May 18, 2017 • From the BenchpreparationWinning Hoops

10 ways to improve before next season

When basketball coaches talk about the offseason, usually we think of what the players will be doing. This is an extremely important aspect for any program, and there is a lot that can and should be accomplished from March thru October.

Many coaches will distribute a summer workout sheet for athletes, and some players will take up club basketball during the spring, summer and fall. The high school coach could run open gyms, summer camps or have their teams participate in summer leagues. Many coaches host strength and conditioning sessions to work on agility and vertical jump. These are all important, and the more organized the coach the greater chances of success next season.

But what about the offseason for coaches? During my career as a head varsity basketball coach, I thought it was important to have an offseason program for myself. And after 43 years of coaching at the prep level, I still focus on the following checklist when the offseason comes around.

  1. Read
  2. Coaching tapes
  3. Clinics
  4. Game tapes
  5. Watch games
  6. Talk to coaches
  7. Work camps
  8. Watch players during the summer
  9. Attend college practices
  10. Study the rulebook


I encourage everyone to continue studying the game by reading about strategy, motivation and coaching. When I started coaching in the early 1970s, coaching magazines provided me with a wealth of material to develop several aspects of our game. There were also many outstanding books that were invaluable for young coaches.

Even 40 years later, I always review some of the classics from Dean Smith, Jack Ramsey, John Wooden, Bobby Knight and Morgan Wootten. Books like those never go out of date, and reading material on the game of basketball is available and affordable for anyone.

Coaching tapes

Studying coaching tapes during the offseason provides coaches with an in-depth look at various aspects of the game. Whether you want information on practice planning, offensive systems, defensive systems, plays, drills, player development or conditioning, there are hundreds of DVDs that provide great information. The nice thing is purchasing these resources allows you to watch them repeatedly.


Coaching clinics are valuable for everyone. I still have notes from the first one I attended in 1977 in Chicago. It featured Al McGuire, Dean Smith and Hubie Brown, and it got me hooked on clinics.

There are three reasons to attend basketball clinics. The first is to get new ideas about the game, which is critical for coaches hoping to improve their programs. The second is to reinforce existing ideas and beliefs. When I saw coaches demonstrating drills that I already used, it confirmed that I was on the right path.

The third reason is to be around other coaches who have great enthusiasm and interest in the game. It helps to get you excited about the sport, coaching and professional development.

Game tapes

It’s essential to study game tapes from the previous season. This allows you to study and analyze your team, objectively evaluate where you were strong, and consider what aspects need improvement.

I recommend breaking down every aspect of your defensive system, including half-court, full-court, man-to-man and zone defenses. Examine your fast break, press attack, half-court trapping, man offense, zone offense and delay game. Evaluate your offensive and defensive rebounding. You can scrutinize every phase of your game.

It’s also valuable to look at how opponents hurt you offensively and defensively. We study our conference opponents in great depth during the offseason because these games are a priority for us. A lot of good preparation can be completed during the offseason, saving you a lot of time when you prepare during the season.

Watch games

A lot of high school coaches tape college basketball games during the year and examine them during the offseason when they have more free time. If there is a college team that plays a certain system you want to adopt or study, record the games. It’s almost like having a clinic in your home.

I tape many of the NCAA tournament games and study them during the offseason. It’s also helpful to attend a game featuring two high quality teams and analyze the strategies used by both coaches.

Talk to coaches

Your fellow coaches will always be an invaluable resource. In my experience, there are very few coaches who are unwilling to share their thoughts and philosophies with others. Most know they don’t have all the answers and can greatly benefit by sharing ideas with their colleagues.

When I first became a head coach, I made time to speak with the five or six most successful coaches in the area to get their input. Each one gave me different advice about problems and challenges that might occur and how I should deal with them. I have never forgotten what each one said, and I’ve tried to incorporate their ideas into my overall philosophy.

In addition to philosophical questions, you can also ask about specific aspects of the game. That includes practice structure, offensive systems, defensive systems, rebounding and drills for every facet of the game. I have talked to coaches in our area about how and why they handle certain screening actions a particular way. Hearing their ideas forces you to think and analyze the game, so be sure to pick the brains of your area coaches.

Work camps

Working basketball camps is another great way to learn about the game. It’s also beneficial to watch how other coaches teach.

A coach at one high school might run numerous fundamental or team camps at their school, and they may need assistants to help. They may also need coaches to fill spots on their staffs. Contact successful coaches and ask to work at or observe their camps. I also encourage young coaches to work camps run through colleges. It broadens your perspective of the game.

Watch your players

There is great value in watching your players during the offseason. It’s a good time to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses — offense, defense, rebounding, shooting, passing.

In addition to evaluating players individually, you also get a feel for your own strengths and weaknesses. This helps you develop a system around your players’ abilities. I remember a coach using the phrase “know your personnel (KYP).” If you know what players do well, it helps you put together your team.

Attend college practices

Attending college practices during the fall is something I have done for many years. I am fortunate to have many college, junior college and universities nearby, and I attend several practices each fall. There are numerous benefits to doing this, including schemes and practice organization. College practices are a great source of information.

Study the rulebook

This may not be important to many coaches, but I think it’s a worthwhile area to invest time. The key areas for me when I evaluate officials are:

  • Do they hustle down the floor to be in position to make the call?
  • Are they consistent with calls?
  • Do they know the rulebook?

Over the years, when I would question a situation or call, I could tell immediately which officials knew the rules. I think it’s difficult to question certain calls, situations and rule interpretations when you are not knowledgeable about the rulebook.

Every coach has their own approach to the offseason and each should do what makes them comfortable. Just make sure you’re assessing every aspect of your program and taking time to develop your own abilities as a basketball coach.

Don Kloth coached 43 years of high school basketball and is a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He currently coaches at Warren Township High School in Gurnee, Illinois.