Coaching a youth basketball team can be incredibly frustrating at times...
Especially when you arrive at practice and find out you’ve got fewer players than anticipated.
This can immediately change which drills you use, mess up which strategies you spend time on, which games you’re able to run, and a bunch of other important practice stuff.
To ensure players don’t miss practice, you need two things:
1. A ‘Missed Practice Policy’
2. Clear and Consistent Consequences
In this blog post, I’ll go into detail on the 7 ways to prevent players missing practice, the expectations you need to set with the team, and I’ll even share the exact consequences I use.
Let’s do this...
The 2 Main Difficulties With Players Missing Practice
1. Makes it Very Hard to Plan Practices
Every coach who is committed to the long-term improvement of their team arrives at practice with an overall plan to execute.
But if a coach doesn’t know how many players are going to be at practice, it becomes very difficult for them to create an effective practice plan ahead of time.
The coach might select a passing drill that requires a minimum of 8 players assuming they’ll have 9 players at practice, only to arrive and find out they’ve only got 7 players attending.
2. Players Can Miss Out on Important Information
There’s a lot to learn throughout a basketball season.
Players have to learn the team’s offense and defense, the numerous set plays the team is going to run, how the team plans to attack a full-court press, etc.
With so much to get through and only limited practice time, coaches are forced to get through everything fairly quickly.
So when a player misses a practice, it’s easy to fall behind.
With the 5-out motion offense, I teach it in four progressions.
If a player was to miss out on progression 1 or 2, it’s difficult for them to catch up without holding the entire team back to review the progressions the player missed out on.
Good and Bad Reasons for Missing Practice
Youth players are going to miss practices and games throughout the season.
And as long as they have a legitimate reason for doing so, this usually isn’t a problem as long as it doesn’t become too regular.
Here are a few examples of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ reasons to miss practice.
- Best Friend’s Birthday Party
- Family Emergency
- Religious Reasons
- School Related
- Don’t Feel Like Going
- Invited a Friend Over After School
- Decided To Do Something Else
Quick Note on Injuries:
When players are injured but aren’t sick, I still expect them to attend practices.
By attending practice and paying attention, it will make sure they don’t fall behind when it comes to team strategies (plays, offense, defense, etc).
And depending on the injury, most of the time they can still help out during practice.
Acknowledge the Level of Basketball You’re Coaching
Before we continue further in the article, let’s touch on something important:
The policies you put in place and the consequences you use will depend on the level of basketball you’re currently coaching.
What’s a ‘good reason’ for missing practice and what’s a ‘bad reason’ for missing practice will be very different for an U10’s team compared to a high school team.
Missing practice to attend a best friend’s birthday party is a fine reason for a 10-year-old, but probably wouldn’t slide for a high school coach.
In this post, I’m speaking mostly to youth basketball coaches.
7 Ways to Prevent Missed Practices
1. Make Players Want to Come to Practice
First, take some responsibility as the coach of the team.
It’s part of your role to design and run practices that make players want to attend.
To do this, you should:
a. Make sure your practices are fun and competitive
b. Develop relationships with the players on your team
c. Minimise ‘standing around’ time and long lectures
d. Use different drills to keep practice fresh.
e. Ensure you bring high energy to practice every time.
2. Have a Pre-Season Meeting
Before each season commences, I always recommend coaches set up a ‘pre-season meeting’.
Usually this ends up being a BBQ at someone’s house, but could be anything providing all parents and players are required to attend.
Among a lot of other things, this will give you an opportunity to share the rules and standards you have for attending practices.
a. Consequences for missing practice
b. Notify the coach as soon as possible.
c. Why it’s important for all players to attend practice
d. Benefits of attending practice regularly
e. Legitimate reasons for missing practice
f. Illegitimate reasons for missing practice
3. Get Players and Parents to Sign an Agreement
At the conclusion of the pre-season meeting, ask both players and parents to sign an agreement which will cover several things, including:
- To attend every team practice they possibly can
- To notify the coach immediately if they can’t attend
While this won’t be an ‘official’ document you can hold against players or their parents…
It will provide some extra accountability.
