Realistic Player Development Plan for COVID-19

Brown University women’s coach Monique LeBlanc offered great advice for offseason player development plans during the pandemic. She said to be as realistic as possible. If players only want to give 20 minutes or 30 minutes per day she would prefer that time is spent entirely on shooting three-pointers.

Why Not Practice Dribbling?

Some players are in a predicament where they do not have easy access to a hoop. Certainly these players are better served doing dribble drills versus nothing. At the youngest levels, dribbling is a core skill that translates into a player’s enjoyment. These players are often unable to even reach a hoop or are doing so with improper form. Coach LeBlanc acknowledged that developing a feel for a ball is great for older players too. If players have free time and are willing, she encourages them to develop dribbling skills.

In her offense and at the college level, the skill of shooting is much more valuable than dribbling. From what she sees, 99 percent of the time the only dribbling a player needs is straight line drives. Static dribbling as a player gets older and develops a feel for the ball has diminishing returns.

Most spots in the country are starting to open up again and public hoops are increasingly available. And at the same time, kids are being kids. Video games, Netflix, the end to a remote learning school year, and now summer weather are all distractions. Coaches can give all the quotes, books, and stories they know about offseason discipline, but players need to follow through. The season is too far away. Especially to high school athletes that saw their spring season disappear. Perhaps coaches need to settle for being realistic.

Top Priorities for Player Development

Coach LeBlanc broke down the top three priorities in order for players that are left to their own devices like this:

  1. Shooting.
  2. Play pick up.
  3. Lift.

In the pandemic world, options two and three are difficult. Pick-up basketball is ideal for getting players to make decisions. Unfortunately, pick-up basketball is already heading toward extinction in some places before the COVID-19 invasion. Now, on top of a lack of desire to play spontaneous games, there is an emphasis on social distancing. Different regions of the country are treating pick-up basketball and other youth sports in different ways. And some players are handling it differently within the construct of their state and community. That said, there was no AAU this spring and in my state as of now there is also no summer league action.

In terms of lifting, high school and college players alike are heavily reliant on team facilities. Some may have equipment, but getting the entire team on the same page is impossible.

That leaves shooting.

Individual Shooting Workout

Coach LeBlanc offered the image below as a shooting workout to assist in player development.

Time How Long it Takes

Players use a stop watch to see how long it will take. I have done this workout 7 times. My record time was 17 minutes and 20 seconds. It was the sixth time I did the workout, so I was curious enough to also count my repetitions. I made 70 out of 116 during that time. My worst time was almost 29 minutes. I ate Oreo’s before I began. Not recommended.

Players will probably use their phone as a timer. Just a quick word of caution. Set it on the baseline way out of the way. You do not want to have the ball crack the screen. With the amount of repetitions, you’ll be surprised at the bounces the ball can take.

Go to a Park if Possible

A park works best since the three-point arch is already drawn in. If players insist on a driveway to shoot, my advice would be to invest in chalk and measuring tape to get the proper distance.

Conditioning, Dribbling, and Mental Toughness

Players that have a rebounder in a friend, sibling, or parent need to indicate this in their scoring. They will develop catch and shoot skills which are important. The time it takes will obviously be faster than someone who competes individually.

I do this workout independently. By chasing my own rebound the competition (not drill which has a negative connotation with players) incorporates other skills. Remember, the goal is not to hit 70 three’s. It is to hit 10 three’s from 7 spots. There is a crucial difference. I start in the left corner and do not take any shots anywhere else until I make 10 from the left corner. In this way I am required to enhance dribbling skills to get to that spot. Players should focus intentionally on mixing up what hands they use to dribble back to the spot.

There is also an added element of mental toughness when you miss two or three in a row and you need to chase the ball into the opposite corner. For any golfers, it is very similar to that feeling you get after you implode on a hole. Overcoming mini slumps in games and practices is a huge hurdle for players. The competition simulates it well.

By the time I’m done, I have been shooting for about 20 minutes without any breaks. It is good cardio exercise especially given the summer heat.

Compete with Transparency

The score and the rules of the competition need to be shared with other people and tracked in a spreadsheet. Massachusetts and other states are not allowing basketball competition yet. Contests like these are the closest alternative. Spreading your score to others will settle the competition craving a little.

Start Tracking Attempts

Curiosity will start to get to you. I am beginning to keep track of my attempts although it is challenging. In my best time, I made 70 out of 116. On less than average days I am around 70 out of 170. As players get used to timing it, they will want to be more reflective on how their score can be raised by including the number of attempts they get. Inevitably they start to see it as a conditioning drill and higher emphasis is placed on game speed.

Coach LeBlanc told me there is a misconception about game speed. The image of J.J. Redick curling around screens is not what is meant by game speed. In the structure of their offense and many offenses, it might mean small movement from the slot to the top. Players would benefit from a reminder to focus on following through instead of chasing the rebound. The time constraint is motivating, but it need not distort the purpose of the drill.

Modify the Competition to Fit for Your Offense

Modifications can be made to adjust for whatever a team typically does. Some people might want to mix in mid-range shots instead of shooting three’s exclusively. You can also add in finishing at the rim. Given that players are left to their own devices, the less rules you give with a drill, the better. The main goal as Atomic Habits author James Clear states is to make sure players do not put up a zero.

 How Do These Priorities Change after COVID?

I am not sure that they do change. Coach LeBlanc’s general message to me is that great shooters are much harder to teach than great defense. Her Merrimack team played a 2-3 zone this past season. They were a top-ten team in several categories. With one exception, the players were generally average defenders. And granted, the one exception was the nation’s leader in blocked shots. That said, the team really drew its strength on defense from the team. Five players worked together to stop one ball. It is possible for a defense to have average players and translate that to a really good defense if the sum of those parts play unselfish and with tremendous court awareness.

Offense does not work the same way. Player development starts with shooting. If a team has nothing but average shooters on the court, there is no way to make the offense much better than middle of the road. After talking about building a team identity around shooting with Mike Vaughan a few months back, I am sold on shooting as the essential skill in the game. Thus, quarantined or not, I am imploring players with whatever precious free time that they are willing to spend to go out and shoot.

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