September 1, 2016 • From the BenchpreparationWinning Hoops

Creating the master practice plan

How a structured, organized blueprint can improve team performance

Few things are more important than planning an effective practice session. Legendary coach John Wooden once said, “Failure to prepare is preparing for failure.” Obviously, the level of talent you have in your program is one of the strongest determining factors in the level of success you achieve.

However, where the rubber meets the road in utilizing that talent to its fullest potential is your ability as a coach to create the most effective practice plan possible. And every great practice plan must be carried out with discipline and execution on the practice floor on a consistent basis.

There’s a lot of information on structuring a daily practice plan. Keeping drills short, making them competitive, and having players move quickly from one drill to the next are some of the biggest points that can help maintain intensity and productivity on the practice floor.

But how do you determine what to practice and when?

This requires serious thought and analysis because there are a number of factors to consider. Where you draw your information in determining a weekly practice outline? And what about the daily practice plan?

The master plan

If you have a general idea of the fundamentals you will emphasize and when you’re going to teach them, you’re one step ahead. It begins on the first day of practice and ends with the last. A master practice plan is a schedule of all your practice sessions and an outline of what is going to be covered in each of those practices for the entire season.

Practice time is precious, and it’s every coach’s goal to make the most of it. A master plan provides a foundation for the season. It provides you a reference point in creating monthly, weekly and daily practice plans. The master practice plan by itself is too broad and general to provide the basis for creating a daily practice schedule. It’s not set in stone, but rather it’s flexible because coaches have to be flexible.

Some benefits of having a master practice plan include:

  • Creating a specific playbook. It allows you to be organized in terms of defining your system of play for the season.
  • Understanding of your own system. It helps you to analyze and identify all the individual component fundamentals that you want your players to learn.
  • Using the right tools. It causes you to evaluate and update your list of drills that enable you to effectively teach those fundamentals that you have identified.
  • Preparing for the big game. It gives you a better perspective of your whole season as it unfolds.
  • Limits fear, uncertainty. It provides the organization and preparation necessary to promote confidence in the program to everyone, from the coaching staff to the players.

Using technology

It may sound a bit overwhelming to think about what you are going to practice in February, but February comes around all too soon. For coaches who have created a master practice plan and are using it consistently, you probably agree that the most difficult part of the whole thing is creating the first one. But it generally does not change much from season to season.

Using computer technology can make creating a master practice plan easier. Using a word processor, calendar-maker, database or spreadsheet program can definitely help save time in a number of ways. It’s easy to make changes and modifications to your plan because it’s stored as a file in your computer’s hard drive. All you need to do is open the file and go to work. You can also make multiple copies of the plan at any time.

Creating the plan

There are different approaches to creating a master practice plan. The plan is generally broken down into three phases — preseason, midseason and conference/postseason. It’s important to remember that what you cover varies from one phase to another. The following is a suggested procedure for creating a master practice plan:

1. Playbook. This is where it all starts. You must have a specific system of offense and defense in place before beginning any kind of practice planning. It should include the type of team offense and defense you are going to employ, special set plays or special situations.

Using a simple word processor allows you to create a playbook that you can edit, update and store in a file for easy access. Word processing programs make it very easy to create a format that makes your playbook look professional. You can insert charts to help you create categories or topics to help you organize your system of play. You can even make multiple copies from your computer to give to your coaching staff and players.

2. List of fundamentals. Once you have your system of play in place, it’s important to identify all the necessary fundamentals that your players need to know to execute that system in a game. Both team and individual fundamentals need to be taken into account. If your offense against man-to-man defense requires a screen-and-roll to be executed, then that involves two players. This would be considered a team fundamental. You should also consider physical conditioning such as weight training. Your ability to break your system down to its component parts and identify the necessary fundamentals is crucial in determining what you eventually cover in practice.

You can compile your list using a word processor. It’s just a question of organizing topics and sub-topics for categorizing the fundamentals. Using a database program is an even better way to do it. A database allows you to create fields or categories to specifically organize information. You could break down the list into individual fundamentals and team fundamentals. Within the individual fundamentals category you could create post and perimeter categories. This provides you an easy way to be organized and specific in identifying the fundamentals of your system.

3. Drill directory. Earlier it was mentioned that having the right tool for the right job is important when it comes to drills. Identifying the type of drill you are going to use to teach the specific fundamentals is crucial to your success. There are a number of factors to consider in choosing which drills to use, such as the number of players it involves or the number of baskets necessary. Once you decide on your list of drills, you can then organize them into meaningful ways much as you did with the fundamentals list.

A database program allows you to create categories such as two-man, three-man, four-man and five-man drills. You can categorize your defensive drills into zone and man-to-man. Within the man-to-man drills, you can create sub-categories such as on-ball and off-ball defense.

4. Practice calendar. The practice calendar provides important information to you in determining your overall master practice plan. The amount of practice you have before your first game, stretches where you are playing a number of games with very little practice and the amount of practice before your conference opener are all important factors. You also need to take into account practice time during holidays and other breaks.

A calendar-maker software program is a valuable tool in laying out the entire season’s schedule. You can do it on a word processor, but you wouldn’t get the same visual effect as seeing the months, weeks and days in a calendar format. The program allows you to enter text in any specific day to indicate practice times or game times. After entering your available practice times, you then have a better idea of what needs to be done in terms of covering specific things in practice.

Putting it all together

Using the calendar maker program, you can begin to lay out a general plan of what you want to cover in practices throughout the season. Using your list of fundamentals, drill directory and practice calendar as references, you have a much better idea of what you want to do and when. Some coaches put down the specific fundamentals to be taught along with a few of the drills.

An important point to consider when allocating time for different aspects of your system is to decide what percentage of time during a game you will use the things you are trying to teach. In other words, it’s important to spend most of time on areas that are used a majority of the time in a game.

It’s also important to remember that the master practice plan is a general outline of things and can be updated and modified as the season progresses. That is the advantage of using computer technology in your planning. It’s easy to update your drill directory, practice calendar and other important aspects of your practices. You are just a click of the mouse away to keeping your program organized and on track.

Michael May has 28 years of basketball coaching experience at the international, college, high school and youth levels, and he’s the creator of Practice Planner Live (