A Few Simple Tricks to Optimize Basketball Practice Time and Get More Done... Without Sacrificing Your Tight Schedule
One of my biggest frustrations as a basketball coach was finding enough time to teach everything...

You're constantly struggling to find time to teach proper shooting fundamentals, man offense, zone offense, press breaker, man defense, zone defense, end of game plays, passing, redounding, free throws, and the list goes on. Time management is a constant battle!

It's frustrating, especially when you end up sacrificing fundamentals, which you know are extremely important for all young and aspiring basketball players.

So what do you do?

Let me share an extremely simple technique with you that amazingly enough, very few coaches utilize.

Start utilizing pre-game warms ups as mini-fundamental-practices.

Let me explain...

And before you jump to conclusions, hear me out. Because this could be something that turns things around for you!

Think about it.

How much time do you spend before every single game just going through the motions?

On average, you probably spend at least 20 minutes warming up before each game.

Now if you play 20 games in a season, that's almost 7 hours of additional practice time!

I'm amazed how very few coaches take full advantage of this precious time. And I don't mean just doing a few shooting and passing drills. I mean really teaching kids something.

I must admit, when I first considered this concept, I was scared of sacrificing everyone's focus for the big game (including my own focus)!

In fact, that was the biggest reason I didn't try it for many years.

But as I matured I came to a two very important conclusions:

  1. Teaching kids the fundamentals is much more important than winning. This includes all those goofy coaching tricks to win the game, like yelling at the refs, trying to out smart the other coach, trick plays, and mentally intimidating the other team.

  2. Even though there are a million other things to do, spending more time on fundamentals will actually help us win more games.
So I finally decided to give it a shot and started aggressively working on fundamentals before every game.

Let me tell you. It's one of the best things I've ever done!

I was finally getting time to work on those little things I never could get to.

I was teaching some of the offensive moves and footwork we just never had time to do. I was getting in defensive positioning reps, blocking out techniques, jump hooks, and a bunch of little fundamentals that were getting neglected.

As it turned out, the team showed obvious improvements and I believe that we actually won more games because of the extra practice time.

So I suggest that you to try it out too.

But before you get started, I have a few tips for you...

Tip 1 - Treat it just like practice. Work with the kids closely and make sure they are learning.

Tip 2 - Pick out drills that work in half court. Here are just a few that worked great:

- Form shooting, for half of the team, and partner passing for the other half.

- Defensive shell drill. Not only do you get more reps in but this reminds players of their positioning right before the game, which actually reduced our game slippage.

- Big man moves for half of the team and zig zag drill for the rest.

- Any drill you can do half court. Just think about the things you really wish you could work on and then pick out some half court drills that will help you improve those areas.

Tip 3 - Start getting to games a little bit earlier. I know it depends on your situation but when I coached sophomores, we almost always played the first game of the night, so we had plenty of time before each game.

Tip 4 - Don't let the kids get away with things just because people are watching. Hold them to the highest standards so they develop good habits.

Tip 5 - Plan ahead. Treat it like a practice and put together a practice plan with times, notes, and the whole nine yards.

Teach those kids fundamentals! That's what really helps your players in the long run. Things like teaching an advanced offense might seem like a good idea in the short term. But in the long run, it's not the best thing for those players. In fact, they might not use that offense ever again. Coaches change things all the time. Not to mention, coaches come and go all the time.

These little tricks should help you find time for those fundamentals.

What do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments, suggestions, and questions...

jssocials alternate:


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maurice says:
12/27/2006 at 5:22:13 PM

I just started that last season and you are right it works great you just give more things to work on thanks


Jeff Webb says:
12/31/2006 at 5:33:16 PM

I coach 5th graders and I can't tell how right you are about fundamentals. I had the same group last year and tried to teach plays, what a disaster. Now we focus one practice on ofensive fundalmentals and one practice on defensive fundamentals. We are 2-0 It really works


Tim Tripp says:
1/1/2007 at 8:22:49 PM

I've coached AAU and travel teams for 15 years and early on came to the same conclusion. Teach the kids how to play - using every available minute - and then let them play. Too many coaches want to run complicated set patterns and spendd all their time teaching that. This turns the kids off and doesn't develop them.


Ivy says:
1/3/2007 at 10:39:09 AM

I do the same fundamentals everyday for 25 minutes and it is amazing how much we have improved in these areas. Keep up the good work!


Yvette Perry says:
3/14/2007 at 10:22:52 PM

I am a basketball official who just took over a 12 & under and 14 & under girls YBoA team. I am having a ball teaching fundamentals. The girls and parents are appreciative of the patience I have to show them what they need to know before running a complicated play. Thanks for the tips and reassurance that I am doing the right thing.


ahmed says:
5/19/2007 at 4:53:18 AM

I am a basketball official who just took under 14 & under 14 girls in sports school in egypt Thanks for the tips but we want drills ball handing photo Thanks


kim says:
6/2/2007 at 7:40:29 AM



steve says:
6/28/2007 at 8:20:48 PM

let me blaze


Michelle says:
11/13/2007 at 10:10:19 AM

Great idea will start this tomorrow!


terry brownlee says:
11/18/2007 at 1:51:32 AM

love it, the time we have for pratice is one hour two time a week. so what are some good fundamantals of the game i could teach,ages 12 & up to 18 boys & girls


Kenny Robinson says:
11/21/2007 at 7:27:17 PM

I have to agree with this article. I started coaching 5th grade girls basketball a few years ago. My first season was just a mess. We had 1 hour for two days to practice. I had those poor little girls so confused. To this day, when I see them, I still apologize for putting them through that terrible year. Thank my lucky stars none of them stopped playing basketball. But I agree with this article, when they are young stick to the fundamentals...winning is secondary.


john says:
12/5/2007 at 12:03:45 PM

what are some good drills for jr high... ?


coach George says:
1/10/2008 at 10:37:10 AM

this is the best thing I've heard since mircle whip. And thanks for the extra practice time.


Paul says:
1/25/2008 at 10:09:35 AM

I am a parent and not a coach and my Daughter (first grader) and I meet for 45 min. before each game and do what drills we can. How can I ask my coach to treat the 20 min. pregame warm up as a learning opportunity without insulting him? All the team typically does is shooting drills and I think they should be doing man defense and man offensive drills.



Joe (Co-founder of Breakthrough Basketball) says:
1/25/2008 at 10:18:31 AM

Hi Paul,

That's a tough situation. You have to be careful with your approach. Some coaches feel insulted when you tell them to do something for various reasons.

First thing I would do is compliment the coach on what a good job they are doing. Second, bring up the suggestion. Tell them you don't want to step on their toes, but you thought it might help.

For example, "Hey, great job. These kids have improved soooo much in the last few weeks/months. You know how getting enough gym time is a struggle every week? I actually found this article while browsing on the web about time management. They suggested working on fundamentals and treating it like a practice for the pregame warm-up....."

You may word it differently.


Steve says:
1/25/2008 at 4:38:08 PM

I'm ready to do a 180 on this subject. This is my first year as a coach of a girls 5th grade team. I used to think the team should relax while warming up before a game. Don't try anything new. Let them ease into the game without too many things to think about.

I've found there is lots of socializing during warm up. The last thing they thing about is getting ready to play. I'll try this this weekend and see how it works.



Telisa says:
1/30/2008 at 12:23:11 PM

Thanks for the info......I have a problem with keeping my 7/8th grade girls focused and my 5/6th girls jusjust t don't seem to get it....but they are great athletes....(a little frustrated)

any suggestions?


reggie says:
1/30/2008 at 1:19:26 PM

I have use this drill before. We have loss the first two game, so it was time to try something new. The drill work now we use it before every game.


Joe (Co-founder of Breakthrough Basketball) says:
1/31/2008 at 9:34:33 AM

Hi Talisa,

At that age, players naturally lose focus. Be patient and keep reminding them to stay focused. This is a never-ending battle and you'll find that even NBA coaches have trouble keeping their players focused.

Always teach the game to your players. Be patient with their learning curve. It will come around. Also, don't forget to explain the reason you do certain drills and skills. Players are more likely to buy in to what you are teaching when they understand why they do it.


Telisa says:
1/31/2008 at 2:48:29 PM

Thanks Joe,
Well i have a game tonight...wish me luck...my 5/6th girls are playing......I'll keep you all posted:)


Henry says:
2/19/2008 at 12:37:55 PM

I have a question. My name is Henry and I coach a 7th and *th grade church basketball team. I had to pull players from my other 7th and 8th grade team(including my 12 year old son), to help the team. We are not executing our offenses properly. How can I get my church team to run the offenses properly during game time. I have a handful of offenses that I run(motion offenses/simple zone offenses). I've been coaching for over twenty years, I haven't encountered this problem at this level. Some of the young men on the church team seem to want to do their own thing. Thank you......Henry


Marco says:
3/13/2008 at 3:16:59 PM

i will try this for our first game March 22. I get frustrated that practice goes by so fast and there is so much more that i would like to teach. Thanks


Mike L says:
10/16/2008 at 2:30:18 AM

Good thread. We don't bother showing our rookie 4th/5th grade girls an offensive pattern.

Instead, we spent 5-10 minutes a week on a simple "box" out-of-bounds play, as a bite-size introduction to screens and cuts. If the motion is symmetrical (two backscreens, or two side screens) they learn it fast and everyone can take any spot. We scored 26 points from our "box" in a seven-game season last year.


Shaheed (FKA Chris) Henderson says:
11/3/2008 at 12:11:44 PM

Great advice and thread. My Junior team 13 and 14 yos work on fundamentals and basic sets before games and it shows during the game. Last week we won 42 - 10, because we were able to go over man to man and 2-3 zone in a matter of minutes. So far we are 2-0.

Not really enough time to instill and implement an offense so I just taught them a box set and 4-1 set just to make it simple.

Riyadh, KSA


Tracy says:
11/11/2008 at 12:52:53 PM

I am a first time coach with first time players and have tried to focus on correct shoot techniques...dribbling etc.....they are too young for "plays" but I need to teach them positions etc...and am at a loss?!?!!



Joe Haefner says:
11/11/2008 at 5:53:09 PM

Hi Tracy,

You can find many of the basics at this link: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/basics/basics.html


Jeff Haefner says:
11/12/2008 at 8:01:45 AM


Do you happen to have our Motion Offense eBook?

In the eBook we have a section that explains how to teach youth players skills and start developing a basic motion offense at the same time. It's a very efficient way to develop young players. Check out this blog post for a small piece of the explanation:

Let us know if you have more questions or if this is still unclear.


wilson t key says:
12/10/2008 at 2:22:54 PM

Thanks for allowing me in on your secrets. I see we share alot of the same ideas on development of the player as they progress in the game. A good base is key in the building of a player and it protects the integraty of the sport. Thanks again. I can't wait for more.


Coach Keys says:
1/3/2009 at 10:38:12 PM

5th and 6th grade level....we have 2 practices of 1.5 hours a week for 3 weeks total of 9 hours before our fist game. then two a week of 1.5 hours total of 3 hours per week with games on Saturday. Your idea is great but they games are packed back to back where we play we only get a 5 to 10 minutes of warm up time.

How do you optimize practice when you hardly get any time to start....plus our league has raised the bar and our league put in zone and full court press....so we basicly have to coach high school basketball to a little league.

How do you optimze practice

Coach Keys


Mike L says:
1/4/2009 at 1:30:40 PM

Hi Coach Keys --

We've got the same practice hours as you guys. Here's one way we keep things simple for our 6th girls JV team, and the teams in our varsity conference do likewise: Out of a 1-2-2 passing game set, we call "orange" and the wing sets a ball screen for the point guard to drive. This should spring your ballhandler to make a shot or low-post pass from the side, against both man or a 2-3 zone (screen on the defender at elbow). If they play zone and the two guards spread out to block passing lanes, we call "blue" and flash someone to the wide-open (!) high post. That's all. We practice team offense only 10 minutes a week so we can focus on funadmentals.


wilson t key says:
1/6/2009 at 2:06:56 PM

You are right. I was thinking of something along those lines for my team. I coach 8, 9 and 10 year old Little Dribblers; and I find it can be frustrating when we have have to skip fundamentals. Thanks for putting this together for us. GO LONGHORNS!!!


Rich says:
2/15/2009 at 5:54:30 PM

My team this year is currently 0-5. But i can not agree more tht teaching the fundamentals is what is important. We have lost every game by no more than 8pts, but teaching the kids nd parents about sportsmanship is what youth basketball is all about. My 10 and 11 year olds hold their heads up high at the end of eery game that is gratifying enough for me and makes coaching worthwhile.


Kenny says:
12/1/2009 at 1:31:48 PM

You are absolutely right. I have coached middle school for 8 years now and have learned that no matter how much we work we have trouble taking those things into games. I am gonna start this tonight and will let you know the results. Thanks for the advice!


Bill from Fountain Valley says:
2/22/2010 at 12:26:42 PM

What is your thought on freshmen being on varsity but not seeing significant playing time. Some coaches believe that practicing vs. varsity competition will improve a player more dramatically than playing will at a lower level. What is your think?


Jeff Haefner says:
2/24/2010 at 6:54:25 AM

Bill - I think the only thing it does (playing at a higher level) is motivate a player to improve their skills. Player against better competition might cause the player to see a weakness they have and force them to practice and figure out how to overcome that weakness.

Playing games doesn't make you a more skilled player. You get better when you practice the skills. It also depends on the player. Some players don't have the confidence to play at a higher level and it has the opposite effect. They lose confidecence, get timid, etc.

Bottom line, if the player enjoys the game, has fun, and practices skills the right way, they will get better.

Moving a kid up to higher level is a tough decision and must be made on a case by case basis. Lots of factors can affect that decision.


mitch greenberg says:
11/22/2010 at 11:12:21 AM

Totally understand re: 5th grade boys.. the boys are all over the court with not much of a set offense.. what is the best thing to work on during our 1 hr practice (once a week). the D is not bad. but the O is up and down.. not moving and passing /.. is there a set play I should put together? 0-3 start..


Jeff Haefner says:
11/22/2010 at 12:17:15 PM

Mitch - I would not teach "set plays" to 5th graders unless it's ridiculously simple like this play:

Even if you had 5-10 hours of practice time each week I still would not suggest teaching "set plays". You'll spend most of your practice trying to get players to remember the sequence of the play and they'll still screw it up in games. Your time is much better spent teaching skills they can use in the future (dribbling, passing, shooting, footwork, screening, motion offense concepts, etc).

Here's an article about practicing with limited time:



mitch greenberg says:
11/22/2010 at 1:38:48 PM

Jeff, Thanks for the much needed info.. I will try to implement some of your techniques in tonights practice...

if you have some good drills i can run please fill me in (1 HR practice) I have some basics I do but always looking for the most efficient since its 1 hr once a week.

thanks again,


Logan says:
12/13/2010 at 6:22:51 PM

im just in jr. high but my dad coaches 5th graders and we use this stragedy it is the greatest i love it and so does he


Jeff says:
1/23/2011 at 8:45:01 PM

Hey there, i will be a first time high school coach this coming year. I was wondering what the limit on teaching on the first day of pratice is. Should I go ahead and teach our offense and defense on day one? I know I will impliment drills and talk to the team, but now being in a competetive high school confrence, I wanted to know what all i should impliment on day one.


Jeff Haefner says:
1/25/2011 at 4:30:39 PM

I think every coach is different in this regard and there is no right or wrong way. I know some coaches don't have a ball on the first day. Some coaches do all fundamentals.

I think you need to prioritize what is most important and what you will emphasize all year. Start with those things. For me, defense, rebounding, skill development, and transition is really important to us. We spend almost the whole first day on M2M defense and then find a little time for skill work.



Tina says:
4/7/2011 at 1:34:27 PM

My husband and I coach a 1st grade co-ed and 5th grade girls teams. We will definately try this. I hope it helps our 1st graders to remain focused. We usually get to the game 30 minutes early anyways what better way to get them warmed-up and ready to play.


Debi Stryker says:
11/14/2011 at 9:41:52 AM

I work in a group home and there is a young man who just started playing basketball this year (I believe he is a sophmore). He does pretty good shooting, but he lacks technique that younger kids develop when they start playing in the lower grades. What would you recommend to help bridge the gap? He would like to know how much time he should spend practicing dribbling the ball since this is an area that needs improvement.


