Basketball Training: Everything You Need to Know as a Coach

Basketball Competition Drills for Coaches

Whether it is in a small group or with your whole team, basketball training can play a big part in your team’s skill development. That is why we created this basketball resource for coaches. With all of these different keys and tips, you can get the most out of your basketball training and see significant skill development in your team.



Individual Basketball Skill Development Philosophy


Doug Esleeck contributed to this portion of the article.


One of the most important aspects of our program under Coach Hoffman at Mercer University has been individual basketball skill development. We work our guys hard day in and day out on the basketball fundamentals of the game. This develops our players’ skills, improves their confidence, and instills a work ethic that has led to a culture in which players value individual development. This, in turn, produces basketball players who work on their game on their own, and as these players see success, it has encouraged our entire team to spend time in the gym outside of practice.


General Thoughts About Basketball Skill Workouts

I strongly believe in the value of competition, and I try to make everything competitive. Depending on the workout structure, I will count attempts, makes, or set a time limit to hold them accountable for working hard and completing a task correctly. Not only does it keep the workouts interesting for the players, but it also allows you to set up basketball drills that will force your players to work at game speed with game precision to be successful. And you never have to coach effort.

There’s nothing I like more than being able to encourage our guys rather than trying to drag them through a workout! We try to make our goals difficult to reach. There’s value in making your players deal with failure; you can find out who will compete and who will quit. Difficult goals are one way to simulate bad calls by the officials or the unlucky breaks that can demoralize a team; you have to simulate the stress of a game during basketball training, or you’re only developing the physical and not also developing the mental aspect of the game.

I like mixing up the structure of the competition. Every man for himself or a group of two against another group of two is good, but it’s also important to give them team goals, so they work together to beat the clock or make a certain number of shots, etc. Skill work is a great time to build teamwork and trust between players. There’s also nothing worse than being the guy who misses the shot that makes your whole group do full court ball handling….manufactured pressure!

We do short basketball workouts during the offseason- nothing longer than 30 min because there’s no break for water, and we go game speed. We also only get 2 hours per week out of season (2 days off/week required) for basketball skill development, so we split that into small workouts so we can touch the guys the maximum number of days each week. On a week, we do a 1-hour team workout we will do 4, 15-minute workouts the other 4 days. And we get a lot done in 15 minutes! The other point of making the workouts short and having them in the gym every day is attempting to build a habit of working every day.

There’s nothing more important to a basketball team than developing the desire in each individual to take responsibility for his own improvement. Every program in the country is working their guys out 2 hours a week. The only way your basketball program can get ahead is if your players commit to improving their game when the coaches aren’t in the gym. We believe that developing an everyday mindset is crucial to building a winning culture in basketball.

Every single workout doesn’t need to be the hardest workout you’ve ever devised. Sometimes guys just need a rebounder and to laugh a little bit while they see the ball go through the basket; this is especially true in season.


What to Work On in Your Basketball Workouts

  • Summer Basketball Workouts – Grow your game. Every basketball player has dreams and goals. The summer is the time to put in the daily deposits that will lead to realizing those dreams.
  • Preseason Basketball Workouts – Teach concepts, teach your system philosophy (toughness, decision making, etc.), conditioning. You can build a strong foundation in small groups; there is more time to teach and focus on the individual. This can be a time to hammer your program philosophy. For example, if your team is based on toughness, structure your basketball drills to instill physical and mental toughness. If your team is based on execution and ball control, design drills that value these aspects of the game.
  • In-Season Basketball Workouts – System-specific shots, drives, screens, etc., break down your offensive and defensive system and get reps! In season the focus needs to be on sharpening the basketball skills that each player will employ in a game. These workouts are most valuable if they improve your players’ confidence in their ability to do what the Head Coach expects them to do in a game.


