Innovating the Structure of Team Practice

Rising Stars Basketball | January 28, 2022

Tags: Wisconsin AAU Basketball | 17U Boys 2021

Innovating the Structure of Team Practice

From Coast to Coast, in community rec centers, school gyms, or field houses you'll find coaches putting players into lines and putting athletes through drills.

These drills may include layups. Layups are a very common drill found in practices. Another one may be defensive close-outs. Defensive close-outs are a very important aspect of playing individual and team defense. There is no denying that. Among the various drills known to man, you'll find coaches putting athletes into lines and practices these drills, repetition after repetition.

For decades, Championship Productions out of Ames, Iowa has been a leader resource of information, instructional videos, and DVDs, to name a few. These videos include high-profile coaches putting athletes into lines to perform skill drills. Coaches far and wide would set to practice with a list of drills for their athletes to complete. This was the norm.

The Problem with Lines

The problem with lines is that coaches are wasting their precious premium asset; time. Time is allocated for most practices with 2-hours. In these 2-hours, you'll see 15 minutes of layups, 15 minutes of passing drills, 15 minutes of partner shooting, and so on. When you add in water breaks and instruction, you're sitting at roughly 55 minutes of time that had went by.

Each athlete may have complete 20 layups, and made 20 shots. That's 40 shots made in 55 minutes.

If you're an older coach, you likely lined up the athletes to run wind sprints.

Now, you're sitting at 60 minutes of time spent.

You still need time to cover individual defense, team defense, team offense, and inbounds plays - to name a few.

As a collegiate athlete in the early 2000s, I went through these same type of practices in high school and college. Some coaches had defense day, offense day, team defense day, team offense day, and an integrated day if there were no games that week.

The New Aged Innovative Structured Team Practice

In 2008, I had my first coaching job as a varsity boys coach for a local school. I was gifted with a talented group of individuals. Now was the time to put my money where my mouth was.

I followed a Nike skills trainer by the name of Gannon Baker. Gannon Baker was big on "stacking" whereas you stack a series of drills on one another with a progression to each drill. Instead of lines, I stacked drills that took up the full length and width of the court.

Let me be clear. I didn't just put the athletes through a bunch of drills back to back to back to back without any purpose. Each drill included ball handling, a pass, a cut, a finish and/or a shot. These were all game speed drills. In just 20 minutes, we covered ball handling, passing, and finishing. We spent another 20 minutes on another stack of drills, this time entering the post and relocating. The drills included spacing, and attacking from the 5 spots on the floor that are involved in a 5-out spread offense.

The 5-out spread in the 2000s was a novel idea and teas found it very difficult to defense. All 5 players on the court were eventually able to hit the 3, hit the 1-dribble pull up jumper, or attack the rim as well as make the pass in traffic.

We went on to have the best record in school history, averaging 73 points per game, having three players averaging double-digit points, and an athlete with over 30ppg.

Using the Innovative Team Structure Today

Today, I no longer coach prep hoops. I created a Grassroots Skills Development basketball club. This club focuses on the position-less basketball game that is found from coast to coast from preps to pros. We see teams in high school going 5-out with players 5'7 or 6'7 handling the ball, hitting the three, or attacking the rim and creating opportunities for their teammates.

This structure is still a staple of my team practices. We use the length and width of the court to develop our athletes skills.

Example of Drill Stacking

Those of your reading this that express an interest in learning more about drill stacking, i'll be sharing a practice plan with you, here.

06:00PM -- Cone Drills: Ball Handling

Description: Crossovers through the cones from 3pt line to 3pt line, and finish with a layup. Collect the rebound and speed dribble the length of the court and finish a fast break jumper and restart the drill.

Note: Dribble moves; crossovers, between the legs, and behind the back

Make 2 free throws

06:15PM -- Sonic Drills: Full court layups

Description: 4 athletes take up stationary passers, evenly spaced around the center logo. Each athlete takes their own ball, and makes a pass to passer #1, receives a pass, passes to passer #2, and receives a bounce pass for a layup. Collect the rebound, and pass to passer #3 coming back down the court, receive a pass, and pass to passer #4, receive a bounce pass for a layup. Repeat. Continue for a total of 2 minutes. The goal is 60 layups made as a team.

Note: No dribbles are allowed, focus on clean passes and each scorer must complete the drill at full speed.

