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Don’t Pigeonhole Your Assets on the Perimeter

Big Man Physical Play

I hear modern day basketball philosophers say they don’t believe in “pigeonholing” players; which often means they don’t want to force anyone to play inside just because they are tall.  The success of outside shooting by Steph Curry and other Professional Basketball Players recently, has created a love affair with the 3-point shot for high school players and coaches alike.  So now it seems more and more teams are shooting up 3’s and ignoring any semblance of an inside game using Post Players.  

Two of the more popular ways to use Bigs now-a-days on high school teams seems to be:

  1. Let them stand outside, avoid contact, and shoot 3’s; or, if they can’t do that,
  2. Let them sit on the end of the bench.

To me, that’s what’s known as “Shrinking your assets.”  A tall player on the bench is certainly not much help to his team.  And a tall player who always stays outside and never takes advantage of one of his best assets isn’t being used properly either.  As a career-long Big Man Coach and author of the first book on post play, Complete Book of Basketball Post Play, I was always able to find ways to use my taller players inside on my teams.  Without their contributions, we certainly wouldn’t have had the success we did over the years.

With the recent popularity of 5-out offenses, it often means no one ever has to play inside.  So, the Bigs have to shoot outside well enough to play or they sit on the bench.  I don’t buy that philosophy and never have.  Taller players have so much that they can do to help a team win:  

  1. They can intimidate with the threat of shot blocking.  

2. They can reach rebounds that other players may not even be able to jump and get.  

3. They can score over shorter defenders.  

4. They can see over defenders to make passes that lead to assists.

And that’s just a few of the bonuses that taller players can give a team.  So this begs the question: How can a coach not take the time to develop his Bigs inside and use them in his system?  

A taller player without a good outside shot can be taught to score with inside power shots, short bank shots, and close in jump hooks. This can all be accomplished in much less time than developing a consistent 3-point shot.  All it takes is a little direction by the coach and an 8-12 minute session each practice to work on some inside skills.  Also, taking an excellent shooter and putting him at the low post once in awhile, to use his touch for shooting over shorter defenders, is a high percentage option that should not be denied.  Actually, if a coach is not working to develop all players into tough, inside finishers, he is doing a disservice to his players, whether tall or short.

While young Big Men do need to learn to protect the ball and use their teammates, they also need some basic footwork and finish moves too.  These include the baseline, drop-step, power shot; the face up, lift fake, go by; and the jump hook to the middle.  Eventually, all moves can be combined to give players a basic, inside game.  The jump hook can be considered advanced and only used when a player is comfortable with it.  Some may never use it, but will have the ability if ever needed.

In my training, Bigs also spend time shooting 3’s from the top of the key.  I want them to learn to shoot outside too, no matter what their scoring potential might be from that distance.  The Delay Man (4) on my fast break stopped at the top of the key and if he couldn’t hit a shot from there once in awhile, his defender might just back off and jam the high/low play that I liked so well.  Bigs also do ball handling warmup drills and other perimeter skills along with the guards.  I believe in well rounded players who can play inside and outside.  But often times, a young Big has very little experience or skill from the perimeter, so he learned the game from the inside/out from me.  My plan was for inexperienced, taller players to learn to use their size inside and then gradually build their perimeter game.

All players need to learn how to accept contact and play inside.  If a coach never teaches his shorter players to play inside, that is no different than never teaching Bigs to play outside.  Teach everybody how to score inside and you will have a more versatile, tougher, and better team.  And when it comes to the Big Man, Don’t Shrink Your Assets.  Let the Pigeons Come Home to Roost – in the Low Post – once in awhile.

For more information on Post Player and Big Man Development, check out my website: http://coachbattenberg.net/

Or get my book, Power Post Play, at http://coachbattenberg.net/books.htm

Building a Winning Basketball Program

A 6 Step Approach

After spending 35 years as a high school and college basketball coach, I can look back and reflect on what I believe made my eight different head coaching experiences successful. Yes, often times it was the talent I was blessed to have in those programs. In fact, in my six high school head coaching jobs, I can be pretty confident saying I had the best run of talent in those schools’ histories to that point. But I also believe that I did some things at each of those high schools, and my two colleges, that helped create a better basketball program. Below are six of the most important that helped me achieve that goal.

