They were in great shape to start practice. In practice we continued to run for conditioning. By the time we started the season the team was tired. By January they were spent. Tired and too often injured, I studied the things I was doing and why. I think I came up with a better way. Injuries went way down, teams were stronger at the end of the season and everyone was in a better frame of mind.
What Are You Conditioning For?
The first question you have to ask yourself is, "What are you trying to accomplish with your conditioning program?" I used to think that is was to get in shape for the season. I now think it is to get in shape for practice. Practice is for getting in shape for the season. I used to try to get my team in mid-season form at the beginning of practice, and they were. Unfortunately we weren't in mid-season. By the time we go there, we were out of gas.
I have replaced all of the running with agility and skill drills. Trying to keep intensity up, the primary objective was to get players better. If they worked hard enough to get better, they worked hard enough to get in better shape. And emotionally, they were more motivated to come back the next day.
Conditioning in Practice
Once we got into practice, I was one of those guys that ran and ran and ran. Suicides at the end of practice, 17s for losing teams, giants for missed lay-up and turnovers. What those drills are really doesn't matter; you might have different names for them. The point is I don't run them anymore, ever. Not for conditioning, not for motivation, not for punishment. I don't think you can motivate by punishment or fear. Motivation and punishment can be achieved through playing or practice privilege. In addition, I did not like taking valuable time out of practice to do anything but work on the game.
Condition – And Get Better
We now never run without a ball on the floor. We use full court ballhandling and dribbling drills and dummy offense to warm up. Use fastbreak and full-court offensive drills to get up and down the floor. Paul Westhead with his great fastbreak system at Loyola Marymount run a drill called "Cycles." Cycles could be the best basketball conditioning drill ever. If you don't know it, it consists of 5 players continually running their break options until they cover them all. If you break has 6 options, they run up and down 6 times, each time running a different option. If you have 8 options, they run 8 times, 4 options, 4 times, etc.
You can run it as many times as you think you need to, to be good at your break. Carry the same philosophy to your press-breaker offense. If you have 6 options to your press-breaker, run them with one group. Then run with another. One group running 6 options for 3 repetitions gets in a lot of practice and a lot of conditioning. Just as importantly, your players feel they are getting better and therefore they will run harder and more enthusiastically.
Adjust as the Season Goes Along
Basketball seasons are long and grinding. I don't know a coach who is not tired all the time as they turn to the middle of February. Coaches don't play. Think about how your team feels. There comes a point in the season when the team is in shape, you are playing multiple times in a week and you've settled on your system. Remember, rest is a conditioner, too. There comes a time in the season when rest is more important than practice. As a coach, if you go home thinking you can use a day off, you are probably right. Practices should get shorter, practice only what you need for the coming game. Scrimmaging should be limited because you are playing so many games.
Remember, proper conditioning puts your team in the best position to be successful. If you use it for other reason (punishment, etc) you will not get the results that you want.