Coaching Basketball – Everything You Need to Know

Coaching basketball is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Whether you’re a youth basketball coach or coaching at the college level, there are always new things to learn.

A common misconception when people get into coaching is that it’s all about the X’s and O’s. While the X’s and O’s can certainly be an important aspect of coaching, there’s so much more to it.

Our goal here is to give you a comprehensive guide of almost everything you need to coach basketball, whether at the youth level all the way up to the professional ranks.

Basketball Drills

When it comes to the drills you run as a basketball coach or trainer, it’s obviously completely up to you to decide which drills to run. However, it’s important that you keep in mind the purpose of each drill and why you’re running it.

Often times, coaches run drills for the sake of running them without really having a purpose.

That will typically just be a waste of time and your team might not get better at the rate you’re hoping for.

With that said, if you’re a youth basketball coach, we recommend heading over to our 36 youth basketball drills. If you’re a high school, college, or professional coach, you can use some of these more advanced basketball drills.

We recommend:

  1. Shooting Drills
  2. Dribbling Drills
  3. Passing Drills
  4. Defensive Drills
  5. Agility Drills
  6. Competition Drills

When your players are running through drills, be sure that they’re focused on attention to detail and they aren’t going through the motions. It’s why we like to have several drills that work on similar actions so that our players don’t get bored and start going through the motions.

Basketball Offenses

When it comes to offense in basketball, there are literally so many different offenses you can run. It’s important that you find an offense that fits your style and team’s personnel. Some offenses your team can run include:

  • Motion Offense – The motion offense revolves around spacing, movements, cuts, and screens. It is one of the best offenses you can use to teach the game, which is why we HIGHLY recommend it’s the only offense you run in youth basketball.
  • Dribble Drive Motion Offense – This is a more advanced version of the typical motion offense. This offense revolves around creating gaps and driving lanes for players. It’s best run with a team that is good off of the dribble.
  • Flex Offense – The flex offense has been around for a long time. It’s centered around a backscreen-downscreen pattern, but there are deviations you can run, as well. While it might seem simplistic, it can be a very effective offense.
  • Pick and Roll Continuity – This offense can be used if you have players that are good in pick and roll situations. It will allow you to run a pick and roll, reverse the ball, and then run a pick and roll on the other side of the floor with different players.
  • Read and React Offense – This is an offense that is becoming wildly popular across the game. It’s a great offense to run if you have high IQ players that can take what the defense is giving them.
  • Princeton Offense – The Princeton offense is another one that is predicated on having high IQ players, as it focuses on creating backdoor opportunities and knocking down open shots.
  • Swing Offense – The swing offense is what Bo Ryan ran when he was the head coach at Wisconsin, and it incorporates variations of several different offenses. It is more-so focused on passing, screening and cutting, and being very patient before finding a high-percentage shot.
  • Triangle Offense – The triangle is a type of read and react offense, as its another one that focuses on taking what the defense gives you. It gets its name from the formation of the players on the strong side of the ball (they’re spaced out in a triangle). It was made popular by Phil Jackson in the NBA.

Again, when you’re coaching your basketball team, no matter which offense you choose to run as your base offense (and it obviously doesn’t have to be one of the offenses listed above), attention to detail will be vital.

Basketball Plays

While base offenses like motion and flex are great, often times you’re going to want your team to get into a set to try and create scoring opportunities.

Some of our favorite basketball plays can be found here. There are literally thousands and thousands of plays that you can run with your team. It’s important that you run sets that fit your team’s personnel. If you have knockdown shooters, running plays for open 3’s is probably a good option. A lot of the sets we like to run have multiple options.

Some of my favorite sets come from Archie Miller’s IU team.

Play diagrams of some of those sets are below.

The Pacers also run a lot of quick hitters that we really like.

Again, it’s important that the plays you run suit your personnel and your players understand what you’re trying to accomplish with the set.

If you’re a high school or college coach, it’s always good to have counters to your popular sets because chances are your opponents will be scouting you.

Basketball Defense

One of the quickest ways to make improvements to your team is by focusing on your defense. Teams that can stop their opponent win, it’s plain and simple.

We’ve all heard the cliche, ‘defense wins championships.’ While we don’t use that saying in our program, we do believe that defense is an important aspect of championship programs.