How to Work on It

  • Summer Basketball Workouts – Small groups for player specific skill work. We like to have 2-3 guys per group and then bring multiple groups together to do 2 on 2, 3 on 3, 4 on 4 live competition to work on those skills in a specific setting. Something really good for us this summer was 4 on 4 out of bounds underneath. We broke down the 5 or 6 favorite OBU actions that teams in our league ran and worked on defending them live.
  • Preseason Basketball Workout – 4-man groups. We may mix bigs and guards 2 times per week to work on post feeds, ball-screen shots, etc. Larger groups develop camaraderie and allow you to do more game simulation. Every few weeks, we will change and go to one coach with one player to get more shots and individual attention.
  • In-Season Basketball Workouts – Continuous skill improvement throughout the year. These workouts don’t need to be the grind ‘em up workouts of the preseason. They can be just about getting up a ton of shots, or they can be very specific to the kind of shot you expect a player to get based on the upcoming opponent. These are about building confidence that when a player gets a shot in a game, he’s made the same shot 1000 times going game speed with you before and after practice. 2-3 times per week all season long, every guy on your team needs extra attention outside of practice to work on something. The guys that aren’t playing need it more than starters. They need the confidence, they need to feel like you care about helping them, and they need to feel like they are important (and they are!  Your 6-9th men will get 6-8 shots/game. Your team needs them to make them, and the players need to make them to expand their role on your team.)



Individual Basketball Skill Development Philosophy Conclusion

I hope this outline of our individual basketball development philosophy for our program provides some food for thought. Our way is by no means the best or the only way; there are lots of ways to skin a cat! So as much as this basketball coaching article is a template for skill development, it is up to you to find the best way that works for your team and your basketball coaching philosophy.


Maximizing Player Development in Basketball


Maximizing Player Development in Basketball


The goal of a basketball trainer is to be able to maximize player development for each player. Every great basketball coach or trainer is able to get the most out of their players and allow them to reach their full potential.

However, this does not just happen by itself. It takes a game plan and consistency. The truly great basketball coaches recognize this and are committed to the process of developing their players. Here are three keys that I picked up from my playing career and now my skill development and coaching career.


Evaluate and Assess Each Basketball Player

Just as a doctor runs tests on a patient before diagnosing them, you as the coach need to run the player through different tests and figure out what areas of their game are strong and which ones need work. You can do this through different basketball drills of your choice, but it is important to learn each player’s strengths and weaknesses.

Once you have evaluated the player, you can start to figure out how you will help them. For example, if they have trouble dribbling with their eyes up, then you could use tennis ball basketball dribbling drills to force them to keep their eyes up while dribbling. That is just one example, but you must design your basketball workouts specifically for that player to work on their specific weaknesses.

Sometimes it may not even be a specific skill but something that they struggle with during the course of a game. Maybe it is mental toughness and execution down the stretch of a game. In this scenario, you would want to create tough situations in workouts that will challenge the player mentally and physically.

The key is making sure that you understand the player and what they need to improve on, no cookie-cutter basketball training.


Have a Game Plan

You should have a game plan for where you want the player to be going and how they will get there. The game plan should include both short and long-term goals for the player. Every player will be different, so really sit down and think about what is best for that specific player.

A great way to involve the players is to give them a piece of paper and ask them to write down their short and long term goals on one side of the paper, and then on the other side what they are going to do every week to accomplish those basketball goals. It will help give them some ownership in the process, which is big.

As mentioned in the previous key, it is important that you specifically tailor the game plan for the player. Magnify the player’s strengths and develop their weaknesses.


Teach Your Basketball Players the Game

If someone tells you to do something and you don’t understand why you have to do it, you are going to be hesitant about it. However, if they tell you to do something and then explain the importance of why you should do it as well, you will be far more likely to do it.

The same thing goes for your players. Explain to them the importance of why they are doing something a certain way. It will make them more likely to do it, but it will also really help them learn the game and improve their basketball IQ.

The better a basketball player can understand the game, the better they will execute different moves and skills. It is important that you watch film with players, breakdown different moves/situations, and have them learn from other experienced players.



Maximizing Player Development in Basketball Conclusion

Coaching basketball comes with many responsibilities, and one of the biggest is maximizing what a player is capable of doing. You have a big job as a coach. To really be able to develop your players and allow them to have the chance to do something special with their basketball career takes hard work and commitment, but it is absolutely worth it in the long run.



