Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Practice Makes Pretty Good

I had an email from a coaching friend tonight who's an assistant in a really good program.  He's seen a lot of our practices in past years at ONU, and commented about how efficient they were.

Bob Knight once said, "There's absolutely nothing that has more to do with your success--or LACK of success--than the way you run your practices."  I totally agree, and believe this is true no matter what style you coach.  So, for what it's worth, I thought it might be helpful to share with you an excerpt fromt the email I sent my friend about some of the principles for conducting efficient System practices, most of which I stole from coaches who are a lot smarter than I am.  We started by talking about how to get the most out of a short, intense practice session:

You make a good point about the (short) length of our practices at ONU!  Two things account for this, I think.

First, transition time between drills has to be fast.  Training kids to RUN to spots and get the drill started is essential.  And once they get lined up, they don't need to stand around waiting for a coach to start the drill, either!  At NCC we have taught them that once we call out the name of the drill, they have all the info they need... just start the drill! Seniors get to the front of the line with a ball, and go!  

Along those same lines, having the ball rack located in the best place to make it easy to get basketballs (or put them away) for the next drill is also a small factor that gets overlooked. But think about it:  why waste time running to the other end of the gym to get balls for a drill?  Think it through.  Should the rack be in the center circle?  On the sideline? Behind the basket?  Have a manager or assistant responsible for taking care of this, and you avoid down time.  (Got this idea from Wooden, who was always looking for ways to streamline practice... and NOBODY ran a more efficient practice that John Wooden!) 

Second, nothing wastes more time than "over-explaining" a drill. Just give kids enough to know the general idea of how the drill works, then get them started. Teach the little things as they are working, and don't stop the drill for more than about 10 seconds to make a key teaching point. I once worked for a coach back in the 1980s who, during a 2 hour practice, was TALKING for 1:20!!! I'm not joking. She just loved the sound of her own voice, and the kids just stood around listening during that dead time. So, SHUT UP AND LET THEM GET TO WORK!  Kids learn by doing, not by talking. 

Also, your coaching points should not only be brief, but very, very specific. "Do THIS, not THAT!"   Do you know exactly what you want them to do?  This is partly a result of experience.  Wooden had hundreds of little teaching points, the result of having taught the fine points of his High Post Offense for over 40 years.  System coaches should also eventually have a repetoire of short, specific points to polish execution.  With a special emphasis on "short."

Two other related issues concern personnel and drill rotations. As you know, we decide BEFORE practice who will be in each unit, posting the plan so players know what color shirts to wear. No wasted time telling them what unit they are on, or what color shirt to put on.  Next, when we rotate in drills, it's (almost) always the same way: Offense to Defense, then OUT. That's a Bob Knight principle, and along with it goes the WAY you rotate: FAST!!! When we rotate, we want the next group waiting to come in, then running to their spots, not taking their sweet time. If they dawdle, I will get downright juvenile and start counting: "5 seconds to get started! 4...3...2...1! Okay, get on the baseline & let's run a sprint so we can remember how to rotate quickly."  As you know, I'm not renowned for my patience in this regard.  But nobody ever got better by sauntering to the next drill station!

HOW you teach makes a difference, too. Another Wooden-ism I stole from the master was to use a "Demonstration Sandwich" to correct players. When you observe a mistake in technique, 1) show them the correct method, 2) followed by a quick demo of the incorrect way to execute the skill (i.e. what they just did wrong), 3) followed once again by the correct way. In other words, show them: "Do it like this... NOT like that... like this!"

Bottom line: if you are sloppy with your practice plan, you'll be sloppy with your practice. The System is about tempo, so your practices ought to be about tempo, too.  If you aren't meticulously organized, and if you don't think through the practice drills, coaching points, and transitions ahead of time, it will bog down.

But if your practices are well run, you may not ever be perfect... but you'll definitely be a lot better than you would have been by being disorganized.  Practice doesn't make perfect, but it might make you pretty good.

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