How important is the last full practice before a game? What difference does it make if you have a EuroLeague double-round? How important is to go over your own mistakes in previous games, or to know your next opponent very well? Is it a good idea to talk about specific issues, or just go over the most important keys to the next game? Panathinaikos OPAP Athens head coach Xavi Pascual tells us all about it.
"To begin with, all weeks are different during the season, so I cannot really say what I do before a game. It always depends on what's coming next. For instance, if it is a EuroLeague double week, it is a shorter practice and you get to do different things that the ones you would do if you had only one game, with more time to prepare it. One of the most important things is knowing your team and how much information you can give them so that they can assimilate and execute in the game. All decisions in the game have to be taken in tenths of a second. If you give more information that you should, the player collapses and is a little late. If you don't give enough information, the player doesn't know what to do and will not execute well.
"The reason why we do everything that we do in practice is to win a game."
"In general, a typical practice the day before the game is 50% defense and 50% offense, of course, after warming up and a cognitive part to be ready for practice. I try to stress the most important things to prepare that game in particular and not pay that much attention to specifics. We have already worked on specifics at that point in previous days, watching film. I try to work on the most important topics the day before, on offense and defense. I think about which defensive strategy the other team will have and how we will play against it, and also about what is our basic identity on defense and how we will respond to their game.
"One of the things that modern coaches cannot allow is to practice without being able to explain everything that we are doing, and the reason why we do everything that we do in practice is to win a game. Everything has to be focused on the next game. Nowadays, it is very difficult to dedicate practice time to other aspects that are not related to the competition itself. Therefore, everything you do has to be related to the type of team and players you are going to face.
"As for mistakes you made in previous games, it is logical to go over it but it truly depends on the schedule. If you are in the middle of a double week, you played Tuesday and the next game is on Thursday, sometimes it is better to focus on your own mistakes than on the next opponent. Each game is different, but in a regular week, with a EuroLeague game on Thursday or Friday, you wouldn't spend time in your final full practice before the game to talk too much about the mistakes you previously made. You did that before, in the first practices after that game.
"During preseason, you give your players the tools they need to react in specific situations. It is something that has to be part of your basic rules on offense, beyond your systems. For instance, if someone goes under a screen in a pick-and-roll situation, you need to know how to react to that. I believe it is something that happens and will keep happening, but we have ways to take advantages in situations like this.
"It is a basic rule to be completely focused in practices and games. If you are not fully focused, you cannot acquire the knowledge you need to get better. At the same time, the way basketball is these days, there is an invisible part of practice, which is when the player goes home, which you also need. Maybe some years ago, practicing two hours a day, sometimes four, was enough. But nowadays, you need players to have their homework in their heads, to go over it. You don't need them to take scouting reports home, but just remember what they worked on in practice, especially in the last one before a game, in order to execute well.
"These days, there is an invisible part of practice, which is when the player goes home."
"Technology has not changed much the way I approach this final full practice before a game. I always try to take a lot of care with tactical issues, on defense and offense. I have always kept an eye on what other teams do and how to react against what I see. The way things are nowadays, all coaches are able to see the last three games of the next opponents and tell you what they do on defense and offense, putting together a 50-page report. The key is what you do with that information in each practice.
"If you have three days of practice in that particular week, I can do this and that, and get here and there. You have to plan the week of practices knowing that the next game is the key to everything else. If you do too much or too little, the team won't work well. Of course, it is not the same when you have one day of preparation... Each week is different and you have to know what your team can assimilate. And then you have to think what to do against that opponent. One of the keys is not how well you know your opponent, which is relatively easy, but what to do with the information, how to prepare the week of practice and what is the final goal, which is winning the next game."