There are a lot of different things you can try when you don’t like the way your team is practicing:
Change the teams: Mix the teams up, don’t always play the starters against the reserves. Some days leet the kids pick the teams. Give them ownership and change the dynamic.
Everyone wears the same color: Make them all wear the white side of their practice jerseys. Forces them to be more engaged, to communicate better.
Silent coaches: Give them the drills and don’t say a word. Blow the whistle and coach them, but force them to bring the energy by talking their way through the drills.
Silent drills: Don’t let anyone talk throughout the drills for a specific period of time. Force them to understand the value of communication.
Throw the ball up: Eliminate all the drills. Get the competitive spirit out of them right away by picking sides and playing to a certain score. Bring them back to pick-up games and let them call the fouls.
Let them plan practice: Ask them to put together the plan, or simply ask them what drills they want to do and in what order. Make the point that what we do isn’t as important as how we do it.
Flip it: Do your practices generally follow the same order? It’s very easy for the same routine day after day to become stale. Plan your practice to completion, and then flip it around. Start from the end, even if that order doesn’t make sense to you. Your team will get bored with doing the same thing over and over. Change the order of practice from back to front and you can change the energy.
Break it up with film: Have film set up right in the gym. When they need a break, grab the water bottles and sit them down and watch film for a few minutes. Reinforces the message visually and immediately while they are getting a physical break. Helps when you don’t have a lot of numbers or no subs.
Halftime: In the middle of a practice when things aren’t going well, take a break. Go into the locker room, let them rest for 5 minutes and talk to them for 5 minutes like you would do at halftime. Start over in the “2nd half” of practice. Also a good way to simulate the first half of a game when your team doesn’t play well, and you have to come back from a big half time deficit.
Say only positive things: Regardless of what happens, take the positive side. Instruct your staff that everything they say has to be positive. A turnover is great defense. An offensive rebound is a great effort play. Lay-ups are great offense. Force yourself to focus on the positive to get more energy out of your guys.
Let them coach themselves: Assign a head coach for each team – one of the players – and ask him what they are in, what they are running, who wants to sub, etc. Force them to handle everything that goes in with coaching the team.
Cheerlead: Split them up into two teams, and put an assistant coach in charge of each team. Tell them to coach their teams hard, be loud and vocal. Let their voice replace your voice. All you do as the head coach is cheer them on, encourage, say positive things. When they need to be disciplined or criticized, let the assistants do it. When they hear your voice, it’s always positive and encouraging.
Film it: I don’t mean just film practice. Sit up at the top of the bleachers as the head coach and film it yourself. Remove yourself from the practice floor, take your voice that they have been hearing every day out of the mix, and watch practice from a different perspective. They know you are there, but you aren’t involved drill to drill. Gives you a chance to see practice from a different perspective.
Bring in a different set of eyes: One of the best ways to get fresh ideas for practice is to bring in a coach you can trust and have him do a practice audit. Have a local high school coach come in and watch practice from the stands, taking notes on what they see that day. A fresh perspective will tell you a lot more about what is really going on in practice every day – what the tone is like, how the players are reacting, how your voice is being heard. If you are willing to listen, you can learn a ton about how your kids are receiving your message and make the necessary changes.
End it: Even when you trust your team and you are competing at a high level, you are going to have days where it just doesn’t work. Not matter what you try, you aren’t able to get the right effort out of them and you just keep getting worse. At some point the best thing you can do is end it. Especially if you trust your team and they generally bring it every day, sometimes the best approach is to simply send them home – don’t get mad at them, don’t yell, don’t make them run. Simply bring it in, say “Look guys, this isn’t working, we need to be better tomorrow” and get them out of the gym. Helps avoid a good team learning bad habits.