• Jack Fleming

The One Thing & The 20–30–50 Formula Method for Practice Planning

At it most refined, basketball is a game of extreme complexity. The more you learn, the more you understand how much information and detail there is out there. However, if we spent our practices trying to cover every segment of the game — we would never accomplish something to an acceptable level.


Gary Keller wrote a whole book on a simple concept, The One Thing. The question that drives his life, career and relationships is pivotal to the success of many great coaches.

“What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything will be easier or unnecessary?”

To achieve an extraordinary result you must decide what matters most and give it all the time it demands. Observations from Stan Van Gundy’s Detroit practice defensively were that their “One Thing” is transition defence, or in the words of Jeff Van Gundy “Build a fucking wall.”


Here’s how:

  • Often the pistons start with a walk through on transition defence.

  • Detroit’s 6 defensive musts, number 1 on defence is “Get Back.”

  • They practice their 5v0 offence and finish it with sprinting back to half court.

  • There is always one assistant coach responsible for just 2 words “GET BACK”

While SVG prioritises transition defence, it doesn’t mean they don’t do pick and roll defence or shell drill right? So how do we get things done.


Success is sequential, not simultaneous. Therefore we must brutally prioritise, cut deep — then move onto the next thing. Maybe we build on 2–3 specific topics for a 3 week period, and they translate to EVERYTHING. They translate to your pre-game address, they translate to your timeouts, they are what you reward in your scrimmages.


An important strategy to shape the direction of your practice, is more than a century old. Dwight D Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States and the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces during World War 2 used a simple quadrant box in with four categories to prioritise his life. This was also made popular by author Stephen R Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.


1. Urgent/Important

2. Urgent/Not Important

3. Non Urgent/Not Important

4. Not Urgent/Important



Imagine these topics with relation to your basketball team.

Why do we struggle to accomplish things we really want to get done?


We spend too much time on tasks that are urgent and not enough time on tasks that are important.


We get stuck in “firefighting” mode fixing the small things from the last game, which is necessary. But we do not make time for the activities that will lead to momentum.

There’s no urgent reason to go deep into “How to Foul” when up 3 if you have won or lost your last 5 games by 10–15 points. But it is important!!


Here’s the process we can go through to ensure we focus on the ONE THING that will move our team forward.


Process of — Do, Delegate, Delegate, Schedule.


1. Urgent/Important — Do it and do it NOW. Your team lost the rebound count by 12 on Friday night? Michigan State War Drill 5 mins on your practice plan, done. Put the band aids on the BIG immediate problems so you can start moving the big rocks.


2. Urgent/Not Important — Can you delegate it? Can your captains run the “pre-practice warm up” or can your team manager check the availability of kids for your upcoming tournament?


3. Non Urgent/Not Important — DELETE it. The new drill from a clinic you watched that has no relevance to your team, keep it in your notes but forget about it. NBA teams track passes? You’re not doing that.


4. Important/Not Urgent: SCHEDULE it. This is your ONE THING you’re going to focus on for a period of time. Put it in your calendar or yearly plan. If diving deep into your press attack, or ball screen defence is going to be the ONE THING that moves the needle for your team then get to it.


“If you can’t see the big rocks on your calendar, they might as well not exist.”


Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. — Sun Tzu

Here’s how you might schedule your practices to ensure you make time for the non urgent but important tasks, the ONE THING. Consider answering the following questions.
  1. In February — what’s the ONE THING our team can be great at offensively such that by doing it the rest of our offence will become easier or unnecessary?

  2. In February — what’s the ONE THING our team can be great at defensively such that by doing it the rest of our defence will become easier or unnecessary?

  3. In February — what’s the ONE thing our team can be prepared for in special situations, such that by doing it it will prepare us to win a game?

  • Consider your offensive and defensive focus points to be in opposition, such that teaching becomes easier. Therefore if it’s pick and roll offence, why not your defensive focus be pick and roll defence?

4. How much time will we delegate to URGENT & IMPORTANT tasks per practice?

5. How much time will we delegate to our FOUNDATIONAL skills?

6. Can we tie our foundational skills into our Urgent/Important tasks or even our ONE THING?


The 20–30–50 Practice Formula


The image above provides an example of practice allocation for a few months in advance. The formula used has been 20% (within a given week) of foundational skills you value. These are the things you do no matter what, the underpinning skills behind your scheme. Then 30% on things you need to urgently fix that have been a problem and 50% on the big rocks. Within a 90 minute practice for February here might be an example.

  1. Foundations — 20 minutes: shot preparation, 1v1 out of close out scenarios.

  2. Urgent & Important — 25 minutes: defensive rotations & penetration reaction. Got killed off the bounce last Friday night, stuck ball watching late on dribble penetration.

  3. Important & Not Urgent (ONE THING) — 30 minutes offensive/defensive transition: teach, build up and game play. 15 minutes hurry up offence: introduce the why of using Clippers 21 series, dry run and give athletes youtube link.

The order of how you perform these items may differ, but I hope it provides a picture into using the power of ONE THING to narrow your focus. You would dive deep into all phases of a topic within a 3–4 week period, and once you feel they have nailed it you move onto the next. Maybe hurry up offence only takes 2 weeks, and you get to your next thing.


Momentum is POWERFUL


On it’s own, one domino isn’t much. But with the domino comes a force. In fact, one domino has the capability of knocking down another one that is 1.5x its size. This seemingly tiny ability compounds to produce incredible outcomes. No matter how small the first step is, it will always compound into something greater. If you want to accomplish something big with your team, you have to plan your process — you have to line up your dominos.

If you want your team to do GREAT things, you have to do FEWER things at a time.

I hope this stimulates your thought process and helps you grow your team, let me know if this works or doesn’t work for you!


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