Building a Basketball Practice Plan

Written by: Chris Hungerford



Time to read 10 min

Basketball Practice Planning for Beginners or Pros

With the massive amount of basketball information available on the internet, designing an effective practice plan that covers everything you want to cover as a coach can seem taxing.

However, building a practice plan for your basketball team doesn't have to be an intimidating endeavor.

In this article, we'll be covering several of the most important aspects that go into building a basketball practice plan.

We'll cover choosing the best strategies for organizing your practice.

We'll discuss the main areas you should be focusing on as a coach.

We'll cover the big areas of practice like skill development, offensive and defensive techniques, and drill work.

We will even go over starting and finishing your practices in the most effective way possible.

Practice planning shouldn't be stressful! It should be efficient, enjoyable, and catered to your team.

Let's dig in.

Practice Logistics

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Before your team hits the court, there are a few things to consider:

  • How many basketball goals are available for your team to practice on?
  • Do you only have a half-court? Or can you practice full court?
  • How many rims are available?
  • How much time do you have to practice? How many minutes are available to use?
  • How many players do you need to account for?

Organizing Your Practice Plan

How should you organize your drills?

  • Depending on the age of your team, make sure to only spend a few minutes on each drill
  • Your drills should be 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or 20 minutes (maximum) in length
  • High school and college teams might be able to handle longer drill periods, but even then it would be wise to limit the time your players spend on one drill

Starting Practice

What should you do BEFORE practice?

The time spent before your practice plan actually begins is important.

Some coaches use this time to allow their players time to free shoot, work on parts of their game they want to improve, or to warm up in their own unique way.

Other coaches use this time in a more structured manner - they will give players specific drills to work for "pre-practice". This could be a stretching routine, some shooting drills or ball handling drills, station work, time with an assistant coach, or something similar.

As a coach, this time can be whatever you want it to be!

It's also a good opportunity to make an attempt to set the tone for practice by speaking with your players and coaching staff while they are mentally preparing for the next few hours of practice time.

How should you start your practice?

There are a few options for ways to start your practice:

  • huddle up at half-court and go over the plan for the day
  • talk to your team about culture and expectations to start practice
  • jump straight into the first drill
  • pre-practice drills

What Should You Practice?

Here a few areas that every practice should hit:

  • some kind of stretching or warm-up routine (something as simple as 5 minutes of high knees and butt kicks to warm up and get the blood flowing)
  • skill development work of all kinds (ball handling, passing, shooting/a shooting drill, finishing/layups, free throws defense, rebounding)
  • offensive team concepts vs. man-to-man defense and zone defense
  • defensive team concepts
  • fast break drills
  • 5 on 5 game situations in the full-court and half-court
  • scrimmage against other teams and/or coaches
  • a cool down

Working on Offense

Working on your offensive game plan during your basketball practices will help your team be more smooth during games, run your offense with better speed, play with structure, and make sure your team gets great shots when they have the ball.

You'll want to focus on things like your base offense, inbounds, set plays, press breaks, half-court plays, etc.

You'll also want to emphasize areas of play like taking care of the ball, ball handling, reading the defense, using skills appropriately, and any other key points your players need to understand when running your offense.

Your fast break offense and transitioning from defense to offense can also be emphasized during this time.

Basically, anything that happens while your team has the ball can be covered during this time.

Working on Defense

There are a lot of different ways your team can practice their defense.

You'll need to set time in each basketball practice plan to work on half-court (man-to-man defense, zone defense, baseline out-of-bounds defense, etc.) and full-court defense (pressing, trapping).

You can practice this in a scrimmage situation or during specific drills during your practices.

Working on Special Situations

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"Special situations" include parts of the game like jump balls, free throw box outs, and how to handle late-game situations on both offense and defense.

You can do this during a scrimmage or by providing an example of end-of-game plays for your team to work on - both in the half-court and full-court.

How much your basketball practice plan includes these types of drills - or if you even do them every practice - is dependent on the level of the team you're coaching.

There are also several game situations that you will want to cover with your players to prepare them for live gameplay.

Here are a few situations you will want your players to understand:

  • what to do on a jump ball (both on offense and defense)
  • what to do during free throws (both on offense and defense)
  • what to do during inbounds situations (both on offense and defense)
  • what to do during late-game situations when they are winning the game (both on offense and defense)
  • what to do during late-game situations when they are losing the game (both on offense and defense)

Skill Development

Every practice should include a skill development segment.

Basically, this is a time during practice that is focused on improving the skills of your players instead of running your plays, going over scouting, etc.

Some examples of skill development include working to improve passing, footwork, ball handling, decision-making, shooting, finishing, defensive technique, and rebounding.

This might include a shooting drill, free throw technique, dribbling drills, developing the left hand, shooting games, working on different types of passes, and more.

The amount of time you choose to work on these items depends on the strengths and weaknesses of your team, the amount of time you have to practice, your facility, and coach preference.

