Maximize Youth Basketball Practice Time

Three Simple Steps to Make the Most of Your Time

In many communities, getting gym time for your youth basketball practice is a difficult task.  Many teams are limited to one or two hours of practice time each week to prepare for weekend games.  This limited practice time puts coaches in the difficult position of balancing the need for fundamental work against the need to review offensive and defensive schemes.

As a high school coach who has received kids from youth basketball programs, it is apparent that the majority of coaches choose offensive and defensive schemes over fundamentals.  While those things are important in the short term, in the long run they are a detriment to the athlete’s development.

Youth basketball teams, that spend a lot of time on skill development, tend to perform better over the course of a season than teams that just learn plays.  If you can’t dribble, pass or shoot, the offense that you run will not matter.  Kids who have mastered the fundamentals of the game can be plugged into any offensive system easily and be successful; their less fundamentally skilled counterparts will struggle.

The things can help you balance the need to work on an offensive scheme and build skills along the way.

Tip #1:  Determine what skills are important to your offensive scheme. 

Take some time to examine the basic skills that your offense requires.  Are you running a Dribble Drive style offense that requires players to be able to shoot off the dribble?  What about a motion offense that requires players to be able to catch and shoot off screens?  Each offense requires a different skill set for success.  Review the basic skills necessary for success and plan your drills around those skill sets.  If your offense involves a lot of pick and roll sets, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of practice time shooting set shots. 

Tip #2:  Small groups with lots of reps. 

Muscle memory is a critical factor in being able to repeat a skill successfully.  I have been to practices where coaches have their kids go through layup lines for ten minutes and still only get off ten shots.  Even if you have only one basket, break your team up into small groups and work on different things.  For example, you could have a group of four working on layups for five minutes and another group of four working on a passing drill for five minutes, then rotate the groups.  By breaking them up into small groups, you can double or triple the amount of reps each player gets, speeding up the skill development process.

 Tip #3:  Have a written practice plan and stick to it. 

Youth coaches everywhere walk into the gym with a vague idea of what they want to practice that day.  They do not have anything written down or a clear plan of what they want to accomplish.  Practice time is precious and should not be wasted.  The most successful coaches are those who have every minute of practice scripted.  Each practice should have a focus and a goals to accomplish, with drills and activities planned around those goals.  When you have your practice scripted, do not allow yourself to go over time on any one drill.  If your players have not mastered the skill in the time allowed, move on to the next drill and remember to schedule time in your next practice to work on it again. 

Here is a sample practice schedule for a typical one hour practice.


10 Min.

Stationary Dribbling (5 Min) Dribbling Moves (5 Min)

10 Min.

Shooting Drill (based off offensive need) - Competitive

10 Min.

Defensive Work – Help-side (5 Min) Trapping (5 Min)

15 Min.

Offensive Work – Pick and Roll (5 Min) Man Offense (10 Min)

10 Min.

3 on 3 Offensive Work – Focus on Off Ball Screens

5 Min.

Shoot Free-throws

For youth teams, it is more important that players become fundamentally sound than win at all costs.  Remember, the skills you prepare them with today are the ones they will build their futures with tomorrow.