Basketball Training: Shooting at Game Speed


Basketball Training: Shooting at Game Speed

Keven Bradley contributed to this portion of the article.


Getting players to go “game-speed” and shoot shots during practices at a pace equivalent to how they will play on game days is one of the most challenging messages to get across to players. To help our players play faster and take (and make) shots that are similar to those that they will take during games, we keep track of their field goal percentage while competing against a pre-determined time during each basketball shooting drill.

Competing against the clock has forced our players to work and play at a more similar pace to a game environment, and keeping track of their field goal percentages has made them more competitive with themselves and their teammates.

Below are several 3-point shooting drills that we use with our players during skill development basketball workouts in the off-season and in-season. If you cannot work with your players, these drills are still beneficial because players can still complete them with another teammate while still competing against the clock. Along with the competitive nature of these drills, they will also help improve player conditioning.

If players commit to working and shooting during these basketball drills at a level that is initially uncomfortable to them, they will notice their conditioning improvement after several weeks. Shooting the basketball while players are tired is one of the most challenging aspects of game situations to simulate during practices or individual workouts. Completing these drills can help players improve their basketball shooting abilities while they are tired due to the constant movement, competing against the clock, and the drills’ competitive nature.


Basketball Drill #1: 7’s Shooting


Basketball Drill Instructions

  • The player will start on the sideline and sprint to the wing for a catch and shoot a 3-pointer.
  • After the shot, the player will sprint to the sideline and back to the wing and shoot again.
  • The player will continue this process until they have made seven 3-point baskets from the wing.
  • Once making seven from the wing, the player will move to the top of the key, where they will continue the same process, with the only difference being sprinting to half court instead of the sideline.
  • Once the player has made seven 3-pointers from the top of the key, they move to the other wing and continue until they have made seven 3-pointers.

The objective is to get the player to shoot a high percentage from the field and make all 21 3-pointers while working on their conditioning. The set time that we use with our college players is two minutes to successfully make all 21 3-pointers. We record the players’ makes and attempts each time we do this basketball drill and post them in our locker room for them to see. You can adjust the time accordingly. Just make sure you are challenging your players to shoot and play at a faster level.


Basketball Drill #2: Knicks Shooting


Basketball Drill Instructions

  • The player starts in the corner and shoots two stationary 3-pointers.
  • Following the second shot, the player sprints to half-court and back to the corner where they will shoot their third 3-pointer in transition.
  • Following this shot, the player will sprint to half-court and back to the corner and shoot their fourth 3-pointer in transition.
  • After this shot, the player will sprint to half-court and back to the corner and shoot their final 3-pointer in transition from the corner.
  • The player will shoot five 3-pointers from five different spots on the floor while sprinting after their second, third, and fourth shots at each spot.

As the player makes their way around the 3-point line, the end location of their sprint changes (see diagram). Again, the objective is to get your basketball players to shoot a high percentage from the field while trying to make all 25 3-pointers. The set time that we use for our players is 3 minutes and 30 seconds. We keep track of our players’ shooting percentages and whether they could complete the drill in the allotted time.



Basketball Training: Shooting at Game Speed Conclusion

These are two examples of basketball shooting drills that we use in our basketball training with our players that help reiterate the importance of working and playing at a high level while shooting the basketball to help simulate game situations. Keeping track of our player’s field goal percentages during these drills has made them more competitive while competing against the clock, forcing them to shoot game-shots at game-speed. Once your players have completed the drills and are shooting a high percentage from the 3-point line, lower their times and continue to challenge them.



Emphasizing 1 vs 1 Basketball Training in the Offseason


Emphasizing 1 vs 1 Basketball Training in the Offseason

Chris Mudge contributed to this portion of the article.


