Very few basketball teams are naturally aggressive. In fact, many players are soft in nature and need to learn to hustle and be aggressive. That’s where a coach can make a big difference. You need to find aggressiveness, teach aggressiveness, and praise aggressiveness if you indeed want it to be part of your team’s identity.
Aggressiveness is important to your defense, your rebounding, and right on through your offensive attack. Including drills that teach and require aggressiveness is a must for teams that want to play harder than their opponents. As I often said to my teams, “You are either going to intimidate or be intimidated. Which will it be?” I wanted them to get the loose balls, draw charges, pursue all rebounds, and attack the basket with no fear. In order to do this, I had to drill them and reward them. Early in the scrimmage season, I would start the more aggressive players just to send a message to others who were not playing as hard, even when it meant keeping better scorers on the second unit. Winners will rise to the occasion, so those who needed to get tougher usually did so they could get the starting spots they wanted.
Here are a couple of “Toughness” Drills I used early in the preseason to find out who was aggressive and to expose others who needed to learn to be more aggressive. I especially liked to use these drills early in tryouts when I took over a new program, which I did 8 times in my career. Such activities helped set the tone for my new program and aided in the evaluation of personnel. I usually only did these drills three or four times in a season, depending on the buy in. The aggressiveness was then encouraged throughout practice in all drills and situational training. If that wasn’t happening to my satisfaction, toughness drills were added back into the next practices.
Aggressive Drill #1 – Roll the Ball
I want to start off by saying that I am not looking to get anyone hurt. The idea is to get players use to playing hard and aggressively without fear of getting hurt, but with the ability to avoid injury. This drill takes time, (about 10 minutes), has other players standing and watching while two players compete, but the watching and anticipating are important parts of this drill. I encourage cheering and chatter as the drill proceeds. I usually only did this drill a couple of times early in the pre season tryout period.
The entire team pairs up and makes two lines underneath the backboard, out of bounds on the baseline. An assistant is at the far end and I have a ball and stand on the end line between the two players that are up first. Players have to stay behind the end line and not go until I blow a whistle or say “Go.” I roll the ball slowly down the center of the key toward mid court. (Diagram 1) Somewhere along the way, I blow my whistle and the two contestants sprint to get the ball. Whoever comes up with it immediately goes on the attack to the opposite end of the court. (Diagram 2) The other player is now the defender and does his best to stop the offensive player from scoring, but without fouling. If the offensive player scores or the defender fouls, the offense automatically wins. If the offensive man misses his shot, the rebound is up for grabs and the defender can get it and score on that same end to win.
The loser pays a small penalty like 5 finger tip push ups. Again, everyone is encouraged to cheer their teammates on as the action proceeds. The assistant at the far end calls fouls and returns the ball back to my end so we can start the next pair. This drill takes only 5-10 minutes, but tells a lot about your players’ aggressiveness. Some will fiercely compete, dive on the floor for the ball, and really get after it. Others may avoid getting on the floor and shy away from contact. Their commitment will tell you a lot about the members of your team and their potential to compete in tough situations.
Aggressive Drill #2 – Kentucky Drill
I originally got this drill a long time ago, when I was just starting out in coaching, from Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall. His teams were known for physical play, both offensively and defensively. I made a point to hear him speak at a clinic once, picked up this drill from him, and called it “Kentucky Drill” from then on.
This is another early season drill that is used only a couple of times in the pre season tryouts, but it can be revisited once in a while in season to bring back the spirit and hustle to your team. Like the previous example, Roll the Ball, there is standing and watching while a limited number are involved, but the players rotate through quickly and they are again encouraged to cheer each other on. The Kentucky Drill has three opportunities to demonstrate aggressiveness, all happening in quick order: 1) Draw a Charge, 2) Dive on the Floor for a loose ball, 3) Attack the Basket for a Power Move and Score.
The players line up as if in a layup line, starting beyond the 3-point line at least. The first player in line (X1) moves to the middle of the opposite lane line and assumes a helping defensive position. He pretends to be guarding an opponent on the opposite side of the court from his line of teammates. The next player in line (2) has the ball and when told, he drives hard at the basket as if to shoot a layup. The defender waits until the dribbler gets nearer to the basket, then quickly moves over to draw a charge on the shooter. (Diagram 3 below) Shots are usually not taken because we just want the good, solid contact near the basket so the defender can draw a legitimate charge. If the timing is off or the contact is poor, everyone “boos” and two players start over. We want a good, solid charge to start out. Meanwhile, a coach standing out of bounds under the basket, has a second ball that he rolls slowly toward the top of the key after the defender hits the ground on his drawn charge attempt. (Diagram 4) The defender (X1) quickly gets to his feet and dives on his belly to retrieve the ball, then dribbles his way up to a standing position and attacks the same basket.
An assistant coach or a third player will defend the basket using a football blocking pad (or an old pillow), bumping the shooter as he attempts to make three power shots. (Diagram 5 Below) The offensive player keeps shooting and rebounding until he does make three. Then the drill repeats with the next person in line (3) starting with the ball and a drive to the basketball. (Diagram 6) The new defender (X2) will be the player who just drove in for the original layup attempt, the original defender (X1) can now be the pad (pillow) man, or go back to the layup line to await his turn driving in.
This drill takes about 10 minutes of practice time. It always causes a lot of cheering and encouragement from the other players who await their turn to be aggressive. As I said earlier, we did not do this drill very often, maybe 3-4 times a year, but it certainly helped to make us a more aggressive team. Our coaches took great lengths to make sure no one got hurt by controlling the amount of contact. We wanted the players to be physical, but never injure a teammate. Before the Kentucky Drill was ever used, we had separate drills to cover how to safely draw a charge, how to dive on the floor and legally dribble up a recovered ball, and how to use a power shot around the basket.
Sometimes we used the Kentucky Drill as an enthusiasm builder at the end of the last practice before the start of league, before a rival game, or before the beginning of play-offs. It seemed to really set up the mental preparation we needed for a special contest.
Key Teaching Points:
- Drill aggressiveness early and emphasize it often in the season. Make it a habit and part of the team’s identity.
2. Reward what you want in players by praising and putting them in the starting 5.
3. Safety is always a concern. You don’t want unnecessary injuries. Control the action but don’t make your players overly cautious.
4. Teach players early how to dive on the floor properly, draw a charge correctly, and attack the basket while receiving contact.
5. What you emphasize, practice, and praise will be what your team does best.