  1. Do something a little different offensively and defensively than your opponents in league.

My philosophy of basketball was usually quite different from many of the high school coaches I went against. While others were using switching man to man defenses or playing a zone, and running deliberate offenses or perimeter attacks, I liked to fast break, use the post players inside as a focal point, and employ straight man to man defense along with some “Surprise and Change” defenses too. I always figured if the opponent had to spend extra time preparing for what we did differently, and they weren’t familiar with our pace, than we had an advantage. As a coach, you need to do what fits your style and personnel the best, but consider whether you want to be like everyone else, or do a little something different that can become your trademark and cause opposing coaches concern.

2. Be fundamentally sound in your program.

Poor fundamentals lead to breakdowns and turnovers that usually ruin chances for success. By placing an emphasis on the basics and making your team fundamentally sound, you can increase your chances of winning more games almost immediately. When I took over a program, I often watched video of the previous season . This gave me an idea of the types of problems I inherited and helped me organize a plan for change. Sometimes I would even go over past year’s video with my new team and point out these problems so they could see exactly what I was emphasizing in our workouts and practices. That often included my own past teams too, as we moved on to the next season.

3. Work to make better players, but use those more that become better.

One of a coach’s main jobs is to make better basketball players. Not only do your players need to understand and develop the fundamentals of the game, but they should also learn to play smarter and with more skill over time. A good coach should teach proper shooting mechanics, ball handling skills, passing, rebounding, and defensive techniques. Another area I felt was important was the use of our taller players in the post area. Teaching them to take advantage of their size and reach was crucial to their development too. In the end, those who take your teaching to heart and improve to a level above others, deserve to play more in the games. Pointing out deficiencies and weaknesses to your players in private discussions will help them to understand their place in the rotation, and maybe encourage them to work harder to become better players.

4. Don’t be afraid to advance youth & take some lumps now to be better in the future.

I was never afraid to move a sophomore or freshman up to the Varsity team. If I felt they were ready to compete at the Varsity level and could help our team, then I wanted them up with me. Of course, I had to be pretty sure they would start or be in the top two subs when moved up. Playing time is important to their development and confidence, so I usually tried to find out early if a young player was going to be ready. This would mean playing with the Varsity team in the summer, and practicing with them in the fall, where I could observe them in action with their older, potential teammates.

The first year at a program, I often looked to have younger players on the varsity so they would help us obtain success in the future. If I determined the present prospects weren’t talented enough, and some younger ones were exceptional, then I wasn’t afraid to look to the future and go into a “building mode.” Sometimes I even went into “rebuilding mode” when a talent dip occurred after I was at a school for a couple of years too. For one reason or another, a class or two might lack the depth or talent needed to make a real competitive team.

Moving up a very good, younger player always seemed to make our team better. And the young player advanced in skill and experience to become one of our better players in later seasons. I am pretty sure everyone I moved up became an All League type player eventually before they graduated. Most all became recruited players by colleges of different levels, including several at Division 1. I believe early experiences playing with and against older players helped their development far more than being less challenged at lower levels with their own classmates. Since I had that experience myself as a high school player, I always felt confident in using this approach.

5. Keep things simple and do them better.

Being different with your offense or defense doesn’t mean you have to get complicated. Keeping it simple, fundamentally sound, and with the better players performing is a solid base to build on. Some coaches like offensive systems that take a big part of the season for players to become proficient. Others prefer defenses that call for major scouting, walk throughs, and adjusting to be successful. I always liked to start with some fundamentally sound basics on offense and defense, then build on them as the season progressed. Players learn to play quicker, smarter, and better when things are not too complicated.

6. Educate yourself to be the best Coach you can be.

Doing the five suggestions above requires a coach to constantly learn and refine his/her teaching skills. Staying up on the latest trends and finding new ways to present your philosophy, will help you create a system that is a little better and a little different from others in your league. You can find the best ways to teach the fundamentals you feel are most important. You can also discover ways to make your players better individually as well as molding them into a well-rounded team. By attending clinics and studying other programs, you will stay on top of the game and be prepared for what other coaches will try to do against your team too. Finding new ways for “keeping things simple and doing them better” is a big part of a coach’s education.

For more on Coach Battenberg’s Philosophy of Basketball, check out his book, “You Can Run With Anyone.”

A Young Big’s Solo Workout

Encouragement Is Key

Getting players to workout on their own can be a challenge for any coach. You can have them come early to practice or stay late for individual attention, but what they do on their own time will usually have a bigger effect. Off season is the time Bigs can make significant improvements in their development, both physically and skill-wise. Bringing them into the gym during the Spring and going over some drills for footwork, quickness, ball protection, and shot selection is how I often approached the issue. Try giving your young Bigs some of these drills and workouts this off season and see what improvements you will get next fall.

Demonstrate What To Do

A player does not need someone to pass the ball to him to practice a post move. They can use the “Self Spin Toss” to themselves to simulate the action. Setting up at the low post, slightly above the block, use two hands, toss the ball out front while giving it a backspin so the ball will hit the floor and bounce back to you. That is the “Self Spin Toss.” Now the player is ready to work on the many aspects of good post play.

The First Habit I wanted to instill in Bigs was to grab the “Self Spin” with two hands aggressively and pull the ball to the “chin area.” We often called this “Chinning the Ball” and it was most important for avoiding needless turnovers. If the ball is brought to the stomach or down by the knees, a Big is basically asking for “Help Defenders” to reach in and knock the ball loose for a turnover. This needs to be avoided by all Bigs, so establishing the “Chinning Action” will help eliminate many potential turnovers.

The Second Habit I liked to instill was “Sensing the Defense.” This is hard for a player to do on their own without a defender present, so I had them work on “Checking Baseline” in their solo workouts. When the baseline is open, I like my post men to attack there. When a player does not sense or feel a defender on the baseline side, check & attack is usually open.

The drill has a player Spin, Chin, Check Baseline and then react with a one bounce Power Shot to the rim. The footwork is called “Drop Step” and it starts immediately after the “Check” with the baseline foot stepping toward the basket. The ball is then bounced as the trailing foot moves forward to square the shoulders of the player to the backboard. This puts the offensive player in a position that allows his body and head to protect the potential Power Shot from being blocked easily. Squaring the feet parallel to the baseline or backboard is an important concept post players need to learn to be effective inside scorers. Next, the player explodes off of two feet toward the rim and uses the glass to finish a successful score. Always using the glass as an assistant in completing this high percentage shot is what makes it “high percentage.” Under the basket is no time to be “cute” or “soft” when trying to score in this highly contested area. Dunk it or use the glass was my preference.

Working Both Sides of the Low Post

A player should work his “Self Spin” and Footwork Drills on both sides of the basket, starting on the lane line, somewhere slightly above the “block” as previously mentioned. This is an important visual starting point for Bigs to set up and learn that the Drop Step Power Shot is easy and comfortable to execute from there.

As far as which hand to shoot with, I just wanted the Big to finish strong and feel comfortable in scoring. If they were skilled and comfortable using the right hand on the left side (closest to rim) and left hand on the right side, that was fine with me. But for young players without much experience, using the stronger, more comfortable hand all the time worked just as well in their Baseline Power Shots. If the baseline is open and the offensive player stays parallel to the backboard (Squared Up), then the success rate of scoring without getting the shot blocked is always very high.

The Basic Drop Step Move is the initial move for a beginning Low Post Player. With the Self Spin Pass, a player can also work on Turn-Bank Shots, Middle Jump Hooks, Front Pivot Up & Under Moves and other such more advanced Post Area scoring attacks. The idea is to perfect each move first, before moving on to another. Especially with very young, unskilled Bigs in grades 7 through 10, footwork, with quickness and accuracy in scoring, is the goal of these drills. The more work they can do on their own, the sooner the player will improve and the sooner the Coach will have a serviceable Big in the low post.

Key Teaching Points:

  1. Give young Bigs encouragement and special attention. Take the time to help them develop skills that will benefit them and your team.

2. Have special blocks of time to work with the Bigs alone, either during practice, or before or after practice.

3. Teach the Drop Step Power Shot first to young Bigs. Then add other moves as each is perfected. Limiting what a young, tall, developing player needs to do is a key to keeping him comfortable and confident.

4. Encourage off season and in season work on their own. The more a player works on basics, the quicker he will become an asset.

5. Praise advancement and success in skills as they are developed. Hard work deserves a reward, so mention it and use your new found talent.

For more on Coach Battenberg’s Post Player Development, consider purchasing his book Power Post Play. http://coachbattenberg.net/books.htm

Be a Better Coach by Seeing the Big Picture

Watch the ball or watch the game?

It became clear to me long ago, that too many Coaches in basketball watch just the ball and miss a lot of what is and is not going on in a game. It’s easy to do. The ball going in the basket often is what makes good offense. Stopping an opponent from getting the ball in the basket is obviously good defense. So everyone tends to watch mainly what is going on with the ball, including most Coaches.

