Pre-season Basketball Coaching Tips and Your 6 Steps to a Successful Basketball Season!

Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - How to Put Your PlayBook Together (Choosing Your Offense & Defense)
Chapter 2 - How to Build Your Master Practice Schedule
Chapter 3 - How to Create Your Practice Plans
Chapter 4 - Developing a Pre-Season Workout Program
Chapter 5 - Time Management Tips: How Do You Find Time To Teach Everything?
Chapter 6 - Getting Your Players Off To A Good Start and Excited For The New Season

Chapter 1 - How to Put Your PlayBook Together (Choosing Your Offense & Defense)

What should your playbook look like? What should it contain?

That is up to you. Most playbooks are a collection of offenses and defenses. Usually they are entered in illustration and comparable text. Usually they are organized according to situation, man offense, zone offense, man defense, zone defense, special situations, etc. Some playbooks have terminology, as well. What a "screen" is for you might be a "pick" for a player from another program. Common language is very important and a terminology section is very helpful in that regard. I have seen playbooks that include sections of philosophy and motivation. The most complete playbook I have ever seen was Byron Scott's for the NJ Nets. He had drills and progressions that led up to each play on both offense and defense. Pat Riley has motivational sayings separating every section. There is no, nor should there be a cookie cutter for playbooks. They should be as individual as you are as a coach.

Deciding what should or should not go into your playbook is critical decision that all coaches have to make. What type of team do you have, what style of play will you use, who are your best players, what are your team's strengths and weaknesses? What type of coach are you, what can you live with and what can't you live with? Are you a veteran team or a team with a lot of returnees? You even have to look at what you like to do defensively.

Gather all your plays.

If you are a coach that subscribes to the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) philosophy I don't want you to be confused by this next statement. I am a member of the KISS fraternity but I believe in this...

When putting together your playbook, you should have every play that you have ever considered running. That's right, every play. That does not mean you should you should run every play or even teach every play, but you should have them available to you. Your plays should have both drawings and explanations. They should also include your personnel needs. This is important because there are things that you might run for a year and then not run them again for another 5 years. In addition, every time you change a staff member, you should add some of his knowledge to your book. It is true that this creates an ever-expanding document but keep in mind; most of it will be for background and reference and not for immediate action.

Once you have your plays, examine your team personnel.

What are their strengths and weaknesses? You must frame that information with the teams you have to play against. You may want to be a running team. Can you run and be successful against the teams you are playing against? You may want to be a man-to-man defensive team. Can you play man-to-man defense and be successful against the best teams in your league?

Once you have made those evaluations, go into your playbook and pull out the things you think are appropriate for your team and your competition. Now you have your playbook. Does that mean your job is done? No! You now have to decide what you want to use. Don't be concerned with having too much, that will get worked out in the end. Make your decisions as to what is the absolute best for your team. Decide what you think might be the cornerstones for your season (keeping in mind that your players may prove that it should be something else so you have to be flexible). Decide what will define your season, what will be secondary offenses and defenses and which might be backups.

You now have a working framework for your season. Next, you have to play the game. In your mind, use your experience to try to anticipate what you might see during the course of the game. Man offenses, zone offenses, defenses, special situations, end of game situations, out of bounds plays for under the basket, sideline, mid-court, back-court, press offenses and defenses, foul line situations, short clock, etc. have to be included. You might have special needs for particular teams, be sure those are included as well.

This could be a lot of information. It does not mean that everything is given to your team, but as a coach, you need to have a reference to go to during the season for adjustment and needed additions. It is very difficult to go outside of your organization to search for answers to problems while you are in season. Your playbook should have most of the answers for you.

Chapter 2 - How to Build Your Master Practice Schedule

Now that you have your playbook, you should construct a master schedule. Very few things in this world are better off starting at the end and working backward but creating your master practice schedule is one of those things.

What is a master schedule?

A master schedule is the schedule of what and when you are going to work with your team over the course of the season. You should include all of your practice days, game days, days off, days when you can double session, days when you have to go short, etc. This way you will know at a glance what periods of practice you can use for teaching, which one you need for game prep, etc.

Begin with the end in mind

When do you put in what offense? What is the best time to put in a new defense? How long will it take to put it in?

