Planning in a Pandemic

August is when many of us start to really think about, and plan for, the upcoming season. We consider what we want to do differently this year. The skills we need to develop in our players. How we can create a really fun environment for our players. And how we can best teach team concepts that will enable the players to work well together.

But, 2020 being the unprecedented year that it is, leaves us scratching our heads as to how to plan for this season. With so many unknowns regarding when and how the season will begin, it can be a bit paralyzing to consider how to start planning.

Start with Skills Development

To get a sense for what phase 1 of our return to the gym will look like, we can take a cue from other sports that have recently started up like soccer and hockey. Young athletes in phase 1 of those sports have maintained social distancing at all times.

In basketball, that translates into a limited number of players in the gym, each with their own ball and basket. That gives us a great opportunity to work on the fundamentals and create a stronger foundation of core skills for our players.

Core skills like:

  • Shooting: Having our players work on form shooting is always a great idea. Get them practising their footwork, balance, correct hand position on the ball (index finger on the middle of the ball), and their hand under the ball at the set point and then lifting the ball up from there (instead of pushing out) to get the proper arc. For great shooting tips and drills go to Dave Love’s website and check out the Steve Nash Give and Go series.
  • Finishing moves: Since most scoring opportunities in youth basketball happen from in close, working on finishing moves will really help build a young player’s confidence. You can never practice lay-ups enough. Focus on your players’ footwork. This Mikan drill will work on various hand/feet sequences. For more advanced finishing moves, check out this Trae Young video from PGC Basketball and this Steve Nash runner video.
  • Defence: You can still work on your players’ defensive stance and footwork without a partner. Focus on the fundamentals of a great stance—knees bent, activate the glute muscles, keep the chest up and forward. Here’s a good drill players can do solo. You can also do a shadow drill with two players from an appropriate physical distance (I would do about 15 feet in between to start). One player is on offence with the ball, the other is defending. The defender reacts to the ball handler, moving in the same direction (left, right, up, back). Do this for about a minute and have the defender stay in their stance the entire time, doing push steps to practice levelling off their player.

Plan Your Team Concepts

Given the unpredictability of the current situation, we also don’t want to be caught unprepared for the start of team play. Now is a great time to think through some core concepts for offence, defence, and transition.

Refine your coaching philosophy and the style of game you want your team to play (i.e., up-tempo, heavy ball pressure, in control, etc.). Build your practice plans around your desired style and the core concepts in the four phases.

Identify How You Will Build Team Culture

Finally, spend some time thinking about how you will build your desired culture and values. What do you want to teach your players about life? There are some amazing coaching podcasts that focus on building culture and values. My favourites are: Hardwood Hustle, The Culture Builders Podcast, and A Quick Timeout.

One of my favourite John Wooden quotes is “things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out“. Things have turned out in a way nobody could have possibly imagined this year. The silver lining from a basketball perspective is to consider how we can use the time to develop some of the foundational individual skills this fall that will help your players and your team develop long term.

Published by coachmark70

Mark Emond is West Ottawa's VP of Competitive, Coach and Player Development, the Head Coach for our U16 Girls competitive team and for Ottawa's Girl's team in the Ontario Summer Games in 2022. He can be reached at

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