As every coach knows, basketball practice time is limited. So limited, in fact, that it seems all the things that need to be said and taught can’t ever be contained in the available schedule. Coaches continually seek ways to make their practice time more efficient, and the best way to do that is probably not what most coaches or players would expect.

The key to efficiency is simplicity. If there is too much water, it won’t fit in the bucket. If there are too many subjects, they can’t be taught in the available time. So a good coach has to pick and choose what to cover in the time available. It’s the old advice about either being mediocre at ten skills or a master of one. The choice is obvious, but far too many people miss it.

A basketball coach has to cover the important skills until they are mastered. These are the fundamentals of the game.

 

Defense

Even if a basketball team has no idea how to pass, dribble or shoot, it can still play solid defense. Any serious coach will tell you it is defense that wins games and defensive skills that keeps players in the kind of physical condition necessary to compete.

With the possible exception of rebounding and free throw shooting, defense is the absolute top priority for any basketball team, and it doesn’t even require a ball to master. Entire practices devoted to the art of basketball defense are likely the most efficient use of time possible for any coach at any level. The scoring opportunities that arise out of a fast relentless defense are often enough to keep teams in games long before they learn their first offensive skills.

 

Free Throws

One need only watch professional basketball to note the tremendous percentages of points that are collected at the free throw line. A team that can’t shoot from the line has a fatal flaw that any opponent will seize upon at their earliest opportunity. A practice that consists of defensive conditioning and drills followed by an hour of free throws is even better than one that includes only defense. Not much better, however.

 

Rebounds

Offensive rebounds lead to lay-ups. They also lead to free throws. Most basketball players can master the lay-up in a few days, and if your team is improving their free throw skills, rebounds will start leading to points in short order. Defensive rebounds lead to lay-ups as well. It just takes a little longer.

These three skills might seem inadequate to build an entire team, and that is an astute observation. However, a team without these skills will likely only win by accident. Once these three skills are either mastered or on their way to being mastered, the coach can start scheduling time to work on other fundamentals and continue to improve efficiency over time. Until then, however, efficiency cannot be achieved until a basic instruction is complete.