Five Skill Building Considerations to Improve Basketball Practices

The BST workout I attended last week began with a 23-step dynamic stretch and the infamous “7 Stations from Hell.” Both routines added value, but the most useful part of the two-hour work out is the basketball coaching players received after these “warm ups.” Here are five golden nuggets on skill building that I learned as a fly on the wall that day.

1. Mix up the way you simulate game action 1 on 0.

Get players to start with their backs to the basket, do a 180 degree jump to face it, land, and then shoot. Too many times I see players roll the ball to themselves and square. The degree of difficulty is not very hard and there are flaws with how game like these self-passes are. Jumping 180 degrees simulates the difficulty of getting balanced in a short span of time. Footwork is essential to teams that want to improve shooting. It is also ignored.

2. Communicate your action to the teammate with the ball.

Coaches instructed players to eliminate calling for ball. Instead players yelled “curl” or “flair” or “z” (see diagram). These calls were more informative for a passer and took the same amount of syllables (a point of emphasis from the previous year). Will players call out the action in a game? I have my doubts. From my perspective the great benefit of calling out the action is the players mastery of the vocabulary. Coaches take too much for granted because of the curse of knowledge. Terms like “ice”, “slip”, and “elevator” mean something completely different to the players than they do to coaches. Learning basketball terminology is not analogous to learning a new language, but there is more to it than we acknowledge.

3. Play one on one from the free throw and limit players to two dribbles.

The coaches set up cones to keep players from leaving the key (see image below). This is a drill that I incorporated later in the day with seventh and eighth graders. In just fifteen minutes, players with literally zero game experience were becoming tougher defenders and getting somewhere with their first dribble. An on ball defender’s job is very simple. If you can deny a player vertical space on the first dribble or two, the job is done. Easy to say, but difficult to execute. Players need training on this defensive principle and this drill helps teach that concept.

4. Keep the jab step short.

Former Boston College women’s coach Erik Johnson, cemented in my mind a few years ago, “it’s not the drill it’s what we emphasize.” In the case of the one on one drill above, the teaching point came out from Steve Boudreau’s observation watching the jab step. The jab step is designed to create space. If a player creates space and then cannot get balanced again in time, it is useless.

5. Get north and south.

The rip goes from one side of your body to another, but the goal is not to get to the side. The goal is to get by the defender’s hip, so do not let the action of the ball’s direction dictate your body’s direction. The wing series from Wichita State teaches the concept as well as any resource I have seen online. That said, the difference between teaching this action and executing is analogous to reading about running a marathon and running a marathon. That is why one on one play is essential with drills like the ones shown below.


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