Thoughts on Mid/Late Season Practices
For many basketball teams, we have reached the point in the season where "the grind" becomes most real.
We have little time to celebrate a victory because we play again in 48 hours. Sulking in our last loss is a waste of time because we're already at the next gym for our next game. Players can't get too high on their last performance because they have another high-level matchup tomorrow night to prepare for.
This is the time of year where we hold our breath and keep working. It won't be until February or March until most coaches and players will be able to exhale.
With the dog days of the season upon us, it is necessary for us to ask this question:
How can we keep our practices fresh, engaging, and fun at this point in the year?
I'm going to offer a few thoughts regarding that last question. I'm not teaching, nor am I showing you anything you haven't heard before as a coach. I don't offer these thoughts as some blogger who acts like they know anything. Nor am I suggesting that late season practices need to feature balloons, cupcakes, and smiles. The "dog days" are unavoidable and need to be embraced. But, that doesn't mean there shouldn't be a focus on ensuring there is some amount of joy or playfulness at some points in a season.
So please allow me to offer a few thoughts as if I were your assistant coach who put some thoughts on your desk to consider and think about. Just sharing ideas here!
1) Emphasize Personal Connection & Non-Basketball Interactions
Conference or region play often becomes the most intense and stressful time period of the year. The turnarounds are fast, and if we aren't careful, we can go for several days without making a non-basketball interaction with our athletes. I've had to make a conscious effort to talk with players about something outside of basketball; academics, family, girlfriends, etc. During the dog days of the season, our athletes need us to still know that we care about them personally, and that we aren't just using them to win games. Not only that, but I recall as an athlete that it was refreshing and encouraging to me when a coach talked to me about non-basketball items. Athletes will play hard for us when they know we care about them and when we make that care for them obvious.
2) Allow Players to Lead Drills
This gives them their voice and prevents coaches from being the only ones talking the entire practice. The drill below is a simple, engaging ballhandling drill that allows players to lead.
3) Incorporate At Least 1 New Drill per week
I do not know the perfect balance between new drills and old drills and how much to do of each one. On one hand, drills will always be repetitive because (1) There are only a limited amount of skills to practice in basketball and (2) Our team's most important principles will be drilled over and over again in hopes of building automated habits in our execution. However, new drills are still useful in the thick of the season because they add a level of freshness and newness that is essential for keeping the mind engaged.
Our practices might be better if we add one new shooting drill, one new skill development drill, or one new small-sided game each week.
Altering the way we practice shooting, footwork, ballhandling, or other skills adds a level of freshness that players benefit from. Below is an example of a good skill drill.
4) Have One Fun Drill or Competition Per Week
There are a number of drills that are more fun than others. Here are a few:
1) A week long 3PT Shooting Contest Tournament
2) A week long 1-on-1 tournament
3) "Chicken": You've seen this one before. Players tuck their shirt or some cloth in their waistband, dribble in a restricted area, and try to keep their dribble.
4) Weak hand free throw competition: Each player shoots 10 free throws with their weak hand.
As we get into the thick of the season, conference and region play, it is important to make an effort to maintain at least a small level of fun and pure joy for the game. The grind is unavoidable and I am not claiming that fun should be a top priority aat this point in the year, but it's my belief that it should be considered. Spending a small percentage of practice time each week on fun, fresh drills, games, or competitions can go a long way for team chemistry and enjoyment of the season.
If you are looking for some fresh, innovative, detailed drills, I have a 165-page drill book download available HERE.