How to make players care more about practice

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“We talkin’ about practice, man. What are we talking about – practice? We talkin’ about practice.”

The infamous press conference where Allen Iverson rants about practice may have occurred almost 20 years ago, but that type of attitude in basketball players still carries on to this day.

As coaches, we don’t want our players to take on this mentality that minimizes the importance of  basketball practice. So how do we get players to really value practice?

Well, I think it starts with us.

While seeking advice on how to be the best father I could be to my kids, a mentor told me “Character is better caught than taught.” That has always stuck with me; I’ve applied it to my coaching and leadership roles throughout my life. We can talk about stuff all day, but what we do will speak louder than any words.

I’ve seen coaches, parents and leaders demand things of others that they don’t even do themselves. I’ve even caught myself doing it.

Self-awareness is the first step in helping your players. So before you think about the pillars of your program and what you value most from your players, ask yourself the tough questions:

Do you show up prepared?

Do you get there early?

Do you bring high energy, focus and attention to detail the way you desire it from your players?

What is your body language saying?

Now answer this: do you really value practice? What I mean is, are you telling your players that what happens in practice matters, but come game time still just playing your “most talented” players? As a coach, you have to back up your words with actions. There’s no value in lip service.

If you and your coaching staff don’t display the very things you expect from your players, do something about it. Make the changes in yourself that you want to see in your players.

Now, back to practice. Yeah, I’m talking about practice. Here are three tangible ways to help your players value basketball practice:

1) Measure everything in practice – Chart shots; chart winners and losers in competitive games and in sprints; chart communication, hustle and other traditional “intangible” qualities.

2) Communicate expectations and standards early and often. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Coaches often think they are clear in their communication, but in reality, very few are. Ask your players what they think you value in practice. Then tell them why you value practice.

3) Give specific roles to players in drills and segments of practice. This will make them feel more a part of the process and give them a greater sense of autonomy.

For example, give your team three drills to choose from in a segment. All three will accomplish what you want to get done in that segment but by giving your players the choice, they feel empowered and now you have more buy-in.

You can also give your players “Captain” roles: Captain of Communication, Captain of Spirit, Captain of Hustle, etc.

Basketball practice prepares players and teams for the games. If the “most talented” players don’t apply a great amount of effort in practice, it’s likely others will follow suit. But if players know that how they perform in practice will determine how much play time they get in a game, the more likely they are to value and change their approach to practice.

Sam Allen

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