To answer those questions, you first have to have a theoretical picture of what your team will look like at the end of the year. Of course, nothing is etched in stone and adjustments will have to be made based on personnel and situations, etc. but you need a foundation to work from. Once you have that picture work backwards. At the end of the year, you might want to have 5 offenses and 4 defenses ready to go for the playoffs. Evaluate which ones are situational, and which ones are the basis of your season. Decide how long it will take you to put them in. Do you put your offenses and defenses in as pieces or as a whole? Will one offense or defense serve as a building block for another one (your man-to-man defense is a building block for your jump-and-run)?

All of that has to be taken into account as you make your schedule. Decide by when do we want to have what in? Work backwards until you get to the start of your practice season.

An example

As an example, let's say that by the end of the year you want to have a full court defense, a half-court trap, a 2-3 zone and a man-to-man. You will save the half court trap for the playoffs so that goes in last, the 2-3 zone for the league season and the man-to-man and full-court defense for the start of the season.

So you determine that you want to have your man defense in by the 4th day of practice and you have 5 components.

  • Day 1 you work on defending the ball.
  • Day 2, review day 1 work and introduce strong-side one-pass away defense.
  • Day 3, review day 1 and 2 work and introduce weakside defense and post defense.
  • Day 4, review the first 3 days and add defending screens. It is day 4 and all components of your man-to-man defense are in. Now you can practice it and get better at it. The same should be done with your defense. You also want your full-court defense in by the 6th day of practice. You determine that the defense has 3 parts. On day 4 of practice you teach trapping the first pass.
  • Day 5 you review day 4 work and teach rotation to trap the second pass.
  • Day 6, you review day 5 and add recovery lanes back to the basket. So now on day 6 you have both your man-to-man and full court defenses installed and you have time to practice them and get better. If your league season starts on January 6th and it will take you 2 days to install your 2-3 zone for your league season, you might want to start to put it in late December to allow yourself enough time to install it and practice it and continue to practice your man-to-man and full court defenses.
It works the same way with your offenses. Please keep in mind, the above schedule is only an example not a recommendation. It may take more or less time to install your system. By using a master schedule, you will be sure you have enough time to cover the things you need to cover and not overlook details.

Your master schedule should be readily available. I have seen them presented as an outline in the front of a play book or as a list on a bulletin board. I have seen them with actual dates for implementation or numbered just for the order that the coach will teach things. I used to write mine on an actual calendar so in addition to being able to see my teaching order; I can see it combined with my practice and game schedule.

Chapter 3 - How to Create Your Practice Plans

Another thing a master practice schedule does is help you to create practice plans. By looking at your master schedule you can determine how jam-packed your practices might be. Teaching days are always slower and less dynamic.

I believe that all practice plans should contain the following areas:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Skill development
  3. Offense
  4. Defense
  5. Scrimmage
Notably left out is a conditioning session. I believe in conditioning during the body of practice. I believe that once you get between the lines and take out the balls, you should spend all your time getting better. I plan my practice to include basketball activities that will condition at the same time. If that does not get the players ready, sprints, suicides, etc. won't either.

Time saving practice tips

The more multipurpose activities you do, the more effective your time will be used. I do not believe in stretching. As I mentioned previously, once you are between the lines, it should be ALL basketball!

I use ballhandling drills for stretching and warm-up. Shooting and screening drills are done during skill development. The offensive and defensive sessions can be for teaching, playing, or both. I will use either breakdown drills or play as a whole.

I really save a lot of time and cover a lot of ground by running the offensive and defensive sessions at the same time (offense vs. defense) dependent upon what we are trying to accomplish that day. One coach watches offense and the other coach watches defense. If we work 5 on 5 I would use that as a scrimmage session as well. I usually save my 5 on 5 full court scrimmages to work on game situations.

How to structure practice and keep players attention

Aside from warm-up, it does not matter in what order you do things, as long as you PRESENT IT PROPERLY. That is the key!

Traditionally, scrimmage periods come last. There is nothing to say, you can't run it first and then work on what you feel your strengths and weaknesses were for the rest of practice. I always liked to do shooting drills between different sections of practice. It fights monotony.

