Competition in Drills, Your Greatest Tool to Improve Execution - by Michael May

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
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Michael May has been a highly successful basketball coach for over 30 years on the international, junior college and high school levels. Currently he is president of "Practice Planner Live Software," a new cutting edge web-based practice planning solution. Please check out www.practiceplannerlive.com. It's a great practice planning tool that gets my endorsement - Coach Gels.

Practice Planner Live
Practice Planner Live
Use this online program and get access to the tools professionals use. Plan practices easily, quickly and more effectively. Have all your drills and thoughts in one place. Get access to your practice stats and see if your team play reflects what you are working on... See statistics of your practice. Are you focusing too much time on one aspect of the game? Now you never have to guess! Baseball, Basketball, Football, Soccer, and More! Get the Practice Planning Edge Today! More info...

After completing your purchase, you will be contacted by Practice Planner Live (usually within 24 hours) regarding setting up your account, access, etc.


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One of the biggest challenges for coaches is getting players to execute all drills to the best of their ability in terms of intensity, performance, etc. in practice. The ability to effectively accomplish this can be related directly back to a coach's style of coaching and personality. Some coaches demand intensity and focus because they are intense and focused in their approach and demeanor. They may rely on punishment when their expectations are not met. Other coaches are more laid back in their personalities and therefore may struggle in getting players to perform up to their potential.

When I was a young high school coach at William S. Hart High School in southern California in the mid 90's, I had an experience that truly changed my coaching effectiveness. I had a very promising team that had the potential to win our conference and possibly advance deep in the playoffs. We open our season with a scrimmage against Simi Valley High School. The head coach there was Dean Bradshaw, one of the top high school coaches in southern California. He had produced a number of championship teams over the years and coached one of the top players to come out of southern Cal at that time, Don McLean, who went to be an All American at UCLA and play in the NBA.

The make up of his team was very similar to mine and in fact if we had run a player evaluation combine, we may have had better overall results. We held the scrimmage in our gym and they really took it to us. Their level of execution and intensity was outstanding and they beat us by 20+ points. It was very humbling to be so out coached!

The next couple of days I watched the video of the scrimmage. A number of things popped out to me. Defensively their stances from on-ball to help side were precise and disciplined as well as their positioning. Their transition game on both ends was well defined and well executed. Offensively they ran their 5 out motion to a "T" and truly sliced and diced us up. After breaking every aspect of the scrimmage down, I asked myself, "What are they doing in practice?"

I gave Coach Bradshaw a call and asked him if I could come watch his practice and he graciously said "yes". The practice started with some stretching and warm up drills that were led by the captains. Coach Bradshaw then brought everyone together and the practice officially began. He started with a 4 on 4 defensive transition drill that you could tell that they had run before. However, he introduced the drill covering two basic things which I later learned he did for every drill:
  1. Point criteria
  2. Number of innings

Point criteria: Coach Bradshaw clarified how this particular drill would be scored. A point for communicating effectively could be earned (given randomly by coaches), a point for stopping the ball outside the 3 point line, and two points for a defensive stop.

Number of innings: This was a baseball term that Coach Bradshaw used to describe the following: The team was divided into 4 teams of 4 for the drill. An inning consisted of each team rotating through the drill 1 time. The drill was going to be played for 4 innings.

I watched the drill and not only was the intensity level off the charts, but players were talking non stop, the ball was being met above the 3 point line with incredible tenacity, and the overall defensive commitment to get a stop was at a fever pitch. Coach Bradshaw and his assistant coaches awarded random points when a team's level of talking was deafening. Every time the ball was stopped above the 3 point line, a point was awarded. A defensive stop earned 2 points. One player from each team was designated scorekeeper for their respective team. After the 4th inning was completed, the drill was over and the winning team was recognized.

I noticed that a manager had a clipboard with a piece of paper and was recording information. I later found out the paper was the Simi Valley Win Sheet. All the players were listed on the sheet with a space to put tally marks. The 4 players that won the 4 on 4 defensive transition drill receive a tally next to their names marking a "Win".

As practice went on, this procedure was carried on for every drill, even drills where there was no offense competing against a defense. For example: 3 man weave. It wasn't just running the drill up and down the court but there was a point criteria and an assigned number of innings. The point criteria was (1) Fastest time up and back twice with a stopwatch used to keep time, (2) Five seconds added to the overall time for a missed layup, (3) Three seconds added to the total time for every bad or fumbled pass. The number of innings was 3. I had never seen a 3 man weave drill runs so precisely and intensely.

Drill after drill was run in this fashion identifying winners and losers with the manager doing his thing on the Win Sheet. As practice went on, points were awarded for blockouts, taking a charge, proper denial stance, an effective screen, contesting the shooter, etc. Whatever particular fundamental needed refinement, that was the order of the day with the point criteria.

In talking with Coach Bradshaw after practice, he mentioned that he never used more than 3 point criteria for any given drill. He found that was the magic number for players to understand and do. He also mentioned that they posted the Win Sheet up at every practice totaling the number of wins earned by each player in previous practices and listing the players in rank order based on the highest number of wins. On Fridays he would award something like a pair of socks or t-shirt to the 3 highest players. He also mentioned that in conversations with both players and parents on playing time, he would reference the Win Sheet with other statistics as part of his reasoning for who started and who played.

I came away from that practice with my head spinning on how I could adapt that system into my own practices. I went to work and went through all of my drills with my staff to create point criteria that would meet our needs in improving execution. The next week in practice we implemented that system. We never looked back. The changes in intensity, execution, and competitiveness were dramatic. We went on to win 20 out of 21 games and have a very successful season. This included a rematch with Simi Valley High School in the championship game of our own Christmas tournament. It was a great game with the lead going back and forth. We were fortunate to hit a couple of free throws at the end to win it by two. As we shook hands after the game, Coach Bradshaw jokingly said, "I will never let you into my gym again!" He also left the 2nd place trophy behind in the locker room, that was Coach Bradshaw!


   Practice Planner Live
Practice Planner Live
Use this online program and get access to the tools professionals use. Plan practices easily, quickly and more effectively. Have all your drills and thoughts in one place. Get access to your practice stats and see if your team play reflects what you are working on... See statistics of your practice. Are you focusing too much time on one aspect of the game? Now you never have to guess! Baseball, Basketball, Football, Soccer, and More! Get the Practice Planning Edge Today! More info...

After completing your purchase, you will be contacted by Practice Planner Live (usually within 24 hours) regarding setting up your account, access, etc.


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Also see: Planning Practices



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