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Running an Effective Team Practice

by Barry L. Mestel, President of Winning Ways Inc.
website: http://www.winwaysinc.com

An effective team practice is an essential ingredient to optimizing the success of a team. Early in my Coaching career, I learned that "you win games in practice".  I am a firm believer in this approach to practice and the necessity of having players buy-in to this concept.  Too often, we see teams that spend their entire practice session preparing and strategizing for their next game which, while certainly a component of practice, should not consume the entire session.  We also find as the season wears on, that fundamentals and their teaching seem to minimize.  Consequently, it is often the case that the majority of turnovers and lack of execution occur in the fourth quarters and in closely contested games.


  1. Have players understand that practice is preparation - preparation and player/team development
  2. Players shouldn't do anything in practice they wouldn't do in a game - this insistence will help set the stage for players to avoid taking shots, passes, etc. that they would not utilize in a game.  Further, it avoids the potential of players getting "good at bad habits".
  3. Set Parameters- Parameters, I believe, should be set relative to being a member of the team, be it off the court, practice, etc. This way, everyone is on the same page, and should an area need to be addressed, the "written" parameters serve as an excellent medium of reference.
  4. Maintain a written practice schedule - This will assist in time allotments, focus, and the discipline of practice.
  5. P.I.E. Theory - Participation, Involvement, Enthusiasm. Everyone needs to be participating in some area at all times. An individual's involvement will bring them closer to teams direction and focus as well as making them feel more of a part of the team.  Enthusiasm is a cornerstone of success and progress.
  6. Name Drills - Once the various drills you use are taught, naming them helps in the continuity of practice and player recognition to adjustment and change.


Treat players as they can be, not as they are - here you are demonstrating the player's potential and strive for continuous improvement Reward that which you want done - Immediate impact is an excellent mental message to a player "Coach likes this, I'll do it again". Shout Praise...Whisper Criticism - Sometimes difficult, but our job as coaches is to teach. When communication turns to confrontation, no one learns.  Players spending more time wondering and concerned with whose listening than the teaching you of which you are advising them. Separate emotion from circimstance - As coaches, we have to accept the fact that we will find ourselves in situations that it becomes difficult to address, but the focus needs to be on the circumstance, not the emotions that may surround it. The WOW concept - Serious players will work endlessly on their game. The potential often exists that the tendency is to work on their strengths as opposed to their needs.  I can tell you that I as a player was guilty of this.  Working on weaknesses (WOW) will develop a player to a more rounded player and ultimately result in self gratification as a player develops in areas of needs.

I believe that a Coach is a teacher, in this case a teacher of Basketball. Basketball, I feel, is a combination of simplicity and execution.  I often refer to the approach to coaching as "complicated simplicity". Breaking the game down into its parts and supporting them with the teaching and utilization of drills can only make the whole more successful.  I would suggest drills that go from offense to defense, etc. This enhances adjustment and attention to both areas as will the the areas of emphasis that you would like to see evolve.


  • Defense
    1. Pressure on the Basketball
    2. Pressure the passing lanes (both against man to man and zone defenses)
    3. create advantage situations (5 on 3,etc.)
    4. Help and Recover -

  • Offense
    1. Shot selection - This, I feel, is the most important element offensively. Having players understand this from your perception is essential as their thoughts on selection may well differ from yours.
    2. Handling the Basketball - Catching, passing, control
    3. Movement - cuts, screens, etc. These are the creators and enhancers to shot selection.
    4. Moving without the Ball - the great percentage of time offensively for an individual player is spent without the Basketball, therefore it follows that emphasis on individual movement without the Ball is a key point of emphasis.
    5. Foul Shooting - The emphasis should be on making not taking foul shots in practice. This emphasis will result in a different focus and level of concentration.

    This is also an area where you can create competition and fun.

  • Final Four of Team Practice
    1. Mental Quickness - decisions, court judgement
    2. Anticipation
    3. Recognition
    4. Imagination

    • Naturally, practices need to include running your offense(s), defense(s), and tactical preparation for specific teams. Yet, the fundamentals are the cornerstones of these and provide the foundation from which to build.  Recognizing this will  enhance your team's practice, keep them focused on the fundamentals of the game, thereby executing your game plans with maximum efficiency.  When these are emphasized every day throughout the entire season, along with the mind set of practice is game preparation and you win games in practice, I believe that you'll find them to readily transcend from the practice court to the game competition.

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Excellent video with thoughts and drills on organizing your practices. Learn from one of the greatest coaches of the game, Coach "K".
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