skills of their teams, and if they aren’t planned well, it doesn’t end well. On top of that, coaches only have so much time to practice with their teams, especially when it comes to high school basketball. Sometimes coaches are limited to 2 to 3 hours of practice time per week, sometimes more. This makes it even more important to have a practice plan in place that delivers the punch in a limited time.
But the question is, what does a good practice plan cover? And how can a coach make the best of the time he has? Ideally, a coach should cover all the major skills, including the offense, defense, positioning, skill training, and fundamentals. Moreover, a good practice plan should include proper warm-up and cool-down sessions to maximize the team’s productivity.
Let us now look at what a robust youth basketball practice plan that includes all the major areas of focus looks like.
A good basketball practice plan starts with effective basketball warm-up drills. A dynamic warm-up is a good way to get the team’s heart rates up and limbs warm. Coaches can include plyometric circuits to include the whole body. Footfire drills where players rapidly tap both feet on the crowd while maintaining a defensive stance are also good for getting the hearts pumping rapidly. These circuits and drills help build up a fast-twitch muscle response. A 10-minute warm-up session is enough to move comfortably into the training session.
Skill Training and Fundamentals
Youth basketball training starts with fundamentals and basic skill training. These are the foundations on which other parts of a basketball practice stand. Let us take a look at some of these fundamental skills of youth basketball coaching.
A youth basketball practice plan should include plenty of layups practice with both hands. To improve the chances of the team’s success, the coach should try to make players capable of making layups with their left and right hands with equal efficiency. Players should learn to shoot off their right leg when shooting a left-hand layup and vice versa.
It isn’t easy initially, but it pays off in the long run. To make it easier for the players, start them close to the basket, without any dribble, and take one step to practice footwork. Train the players to dribble with their left hands when doing left-hand layups and vice versa.
A team is as good as their footwork. Ideally, a practice plan should include teaching players pivoting on the left and right foot without traveling, triple threat positioning, jump stops, and the ability to square to the basket the moment they catch the ball in a triple threat position. A coach should include a variety of footwork drills to achieve the best results.
Include basic dribble drills like speed dribbles, back-up dribbles, crossover, and protect-the-ball-dribbles in the basketball plan. Moreover, coaches should focus on teaching players to dribble with right and left hands with equal dexterity.
Athletic and Movement Skills
Basic movements such as running, skipping, lateral movement, squats, lunges, jumping, landing, and stopping are an integral part of fundamental training. They build the form, efficiency, and confidence of the players so that they can level up to more challenging moves and skills.
Basic passes such as chest, bounce, and overhead passes should be a part of any basketball practice plan.
Offensive Principles and Plays
A comprehensive practice plan is incomplete without effective offensive principles and plays. A good offense practice must include offensive sets vs zone and man. A coach can include specific offense skills he feels the team is weak in. Generally, plays like screening, shooting spot-up jumpers from the elbow, and finishing and catching layups are good things to cover.
A fool-proof way to make offense better in the team is to include plays against dummy defense. Half of the team should defend and put pressure while the offense tries to run through the play. Or it can be a full-fledged game where the defensive half does all it can while the offense puts it all in.
Defensive Principles and Positioning
A basketball practice plan must include both the individual as well as team defensive drills. The goal of the individual defensive drills is to train players in individual techniques such as sliding, taking charges, shuffling, and blocking shots. On the other hand, team defense drills work on different defensive strategies and schemes to give overall defensive support to the team and keep the opponents away from key shooting areas and best shooters.
Defense drills are generally tiring, which means they should be included somewhere in the middle of the practice day where players have not lost too much of their energy, nor do they have a lot lined up afterwards.
No basketball practice plan can be entirely perfect for a team. A coach might need to do some tweaks and changes based on the strengths and weaknesses of their players. But the areas mentioned above serve as a wireframe for any high school basketball practice plan.
Overall, every coach should observe their team deeply and note areas that need improvement, progress achieved so far by the team and anything that he should include in the next practice plan. The key to making an effective plan is to keep changing it as the need arises.
Moreover, a coach should set clear cut weekly, monthly and seasonal goals and use practice plans to effectively check off those goals as time progresses. At the beginning of the year, the coach should make the plan based on the time he has throughout the year and set the goals accordingly.
These are the necessary elements to making an effective and results oriented high school basketball practice plan that will improve chances of team’s success and overall skill.