This offseason, our biggest focus has been skill development. All of our basketball drills in our workouts have been designed to improve our players’ ability to dribble, pass, and score. From footwork to passing technique to finishing and everything in between have focused on our players’ ability to be more fundamentally sound when making plays for themselves and others. One weakness to this approach, when used by itself, is that basketball isn’t played in a drill setting. You don’t know ahead of time how the defense will react, who will be open, what foot you will finish on, etc.

Last season, our basketball team was not good at reading, changing defenses, and making plays based on what the defense gives them. This manifested itself in many ways. We were bad at reading closeouts, bad at attacking out of triple threat, bad at making the right pass when the help rotates, bad at reading ball screens (reading the show, the roll, where the help is coming from, etc.), and reading screens off the ball. To combat this, we have our players play a ton of 1 vs 1 during and after our skill workouts on their own. The only way we have found to improve a player’s ability to make plays is to make them do it over and over and over again.


Work on Game Scenarios

We have given them scenarios that mimic real basketball situations they need to get better at reading. You can change many things about the 1 vs 1 to change the scenario. You can change what position the ball handler is in: triple threat stationary, triple threat off of a cut (straight, flare, curl, etc.), off the bounce, off of a ball screen, out of transition, to name a few we focus on. You can also change areas of the floor (wing, top, elbow, corner). And you can change how the defense is rotating/positioned to stop the ball (closing out, help the helper then recover, on the side of the ball, etc.).



Have a Dribble Limit

We always give a dribble limit to our offensive players to help them become more efficient. It obviously isn’t game like to take 12 dribbles to get anywhere. In every scenario we create, we tell them to focus on reading, attacking the read, then discussing with their teammates. We encourage the defense to say, “I closed out with the baseline open, and you drove middle, you gotta read my closeout better.” Or “I went under the screen, and you curled into me instead of flaring.” We want both sides of the ball to increase the awareness of what the other is doing and how to counteract it.



Work Making Contested Shots

We didn’t foresee going into the 1 v 1 because it would help our players practice making difficult contested shots. In college basketball, most teams play relatively solid fundamental defense for most of the game. Rarely are you able to get wide open uncontested shots, especially late in the shot clock. We executed very well in the half-court last season, but even in the best cases of execution, you sometimes have to make a contested shot by a good player.

1 vs 1 basketball training puts players in positions where they don’t know what shot they will get initially and can’t predetermine what they will do. They may have to finish off the wrong foot or adjust their shooting pocket because of a closeout or shoot it higher off the glass because they got pushed outside the lane line. All these determinations and adjustments are difficult to teach other than in live-action situations.

We have already seen our players get more comfortable taking and making unorthodox shots and finishes at the basket that we had trouble with last season. This is not to say that we want them to shoot bad shots. If a coach is present, we make a bad shot a turnover for the offense. We want to take good shots even in 1 vs 1. It forces players to know how to get good shots, even if they are contested.



Defending the Basketball

The final thing that 1 vs 1 basketball training has done for us is that it has improved our players’ ability to keep the ball in front as an on-ball defender. In 1 vs 1, you have no help if you get beat, you have no safety net to slow the offense down to let you get back in front; it is all on you to make the offense stay out of the paint and shoot a difficult shot.

This is the hardest situation for a defender imaginable, and players begin to learn how to find a way to get the job done. They begin to realize how tight they can be on certain types of players and still keep in front of them. They begin to read who they are closing out to and adjust their closeout, they learn how to fight drives and get back in front to force a tough shot without fouling, etc.

We can teach technique as basketball coaches all we want (which we do heavily during the season), but there is a certain level of instinct, a certain level of learning how to get it done that is learned playing 1 vs 1 that can’t be mimicked in some basketball drills. By putting the defender in situations where they closeout, where they help then recover, where they get under a  ball screen and have to stop a drive, etc., they figure out how to play defense 1 vs 1 with no help, which will make our team defense more sound when the season comes around.

Players love to play 1 vs 1, and they have really bought into what we are trying to get out of it. I hope it makes us better next season!



