I thought this was going to be a short post. I figured I would be having to stretch things out to get anywhere near 1,000 words. Boy, was I wrong! I guess there is a lot more to this topic than I ever imagined. I hope you find something in here that helps you and helps those you lead.


Since the first of the year, my new blog format for my new SlamDunk Success site has been geared towards helping you lead and create success no matter what field you are seeking it in. However, most of you who are with me here are in the athletic/coaching world. In fact, I would imagine the vast majority of you are coaches.

Well, you coaches are in for a treat today. While this post could be adapted to most any situation, it is focused mainly on coaches.

I’m going to talk about your Pre-Contest Warmups.

“Really, Scott?!”

“That’s the treat you have for us today?”

Yes, it is.

Maybe not the sexiest of coaching/leadership topics, but something that I find important.

And yet, I’ll admit, I have not always been very good at it. In fact, I believe most of us aren’t very good at it.


Because like me, most of you probably don’t put a lot of thought into what you will have your athletes do before their contests to become physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared for their competitions.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I am an outlier. Maybe most of you have put a lot of thought into what you want your athletes to do. Maybe you have instructed them as to the specific things you want them to do to prepare for competition, why you want them to do it, what benefits they will receive from it, and why it’s important that they do it to the best of their abilities.

Also, maybe your sport demands more from you to have a clearly defined and outlined set of drills and moves to help prepare your athletes for their competitions. As a basketball coach, I have to admit that I don’t. But I wonder if wrestling, gymnastics, swimming, cricket, lacrosse, and other sports that I know so little about are set up perfectly for you to say, “Here is your warmup. You know exactly why you need to do these things this way. Now, do them.”

If you fall into either of the categories in the previous two paragraphs, then kudos to you. I have a long way to go to become the coach you are in this realm.

Because I have usually not given the pre-game warm-up nearly enough thought.

I am speaking mainly about my years as a basketball coach. But I also remember my years as a football coach and soccer coach and thinking, “Are we doing what we should be doing to prepare our kids for the game today?”

Pre-Game Warmup Nerd

I have to admit that through the years, I’ve kind of become a bit of a pre-game warmup nerd. Whether I’m just watching a game or about to coach in a game, I like watching what other coaches have their teams do. I like to see if they are doing something that I should be having my team do. I try to see if there is something that I could incorporate into my warmup that might help us be better prepared for the contest.

And I’m talking about watching warmups in all sports. No matter the sport, I like to see what kinds of things they are doing and see if I could adapt something like it to my sport.

There are certain things that I see that I like and certain things that I see that I don’t like. I have my reasons for both.

Most of what I like is because it is mimicking things that will happen in their contests. Also, it is done at a speed that is similar to the contest or it is preparing them for the rigors of the contest. I also like when there is a lot of movement, and very little standing. I like to see a variety of skills being worked on that will be used in the contest.

What I don’t like is when I see a lot of standing around watching others. I don’t like when I see a lack of focus on kids’ faces. I don’t like seeing drills where players are standing and talking and joking around. Not only are those players not getting physically prepared, but they are also not getting mentally prepared for the contest.

Ultimately, it is not the sport that matters in this discussion as much as some variation of the question I asked in the paragraph in the section above that I think you need to ask yourself — “Am I having my athletes warm up in such a way that it is preparing them for the competition ahead and maximizing their chances for success?”

I have had my years where I have thought, “Okay, we are going to come out and spend the first two minutes doing this, then the next two doing this, and then . . .”

But I had no science behind it, no physiology behind it, no psychology behind it, no emotional intelligence behind it.

We Coach the Way We Were Coached

Like so much of what we do as coaches, when I first started out, what I had in mind for my pre-game warmups came from what my coaches had us do when I was a high school player.

We coach the way we were coached . . . until we find something better or something we like more.

So for my very first game as a freshman basketball coach, I had in my mind what I wanted us to do based on what our team had done four years earlier when I was a player.

Four years earlier.

My just-turned-22-year-old brain was about to rely on my 18-year-old-brain memories from four years before to determine how we were going to warm up and get ready for our game.

Fortunately, the head coach under whom I was now working and learning how to coach, Frank Belmont, gave me some ideas on what to do. I wanted to please him and do the best I could for him, so I did what he said. Of course, 39 years later, my just-turned-60-year-old-brain doesn’t remember what it was.

But I do remember that he seemed to take the pre-game warmup seriously. He seemed to put a lot of (or at least more than very little) thought into it. I learned so much about coaching, teaching, and leading from Frank those first few weeks and for the five years I worked under him and all the years afterwards when I would call him with questions.

