The reason that we practice is to prepare for our games, and to also give our teams the best chance to win those games. This means that we should be doing our best as coaches to make practice as game like as possible, and to generate as much game pressure and intensity with our players as we can.
By doing this you are going to help your players experience some of the different game pressures that they will face in a game. They will learn to deal with things like; adversity, making shots under pressure, end of game situations, etc. So how can you as a basketball coach help generate pressure and intensity in your practices?
There isn't a way that you are going to be able to completely mimic the pressure of a real game, but there are ways that you can try to come close it. The closer that you can get your practices to being game like, the better practice will be. So here are some tools that you can use as a coach to make sure that you are doing everything you can to help promote a game like feel in your practices.
Establish the Culture
The first thing that you need to do with your team is develop the precedent of what you expect from them during practice time. Explain to your players why it is important, what is going to be required of them, and then hold every player personally accountable.
It will be hard at first, but you will find that once the culture starts to build, the players will begin holding themselves accountable. This is when your practices get exciting and you start seeing real growth in your team.
A great way to help speed this process up, is to go to your player leaders, and ask them to help you make sure that practice is on an elite level.
Let them know that it is essential to having a successful season, and then teach them how to be player leaders. You must have players that are willing to step up and set the tone in practice, and it doesn't always have to be your most skilled players either.
End of Game Situations
A great way to put pressure on your players is to set up end of game situations. Have your team play a two minute game and start one of the teams down by 5 points, or whatever type of situation you want to work on. Use situations that they are going to experience in games throughout the season to help them prepare, and also to put added pressure on them.
This will also help your players to understand how much time they actually have at the end of a game, and that they can execute the game plan in a pressure situation and have success. Game pressure is always going to be there, but you can teach your team to not allow it to negatively impact them.
A big part of having intensity in practice is having healthy competition between your players. Everyday your players should be challenging each other in practice for playing time, roles on the team, shots, etc. because nothing helps a team grow like healthy competition.
A great way to promote competition in your practice is doing basketball competition drills that have a limited amount of players on the floor (1 on 1, 2 on 2, etc.). Playing 5 on 5 is great, and there are a lot of things that can be worked on, but it also allows players to hide and be complacent.
A 2 on 2 rebounding drill, or a 1 on 1 offensive/defensive drill is going to force players to compete, or they are going to get exposed.
It is up to you as to what you want to work on in these small group segments. It can even be breaking down a certain portion of your offense or defensive scheme.
However, I would recommend that this be done towards the beginning of practice, that way you can set the competitive tone early. Also, it doesn't have to be done for very long, 10-15 minutes should be plenty of time.
Hate to Lose
Losing should not be something that is comfortable for your team. Every player on your team need to hate losing. Whether it is a basketball shooting drill, or a 5 on 5 short game in practice, there needs to be that hate for losing. Instill in your players the idea of never wanting to lose, and giving their best effort in everything that they do.
One of the best ways to help promote this, is having consequences for the team that losses a drill or short game in practice. It could be some form of running, push ups, etc. but establish what the consequence is before the game or basketball drill starts. This will help your players to play harder, and learn to play with pressure. It has to hurt to lose.