Basketball drills are a key to teaching basic skills, increasing performance, and team building. Drills aren’t always a favorite of players when first announced, but their use over time develops routines that players come to depend on. Coaches shouldn’t be shy about using basketball drills at every practice and creating a structured environment. This will help to balance scrimmages and two-on-two or four-on-four practice.
Some coaches may feel basketball drills are old-fashioned, even boring, but never underestimate the value of routine for players and a team. Players bond over a certain amount of adversity, and some drills bring the right amount of pain.
What Do Basketball Drills Teach Your Team?
Drills are popular and have been used to train players for decades because they work. Players may groan when the coach blows the whistle and announces corner to corner wind sprints, or sigh when they know ten minutes of defensive lane slides will wear them out, but getting players into a proper drill routine is helpful. Once a routine is established for practices, it can include slight variations, which players will appreciate because it will break up the monotony.
All teams should use basketball drills to build endurance whether it is defensive lane slides or full-court sprints. Physical fitness isn’t optional for a sport that ruthlessly punishes those who fall behind. Quickness matters, but so does the ability to play extended periods at a full energy level, and out-sprint players on the opposing team.
Some basketball drills focus on individual and team coordination. For example, both two-ball dribbling and two-ball passing reinforce the need to have finely honed coordination skills in ball handling. In the case of one of the classic basketball drills of all time, two-ball dribbling, practice this skill on a regular basis makes a difference for almost all players.
Ball handling needs frequent reinforcement because of the high degree of coordination and speed required, and players should dribble without a second thought. Two-ball passing helps develop coordination with a partner.
Basketball drills, at first glance, don’t seem to have much of a relationship to teamwork. Individual players seem to suffer, or shine, in their own world. But doing drills together, the same way and on a reliable schedule, helps the team know what to expect. Each player, no matter his or her talent level, is reassured that everyone else is in the same boat. This helps the team develop a sense of a safe, predictable environment. In other words, basketball drills help the whole team know what to expect, as they learn the lingo and react together to the quick drill commands of the coach.
One of the greatest assets of basketball drills is pushing players to become more versatile. All coaches know the skills and talent in a team will vary, and superstars come along each season. All players, however, regardless of their skill level, can practice and accomplish a higher number of skills.
Shooting, rebounding, blocking, ball handling, passing, and stealing make a well-rounded player, but some players avoid those areas where they know they won’t excel. Basketball drills expose all players to several skills and create high expectations. Additionally, lack of versatility can be addressed only when the coach sees it.
Basketball drills can last as short as ten minutes or up to a half hour, but either way, there should be a clear beginning and end. Coaches can clearly (and briefly) state the goal of the drill and ask players to reflect on how much they improved or what they learned. Since basketball drills are specific, they help define goals for the team and the individual. Some players respond very well to knowing they’ve completed a drill the correct way or even completed it at all.
Putting Principles Over Personalities
Drills, in basketball or the military, have a way of cutting all players down to size. Getting a team to gel means making sure all players know they have a place, a role, and are part of the team before they are individual superstars. Some players can get bogged down in not liking other players, or even resenting the coach, but basketball drills–especially if they are somewhat predictable–depersonalize the process. Players can’t get mad at a drill, and if they do, they will soon learn it’s not going to disappear because they don’t like it, don’t like the coach, or don’t like their drilling partner.
Basketball drills should include fitness exercises like sprints, which aren’t popular, but they should also include game-like drills such as dribble knockout. In this simple drill, the coach should put half of the team on the court, define in-bounds, and give each player a ball, and tell them to dribble while trying to knock the ball out of the hand of another team member. Observers get a short break, and then it is their turn. This increases ball handling skills, overall coordination, and primes players to become master ball stealers.
How Do Basketball Drills Improve Performance?
When watching a team practice drills, it seems obvious that performance will improve; but how, exactly? After all, in games, much of the skill involves lightning-quick reflexes and instincts on moving, passing, and shooting, whereas basketball drills are often rote and repetitive. The key is in using the drills to tie accomplishment and achievement into muscle memory. The more routine, or subconscious, a skill becomes, the more a player uses it without thinking, so reaction times improve.
Some coaches have teams who, once they learn who their opponent team is, will develop an attitude: “We can’t beat them, why bother?” is one possibility but an all too common mindset is, “No problem, we’ll kick their butts on the court.” Both attitudes have the unfortunate outcome of de-motivating players and reducing their intensity. Drills can be used to solidify commitment by making sure players do all drills at full power, then letting them know that if their intensity level drops during game time, they’ll be sitting on the bench.
