Win the War on the Boards

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Taken from the book by Coach Battenberg: “You Can Run With Anyone”

     I had an interesting question from a young coach this past week, wanting to know how to get players to “box out” when defensive rebounding.  His concerns were that his team lacked size and also that they didn’t really like contact either.  So, how could he get them to box out more physically and have a better chance of winning the War on the Boards?

     The question made me recall hearing John Wooden speak on rebounding many years ago.  He said that he didn’t teach boxing out, but rather, he just wanted his players to “go get the ball.”  And I thought, “Easy for him to say since he had Alcindor (Kareem), Walton, Wicks, Rowe, etc, which was usually the best talent in college basketball.”  So, I continued teaching my players to box out and fight for rebounds.  As time went on, it became apparent that my better rebounders were not the ones who boxed out best, but rather, the ones who went after the ball the best.  Maybe they were the tallest, but not always.  Maybe they were the best jumpers, or had the longest arms, or quickest reaction, but not always.  The common thing they all had was “a knack for going to the ball.”  They went after it, every time, on every shot, and they ended up getting more than a fair share of the rebounds. 

     In my later years of coaching, I still taught the “box out” and I drilled it almost every day.  But the bigger emphasis was on: “go get the ball.”  Everyone on defense has a responsibility to go get the ball and not just box out and wait for someone else to get it.  I used terms like, “Converge to the ball,” and told players not to take off on the break until they knew we had the ball.  I taught them about the “70% Rule” that says 70% of missed shots taken from the side will rebound to the other side.  And 70% of the missed shots taken straight on will rebound straight back.  This is very helpful to offensive rebounders, but certainly can be beneficial to defensive rebounders too.

     As for drills to improve team rebounding, I really like “War.”  Three players stand in the key, side by side.  A coach throws the ball up on the rim and “the war” is on.  Whichever player gets the rebound, the other two defend with hands up, no fouling allowed, as the offensive player tries to score.  If a shot is missed, anyone can rebound and score.  When someone scores, the drill starts over.  No dribbling allowed.  First player to score three wins the game.  Losers get a small penalty like an “up and back.”

     “War” is not a daily drill for me, but 1 on 1, 2 on 2, or 3 on 3 box out drills are.  Yes, I still teach boxing out, but the emphasis is on “getting the rebound” rather than stopping the opponent from getting it.  I do one of those box out drills for about 5 minutes each practice, then follow up with 5 on 5 rebounding to transition offense and defense.  This allows us to work daily on offensive and defensive rebounding, outlets, and the fast break.

     Some teams do a great job of “boxing out” and still don’t get many rebounds.  All it takes is one hungry player on offense who really “wants the ball” and boxing out is defeated.  Train your players to “go get the ball” and they will get more rebounds.  Boxing out can help, but a desire to get the ball is more important.  Try it and see if you can Win the War on the Boards this season.

Key Teaching Points:

  • Five defenders need to pursue the rebound.
  • Three offensive players need to crash the boards – the front line.
  • Don’t assume a teammate will get the rebound.  Get it yourself.
  • Remember the 70% Rule.
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