However, the things you feel are most important should be presented FIRST. Present in the "Laws of Learning" is the "Law of Primacy." The law of primacy says, "whatever is learned first is learned best." You should not hide your emphasis from your team. Whatever is important to you should be right up front and your team will assume your values.

I believe the single biggest enemy of a good practice is attention span. With all the things that go on in practice and throw in the aspect of fatigue, attention span gets short and difficult to maintain. For that reason, I think it is important to keep your sessions short, 5 minutes for individual work and 10 minutes for team work. If you don't accomplish what you want to in the session, go to something else and then come back to it.

I also believe that practices should end in an activity that is useful, challenging, team oriented and allows your team to leave the floor with a sense of accomplishment. I have never been a fan of conditioning at the end of practice. Part of your job as a coach is to create an atmosphere where your players want to come to practice. What they do last is what they will remember most between practices and will shape their attitude for tomorrows practice.

Sample practice plan

After writing up my practice plan, one of my managers had the job of putting it on an index card so I could keep it in my pocket.

NOTE: This is just SAMPLE plan so you can see what one MIGHT look like. The things you work on in practice will be completely different based on your situation.

2:00Position workPerimeters
   Dribble Penetration
   Penetrate and kick
   Spot up shots
   Baseline feeds
   Spot up passes
   Pitch and follow
2:205 on 0Break options
2:30Dummy offenseMan
2:45FoulsMake 5
2:55FoulsMake 5
3:004 on 3 
3:104 on 4Motion
3:205 on 45 up series
3:30Transition ScrimmageBlue to man
3:40FoulsMake 5
3:45Time and score6 & 2
4:10Hawks DrillCorner/Wing

Chapter 4 - Developing a Pre-Season Workout Program

A pre-season workout program should have 3 elements:

  1. Improvement
  2. Conditioning
  3. Relevance to your season
I believe that is the best way to prepare.


Improvement comes from working on technique and mental aspects with knowledge and high repetitions. The objective of this period should be to do whatever you can to get your players better. Due to the amount of time you have to spend on game preparation and team issues during the season, there is little time to work on improvement during the season. There is an old coaching saying that says, "teams are made from November to March, players are made from April to November." On the whole, this is true. Players will improve during the season, but that improvement is usually based on experience. Most players cannot improve their skills in season. That has to be work done outside of the season. If you are in the preseason, you can't worry about what your players have or haven't done during the off-season. You have them now; just concern yourself with this period. Get them high repetitions, now.


Conditioning should come through your improvement program. I used to be a coach who sent players out to run a mile (or 5). Over time I came to realize that that time was being counter productive. You can only work with them for a certain period of time. To spend any of that time on non-basketball issues is not wise. If you can, construct your workouts so that they condition as well as improve. Your team will be headed for a great season.

If you want your players to run, give them a ball and have them ballhandle at the same time. Defensive drills are great conditioners. Shooting drills should be high intensity and feature a lot of movement. You can do fastbreak drills full court or full court shooting drills. If you are in a situation where your league or governing organization does not allow you to use balls and run actual drills with your players, use simulations. We used to use conditioning and agility drills that looked suspiciously like what our defense was going to look like except we did not have any balls in play. The result was that when practice started, our players were in great shape and our entire defensive system had been taught. All we had to do was add offense and it was a quick transition to live play. It also allowed us to spend more time working on offensive aspects due to the fact that our defense was installed in the pre-season.


The more relevance your pre-season program has to your season the more effective it will be. Even if you can't use a ball due to association rules, the program you put your team through in the pre-season can mimic what you will do during the playing season. Take the opportunity to teach your drills, philosophy, offense, defense, etc. One of the keys to coaching is consistency. If you can be consistent from pre-season to practice season to game season your team will respond positively.

Chapter 5 - Time Management Tips: How Do You Find Time To Teach Everything?

The 2 keys to time management are planning and simplicity.

The "5 Ps," prior planning prevents poor performance, have always been applied to players. That is why we practice. It should also be applied to coaches. Do you have a plan when you go to practice? You would be surprised at how many coaches say "no." Your master schedule will help you through your daily planning. I also believe your practice schedule should be made directly after the prior practice ends. I used to work on my schedule before practice but too many times something pops up and you are hurried in your preparation or are forced to wing it.