Drills create the perfect structure to reward individuals or small groups who work together well. When dividing players in half, the group that wins or completes the drill more quickly can gain a reward such as doing one less wind sprint or naming the next drill. When a player associates a reward with a drill, he or she is likely to repeat that drill with the goal of winning, and a winning attitude is the key to producing players who put their all into practice and games.
Meta-Cognition and Feedback Loops
Basketball drills are critical in helping players gain insight into their own play style, pitfalls, and talents. Because drills even out the field, a player quickly knows when he isn’t measuring up, and this is a great opportunity for the coach to ask, “What do you think you can do to improve your skills in this area?” The player may not know the answer right away, but will probably give it some thought. A player who is hungry for success may practice double-dribbling, for example, to impress the coach next time.
A lot of players don’t get the opportunities to shoot that they would like. Drills that emphasize shooting allow players to work on their outside and inside shots without too much pressure. Post crab dribble moves and speed shooting are often popular drills because they allow players to work on skills they don’t get to practice enough in games, and may not practice enough at home.
How Can Basketball Drills Help Bring a Team Together?
Teams invariably bond over drills, but for a lot of reasons, not just the pain and suffering. Drills both reinforce the routine and help create it. In a team that struggles with cohesion, coaches can be tempted to reduce the number of drills since players may be prone to complaints, but more drills are a better approach. The desire for discipline is one few people will admit to, but most athletes want clear expectations, and they can relax in a context where they know what to expect.
All team members enjoy the sport for the activity and the winning, but never underestimate how important it is for humans to belong to a group. Drills mean that all players matter, all players are doing the same thing, and all players belong. Belonging to the group matters even if bonding experiences don’t occur. A great deal of belonging relies on knowing what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Drills create that structure and schedule, and they are a way that a coach can set players up for success.
Roles and Positioning
Players who don’t know their purpose and can’t define their role may feel insecure on the team. They may strive to help in ways that aren’t helpful or resign themselves to loner status. Drills can help define position roles and break down role responsibility within a specific drill. Although teens and young adults sometimes dislike authority, no one wants to be left wondering what to do. Drills make short work of ambiguity by defining the skill. After 100 rounds of “curl, fade, cut,” players will know both defensive and offensive roles.
Like belonging, bonding between team players is priceless — a team that bonds together will put their level of play a notch higher. Some bonding only occurs in the face of adversity and exceeding expectations. Drills are a great way to provide structure and give players a cue as to when they have exceeded expectations. Some drills, like wind sprints, bring a sense of suffering that offers players ongoing bonding opportunities.
Basketball drills break down the skills needed to become a great player into digestible chunks. Some drills may look like nonsense to a player, but when practiced dozens of times can give the player a clear view of what they are trying to achieve. They may struggle with the skill, but they can name it. As a coach, telling a player what to practice is much simpler when the drill is nearly second nature.
A key to a performing team is seamless communication on the court, and drills help build a common vocabulary and physical cues. Working on passing in drills helps players look in the right direction and give and receive information with body posture. Referring back to a known, named drill also helps the coach communicate what is happening without a long explanation, so it shortens time spent talking and optimizes time spent doing.
Basketball drills don’t seem fair to any player, especially the ones where that players knows he is weak or believes the skill doesn’t matter. But players can’t deny that every team member has to do the same drill. No one gets special treatment, so drills reinforce fairness. Some cultures that promote individuality can lose sight of how important it is to humans that conditions are made to be as fair as possible.
Big Men or Not
Drills like Mikan and Reverse Mikan are great for both big men and guards who need to learn how to finish near the basket without dropping arms below the shoulder. Since forwards, centers, and guards can try to perfect these moves, it helps build camaraderie no matter the player’s size or position. It’s a tough basketball drill, and all players will struggle with it. These types of new learning experiences bring players together on the court.
The specific basketball drill is less important than the routine of doing drills. You should adjust the drill to help the team work on a weak area everyone can recognize. A standard drill routine of ball handling, shooting, passing, layups, and sprints is the foundation of coaching. Having a daily practice routine that uses these basketball drills in the same order, with a little variation, helps players know what to expect. Don’t let the routine get stale, but make sure it is a routine. Then, the drills that are more fun, like double-dribbling or one-on-one cutthroat, can be used as rewards or to highlight player talent.