By watching only the ball, a Coach basically becomes a Fan rather than a leader who is looking to get the most from his team. Are the players doing all the little things that lead to success on the scoreboard; such as: Transitioning hard on offense and defense? Helping from the weak side when playing defense? Going to the boards to get rebounds? Or other aspects of the Coach’s Philosophy that might be getting over looked? Seeing the Big Picture in coaching is a key to getting a team to play at its best. Without it, players may let up, form bad habits, or fail to do their part for the success of the team.

I have watched many teams play and wondered how the Coach did not notice his players were getting back slowly on defense? Or why they were standing and watching as a shot went up and then failed to go for a rebound? The Coach might sub a player out of the game for throwing a bad pass, or taking a bad shot, but those are “ball involved” situations that anyone can see. What about those peripheral things that make a big difference? Why do so many Coaches fail to recognize those situations?

It all comes down to “Seeing the Big Picture.” As a Coach, do you see the whole game? Or are you a “Ball Watcher” only? Yes, you can watch the film the next day and find the corrections you will want to make later. But wouldn’t it be nice to see them as they happen and make corrections immediately, during the actual game? Being able to expand your vision and see more of the action is a key to being a better game coach.

Here are 8 Suggestions to help Coaches learn to see more of what’s happening on the court:

  1. Educate yourself in all facets of the game; offense, defense, and all the basic fundamentals that will help your players execute better. Then teach it to them in practices.

2. Train yourself to see all the action in practice. Learn to watch the “big picture,” even if you have to visually scan back and forth to see everyone. Watch the ball, but use peripheral vision or scanning to get the full picture of what’s really going on.

3. Stop the action in practice and correct players immediately if they are not doing what they are suppose to do. Don’t ignore or wait until later to talk about it. This is practice. Fix things immediately.

4. When your season starts, make a conscience effort to watch more than just the ball early in games. Try to observe the things you worked on in practice. Don’t turn into a cheerleader instead of a “coach.”

5. If you find yourself reverting to just watching the ball, try starting again at the beginning of another half or quarter. You build good habits just like your players do; by correcting the situation and rehearsing it over time.

6. When you see things on the periphery done wrong during the game, do what you did in practice. Correct it immediately, especially early in games. That might mean subbing an offending player out and talking to him about his mistake. Let him know this cannot continue to happen.

7. If you ignore mistakes in effort and execution during practice or games, your players will not improve much over the season. Use your new ability to see the big picture to your advantage. Developing smarter players makes a better team.

8. If you have assistant coaches, train them to watch for certain things. Maybe an area that you find hard to see yourself. Have them take notes and discuss with you at half time or at time outs. Then try to watch for those deficiencies yourself when the action starts again.

Personal Experiences

I became a pretty good “Big Picture” Coach because I had to work by myself most of my career. I often had an assistant on the bench during games, but I generally was all by myself at practice, especially in my early years. That is when I really had to learn to organize and oversee a practice, as well as coach games, using the “Big Picture.” I worked to be a student of the game, always searching for better ways to do things. And I watched practices and games with an eye toward making sure things were done properly.

At several of my schools I had an excellent assistant who came to games, but not practices because of his day job. I liked having him do our defensive assignments during games so that we would have the right matchups in our non-switching, Man to Man Defense. When he was there to help, it certainly freed me up to watch all the other aspects and execution of our game plan. Obviously, when he wasn’t, I was challenged a little bit more to do a good job.

Another way I sometimes used an assistant, often a second assistant, was to have him sit next to me with a clipboard and write down notes I would mention. This was very useful for half time adjustments, future time outs, or even later practice plans. I didn’t have the benefit of assistants too often, but when I did, I tried to use them for the benefit of all in the program. This gave me an even better view of the Big Picture.

A Final Word of Advice: If you are an Assistant Coach without specific responsibilities, practice watching the “big picture” in games and don’t just be a Fan watching the ball. This will help prepare you for your future as a very good Head Coach someday.

Protecting a Late Game Lead

When you “play to Win,” you may sometimes lose. But when you “play not to lose,” you often end up not winning.

One of the biggest decisions a Coach has to make when his team is leading late in a game is, “when and if” to slow the game and protect the lead. This decision becomes even more vital when a shot clock is involved in the game. States without a shot clock in high school basketball allow coaches to have their teams slow down at any time. But when a shot clock is involved, consideration must be given to many factors that may not be as important as when there is not a shot clock. Factors like: Taking a shot in 30/35 seconds, as opposed to not having to shoot at all if you so choose. Or, how many blocks of 30/35 seconds can your team survive if you don’t score in any of them?

I coached for many years without a shot clock. California was the first to adopt the shot clock in high school basketball in 1997, so I also had plenty of years to coach teams with the clock. What I found is that playing with the shot clock requires more coaching than it did before we had one. Late game situations with the lead are certainly some of the toughest. Players go through almost a whole game looking to score as soon as a decent shot presents itself. Then, all of a sudden, a Coach may order them to work the shot clock down to the end and still find a way to get a great shot.

Whether you have a shot clock or not, Coaches still need to have a good feel for their team’s ability to finish up a game with the lead. Coaches should consider these questions before deciding when to slow the pace:

  1. What is the foul situation? Who’s in foul trouble? Are you in the bonus yet?
  2. What is your lead? Double digits? Too close for comfort?
  3. Do you have a “slow-down attack” that the players can comfortably use?
  4. How has your team responded when asked to slow down in past situations when ahead?
  5. How much time remaining are you comfortable with your team using a slow down or delay game approach?

A key for me was to always “play to win” and not sit on it too soon so we ended up “playing not to lose.” Time needs to be on your side and the pressure to change that should always be on the opponents. If you “pull the plug” on your momentum by slowing your attack too soon, you might just end up with a loss. “Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” is not something a coach wants hanging over his head at the end of a game. That’s why it is so important to have a plan, know your team, and pick the right time to move into a delay tactic. While deciding “When” to slow down with a lead, I usually went with this plan in the back of my head, but always remained flexible with it.

Pulling It Out – Shot Clock Guide

  1. Up 1-3 points + – 30 seconds left or less – opponents will foul
  2. Up 5-6 points + – around 1 minute left or less – 2 possession game
  3. Up 7-9 points + – around 2 minutes left or less – 3 possession game

What you have your team do in those closing moments of a tight game is the key to success in your “slow-down” strategy. How do you set up? When do you shoot? What kind of shot will you take? What if you are wide open early?

I felt it was important to have a special “call” for these situations. Something that let everyone know exactly what should happen at this point in the game. I called it, “2 Minute Offense.” This reminded everyone that we were in control on the scoreboard and clock, so we just needed to execute the “2 Minute Offense” and the victory would be ours.

2 Minute Offense

This offense started as a 4-corners setup, with the two Bigs in the baseline corners, the wings in the mid court corners, and the point guard with the ball in the middle at mid court. Many coaches have used this delay offense through the years, as it was first popularized by Dean Smith at North Carolina University many years ago.

Four Corners Offensive Set

While in the 4 Corners Offense, the defense might lay back, waiting for you to attack and shoot. The point guard needs to read this, then pass to a wing, get a return pass to regain his dribble, but hold the ball until the defense comes out to attack him. When they do, the point guard runs a standard 4 Corners Attack and dribbles at his defender in the middle of the half court. When stopped, he can pass out to any of the four corners and maybe get a return pass to regain his dribble. Or, one of the other two perimeter players might receive the ball and switch places with the point guard. The new ball handler would take the middle and the point guard would move to the now open corner spot.

Quick Hitter Under 10 Seconds

As time runs down and the shot clock starts to factors in, you might need to eventually run a “quick hitter.” Our key was the 10 second mark on the shot clock. If we had not gotten a wide open lay up in the 4 corners, we wanted to get a good shot for a good player under 5 seconds. I generally favored one of two plays in this situation for our 2 Minute Offense. Either a pick and roll for our best perimeter player off our best Big, or a 1-4 Flat Set (on the baseline) for our point guard to take his man to the basket and score, or find an open teammate for a last second shot. The 2 Minute Offense allowed a player to take a wide open lay up at anytime it was there; otherwise, run the shot clock down to 10 seconds before looking to score on a set play at the under 5 second mark.

Often times we would get fouled to stop the clock, as the opponent hoped we would miss our free throws. We needed to knock those down. That’s why I considered free throw shooting so important to our practice plan. If we weren’t fouled, I wanted our best player (or better players) to get the shot up with under 5 seconds on the shot clock. That way, we had a good chance of using up a lot of time, potentially increasing our lead, and putting even more pressure on our opponent to score on their next possession.

Protecting a late game lead is much easier to do if you have a solid offensive plan that your team understands, believes in, and has worked on in practice and even game situations. Give them those opportunities in your practices during “Special Situations” and also early in the season during games, even when you are up more than 10 points late. Game experience is priceless. When it comes to late game situations, make sure your team knows you are “playing to win” and not just “playing to not lose.”