Planning after the previous practice allows for 2 things. It gives you enough time to do your practice plan with the thought and conviction that your team deserves. It also forces you to evaluate the practice that was just completed. Take time to check it against your master schedule. Are you on schedule? Will you have to make adjustments? How close are you to where your want to be?

For maximum efficiency, work on multiple things at the same time.

Using multi purpose drills will help with finding time. Takes pieces of your offense and turn them into shooting drills. Each time you practice your shooting you are also practicing your offense. Use fast break drills for conditioning instead of running sprints. Do live, game-like drills where you can emphasize both the offensive and defensive aspects of the drill. This will save you time.

You can only be good at 2 or 3 things.

Simplicity is the most important aspect of everything you do. You must realize that, as a coach, you cannot control everything. Make decisions as to what you feel is really important and spend your time on those things. If you don't have enough time to coach those areas, you have too many areas and are too complex. Coaching is not a test or an exhibition of what you know. It is a position that gives guidance. One of the biggest challenges is taking all the things you know and paring them down to small nuggets of knowledge that you can impart to your team. We all must resist the urge to show everyone everything we know. I know that I have a problem with that. If left to my own devices, I would have 300 plays and practices would be 17 hours long.

Over time, I have done a better job of determining what is important and effective and what isn't. I learned I would rather be really good at 2 or 3 things than try to prove how smart I am and be average to poor at 20 things.

When it comes to time management the question might not be, "How can I fit all this stuff into the time I have?" It might be, "I have this much time, what can I do with it?"

Chapter 6 - Getting Your Players Off To A Good Start and Excited For The New Season

Getting your players off to a good start and excited for the season starts with your attitude as a coach. Players are like lie detectors, they can tell when you are not telling the truth. If you are not excited, if you are not looking forward to the season, they will know. You must prepare yourself first, and then prepare your team.

Communicate with your players. Don't keep secrets from them. Get them the game schedule early; let them see what they are working for. By the way, I have always been a believer in sharing the daily practice plan with my team. I have found that knowledge is empowering. If you empower your team, they will follow you everywhere.

Be sure that they know the purpose for each drill and how it will help them be better players. If players think you are just in the gym beating them up they will not respond. Try to define their roles early and let them grow into them. Be inclusionary, spend time with your lesser players. That will motivate them to be better players and they will help you during the tough days of the season.

Research and use team-building activities. This will be different with each team because it will be specific to the personality of each team. Spend time with your players off the court and that will open the door to them spending time with each other.

Find out from your players what their expectations are. Keep in mind that once the season starts, they have to meet your expectations. This will help guide you during the season.

You may own the team during the season. Give players ownership of their team in the preseason. Let them run workouts; see what type of leadership comes out of it. Let them problem solve and watch how high they set the bar. You can always adjust it.

Most importantly, the preseason is the time you set the tone for your year. It might be the only time players feel comfortable approaching you. They are under no pressure, their self-esteem does not rise and fall with wins and losses. Use the time wisely.


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Coach Twun says:
4/30/2019 at 9:59:08 AM

I''''m given the chance to coach a Junior Varsity team at a high school that I''''m currently teaching at. Let me tell you guys, I''''m nervous as heck. I''''ve never played the game in an exhibition match up before personally, but I''''m familiar with the sport. Any advice besides the information above (which is briliant) that could help me as a clean slated coach?

  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
5/2/2019 at 8:26:18 AM

Just keep learning. The game itself is simple... if you score more points than the opponent, you win. So you either need to find a way to get more shots than your opponent and/or shoot a higher percentage. Everything you do revolves around that.

Here are more good articles:


tim says:
5/18/2017 at 8:55:32 AM

im teaching my 2 youngest the game. starting on defesne. although most coaches primarily play zone defense to start, i believe u must learn man to man first. does anyone have any tips on how to get the kids to learn the diffrence btwn defending a man, and defending a zone??


Anthony says:
11/3/2016 at 4:25:10 PM

I realize this is 6 years old but anyone with similar problem now could be helped by my response.