4. Take Attendance at the Start of Every Practice
Also during the pre-season meeting, make sure to let everyone know you’re going to be taking attendance at the start of every practice.
And then, make sure you actually do it.
This will do a couple of things:
1. Parents and players will see you’re serious about practice attendance, and will do their best to make sure they’re there on time.
2. By doing this at the very start, you’ll see which players arrive late.
3. If there are any issues in the future, you’ll have a written record to refer back to.
5. Give Parents the Schedule as Far in Advance as Possible
If you share a practice time with them last minute, then you’re guaranteed to have families who have already scheduled something and won’t be able to attend.
Which is why it’s important to give them the schedule as early as possible.
By doing so, you give parents and player zero excuses for not attending or not letting you know that they won’t be at practice.
6. Add a 75% Attendance Policy to Play Finals
The local basketball association in my area implements a “75% Attendance” policy.
Meaning that anyone who doesn’t compete in at least 75% of regular season games, doesn’t qualify to compete in finals.
You could use a similar policy for your practices.
Any player who doesn’t attend at least 75% of practices throughout the year, doesn’t qualify to play in this season’s finals.
7. Benefit the Players Who Do Attend Practice
Another way to deter players from skipping practices is to benefit those who do attend.
Only put players who attended the previous practice in your team’s starting 5 during the next basketball game. If a player didn’t attend, they start on the bench.
Setting Expectations at the Start of the Season
At the very start of the basketball season, you need to do two key things:
1. Set expectations for practice attendance
2. Explain the consequences for not meeting those expectations
It’s unfair to the players if you unexpectedly spring consequences on them mid-season without ever explaining your rules surrounding practices.
And once you have, it’s now up to you to enforce the consequences if expectations aren’t met.
So, what are those expectations?
Here are mine:
Expectation #1 - You will attend all practices if possible
Expectation #2 - When you can’t attend a practice due to a legitimate reason, you will notify the coach as soon as possible.
If a player notifies me in advance (preferably several days) with a legitimate reason for their absence, there are no consequences.
The BFC 4-Step “Missed Practice” Policy
Keep in mind that this only applies when players miss practice without a legitimate reason.
This doesn’t apply when the coach is contact with a legitimate reason for the player’s absence.
Missed Practice #1 - Start the Next Game on the Bench
The first time a player misses practice without a legitimate excuse, they will start the next game on the bench.
This shows the parents and players that you’re serious about implementing your missed practice policy and also gives you a chance to warn the player about further consequences.
Missed Practice #2 - One Game Suspension
The second time it happens, give a one game suspension.
Let the parents know that all they need to do is send you a quick text message or email to let you know they won’t be at practice. Making sure to include why they won’t be there.
Missed Practice #3 - Two Game Suspension
If it happens a third time, it’s a two game suspension.
In my experience, once you’ve handed out a two game suspension to a player it’s unlikely they’ll stay with the team for the rest of the season.
Missed Practice #4 - Kicked Off the Team
Finally, remove them from the team.
You’re now 100% sure this player isn’t committed to the team, and it’s becoming too much of a hassle to keep them around after many opportunities.
And the final tip...
Make Sure You Use This Standard For ALL Players
Some coaches will let absences slide for their best players, while only holding the ‘weaker’ players on the team to the highest standard.
If you do this, you’ll immediately lose the trust of all players and parents.
Coaches need to make sure they’re holding everyone to the same.
Once these rules have been set, you’ve got to stick with them.
For the players and parents reading this…
In 99% of cases, it’s not difficult to send a quick text or email to the team’s coach letting him / her know that you won’t be attending practice.
And it will make their lives a whole lot easier.
To all you coaches out there...
Whatever happens, make sure that you do your best to coach the team in front of you regardless of who does or does not show up to practice.
But if there are players who skip practice without informing you…
Make sure you hold them accountable.