Thursday, October 17, 2013

#31 Diversifying Your Practices

"I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework." 
                                                                                                                                         --Lily Tomlin

What's keeping you from creating fresh practices?

As my financial advisor always tells me, diversification is the key to a long, prosperous, and healthy retirement.  The same could be said for diversifying your practice plans.  Instead of a healthy retirement portfolio, you get happier, healthier and more adaptable players over the course of a long season.

I know a lot of coaches who have Practice Plan A and Practice Plan B.  Every other day, they print out the same thing they did yesterday or the day before.  Diversifying your plans doesn't mean you can't stick to a system and have continuity.  In reality, the more different ways to teach means the more different ways your players are learning to learn.  That can't be bad.

I had a conversation the other day with a good friend of mine who I think is one of the top college coaches in Division III.  He was explaining to me his conference's recent discussions to allow media time-outs at all games whether the game is being sponsored or broadcast or not.  As long as the game is being streamed over the internet, that school may insist on media time-outs.

He and I both agreed that media time-outs at the DIII level greatly hurts a coach's ability to control the tempo of the game.  However, I explained to him that I had a team 10 years ago who went the entire regular season without ever having to deal with media time-outs.  Sure enough, we advance to the National Tournament that year, and we have to deal with media time-outs.  I had no idea how much those built-in breaks in the action hurt our fast-breaking, heavy rotation system.  Normally, we just ran teams off the floor because most teams didn't play 12-15 players deep like we did.  Those built-in media breaks gave our opponent's starters all the rest they needed, and unfortunately, it took this young knucklehead coach an entire half to make the necessary adjustments.

So, in short, I told my friend that the media time-outs might be a blessing in disguise in preparing his team for the realities of the National Tournament.

What does this have to do with diversifying your practice plans?  Everything.  I love talking to DI coaches because they do not leave a stone unturned.  They prepare for every defense known to man, every possible offensive structure and movement, every possible end-of-the-game situation, and are constantly putting their players in a position to deal with the stresses and complexities of playing in front of a huge crowd every day of practice.  There's no way to get all of that in two or three different practice plans.

As I stated above, you can have continuity in your practices and accomplish all of this, but you must keep an open mind about your opponent, time-allotment, and team strategy and fundamental needs. Build a weekly plan around your priority needs and work to accomplish those priorities through different drills each day.  By simply making a list of all of the things you want your team to learn over the course of the season, you can begin building practical continuities into your daily practices.  Once I have my list, I begin to prioritize the most important aspects to the least important.  I then try and highlight the top 5 things I want to get done on a daily basis.  Those things become my foundation of my practice.  In no particular order, these are usually my 5 priorities:

1.  Defensive Shell Drill -  I can manipulate a shell drill 50 different ways to focus my teams energy and needs.
2.  Rebounding -  I cannot preach to my kids every day the importance of defense and rebounding if we don't do both.   I have about 20 rebounding drills that we use in stations each day.  4-5 kids with a coach at a basket working on different rebounding components/competitions.  Every 3-4 minutes rotate the groups to work with another coach.
3.  Ball-handling and passing - I make it imperative that we start every day handling the ball and working on moving the ball up the floor with balance and strength.
4.  Shooting - It may not seem like a lot, but I want each of my kids to get at least 50 jumpers up within the practice drills (not counting scrimmage shots).  We use individual workouts to get a lot more up each week.
5.  Press Work - Whether my teams are pressing 40-minutes per game or only pressing when necessary, I always like to work trapping and pressure in every day to build up patience and composure.  You can never give your kids enough of either.  I often will work end-of-game situations into our press work to kill two birds with one stone.

You might be wondering why offensive strategy and scrimmages are not foundation points of my practices.  In the first two months of a season, I really only care about our ability to become better individual basketball players who learn how to play fundamentally sound.  I have a tendency to stop scrimmages way too much to fix little things, so when we do scrimmage, I try my darnedest to get out of the way.  If my kids can dribble, pass, catch, cut, shoot, rebound, and defend, I know we have a chance to win every game.  As the season progresses, those two hour practices laced with fundamentals and breakdowns become hour and half practices laced with scrimmages and situational development.

One way or another, I want to have fun.  I know the kids want to have fun.  Why not keep the practice moving and keep the practices fresh and new? 

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary