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...


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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?


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


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.


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 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


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.


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.


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

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


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.


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.


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