Basketball Training: Strengths Vs Weaknesses


Basketball Training: Strengths Vs Weaknesses


Over the summer and during the off-season, you will be spending a lot of time as a basketball coach training your players. You will most likely do your basketball training in small groups and by player position. This is all pretty much normal and what the majority of basketball coaches do.

The question that I have, though, is how much time are you going to spend working on a basketball player’s strengths compared to their weaknesses? Whether you like it or not, there are only so many hours designated for basketball workouts and helping your players develop. How you handle those hours can mean all the difference in developing those players and giving your team a chance to win.


Basketball Training: Personal Experience

I played college basketball at a smaller division 1 school called Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va, and also professionally in Europe for a little bit. Early in my basketball playing career, I was all about trying to become a complete offensive player. I wanted to be able to handle the ball, shoot it, score one on one, etc., but now that I look back at that, I hurt myself some in taking that approach.

The reason why is because I spent so much time working on all of my weaknesses that I forgot to work on my shooting, which was my biggest strength. I became average to good at a lot of things instead of being really great at a couple of things. In my junior season of college, I made over one hundred 3 pointers and was the 19th ranked shooter in the country coming into my senior season. However, during the off-season, I got caught up with working on my weaknesses and got away from my shooting, and I didn’t shoot it nearly as well my senior year.

Today I see the same thing with a lot of younger basketball players that I watch play. They are unsure of what they should be working on, so they spend their time just working on a little bit of everything. This leaves them in a situation where they don’t really fill a role on a basketball team, and as the competition gets higher, they will not be able to play.

When, if they would just spend time concentrating on the things that would allow them to fill a role on a team, they would be much better off. It may be hard to get your players to buy into this, but unless they are the next Lebron James or Kevin Durant, they will find it very hard to score anyway they want. As a coach, you need to show your basketball players the benefits of this and how to work on mastering their role.


Basketball Training: Examples

An outstanding coach that I have heard speak on multiple occasions is Charlton Young or CY to most of his friends and coaching colleagues. He is now an assistant men’s basketball coach at Florida State University, but before he was an assistant men’s basketball coach at Georgia Tech, and one of the players who played while he was there was Anthony Morrow. At a basketball coaching clinic, I heard Coach Young tell the story of how he talked Anthony Morrow into working on his game and only looking to score with a maximum of 2 dribbles when he caught the ball.

They trained all off-season to work on catching and shooting or putting the ball down and only scoring with 2 dribbles or less. Doing this helped to skyrocket Anthony Morrow’s game and eventually allowed him to make it to the NBA. All because he mastered a couple of areas of the game and filled the role of being a great basketball shooter.

That is just one story and one player, but if you look at the players who are playing at a high level, you will see that all of them are there to fill a specific role (except for some of the superstars who fill multiple roles and can take over as needed). One of my basketball coaches in college was Dale Layer and would use the analogy of playing cards. He would say that you want to play your “Aces” when you are in the game, not your low cards.



Basketball Training: Make Time for Weaknesses

After reading all this, you probably would think that there would be no time for working on a player’s weaknesses. However, there does need to be some time designated for developing a basketball player’s weaknesses, and depending on the time of the year, you can allow for even more time.

If you have a player who can shoot lights out but dribbles the ball off their foot every time they put it down, you need to spend some time doing basketball dribbling drills and working on this weakness. If not, the defense will just run them off the line every time they catch the ball. Ball-handling is a subcategory, though, and you need to make sure that you are still spending most of your time working on their strength, which is shooting.

If you are training and there are 2-3 months before the season starts, you can designate more time to working on a player’s weaknesses, but as the season gets closer, you should be working on what role they are going to fill on the team. It doesn’t always have to be an offensive role either.

If you have a basketball player who will set screens, rebound the basketball, and play defense, then train them to be the best at doing those things. Once again, you should teach them to be able to knock down an open 12 footer, but you shouldn’t be spending all your time teaching them to be Hakeem Olajuwon on the block.

Take full advantage of your basketball training time and work on the skills for your players to help them in the long run and help your team win games.