For more on Special Situations, 4 Corners Offense, and Quick-Hitters, check out my book: “You Can Run With Anyone.”

Becoming a Really Good JV or Freshman Coach

Coaching JV and Frosh Basketball

During my long coaching career, I coached a JV (sophomore) team twice. The first time was my first-ever coaching job at Jesuit High in Sacramento, California when I was 21 years old and still in college. The second time was about 30 years later at Union Mine High in Placerville, California, at a new school with no Juniors or Seniors on campus yet. Even though I had many years of experience, including nine at the college level before my second go-around at the JV level, I pretty much tried to do the same thing both times. I aimed to develop sound, fundamental players for the varsity team. It worked out well for me, because in both situations, I became the Varsity Coach of those players the next year.

No matter what level you coach, you should be looking to develop fundamentally sound, unselfish, and intelligent basketball players. Too often, coaches get caught up in “winning the games” and forget to develop their players. As a lower level coach, you have the responsibility of preparing your players so they will be ready to fit into the varsity coach’s system. Here are some suggestions for Freshmen and JV (Sophomore) team coaches that I have found useful through the years:

1. Find a way to have every single player start at least one game during the season. You never know who could wind up being a Varsity starter some day, so let them all experience starting. And it is great for the enthusiasm, effort and team spirit of everyone.

2. Play at least 10 players in the first half of every game. Ideally play everyone on the team in every game if possible. Again, you never know who might end up playing Varsity & who will do something else, so give them all experience.

3. Realize you are developing players for the next level and that they may move up to that next level at any time, even during the present season. Make sure your players are ready and willing to go up .

4. Coach your players on the skills, fundamentals, and playing systems that are needed at the next level. If you are not sure what they are, ask the head coach.

5. Teach “commitment” to the game, the program, and the team. Do not allow players to miss practice or be late to practice without consequences.

6. Man to man defense is the base defense in all of basketball. Learn how to teach it well and use it most of the time in your games. But support your head coach & his defensive philosophy too, even if different than your preference.

7. Never allow poor sportsmanship or a bad attitude to go on without intervening. Correct those bad habits now, before your players move on to Varsity.

8. Set a good example yourself by being on time, being prepared, and being a good role model for your players.

9. Be a student of the game. Attend clinics whenever possible and learn from more experienced coaches. Get to know your head coach’s philosophy too and discuss techniques with him.

Be a good “Program Builder” as an Assistant Coach so you can maybe become a good Head Coach yourself someday.  The habits you form in coaching at the lower levels early in your career will shape the kind of Coach you will ultimately become.  Make sure that is going to be a “Good One.”

Winning the Close Ones – Luck or Skill?

The difference between a winning season and a losing one is often determined by your success in close games.  Teams that win the majority of their close games will generally have good seasons.  Inexperienced teams, under-achieving teams, and “snake-bit” teams seem to be the ones who can’t come up with victories in tight contests.  As a coach, the question for you is often, “How can I help my team win the close ones?”

As a bench coach, I loved the last two minutes of a tight game.  The excitement in the crowd, the focus of the players, and the tension over what the outcome of the game will be, are all factors that make being “the coach” exciting and potentially rewarding.  Of course, losing a tight game is not very satisfying, but still, the “final two minutes” is an experience you can’t find in too many other professions.

I found inexperienced teams often had a hard time finishing tight games with a positive result.  They need leadership that can help them get over the hump and too often they don’t have it on the court. This is where a coach can have a major influence. What he says in the huddle can sometimes make a significant difference, positively or negatively.  “We have them right where we want them,” is a good position to take.  Or, “The pressure is on them, not us,” is another one that will help some teams through otherwise tough times.  Of course, a coach’s calm and confident manner in times of stress is often more important than what is being said.

Experience leads to confidence.  Veteran teams have usually been in tight games before and won them from time to time.  They mentally handle the situation better than younger teams.  To get experience for young or even veteran teams in “end of game situations,” I found that rehearsing in practice was the best way to prepare them.  I called this, “Special Situations” and I tried to do a five minute block on these in many of our practices.   I put a specific amount of time on the clock, anywhere from 2 minutes to as little as 1 second, and then had a 5-on-5 game-like scrimmage.  I may or may not have offered suggestions to one team or the other as the contest proceeded.  At the end, I had a discussion with the team about the pros and cons of what they did and how they could improve.  Examples: When to foul, how to foul, when to use a time out and when not to use one,  how far you can dribble in 5 seconds or less,  what kind of shot is needed in various situations, plays to run to get good shots, and how to run out the clock when ahead.

