The first practice of a basketball season can set the tone for the year to come. New players and new aspirations take to the court, and as a coach, it is your job to guide this current group to a winning season. After all, the skills and lessons taught in youth basketball can stick with these young athletes long after the final buzzer of the season.
No doubt, your first practice can seem stressful and overwhelming. But if you plan ahead, establish the right mentality with your players as well as their parents, and ultimately understand the year’s goals, then it can go as easy as a wide-open lay-up.
SET YOUR GOALS
Quite possibly the biggest step in preparing yourself for your first practice is narrowing down your season’s goals and identifying the approach and tone you need to bring to the court. At the youth level, player development and skill building should be your main points of focus throughout the year. While a victorious season is a long-term goal, the majority of your time should be spent on the players’ growth. You want to make sure they enjoy their experience with the sport.
“The kids, they’re there with the expectation that they just want to have fun with friends,” former basketball coach and DICK’S Sporting Goods Associate Derek Liebert says. “Not many are there to play the highest level of basketball, so being able to manage your expectations with the mindset of, ‘Okay, we’re here to have fun,’ is vital.”
“The younger the age level, the more open-minded you need to be because you’re going to inherit a roster filled with a number of different skill sets,” adds Liebert. “It’s about understanding that you have to start from the beginning, not just walk into the gym and say, ‘Okay, three-point shooting drills for the next hour.’ No, we’re going to learn how to dribble, how to pass, how to communicate, how to execute defensive moves, all of that. Building that foundation is a good basic mindset to have as a youth best basketball shoes for ankle support coach.”
Prior to hitting the hardwood, you should establish a line of communication with each player, as well as their parents. Let them know where and when to report for the first day, and what they are expected to bring. This pre-practice talk can also be a great time to get any additional contact or medical information for your records.
One way to keep your team organized is by using DICK’S Team Sports HQ. This coach’s resource offers online management software to help with registration, scheduling and communication with parents and players. With TSHQ, you can even design custom uniforms and fan gear.
Take the time to also schedule a group meeting with parents before the season starts. Keeping an open and informative line of communication with parents is key. You’ll be able to explain your expectations for them, like transporting kids to practice, volunteering at concessions and game day procedures and appropriate gametime behavior. Basketball puts teams and fans in close proximity, so actions such as heckling players, coaching from the stands and confronting referees need to be addressed and heavily discouraged right up front. Keep the forum open, but remain firm to establish your expectations and that you are in charge of the team’s progress.
“The more honest and upfront you can be, the better,” says Liebert of this parent-coach communication. Positive relationships with parents can help during the season and make for a better experience for the kids.
WHAT TO BRING
Your first practice will require the basics of coaching equipment, including basketballs, cones, a stopwatch, whistle and first-aid kit to start. You should also provide enough water for your players and bring any forms or papers that need to be distributed. For a complete list of coaching necessities, accessories and other items, check out our Basketball Coach Checklist.
Aside from game equipment, you should arrive at the court with your practice schedule planned. Especially at the youth level, time in the gym is precious. The last thing you want is to waste valuable minutes trying to decide which drill should be next. Instead, plan your practice out the night before and finalize details an hour or so before blowing the first whistle. This structured time frame will make everything smoother and more secure.
MEETING THE TEAM
While you should have already contacted your players and spoken to them, your first practice might be the first time meeting everyone face-to-face and as a team. Take this introduction seriously. You want to give a good first impression and get a good feel for your team’s attitude.
“For youth basketball, especially, you have to realize that you’re not only meeting your players for the first time, but being introduced to each individual’s skill set as well,” says Maureen Lawrence, a DICK’S Sporting Goods Associate and former collegiate coach.
Before diving into stretches and drills, get everyone together for introductions. Tell the team about your background in basketball, as well as a fun fact or two. After you’ve given your brief biography, it’s time to have your players introduce themselves. Not only is it their first meeting you, but some of their teammates may be fresh faces as well. Keep a fun atmosphere and embrace the conversation. A comfortable communication environment is going to be a huge positive for your team.