Jeff Haefner says:
11/16/2011 at 11:21:37 AM

To bridge the gap he just needs to spend a lot of time practices skills (footwork, dribbling, passing, shooting, man defense). Then get experience to use those skills in 2on2, 3on3, and so on.

As far as how much time he should spend practicing dribbling, that depends on the player. Some players you can tell to practice 2 hours every day and they'll do it. For others it's a stretch to practice 2 minutes a day. Generally speaking, spending 10-30 minutes a day is good. With that said, if he just spend 5 minutes on dribbling 5 minutes practicing footwork in the garage/basement, it will help!


oldnewbie says:
1/3/2012 at 11:20:31 PM

I think this is some GREAT advice. I've never even considered it. I've always just tried to do some specific warm up type drills. My partner that I coach baseball with, is big on batting practice before every game.He used it like a treat. Whoever gets there early gets to hit a few extra. I always thought we were wasting too much time. We've won the past two years.I'm gonna do it! I'll get back to you.


Ken says:
1/4/2012 at 8:11:41 AM


This is a great article... I have seen a lot of warm - ups and many times its fun and games for the kids. Guess what? They certainly weren't ready to play when they hit the floor.

We tried to do some things that were part of our game plan, shooting, ball handling, passing, footwork etc. I felt that it was important to get them in the right frame of mind to play the game and let them relax in the last couple of minutes by shooting. ( what kid doesn't want to shoot )

One of my favorite things we did was a half court weave ending up with jump shots for the players not shooting the lay up..... close out / challenge the shooter and box out.

I see a lot more coaches today taking your approach - having two groups doing different things and then switching.


seeindouble says:
1/17/2012 at 10:24:16 AM

"Basketball is for the kids...but let's win anyway."


Monte Moire says:
12/1/2012 at 2:57:21 PM

Thanks for the tips. I am guilty as one of those coaches not using this pre-game warmup time properly. After reading the article and comments, I am definitely making some huge pregame adjustments.

I would normally let my players have this time to get loose with the basics; jump shots, layups, and rebounding, things that I did when I played back in the day (1987). But this article and comments opened my eyes. Thanks, fellow coaches.


Samantha From California says:
12/3/2012 at 12:37:31 PM

Hi, I coach a combo team of 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade girls. We just had a game last saturday but prior to that we've been practicing for an hour 2 days a week for about a month.. And we've been working on plays and fundamentals but they just don't seem to get a grasp on what the actual play is intended for.. So my question was should I just stick with teaching fundamentals (pivots, dribbling, shooting/form, defense, awareness, etc..) in practice, and just let them basically just compete without a set play in the game? Thanks.


Ken says:
12/3/2012 at 1:48:05 PM

Thats quite a mix which might have something to do with how you are performing. Continue teaching all the fundamentals... thats an important part of the game.

Try to make things as simple as possibe - maybe an open post / pass and cut / fill the spots kind of offense?

Break it down to its simpliest parts and then let them play. Good luck


rick says:
4/19/2014 at 7:35:24 PM

This idea sounds great! I'm still trying to figure out the best way to manage practice time...between teaching fundamentals, offensively and defensively, and going through plays, I am not sure how much time to devote to each area. Any ideas???


Ken Sartini says:
4/20/2014 at 12:21:35 PM

Rick -

A lot of this has to do with the age level and how much time you have for practice ... but you can never spend too much time on fundamentals.

Make your offense simple - pass - cut and fill open spots for one.

If your kids are fundamentally sound, you should see some success. Dont waste any time on conditioning... make it part of your practice plan.... hard drill, then an easier one etc.


Richard says:
4/30/2014 at 2:48:27 PM

Thanks for your advice I'm going to start trying this Sounds like a good idea And plus I would get the kids focus on what they gotta do


Christin says:
12/13/2014 at 3:01:19 PM

Does anyone know a good time chart to suggest? I am coaching pre k and k, 8 players, and they sub every 3 minutes. I want them to play equal time. So does anyone know a time chart to help me keep track?


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