So, is winning close games luck or skill?  Just remember that “Luck goes to the Prepared.” Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, so give your players the confidence they need at the end of a game by preparing them in practice. You will all have a better chance of feeling the “Thrill of Victory” if you prepare them for it.

Key Reference Points:

  1. Keep a calm and positive demeanor in huddles.
  2. Use phrases of motivation, but of confidence too.
  3. Rehearse late game scenarios in practice as “Special Situations.”
  4. A well-coached team will know what to do in tight situations.
  5. Remember, sometimes a loss is the incentive for winning the next time. Experience counts.

Building a Low Post Player

Good Low Post Players are great to have, but often hard to find. Just ask the many colleges that are always searching for one to recruit. When a high school coach is lucky enough to have a taller, lanky, young freshman or sophomore in his program, he would be very wise to see what that player’s potential is and develop ways to use that height. If the Big is already one of the best talents on the team and can play and shoot from anywhere, teaching him to use his size inside at times can be beneficial to his future and the team’s success also. But if he has little skill development, is weak and unsure of himself, then building his game from the inside-out would be a smart way to go.

Some coaches will tell the young, unskilled Big that he just needs to rebound and play defense, maybe block a few shots and intimidate opponents, but “don’t worry about scoring.” A pass may never even be attempted in the direction of this post man. It may be a wise choice at this stage of some Bigs’ development, but a coach should still be working on a young player’s offensive game in practice. He should even consider putting in one special play for the Big to get the ball and potentially score or at least be able to feed a teammate.

Training a young Big starts with positioning, receiving, and protecting. Position them above the low block along the free throw lane. Teach them to present a good target with both hands up, elbows out, fingers to the sky. Inexperienced players, especially Bigs, often don’t get their center of gravity low and body balanced. They need to protect the possession by positioning with knees bent, springing to the pass, grabbing the ball with both hands, bringing it to the chin area, flaring the elbows out, and landing with knees bent and butt lowered. All of these traits must be practiced almost daily in group or individual work, with reinforcement during team action.

After Positioning and Receiving have been sufficiently developed, the next step is some basic post moves. A simple one to begin with tall, lanky, and less physical Bigs is the bank shot. From the low block, a pivot on the baseline foot turns the player to a position where he can quickly sight the “shooter’s square” on the backboard and release the bank shot. This can be very effective for players who are much taller than the average opponent because the Big can usually avoid contact and comfortably get off a high percentage shot.

The second scoring move to address is the “drop step, power shot to the baseline side.” This one also uses the backboard, but involves different footwork. Instead of pivoting on the baseline foot as in the bank shot, the player steps with his baseline foot toward the basket, using one big power dribble, squaring up the other foot by moving it toward the basket, and then going up for a power layup off the glass.

Coaches can limit their young Bigs to those two moves and have the beginning of a future threat at the low post. As the Big Man develops coordination, strength, and confidence, he will be eager to work on the next phase, counter moves. Starting their development young and early on will give a Coach the time to incorporate more options for the low post player as he improves. And it gives the player time to develop all of his perimeter skills too in regular team practices or with individual work on his on. I always found improvement of my Bigs to be a big key in the success of my basketball teams.

“Basketball is a game of luck and if you don’t have a good post man, then you may be in for some bad luck.” – Coach Battenberg

If you are interested in learning more about Post Play, consider getting my book “Power Post Play” during the special price sale going on now: http://coachbattenberg.net/books.htm

Score on that Opening Tip

Philosophy of the Opening Tip Play

Because I generally had taller players in my programs, especially at my High Schools, I looked for ways to control the tip and score right away when possible. Controlling the tip means you first have to find a player who can get up and win it. The taller player does not always win the tip. A quicker jumper beats a taller player quite often. With that in mind, the first part of our Tip Play was to be quick to the ball and get there first. I would tell my best, big jumper that his job was to get up early, as soon as it looked like the referee was about to toss the ball. Get up first and you win the tip almost every time. And if our center jumper went too early, the referee would usually just call for a re-jump and we got another chance anyways.

We did learn to control a very high percentage of all jump ball situations, so I eventually came up with three Tip Plays that I used through the years. Sometimes we were so effective with them that opposing Coaches would have their four defenders all stand back in their defensive end, so we wouldn’t score so quickly and easily. When that happened, we just tipped back and went right to our Early Offense or a Set Play. But if they challenged us with a regular line up on the opening tip, we were always ready.

