Defensive Practice Planning

Sorry for the slight delay, closing off the loop on practice planning by looking at a defensive emphasis practice. We usually get 2 practices a week during the season, so one of the practices will have a defensive emphasis. In the pre-season, we will practice 3 or 4 times a week, in that case, the ratio is more like 3-to-1 offensive to defensive since early in the season there is a lot more offense to install as compared to the defense. But by mid-season, it is definitely almost 1-to-1 and by the post-season you may end up even more defense as you prepare for specific opponents.

The plan I have chosen to breakdown (click here to see a PDF version) is during the same week as the offensive one I broke down earlier, that way you can see a little bit of how the two work together. I follow the same rough structure as an offensive practice:

1. Dynamic warmup
2. Mental concentration drill
3. Early Offense drill with FTs right after
4. Play Insertion/Walkthrough period
5. Individual defensive development drills
6. Defensive team breakdown drills
7. Team period
8. Team shooting drill

I won't explain again the parts at the top. It is the same as an offensive practice. I will however, setup teams more evenly for a defensive practice, mixing in starters and second unit players. In an offensive practice, I like to keep the starters together for chemistry purposes. But in a defensive practice, I want them even so that they can really go after each other.

Overall, I really keep the periods shorter in a defensive practice as compared to an offensive practice. For example, in an offensive practice, I may have periods that go 10-15 minutes, whereas in a defensive practice, rarely will I go more than 5-10 minutes. Players tend to get bored when the defensive drill lasts too long, and then the quality of the reps goes down. I feel it is important to keep the content fresh and moving quickly so as to keep their attention focused.

I'll skip the dynamic warmup as I covered that in the offensive breakdown and it is exactly the same.

Mental Concentration Drill:
I covered the rationale behind the mental concentration drill in the offensive breakdown. I just want to make a little comment on this drill I picked up from an Alan Stein DVD. I call it sprint/circle/pickup. And what happens is each player has a tennis ball, they roll it along the ground, then they speed dribble and try to circle around the ball, then pickup the tennis ball (all the while dribbling the basketball in the other hand), then finish with a layup. We go half-court only, and work left and right layups. It really is a great drill to work on ball handling and finishing, but mostly it is a great concentration drill because you have to be really dialed-in to do it right.

Early Offense drill with FTs right after:
You can do play insertion before or after fast-break stuff, the problem I found was that I wanted to get after my guys a little when running the fast-break drills and if I did play insertion first they tended to be more sluggish, so I found that doing fast-break stuff before was better overall.

I covered this in the offensive breakdown, and it is basically the same. The only difference being that I usually shorten the time duration for a defensive practice. My goal here is to get them running, bust their tails, and like the mental concentration, I want them focused and finishing hard.

We do FTs as usual after fast-break stuff, to simulate shooting while tired. 

Play Insertion/Walkthrough period:
You can see here, we're going over what we called "Magic", which was a full court matchup press. Last year, we basically ran the Pitino white and black presses. It worked really well with the players we had, it's a kind of pressure that only works when your players have a high basketball IQ. I would not recommend it if you have players that are new to basketball, as it requires players to see the floor and make reads appropriately.

In this practice, I've picked a couple of things to focus on. First is an adjustment versus a team that goes 4 across in their press break. This can present a problem for a man press, so our forwards have to let those bigs get the ball if they cut to the baseline, but then we bump them with our chest if they try to beat us long, to buy some time and turn and run with them. We're also working on backpursuit once we do get beat, stunting and/or jump-switching. I usually setup a 2v2 backpursuit drill full court to rep this.

Individual defensive development drills:
The order of the actual plan might be backwards. I think what I wanted to do here was to do the exchange to closeout drill first, then ballscreen defense afterwards. I like to work some form of individual defense here after an install and before team stuff. I believe in doing a lot of 1v1 work. I think it's vital for players to work 1v1, and understand how to defend 1v1. To many players I see do not really know how to defend a person 1on1. And if you cannot defend 1on1, you rely too much on help and then defenders get out of position and you cannot recover in time.

Specifically, this drill is a 2v2 on 1 side, and 1 shooter on the other side of the floor drill. The 2v2 on the one wing are working exchanges on a coach's call, and when the coach throws it to the shooter, the help defender has to closeout on the shooter, the other defender has to block out 2 players and rebound the ball. It's a great drill to work on closeouts and weakside rebounding. It is a drill I got from the Billy Donovan All-Access DVD.

Defensive team breakdown drills:
I will either choose a modified shell drill or in this case we're working on ballscreen defense. It is usually 2v2 or 3v3. This is where having an assistant coach is important. You can split players up to different baskets and then give some 1on1 attention to specific players.

Everyone has a different way to defend ball screens, the important thing is always teach in a progression, so that's why 2v2 is important. You break things down into smaller parts, and have the players master the skill with specific parameters, before introducing them to the entire sequence.

Team period:
Defensive practices are a little different in that there will be a few different things we will do in team. We will usually work on some kind of team press scrimmage, or team trapping scrimmage. The idea is to work our press or half-court traps in a live like situation.

We will also work our shell drills in this time. I like having the guards and forwards cross as they come into half-court so I can see ball to help side positioning right away. You must have a "live" call so that as a coach you control when the players can score. Before the "live" call, I'm watching if the help is where it needs to be as the ball is reversed and players are cutting through. I'm also looking for good closeouts (under control), communication by the players, and how they are playing the cutters. I will also have the players play cutthroat shell, so defense needs 2 stops in order to go on offense.

I like to insert a short shooting drill somewhere in between team periods. As mentioned, players everywhere hate defensive practices, so having something in between to break the monotony is good, especially as you go into a team scrimmage period where you want players to be a little more enthusiastic for.

I've talked about the team scrimmages I like to run in the offensive breakdown. I will the same thing here at the end of practice, but the period duration will usually be shorter. I will usually incorporate full-court pressing or some of our half-court trap calls in the scrimmages too for defensive emphasis.

Team shooting drill:
Like in the offensive practices, I like to end with a team shooting drill. Again, I find it useful to take 5 minutes to gather my thoughts about practice, and to remind myself of any things I want to say to the team before we break for the end of practice.

End of Practice:
Same as offensive practices. I will give them an evaluation of the practice and lecture them a little about something we worked on. I will also remind them of any important details for our next game or next practice, such as rides, or early dismissals, or forms they need to hand in.

So there you have it. My philosophy on practice planning in 3 separate posts. I hope you found that helpful and even if there was one or two things you can take from it, I hope it was worth your while to read my posts. Definitely would like to hear from the rest of you on your philosophy on practices, feel free to email me or make a post about it on the X's and O's basketball forum.