I know that sounds like common sense, but this simple thought has revolutionized how we plan our practices. That change stemmed from the fourth question to challenge my coaching in 20201:
How much time do your players have to get better in practice?
It’s easy to assume that as long as players are in practice, they will get better. And I suppose that’s true to an extent. However, it is also true that not all practices are created equal.
This summer we recorded all of our open gyms as I started my new job at Mount Vernon High School. The goal was to create video clips of our drills and games that we could disseminate to our lower level coaches.
When fall rolled around I began to index everything we did during the summer. It was the most depressing thing I’ve ever done.
The footage revealed that our players spent remarkably little time actually doing the things we were trying to improve. So what was going on instead?
The coach did a lot of talking / teaching / explaining / demonstrating
Transitions between drills and repetitions took far too long
Groupings were too big which left players standing and watching
We were inefficient, poorly organized, and lacked a sense of urgency getting in and out of drills. In short, I wasn’t giving our players the opportunity to actually get better because during the majority of our workouts they weren’t doing much at all.
My responsibility as a coach is to create an environment where we maximize our time on task – the amount of real time actually spent performing the task, practicing the skill, making game-like decisions, etc.
If you don’t know how much time you are giving your players to get better, review the film. Use a stopwatch to record how much time the team is engaged in drills / games. The first time I did this, much to my dismay, I found that our players were only on-task for about 50% of the time during our workouts!
If you’re into self-flagellation, choose one player to watch on your practice film and record the amount of time they are actually performing a skill, or count the number of shots, passes, or decisions they make in a single practice. You might be depressed too.
This question has led our staff to obsess over metrics like shots / minute in our shooting drills, or decisions / minute in our small sided games. We are constantly looking for ways to make smaller groups, use our space most efficiently, and to make our transitions even faster.
Players will get marginally better watching a demonstration, or listening to an explanation. They will get significantly better the more time they are given to actually do the thing you want them to improve.
Our players have bought into the philosophy of Chasing Reps, a phrase they will often use to spur one another in practice. But their ability to get better? That starts with me giving them as much time as possible to do the thing we want them to improve.
For more tips on how to improve time on task in your practices, download Chris Oliver’s guide at Basketball Immersion.
Nate Sanderson, TOC Mentor and Co-Host of the Coaching Culture Podcast NSanderson@ThriveOnChallenge.com Twitter @CoachNSanderson
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