January 13, 2014 • DrillsFrom the BenchWinning Hoops

The Philosophy of Drills: 23 rules to guide practices

Every team must practice to prepare for their games. And what takes place in practice can and will make the difference in whether that team fails or succeeds.

It’s likely that a large portion of each of these practices will consist of fundamental drills. Drills, and the way they are taught and incorporated, help determine whether a coach is doing a good job and whether the team has a chance to succeed.

The following is a short composite of my philosophy of drills that has grown from 25 years of coaching basketball at the high school and junior college level. I also developed it from many years coaching baseball and football, and observing NBA practices.

Philosophy of drills

1. Create a game-like atmosphere. Make your practices as game-realistic as possible. Have fundamental drills and breakdown drills incorporated in all phases of the game you are coaching. Make sure you are teaching at your practices.

2. Bring enthusiasm. Get excited as a coach; be enthusiastic. You must love to come to practice for the players to love being there. Players must be able to see that you love to teach the game.

3. Have the attitude. A good coach is a great teacher and motivator. Make sure you carry that mentality at all practices and during all drills.

4. Follow the plan. Have a detailed practice plan and stick to it. Sure, there are times when you must be flexible with your practice plan, but for the most part stay true to your concept and make sure that everything you do works toward the end goal.

5. Deconstruct. Incorporate the “whole-part-whole” method in your teaching of the game. That means demonstrate the entire drill, break it down into its individual parts, and put it all back together again to help your athletes understand.

6. Demand attention. Do not ask for your players’ attention — demand it. They must give you their eyes and ears at all times.

7. Make practices challenging. Make your practices more demanding and tougher — physically and mentally — than the games demand. If players can execute during practices, the games will come easier.

8. Concentrate. Establish your drills so that your players must concentrate as they perform them. This prepares them so that they will be able to concentrate more effectively during games.

9. Stay busy. Do not allow any players to stand around and do nothing during practices. Your practice time is short and precious, so use every minute to get your players prepared.

10. Focus on the details. Assume that your players know nothing and that they have no basic fundamental skills. Start with the basics both intellectually and skill-wise. Stress fundamentals and proper technique. Stress mental and physical effort at all times by all players. Be a stickler for the smallest of details. Demand full efforts from yourself, your coaching staff and your players.

11. Build teamwork. Stress teamwork both offensively and defensively. That includes constant communication with teammates and the coaching staff, much like they would experience during a game.

12. Recognize achievements. Give bonus credit to players with more enthusiasm than others, especially when they have shown extra effort, physically or mentally. You want his or her teammates to recognize that effort and try to get on the same level.

13. Pressure free throws. When a player does something positive a couple of times, send that player for a water break. Have the other players shoot one-and-one free throws. If that player misses the front end, have him or her run a full-court sprint. If that player makes the front end of the one-and-one but misses the second shot, have that player run a half-court sprint. If the player makes both free throws, send them for a water break.

Make sure that there is plenty of running and movement before you send players to shoot free throws. You want them as tired as they would be in a game.

14. Give constructive criticism. Constructively correct a player when he or she does something wrong, but try not to criticize that player. Make sure that all criticism is constructive and not personal.

15. Create benchmarks. Set standards for your players in your shooting drills. Set time limits for your players to hustle (under control) and get off as many shots as possible. Set accuracy limits for your players to make a specific number of shots in each different shooting drill.

16. Run multi-faceted drills. Make sure you can combine some drills with other drills, creating frequent opportunities to work on offense-to-defense transitions and defense-to-offense transitions.

17. Keep statistics. Have managers record statistics from practices, especially during your shooting drills. Post those statistics so that players can see that their results are important to you and the team.

18. Create competition. Organize and format many of your drills so that there will be different types of competition. There can be individual competition, group competition and team competition. Have a winner in the majority of the competitive drills, with the losing squad having a light penalty. The penalty could be in the form of sprints, pushups or sit-ups.

19. Value conditioning. Do not allow yourself to omit the physical conditioning of your players, because you ran out of time and some part of the practice had to be sacrificed. This bad habit is easy to fall into.

20. Develop routines. Implement a great deal of structure into your practice plans and practice routines, allowing players to know what to expect. Keep the practice lengths at about an equal length of time, with shorter practices and lighter physical activity the night before games and often the night after games.

21. Recover. Occasionally, during the long, grueling part of the season, call off the scheduled practice. Another option is to have practice but do something completely different. Play Wiffle ball or watch a movie and order pizza for the team. It can be a tremendously positive breath of fresh air.

22. Prepare. Remember to teach and preach to players this quote: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” It will help the team to understand the value of practices and how they contribute to your success.

23. Finish on a high note. Do not finish practice on a negative note. That includes a poorly executed drill, a missed shot or a turnover. Also, do not finish your practice with conditioning work. Conditioning is extremely important, but it does not have to conclude practice. The last drill or activity should be a positive, rewarding and fun type of activity to give players the motivation for the next day’s practice. Make players eager for the next battle.

These are just a few thoughts and ideas that I have learned or developed from others during the many years I have coached. Adopt them into your philosophy and constantly work on improving your practice sessions.

John Kimble coached basketball for 23 years in Illinois and Florida at the college and high school levels, accumulating more than 340 victories. He has authored five coaching books.