Basketball practice is the best place for you to develop your team and improve individual skills. But what if there was a way to actually speed up skill retention and have your players prepared for game action?

How many times have you drilled skills over and over in basketball practice, your team performs them well, and then you get to the game and it seems like they’ve forgotten everything that you’ve taught them? This is not an uncommon occurrence and may make you want to bang your head against a wall as a coach.

But a trap that the majority of coaches fall into is the way in which they structure their basketball practices.

Basketball Practice: Block vs. Random

Some of the most popular drills that coaches run in their practices are:

  • 2-ball dribbling
  • Dribbling relays
  • Cone dribbling
  • Three man weave
  • Zig-zag defensive slides
  • Spot shooting
  • Mikan drill
  • Two-man passing
  • Defensive lane slides

As the season goes on, you may notice that your players are getting better and better at these drills, which is encouraging, but their game performance isn’t improving at the same rate. That’s because you’re using a method in which we call block practice.

Block Practice

Block practice is “a traditional approach to practice that involves getting a high number of reps repeating the exact same movement over and over and over again.” For example, shooting 10 shots from the same spot, or performing dribble moves in a stationary spot, or running the 3 man weave where you do the same thing over and over again. Players can essentially perform these drills on autopilot and aren’t forced to think much about them. Structuring your drills with the ‘block practice’ method makes your players good at drills, not skills.

Contrarily, random practice is the method we’re recommending here for your drills.

Random Practice

Random practice is “a practice approach that randomizes reps – you never do the exact same thing twice.” An example of this is shooting ten shots from all different places on the floor. Why do we recommend this method?

Game skills are complex skills that require your players to read, plan, and do for every skill they perform. Let’s take the example of a jumpshot a player takes in a game for our ‘read, plan, do’ approach.

Read

A player must read where they’re at on the floor, where the defense is at, and where the goal is at.

Plan

Then the player must plan exactly where they’re going to aim, how hard they are going to shoot, and how high they are going to shoot.

Do

Finally, the player shoots the ball.

We could have used an example from literally any skill in a basketball game, as each takes the ‘read, plan, do’ approach, even though they happen in milliseconds.

So, as the ‘random’ practice method suggests, you should be working to randomize reps within your practices, because then players are forced to read the floor, plan their approach, and then do the skill. It makes your practices more game-like. Because of that, the skills you are building with your random practices will actually transfer over to games.

Let’s take the examples of popular drills above & suggest drills that focus on ‘random’ instead of ‘block’ practice.

  • 2-ball dribbling, dribbling relays, cone dribbling
    • Play dribble tag, where players are forced to dribble the ball and avoid being tagged by people. This forces them to read the floor and where the taggers are at, plan the move they’re going to make to avoid them, and then execute the dribble moves.
  • Three man weave
    • Play 3-on-3 full court. You can even limit the number of dribbles that players are allowed to take. This drill focuses on game actions and forces players to read the floor & defense, plan if they’re going to dribble, screen, pass, shoot, etc. and then perform the skill.
  • Zig-zag defensive slides & defensive lane slides
    • Play 1-on-1 full court. This forces the defense to keep their man in front of them and they’re not just sliding in a zig-zag, but being forced to guard like they would in a game.
  • Spot shooting
    • Partner shooting where you shoot the ball, pass to your partner, close out on them while they shoot, and then keep moving until they can pass to you. This simulates game action because you’re not shooting from the same spot over and over, and you have to read where you’re at on the floor, along with the defender closing out on you.
  • Mikan drill
    • Play 1-on-1 from the block. This still allows your players to work on their post games (and hopefully layups), but they’re playing against defense and forced to shoot game-like layups, rather than uncontested layups moving side-to-side.
  • Two-man passing
    • Play 2-on-2 and don’t allow dribbles. This forces players to read where the defense is at, execute certain types of passes, and also works on cutting and reading defenders.

One thing that I want to get across is that I don’t think you’re a bad coach if you use some block approaches to your practices. Drills like form shooting to get practice started can be very beneficial to grooving your shot for the day.

But our point here is that using the random practice approach can help speed up your team’s skill retention, and ultimately help you win more games.

To dive a little deeper into this topic, watch the video below.

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