Managing Christmas Break

This article was originally written for the Coaches Weekly publication. You can check them out here.

 

The Holiday break can be a great tool for your teams growth and development if approached the right way. There are several different schools of thought on the best way to utilise the extended time between game days. Some coaches like to give their players extra time off, others use the break to get in extra practice, and still others focus on giving their players a rest from “basketball activities” instead choosing to focus on strength and conditioning.

From my own experience and by observing other programs throughout the years, I can say this is truly an issue that is never a ‘one size fits all’ approach. That being said, I think there are some valuable principles that can help every coach get the most out of their time off.

 

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Prepare for the Dog Days

The toughest months in a basketball season are always the time immediately following Christmas break. As late December and February roll around, the excitement of the start of the season and the holiday break has inevitably worn off. School is back in session, its cold outside, and players will start to feel the mental and physical fatigue that inevitably comes around the middle of February.

You need to prepare your players for this tough stretch by understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your team – and what type of activity, or lack thereof helps them the most. For example, veteran teams with older players might benefit from extended rest and recovery sessions – personally I always enjoyed the extra weight room sessions which prepared my body for the impending grind of the season. For younger teams, you might take the opportunity to use the extra practice time to teach new sets, work on team chemistry, or perfect your various systems.

 

Revisit the Fundamentals

I think the mid-season break is a great time to sharpen your teams attention and commitment to fundamentals. Depending on how long of a break you have, some coaches will even run a type of mini training camp which starts by hammering home the basics and progresses to more complex practices. This is a great chance to reinforce the foundational pillars on which your team is built. Take the time to teach your players without having to worry about preparing for a game.

As I mentioned before, the degree and manner in which you do this can depend on the makeup of your team. But once you get into conference play it can be difficult to spend a lot of practice time drilling the fundamentals.

 

Skill Development

In the same way that it can be difficult to find time to commit time to fundamentals, skill development can become an afterthought during the rush of the season. Give players opportunities both in practice and during extended gym hours to work on their game. Schedule an extra skill session once or twice a week to give your players the time to sharpen their skills and get a lot of extra looks at the basket. The extra jumpers, ball-handling, and skill work will pay dividends later on.

 

 

 

 

Fresh Start

Regardless of your wins and loss record heading into Christmas break it is important to emerge from the time off with a singular mindset of the team’s goals moving forward. Your team should never be more unified or excited to take on the challenge of the second half of the season. It might also be a good idea to have conversations with your key leaders about the expectations for the second half of the season. Whether that means improving on the first half of your season, or continuing your winning ways, your team should be united and excited to take on the challenges ahead

Coaching Tips: Preparing for the Season Ahead

A big thanks to Ash McCormick for taking the time to give us his thoughts for this piece. Ash has been involved in basketball as either a coach or player for the majority of his life. He played for several years as a professional in Perth’s State Basketball League and also gained experience playing for Missouri Baptist and Southwest Baptist University in the United States. His playing career was cut short by a series of unfortunate knee injuries, but he has stayed involved with basketball by coaching numerous teams in Perth, AU – including youth and professional level teams – and investing in players through workouts and development. On a personal note, Ash has been a huge asset in my development as a player and student of the game. I have benefited greatly from his wisdom and insight. 10646678_697687700324651_3764398252830865370_n

Strengths and Weaknesses 

Without getting too philosophical here, knowing, in a general sense, the strengths and weaknesses of the playing group gives a coach a big head start in knowing how to structure pre-season. Do you have guards who are dangerous off the pick and roll? Do you have a dominant big/s? Are you a long and athletic team? All of these things can determine what systems and philosophy are best suited for your team. So, try to gain an understanding of the weapons you have as your best starting point for systems.

 

Organisation

Organisation and planning are paramount to having a successful preseason. As a coach you want to have a vision of where you would like your team to be come game 1 of the season. Then you want to develop your preseason plan in phases to build towards that vision. This should include your philosophy of how you want your team to play and the type of culture you want to create. You should also develop a reference to your groups identified strengths and weaknesses and how you will use their strengths in a specific way, as well as minimise/work on weaknesses. It’s important that the coach be able to articulate this vision to all the relevant personnel whether it be club reps, assistant coaches, strength and conditioning coaches and the players.

—> (authors note) Speaking practically to the issue of organisation and efficiency of managing your basketball team. Check out TeamSnap (which I have personally used) which can be hugely helpful in streamlining the organisation of your season. Check them out here.

 

Practice Development

Practice plans are the individual building blocks you will use to lay on your foundation for the rest of the season. Always address both defensive and offensive principles in each session. Phasing offense and Defense into completely seperate parts of the preseason creates an environment where growth is disjointed and that growth can be deceptive! If you spend the first month just working solely Defense it will appear your Defense is strong, but in reality having done no work against structured offense, your Defense is not preparing for what it will likely face in the season. Likewise in reverse, offense developed against unstructured Defense is a false economy. Work on both in each session and let them sharpen and develop each other evenly. Always commit a portion of your session to live play. This is where the players have the opportunity to implement the drills and breakdowns you have gone through into a live game-like setting. This will help the players transfer those skills into game situations.

 

The Pulse of Your Team

Practice plans are a guide, don’t get caught up in making sure every drill is done in each session. Tune yourself to your group. Sometimes your group will excel in a drill and staying in it too long is counterproductive, holding them back from advancing to other concepts. Always have some extra drills or scrimmage time available to counter balance this. Conversely there will be times your group may need extra time to grasp certain concepts and it’s important to your group that you don’t skip ahead before they have grounded those skills.

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