January 23, 2018 • From the BenchWinning Hoops

Three strategies to battle the conference grind

by Ashley Hutchcraft-Nance, contributing writer

Conference season can be one of the toughest parts of the year. I like to call it the “conference grind.”

It’s the same routine every week: Play Tuesdays and Fridays, while practicing on a regular basis. It’s our job as coaches and leaders of our teams to keep our players motivated, inspired and focused.

Here are three ways we battle the conference grind. 

1. Shorten practices.

“Practice long, practice wrong.” That’s a quote my dad still uses after 42 years of coaching, but it holds so much truth today. During conference play, try to focus on quality over quantity.

This can be a difficult task for some coaches. Some of us refuse to practice less than two hours, and if we do, we feel as if we are doing an injustice to our teams and players. Instead of six drills, narrow it to three and perfect them. By mid-January, most of us have been practicing all summer and since the first week of school. That’s almost six months of basketball practice.

Shortening practices helps your players avoid burning out at such an important juncture of the season. 

2. Insert new faces.

By this point in the season, your players probably know what you’re going to say before you can say it. In your mind you’re just coaching them, but to your players it may seem more like griping, complaining or nagging. You might sound like a broken record.

Inserting some fresh faces into practice is another way to battle the grind. I like to use a variety of speakers, or have a successful alumni come back to speak to our team. Also, it may be a good idea to give your assistant(s) more of a voice and more control during practice. This requires you not being the center of attention and putting the needs of your team first.

3. Use off days.

During our conference season, we take off every Saturday. As a coach, I feel like it’s good for me personally to take time off each week to refresh and recover. I also feel like it’s critical for our players.

During this time, I try to detach from anything basketball related. I won’t contact our players, and I take a break from all social media. I encourage my players to do the same.

Remember this: You can’t pour from and empty cup. So, whatever fills your cup and energizes you for the season’s final stretch, make sure you take the time to do it.

Ashley Hutchcraft-Nance is the head girls basketball coach at Conway High School in Arkansas and a member of the Winning Hoops Editorial Advisory Board. She has led the Lady Cats to a state championship (2014) and two state runner-up seasons (2015, 2016).