Mastering the Details in Basketball


Mastering the Details in Basketball


If you ever watch great basketball teams play, you will quickly realize that they do all of the little things well. They are constantly communicating, closing out with high hands, making the extra pass, and so on. If you looked at each area singularly, they might not be that big of a deal in the grand scheme of everything, but you add all of these details together, and it really is what separates the best basketball teams from all of the rest.

So with the details being such a big deal, how do you make sure that your team is constantly focusing on mastering the details in basketball? What does it take to get your team to that level where every player is doing what they should be doing to help the team win games and ultimately championships? Here are four ways to make sure that your team is mastering the details in basketball.


A Clear Explanation of “What” and “Why”

An important part of coaching basketball today is not just telling a player to do something but also explaining why it is important for them to be doing it a certain way. The old school idea of coaching is, “do it this way because I said so.” However, that isn’t really realistic with the way that human nature works.

Yes, there should be a level of trust where a basketball coach can make a change, and the players do it without hesitating, but a player doesn’t really buy into something until they know why it is important. It is the same thing when someone tells you to do something, you want to know why, and once you know why it is important, you are so much more likely to do it.

Here are a few areas that are extremely key to a basketball team’s success but most likely need to be explained to your players as to why they are so important.



  • High Hands
  • Communication
  • Gap/Help
  • Rotations
  • Finishing the Play
  • Scouting Report Defense


Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what your basketball team is going to value, and then make sure that all of your players are on the same page. It needs to be clearly explained, both what you are looking for and why they should be doing it. Only once this is done will you be able to start holding people accountable.


“The only way to get players to like working hard is to motivate them. Today, players must understand why they’re working hard.” – Rick Pitino


High Accountability, High Expectations

“High accountability, high expectations” is a term that Gregg Marshal uses with his program at Wichita State, but it is definitely something that every program should be doing. Once you have clearly explained what and why to your team, you need to hold them accountable. This goes for the best player on your team, down to the last man on the bench, no exceptions.

This is how you start to build a winning culture in basketball. Good basketball players want to be pushed and held accountable; they just want to know what is expected of them and for it to be fair. Don’t set wild expectations that can’t be met or set expectations that are too low, and don’t hold anyone accountable. Be upfront with your players, and they will respect what you are asking of them.

There are going to be times that players mess up; that is just the way it is. So make sure that your punishment fits the crime. It is up to you to figure out what you want to do, but just make sure that you don’t paint yourself into a corner by setting up a bunch of set punishments for rule infractions.


No Days Off

The quickest way to lose discipline and a level of excellence within your basketball program is inconsistency. Players need to be held accountable and pushed every day, with no days off. If you are inconsistent with holding players accountable, it will chip away at your leadership and make your players not trust you. However, if you are consistent, a player might not like it in the moment, but they will appreciate you being consistent and holding them accountable.

This goes for being on time, going to class, closing out with high hands, etc. Anything that you value within your basketball program needs to be preached daily. It may be a struggle at first when trying to change your program’s culture, but once you show that certain areas are non-negotiable, players will start to buy-in.


Player Accountability

As much as basketball coaches do for a team, there is still a limit to what they can accomplish, and that is why it is so important to have player accountability within your team. Players need to be holding each other accountable and buying into what the team is trying to accomplish. This is when you start to see something really special happen, and your team has a chance to be great.

A great way to be a catalyst for player accountability is by meeting with team leaders and challenging them to raise the level of play during practice, team pick up, the weight room, workouts, etc. Coaches aren’t always going to be there during pick up or working out, and there must be players who know what is expected and are going to hold their teammates accountable.

Most of the time, players will naturally determine their own leaders on the team, but it is up to you to make sure that these leaders are reinforcing the team’s ideology and not eroding it.



Mastering the Details in Basketball Conclusion

We have all heard the phrase, “It is not so much about the X’s and O’s as Johnny’s and Joe’s,” and this phrase is so true. It doesn’t matter what your game plan is if you don’t have your players bought in and mastering the details of what it takes to be a great basketball team. It will take time to develop your program’s culture, but the long term payouts are absolutely worth all of the hard work.




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