But those first weeks were like a crash-course in coaching. I thought I had some ideas on how to coach, again, based on what my coaches did when I played.

I had no clue about any of it.

Until Frank taught me and gave me all kinds of clues about all of it, a part of which was how to do pre-game warmups.

So we started doing warmups the way Frank wanted us to do them. And they seemed to work fine.

Branching Out

But after a while, especially after Frank left to take a job at another school, and I became the head coach of the program, I started thinking more about all kinds of things related to coaching in general and coaching basketball specifically.

Eventually, one of my thoughts was, “Are the warmups we are doing, doing what they should be doing? Oh, and by the way, what exactly, should they be doing?!

Like all of us who coach under other coaches for a while but are now in charge of our own programs, we take so much of who they were, and it becomes so much of who we are.

But we also want to spread our wings and become our own selves a bit more. We start to branch out and develop our own philosophies, concepts, strategies, and ideas on how our games should be played.

One area where I started to branch out was in the pre-game warmups we were doing. I started to have more of my own thoughts on what I thought players needed to do to prepare themselves the best way possible for the upcoming competition.

It wasn’t that Frank’s way wasn’t good or wasn’t working. It’s just that it was Frank’s way; it wasn’t mine. So, I thought a lot about it and tried to determine if we were doing the best things.

While I didn’t change many things from the way Frank ran the program (after all, he was extremely successful in one of the toughest conferences in the Chicago area – who the heck was I to change everything?), I did want to put my own stamp on some things and do some of the things that I liked before or had grown to like during the last five years.

So I started tweaking some things in a variety of areas.

And one of those was our pre-game warmups.

How Are You Preparing Your Athletes?

I’m not going to bore you with what we did. Heck, I don’t even remember what we did.

What I do know is that over the next few years and most of my years as a head coach, I put some thought into what we were doing for warmups, and I tried to get my players to see the value of doing them a certain way for a certain reason.

We would actually practice the pre-game warmups during a Saturday morning practice before our first game, both at that school in the Chicago area and in the schools in Montana and Washington where I have since coached.

That Saturday morning was spent going over all of the logistical things that you never have time for in practice – warmups, sitting on the bench, reporting in for a player, dealing with officials’ calls, giving the ball to the official, how we sit during timeouts, behavior during timeouts, bench decorum, halftime talks, post-game talks, half-court shots, and more.

I had all of the things I wanted to cover written out as the main focus of our practice plan for that morning, and we worked on them. Then that night our entire program would have Intra-Squad scrimmages where we would play and go through everything as a trial-run game with officials.

Now understand, I’m not saying I did all this that way the very first year that I took over as head coach. No way! I was not nearly that prepared, ready, or smart enough to have all that ready to go. It took years to get to that point.

But I started some of it that first year.

And for most of my years as a head coach after that, we would spend time working on all of those things.

And the pre-game warmup is one of those things we worked on.

But I’m still not convinced I did it very well. I still don’t think I was doing all that I could to help my players maximize their ability to be ready to be their best when the ball was tipped.

What Do You Do?

Have you thought out what you want your pre-contest warmup to accomplish? Have you communicated that to your kids and why you want them to do that?

Do you have a good combination of skills for them to work on? Are you achieving a good balance of muscle, stamina, and mental conditioning in your pre-game behaviors?

As much as I tried to prepare them through the years, I’m sure I fell short.

As an 8th-grade coach now, I know I fall short. We spend about 10 minutes on warmups at the end of our last practice before our first game. We have them do two layups on each side and two sets of two-pass jump shots from each side.

After that, it all depends on if we will have 5, 10, 15, or 20 minutes to warm up before our games.

Now consider that last sentence.

I never know how many minutes we are going to get to warm up until I see the clock start for the warmups (even in our own gym). So I have to prepare them for each scenario.

But I still haven’t put much thought into it, certainly not the kind of thought that I did as a varsity head coach.

And that’s on me.

Be Better for Them

I need to figure out the best way to help them be ready for our games. I need to devote the same kind of time to that preparation as I do to our half-court defense and offense.

I’m not saying I have to practice it as much. But I do have to at least figure out what, how, and why we do what we do in our pre-game warmups, so my players feel confident and ready to play when that buzzer sounds, and they come to the bench for their final pre-game message before taking the court.

How about you?

Have you thought about what you do for warmups? Have you thought about how you do it? Have you thought about why you do it?

Are you doing all that you can to help prepare your kids for their competitions?

I would love to hear from you. Tell us in the comments below what you do in your sport and why you do it.

And if you’re like me, and you feel maybe you are falling short, that’s okay.

Admit it.

Let it out by letting us know in the comments below.

Then get to work on changing it, so you give your kids the best chance at success.