What You Must Do Before Your First Game! (Part 1)

I believe strongly that thorough preparation helps us get the most out of our players as individuals and our team as a whole.  We create an Installation Schedule before practice starts, but it is never too late to look at what you are teaching!

-WHAT is an Installation Schedule?

A: It is a detailed daily plan of what you are going to put in each and every day of practice so you will be prepared for your first game.

-WHY do I need an Installation Schedule?
A: Here are three reasons: 1. Preparation is crucial to confidence! If you have confidence in what you are teaching as a coach then your players will have more confidence in what you are teaching. If your players have more confidence in what you are teaching then they will have more confidence in themselves and their teammates, which leads to them playing better! 2. If you don’t have an installation plan then it is easy to get distracted when things come up in practice. We can easily spend more time on one area than you planned and then not have enough time to cover everything you had intended. 3. Creating one forces you to look at what you are teaching, why you are teaching it, and how to best teach it. It helps you eliminate things that are not critical and be more efficient with your time. It also helps you look at if your teaching progression is well-designed. Do your skills and drills build on one another or are they seemingly random?

-HOW do I create an Installation Schedule and WHAT needs to be in it?
1. Break your plan or scheme down into smaller parts that build off of each other in a way that makes sense. We prefer the Part-Whole Method (break the concepts down into smaller manageable parts and then fit them together). However, you have to explain the “whole” first (sell the plan! Explain the “why!”) For example, before teaching our presses as a whole, we teach how to trap (and how to fight a trap on offense). These trapping rules then apply in any trapping scheme we put in during the year (halfcourt man or zone traps and fullcourt man or zone traps). But don’t do 30 minutes of trapping drills without the players knowing when they might use those skills!

2. Pacing. Do not try to put in too much too fast because both the players and you, as the coach, will be frustrated. We want to build confidence in the plan, and if people act frustrated or don’t understand what’s going on they will not be confident! For example, we post a practice plan on the wall before every practice for the players to see. At the top of the practice plan are three very important things: an Offensive Emphasis for that day, a Defensive emphasis, and a Thought of the Day (usually a motivational quote that applies to our current situation.) Players have to know and be able to recite these three things (keep them short!) in our prepractice team meeting after our warmup at center court. If the individual I call on does not know them, then there is a team punishment. This helps focus the team mentally for each practice. Early in the year, the emphases correspond with the drills and parts of our scheme that we are putting gin that day. For example, our Defensive Emphasis for practice #1 is “No stance, no chance.” In that practice we go over basic defensive fundamentals like stance, guarding a live ball, guarding a dead ball, etc.

3. What to have in before your first game on offense.

  • Press Offense

True Story- my second year of high school coaching I also became the head JV coach. I was so excited about all the things we were going to do on offense and defense that I did not budget my practice time well and did not go over press offense before our first game. You know what happened next, right? All that pretty offense we had worked on didn’t matter because we couldn’t get the ball across halfcourt. This was not my players’ fault- it was my fault as the coach for not preparing them.

  • Primary Break

Primary Break, or fast break, is your team’s organization after you get the ball (make, miss, or turnover from the other team). Some teams have a numbered break where each position has a specific spot. For example, the 2 man might run the right wing. Some teams just fill spots (one on the rim, one on each wing, one point guard, and one trailer). True Story- teach your players what good shots are through drill work. We do 3 on 2, 2 on1 every day to drill our players how to score in advantage situations (when we have more players than they do). This drill work then carries over into how we play (see #1 above)

  • Secondary Break

What does your team do if they don’t score off of Primary? The University of North Carolina is famous for their “Carolina Break” which involves a backscreen for the trailer on ball reversal, among other options. I used to teach this entire scheme religiously, but after evaluating my program found that I was spending a huge amount of practice time on these actions and not getting to run them much in the game. True story- I changed schools and was going to a place where I was going to be at a serious athletic disadvantage so I was researching putting in a “Princeton” style offense (primarily a 2-3 high set that spaces the floor and provides back door opportunities). I called a coach who had run this system very successfully and asked him how did he go from secondary into the Princeton Offense and he said, “We don’t run Secondary, we just come down in our offense.” We scrapped our Secondary Break (and all the time it took to teach it and rep it at practice- which gave us more time for skill work, etc.) and broke the school record for wins with the exact same kids (minus two 6’7” kids and the school’s all-time leading scorer) who had lost their last 10 games in a row the previous season.

  • Set Plays (also called “Sets” or “Plays”)

We like to run plays that work vs. man or zone to save teaching time and simplify things. We also have a clear plan of the sets we are going to have in including a post iso set, a drive iso set, a set to get a three-point shot, & a ball screen set. Make sure your sets have a variety of “actions” because you never know what might expose another team’s weaknesses and you need to have options to make adjustments that your players have practiced and are confident in. An example of an action might be screen-the-screener or a dribble handoff.

  • What to do if a play breaks down (Free lance, Motion, Passing Game, Read & React, etc.)

What do you do if a play doesn’t work, someone forgets the play, or a play wasn’t called? We give our players a framework to play within. I like to think of it as jazz music. Jazz has an enormous amount of freedom in the notes that are played, but they are played within a framework that everyone in the band is aware of. True story- the junior varsity coach I played for used to break our huddles with the chant “1, 2, 3” STREET BALL!” because he didn’t believe in structured offense. That didn’t work so well for us- maybe if you have much better players than your opponents, but we didn’t have that.

  • Special Situations (also called “Specials”)

For example, Baseline Out-of-bounds (a.k.a. B.O.B. or OB under), Sideline Out-of-bounds (a.k.a. S.O.B. or side OB), Time & Score situations (down 3 in the full court & front court with few seconds left, up 10 with 2 minutes left, etc.). I highly recommend the best book I have ever read on Special Situations, Basketball Coaches Guide: Coaching Special SituationsTrue story- early in my career I rushed through diagramming a special situation play in a timeout and we did not execute it well. After that I went ahead a drew up all of our specials ahead of time on card stock paper and had them at the bench so I could just pull out the card and explain it. This worked well for us. Of course we practice Specials at the end of every practice so the players should already be familiar with the play.

Later we will continue with defensive installation ideas and give a detailed example of an Installation Schedule that we have actually used with our teams.  We’d love to hear your thoughts and what has worked for you so please leave a comment or email us!

Until next time, coach ’em up!  

-Hal Wilson

2 comments… add one
  • Donnie Byrom

    Shoot, shoot and shoot some more. Offense works when the ball goes in the basket. Don’t forget to work on the back pick for the lob!!

    • admin

      Coach Byrom- you have hit the nail on the head. Good players make coaches look good! Just score one more point than they do! Coach ’em up! Hal Wilson

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