These types of players are best served by making them feel like leaders at practice. Do not reprimand them but instead give them ownership in the teams success by having them lead passing exercises, etc. Start a contest for prizes (if younger) for making good passes in games and practicing passing at home. Make passing a team goal with some sort of reward at the end. After implementing a system like this we took a boy that just shot everything and turned him into an all around good player. He still shoots but we emphasize quality shots and the passing came around ten fold.

Hope this helps.


Ish says:
8/27/2015 at 6:37:34 AM

Mike, keep your socks on and put your feet in an icy bucket and calm down!
It''''s just a sample.


Ken Sartini says:
1/7/2014 at 3:04:07 PM

Michael -

I know that when I made my practice schedule I tried to teach them what they needed to know to execute our game plans and play to our philosophy.

The one thing that I think helped us a lot was that after every game my asst. and I sat down and talked about the things we did well and the things we needed to improve upon.

All those things that we needed to work on went into the next few days practice plans as did our plan for our next opponent. Our players knew exactly why we were working on something ... practice time is to valuable to waste on drills for the sake of drilling.

We ended every practice with "situations", IF there was something we didn't handle well the game before, it was in the practice plan. The kids loved running those and it was a great teaching tool. They learned from their mistakes. ( as we all do )

Something I always told our kids and coaches, "take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves. "


Michael Bacigalupo says:
1/7/2014 at 12:31:19 PM

I have spent the last 41 years involved in basketball. Started coaching 7-11 year old players, added preteen coaching and became an IAABO and officiated HS games for 15 years. During that time I was the director of a state wide invitational youth tournament for 10 years. I have seen more situational basketball in my lifetime than I can recollect. Coaches make the difference 99% of the time. Take from this Master Schedule what you want but maintain the flexibility to tailor your practice according to the teams needs not what you want to accomplish. Players are willing to give it their all when you communicate. All the other things will take care of themselves.


Emmanuel Ochago says:
10/2/2013 at 10:43:06 AM

I am a basketball coach at Lugulu Girls High School in Kenya and this School has a tight schedule in that I usually meet them once or twice in a week for trainingand the duration is less than 35 mnutes.I need someone to help me with an organized and well structured practice plan that can make my team improve.THANKS


Ken says:
9/17/2012 at 10:30:47 AM

Joe -

I coached a long time and it took me awhile to learn to not waste time just running. A well thought out practice plan will take care of that.

Do things with a ball and you WILL condition them. A couple of hard drills and then some shooting.... does a couple of things... takes care of what you are trying to teach, conditioning, and shooting while tired..... more of a game situation. Kids don't even know they are conditioning.

We need to use our practice time as wisely as possible. One thing we did. we got rid of water breaks. Think of this.... 2-3 / 4 minute water breaks a practice... thats 8 to 12 minutes... multiply that over the number of practices you have all year. If our kids wanted water all they had to do was raise their hand... IF we weren't teaching something at the time and THEY weren't involved in the drill etc. they were allowed to go get a drink.... no back ups at the drinking fountain and they kept themselves hydrated.

Not a big thing but it will give you more time in your practices.... and everyone needs more practice time. JMO


Joe Haefner says:
4/8/2012 at 9:35:28 AM

Mako, I believe that a well-designed warm up can include ball handling for most of your warm up.

Maravich drills, dribbling drills, passing drills, mikan drills, one v one defense drills can get a lot done for the warm up.

Some exercises that I prefer to do separate from the warm up for dynamic stretching are knee-to-wall touches, leg swings, and reaches. Depending on the situations, I will also do some strength and coordination exercises like squat variations and lunge variations. If time permits, I will also do jumping variations, carioca variations, shuffling, skipping variations.

That's just me. Every coach has different experiences and a different background, so they have different beliefs.

If possible, I do believe that you try to have a ball in your hands for as much as the warm up as possible. I heard that once from Don Kelbick and I didn't try to incorporate the ball as much at first, but the more I coach the more I believe in what he said.


Mako says:
4/8/2012 at 2:49:20 AM

It says that stretching and warm up are included in ball handling, but they are different. Ball handling does not do anything to the stretching of your muscles to get you ready. I think you should always do a dynamic stretch before every practise session for optimal performance and injury prevention.


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