When you’re teaching defense, it’s important that you teach:

  • How you want players to guard the ball
  • If you want to force baseline or to the middle
  • What you want a player that’s one pass away to do (some coaches prefer on-the-line, up-the-line, while others prefer that player to sit in a gap)
  • Players on the help line’s responsibilities
  • Helping the helper
  • How you want to guard ball screens (trapping, hedge and recover, icing, etc.)
  • How you want players to close out
  • How you want to guard pindowns
  • How you want your players to close out
  • How far players should help when guarding a good shooter

In our program, some of our focuses are:

  • Constant ball pressure
  • Defensive rotations
  • Basket protection
  • No baseline drives
  • Playing in the gaps
  • Rebounding
  • Communication
  • Maximum effort at all times
  • Sprinting back in transition defense

And that’s obviously just a fraction of what you may want to teach your players on the defensive end. You also need to decide which types of defense you’ll implement. These might include:

  • Full court man-to-man
  • Half court man-to-man
  • Packline defense
  • 2-3 zone
  • 3-2 zone
  • 1-3-1 zone
  • Diamond press
  • 2-2-1 press
  • 1-2-2 trap

There are also special situation defenses like box-and-1 and triangle-and-2, but those shouldn’t be used as primary defenses.

Just like with offense, your personnel is probably going to dictate part of your defensive strategy.

Practice Planning

Practice planning is as important as anything you do when you’re coaching basketball. You should NEVER go into practice without a plan of attack. If you do, your practices will be inefficient and not nearly as effective as they should be.

On the other hand, a well-planned practice can keep things moving and help your players and team develop.

When you’re planning practices, you should include:

  1. Calesthenics/Stretching/Warm-Up – Your players should have an opportunity to warm their muscles up before diving into an intense practice.
  2. Player development – Even when you’re in the season, you shouldn’t stop trying to develop your players’ skills.
  3. Team development – These are drills and breakdowns that help your team come together. This might be drills like shell, guarding ball screens, or running through your offenses.
  4. Live drills – A mistake that many coaches often make is that they drill everything in controlled situations and their players never do anything live, which creates obvious problems.
  5. Conditioning – This is always mistaken as running. That doesn’t have to be the case. You can get conditioning in with a ball in your players’ hands. The key is making sure your players are in good enough shape to be able to be at the top of their game through all four quarters.

When we’re planning our practices, we do what’s called ‘random practice.’ It is the absolute best method for team development. Essentially, ‘random practice’ is an approach that randomizes reps (ie shooting 10 shots from a different spot on the floor each time).

Too often, coaches force their players to do drills that aren’t game-like at all (ie stand in the same spot and shoot 20 straight jumpshots).

Incorporating ‘random’ drills into your practice plans can help with speeding up your team’s development.

Player Development

Being able to develop the players in your program is important to your team’s success. If your players aren’t getting better, they’re getting worse. You should have player development plans for each player in your program to help them enhance their weaknesses and build upon their strengths.

At the end of your season, you should meet with your returning players and talk with them about the areas they need the most improvement and give them practical drills they can do to work on those.

Try not to overwhelm players with too many things to work on, as you can’t get better at everything overnight. We recommend giving players one or two things you really want them to work on in the offseason, and they should always be working on their fundamentals.

As your offseason progresses, you should be gauging the progress of your players, too. Are they getting better? Are they attacking their drills the way they are supposed to?

Be sure to have check-ins with your players and stay on top of their development.

A lot of programs obviously want great shooters. Creating an off-season contest to track shots taken and and made can create a competition between your players while also working on their games. Again, it’s important that players are taking game-like reps and not just getting up shots casually.

The offseason can be grueling, so any way you can make player development fun and exciting, we recommend doing it. But what’s most important is that your players are getting better.

“The time will come when the winter will ask you what you were doing all summer.”

Scouting Opponents

Coaches at the high school and college levels all typically do some form of scouting their opponents. Scouting helps you get an edge on what your opponents are going to run, their player personnel, their style of play, and much more.