Make 2 free throws

06:30PM -- Shuffle Passing: Partner Passing & Scoring

Description: On the right side of the floor, partners are spaced out sideline to lane line. Using defensive shuffles and chest passes, the athletes are to move at full speed complete passes without traveling. As the players approach the three point line, the outside passer is to catch, perform a shot fake, and attack move. The inside passer sprints to the opposite sideline, and the scorer moves to lane line passer, and returns down the court. Continue the drill for 4 minutes, then repeat on the left side for 4 minutes.

Note: Footwork is the focus, making sounds passes and a strong finish

Make 2 free throws

06:45PM -- Close-out Shooting

Description: This is a partner shooting drill with a twist. Partner 1 passes to Partner 2. Partner 1 closes out on the ball, Partner 2 takes a contested shot. Partner 2 rebounds their own shot, while Partner 1 relocates to a new spot. Repeat the drill for a total of 2 minutes. Keep track of makes as Partner 1 and Partner 2 are competing for the most makes. Repeat for a total of a best of 7 series.

Note: These are game shots, and players should be on the move while relocating, stand still shooting is discouraged. Relocating players can touch the sideline to ensure each player is constantly on the move.

Make 2 free throws

07:00PM -- Wildcat Shooting

Description: Set up 3 lines across the baseline on each end of the floor. Left corner, center, and right corner are where the lines are set up. The first three athletes in line are to sprint full court, and as they near the free throw line extended, will receive a pass from the line they're in on the opposite end of the floor. The athletes are sprinting at full speed, are asked to squeak their feet, get proper balance and show a hand target. This is a catch and shoot drill. After the shot, retrieve your own rebound, and pass the ball to the next person in line. This is a continuous drill that lasts 5 minutes. The goal is to make 100 shots as a team.

Note: While there are lines, this is a fast paced full court shooting drill focused on shooting on the move. Repeat the drill again to beat their previous score.

Make 2 free throws

07:15PM -- Defensive Shell Drill Progression

Description: Anyone that has played on any level likely knows what the defensive shell drill is, and what is consists of. I like a 4-out, 1-in setup. Post-side, we defend the post, and have help side defense aware of the post lob, or post dig. The other 3 defenders are playing in their gaps, communicating, with their "GUNS" pointed to the ball, and their man. As the passes move around the perimeter, adjustments are made, players shift, and we're communicating where we're helping our teammates. Lastly, on the open-post side, I like to run a basket cut, to help the players learn how to defense basket cuts and take aware the front-cut. Additionally, the weak-side post defender can shade and help any basket cuts, as well.

Note: I like to run through this with each athlete in all of the positions at least 2x

Make 2 free throws

07:30PM -- Touch 'N Go Transition Defense

Description: This is one of my favorite full court drills that mimic real-life game speed situations. One the baseline, line up 4 players on offense, numbered 1 through 4. Immediately across from them on the free throw line extended, are 4 defensive players responsible for their number. The coach rolls the ball to the offense, and calls a number, let's say, "3." All 4 offensive players sprint down the court in a fast-break, meanwhile players responsible for 1, 2 and 4 are to sprint back and defend a 3 on 4, while "3" is touch the baseline, thus creating a 3-4 situation where the last player is coming to help. The players are to attack a 3-on-4 and learn to score before it turns into a 4-on-4 half court drill.

Note: When the drill becomes a 4-on-4, I end the drill. I want my players to attack, and learn to score, and force the defense to earn their stops.

Make 2 free throws

07:45PM -- The Warrior Drill

This is one of my favorite drills, as it creates a competitive environment, it is extremely physical, and requires athletes to score inside the paint. The setup is simple. Place 2 players on the elbows, and there are 2 defenders on the baseline ready to defend. The coach throws the ball in to the players on the elbow, defense is to immediately close out and defend. A shot must go up to start the drill. Once the shot goes up, the defense is to box-out, secure position and secure the ball. Now, both teams are to play 2-on-2 and points only count in the paint. If you make it, you stay - King of the Court, style. This drill teaches players to play through contact, focus on paint touches, boxing out, and utilizing inside position.

Note: Set up a basket on each end of the floor, if a team loses, they're to go to the opposite basket, winner stays. This minimizing lines, and gets every player the maximum amount of repetitions.

Make 2 free throws

08:00PM - Adjourn and End Practice


If you run through that template for a practice plan, you'll find no lines, no wind sprints, and a wide range of skill development drills stacked one on top of the other. These practices are intense, but shorten the development curve of athletes in a given season.

if you're looking for more tips and pointers on drill stacking, workouts or practice plans, visit the TIPS and ARTICLES section of this site.

Rising Stars Basketball Club
Hayward Wisconsin