There are also plenty of options for how you can work on skill development:

  • station work - get your players into small groups, put a dedicated amount of time on the clock, designate certain skill areas for each basket available, and rotate when the clock hits 00:00
  • guards and post breakdowns - send 1-2 coaches with your guards/ball handlers and 1-2 coaches with your post players/bigger players and work on specific skills that fit within your coaching philosophy or system
  • add different skills to your drills - try and pack in as much skill development in each drill; for example, if you're doing a ball handling drill, add a shooting or finishing component (and vice versa) - it's okay to be creative and think outside the box. Get your repetitions in where you can!

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Team Drills

While you'll certainly spend time on both offense and defense within your basketball practice plan, there are other types of "team drills" you can incorporate into your daily schedule.

Adding some team drills can build chemistry, provide your team an opportunity to work together to overcome a challenge, and encourage leaders to take more ownership of your team.

They can also expose your team to adversity that will prepare them for game situations.

Here are a few types of team drills:

  • Beat-the-clock drills

Give your team a time limit to achieve a score in a drill. For example, you might have a full-court layup drill that works on finishing layups at full speed. Your team would have 2 minutes to make a certain amount of layups - if they achieve the goal, they win the drill. If not, they lose the drill.

  • Beat the score drills

Take any of your drills and add a score your team has to beat to "win the drill". If they don't reach the allotted amount of points, they lose the drill.

  • Beat our previous attempt drills

For example, you might put 10 minutes on the clock for a shooting drill and record the score.

Next, put 10 minutes back on the clock and have your team try to beat their previous score.

Each of these types of drills can be used with various drill types - transition or fast break drills, finishing drills, team shooting drills, working on free throws, or anything else you might include in building a basketball practice plan.

These team drills can be used in the half-court or full court, to work on offense or defense, to build simple skills, or to even add an element of competition or fun to your basketball practice.

What about after practice has finished?

Post-practice is another area to consider when building a basketball practice plan.

After you have huddled your team up, spoken to them about practice, and dismissed them - what happens? How do those 15 minutes after practice look?

This is a great opportunity to get to know your players

Make an effort to talk to each of your players or give them some sort of physical contact (high five, fist bump, etc.)

Ask them about their grades, get to know them outside of basketball, and make an effort to show them you care about them as people.

Rebound free throws, spend a team minutes asking questions, get under the basket and be a defensive obstacle to help them work on finishing for a few minutes, be a passing partner, and encourage them to work on their left hand.

Do all of this in a laid-back, conversational tone while getting to know them as people!

An old coaching adage states that "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Live this out in your daily interactions with your players.

Offer your players extra drills to continue to improve

Have conversations with your players about areas of weakness and encourage them to work on those areas for a few minutes after each practice.

A lot of players have drastically improved their skills by spending a few minutes each day on things they weren't skilled at.

Players improve their skills the most when they have a focused area to work on.

If possible, make sure the gym and court are available after practice

When basketball players are offered the opportunity and space to improve their skills, they'll usually use that time to work on their games.

Make an effort to leave the gym open as long as you can after practice.

A few other concepts to consider

Begin with the end in mind

When planning and basketball practice plan, you need to have a good understanding of what you're trying to accomplish.

Practice plans should be catered towards accomplishing a few important items that the coach feels are needed for the team and players to improve on offense and defense, build skill, and

Move quickly from one item on your practice plan to the next

This is especially important with youth basketball players. So often, you'll see youth coaches spending way too much time with their basketball players on one subject.

The younger the athlete, the less time they can stay focused on the task at hand.

Explain the drill or play and then get your players working on it as quickly as possible!


KISS and KILL stand for "keep it simple, stupid" and "keep it learnable and likable".

You want your practices to be simple/easy to understand, likable (fun), and learnable (easy to improve).

Have winners and losers on every drill

The best basketball practice plans use competition in their drills at all times.

Having a winner or loser in every drill makes basketball players focus, concentrate on the task at hand, and build a competitive spirit.

Eliminate lines and standing around as much as possible

Your players should never be standing around in a line if it can be avoided. Move coaches to another basket with smaller groups. Choose drills that require all players to have a ball in their hand.

It's up to you as a coach to get creative with your drill choice during your practice to make sure your players are getting as many repetitions as possible.

Take the time to comb through your list of drills and find ways to make them work in smaller groups and without "line standing".

Plus, it's fun for your players to remain active all practice long!


So how do I use this practice plan?

There are thousands of ways for coaches to organize their basketball practice plans.

There is no universal way to run a practice as a coach.

However, making sure you focus on the areas above is a great starting point for planning a more effective basketball practice plan that will improve your team's offense and defense and build their individual skills.

Choose the areas that you want your team to focus on, make sure they are prepared for their upcoming game, and organize your plan - minute by minute - to make it an optimal experience for both players and coaches.

The rest is up to you!

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