With tools like Hudl and Krossover, film exchanges are easier than ever. Along with going to watch your opponents live, you can break down their game film to give your players a better idea of what to expect. When we scout, we follow these guidelines:

  • Defense
    • What type of defense do they run?
    • Transition defense
    • How well do they get back?
    • Are there ways to get easy baskets in transition?
    • Do they press?
      • How do teams beat it if they do
    • Are there size mismatches we can exploit?
    • How do they guard the post?
    • How do they guard ball screens?
    • How do they guard the wings?
    • Who struggles to guard?
    • What makes their defense effective?
    • How well do they block out and rebound?
    • Do any players try to block shots?
  • Offense
    • Who are their primary scorers?
    • What sets do they run?
    • How patient are they?
    • Will they force bad shots?
    • Do they push the ball in transition or walk it up to set up their offense?
    • Do they prefer to score inside or outside?
  • Player personnel
    • What are each player’s strengths and weaknesses?
    • What are each player’s stats on the season?
    • How has this player been trending in the last few games?
  • Special situations
    • Do they run certain plays at the end of quarters, halves, or games?
    • What is their initial jump ball alignment?
    • What is their substitution pattern like?

After gathering as much of this information as we can, we develop a one-page scouting report to our players. As a coaching staff, we gather much more information than we give our players. We don’t want to bombard our players with all of that information and have them constantly thinking too much when they’re on the floor.

Building a Positive Team Culture

Your basketball team’s culture can make or break a season. It’s important to do everything you can to build a positive team culture. This can be done by:

  • Creating a culture of care
  • Earning your players’ trust
  • “Willingness”
  • A strong focus on academics
  • Atrong focus on character development
  • Doing team-building activities
  • Getting complete buy-in from the top-down
  • Putting the team above yourself
  • Teammates and coaches holding each other accountable
  • Fostering a growth-driven mindset
  • Administering proper discipline for slip-ups

We strongly believe that your culture is what you allow. If you allow players to show up late, that’s part of your culture. If you allow players to openly swear, that’s part of your culture.

As the coach, you’re constantly living and breathing your culture. You can’t ask your players to abide by rules if you’re not abiding by them yourself.

Basketball Parents

Unfortunately, we can’t talk about coaching basketball without talking about basketball parents. If you’ve coached basketball at any level, you’ve probably encountered just about every type of parent.

While many coaches do everything they can to avoid parents at all costs, we’ve found an approach that we think works really well.

Creating a rapport with parents is important for our coaching staff. We want to encourage parents to be part of our culture.

The traditional model of a parent meeting looks like this:

  • List guidelines for players/their kids
  • List a few guidelines for parents
  • Thank the parents for coming
  • Avoid parents the rest of the season

That isn’t how we want our program to operate. Instead, our parent meeting operates like this.

  • Welcome them – Let the parents know that we truly do appreciate them and their children for being part of your program.
  • List 5 characteristics we expect from our players
      • Grit, Respect, Effort, Attitude, Togetherness
      • Invite our parents to encompass these same characteristics & give examples of how they can
        • Grit – Give this program everything you’ve got, just as we expect your sons to.
        • Respect – Show respect for your sons, their opponents, the officials, and everyone else in the gym
        • Effort – Give your best effort to positively cheer on our team
        • Attitude – Keep a positive attitude around your son. Be a champion for our program on social media.
        • Togetherness – Offer to bring teammates home. Sit with the other parents and cheer us on. Offer to host a team meal.
  • Hand out note cards
    • Ask them to write down on one side:
      • Expectations for their child this season
      • What role they think their child will play
      • Expectations for the team this season
    • On the other side, ask them to write down:
      • Outside of wins and playing time, what do they want their child’s experience to be?
      • How can we (as their coaches) help them have that experience?
      • How can they (the parents) help them have that experience?
      • What can they (the parents) do to help create a positive environment?

This method allows us a few opportunities with the parents right from the jump.

On the front side of the note card, we’re able to see what their expectations are for their kid. If their expectations are completely unrealistic, we’re able to give them a call and chat about things at the BEGINNING of the season before there is an issue.

On the back side of the card, it allows us to hold the parents accountable to how they said they can build a positive environment and the experience they said they wanted for their kid outside of playing time and wins.

This approach helps us to build trust with the parents because we are asking for their feedback and asking how we can make their children have a positive experience.

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