Tip Play #1 – Tip Forward

Our best jumper (5) was in the circle, as usual. The next biggest player, who had to be tough at getting tipped balls, was in the (4) spot with his back to our basket. The wings (2) and (3) were on the sides of the circle, seeking to draw attention. Our point guard (1) was back to defend our defensive basket in case we lost the tip.

The ball was tipped by (5) to (4) on the side away from his immediate defender. As the ball went up for the tip, (2) and (3) took off wide toward our offensive end. (Diagram 1 Below)

When (4) got possession, he turned and looked in the easiest direction for a wing cutting toward our basket. This would often result in a dunk, a lay up, or a pass to the opposite wing for an open layup or dunk. (Diagram 2 Below) The goal was for (2) and (3) to beat their defenders to our basket and out number the opponent’s safety.

If the (2) and (3) were not able to get an inside opportunity, they would wait on the wings for the (4) and (5) to come rumbling down the lane. This often led to a post up opportunity for one of our Bigs.

Tip Play #2 – Spread

This play worked the same as the first one, only we spread our wings out wide, near the sidelines. This often confused the opponents and left our players open for easy scores. Most teams line up with you on the circle, but what will they do if you spread two players out wide? Will they stay on the circle? Go out part way to cover a sideline player? Or just scratch their heads and do a little of both? The Spread actually made it easier for us to get the tip to (4) usually, because the circle was less crowded. The (4) would then just turn to a side and look for a teammate, just like he did in the regular Tip Play #1. (Diagram 1 Below)

Sometimes, our center jumper (5) would see the confusion of the opponents as they lined up. If he noticed an obvious open sideline, he would signal that teammate and tip the ball to the open area for a wing to get it. (Diagram 2 Below) Again, this would lead to the same possible 2 vs 1 attack, but eliminated the tip and pass through the (4) man.

Tip Play #3 – Back Tip Delay

The third Tip Play I did not use very often, but it was actually my favorite. It came in handy for some opponents who thought they would stop our Spread with a tighter match up on our wings. I also used it the second time through league if I thought the opponents would be geared up to stop our regular tip forward.

This play was specifically designed for the center jumper to score on a dunk or post up down low. The Wings can line up on the circle or in a Spread formation, it doesn’t matter. The play started with a tip back to our point guard (1). Safety Tip, right? At least that is what we hoped the opponents were thinking. (Diagram 1 Below)

After (1) got possession, the (2) and (3) ran wide to their offensive wing areas. This was designed to spread the defense and free up our key area. (Diagram 2 below)

After the tip back, our (4) back-screened the opponent’s center jumper (X5) as our (5) took off for the basket. (Diagram 3 Below) This one worked really well from the spread set, especially when the wings were closely defended. If the safety (X1) relaxed due to the back tip, and moved up to find his man dribbling toward him, that’s when a pass from (1) to (5) over the top would be wide open. The (1) dribbled toward our basket as he watched the defense and decided if he could lob the ball ahead to (5). The “surprise” is what makes this play work. That and the fact that we had our Bigs running the middle of the floor on every fast break, so they were use to gathering in a lob over the top of the defense.

If the pass from (1) over the top to (5) was not open, the (1) could pitch the ball ahead to either wing and the Big would post up inside. Since (5’s) defender is trailing the play, the baseline would often be open for a quick move to the basket. (Diagram 4 Below)

Tip Plays are an exciting and fun way to start any game. When your team can open the contest by scoring within 5 seconds, it sets the tone right away. Your team has come to play and play fast and hard. Work on getting your quickest leaper to jump just a little early so you get most of the tips. Have a Tip Play or two that you can use to start every game. It doesn’t take much time to put these in and they will add a little something extra to your offensive attack. That something extra might just be the two points that eventually wins the game for you.

For more Running Game Ideas and Plays, purchase Coach Battenberg’s newest book, “You Can Run With Anyone.”

Boost Your Offense with Better Offensive Rebounding


Coaches are always looking for ways to improve the Offensive Efficiency of their teams. They come up with new plays, incorporate hours of shooting drills into workouts, and even define where and when their players should shoot the ball. But one area that is often ignored is Offensive Rebounding.

It stands to reason that if a team recovers several of its own missed shots and scores on second chances, their offense should be more efficient. But many Coaches overlook this potential aspect and never address it in their practices or game plans. It was about 15 years into my coaching career before I actually decided to really work on my teams’ Offensive Rebounding. Because we had trouble putting the ball in the basket that season, I decided we needed to come up with more but easier shots. Offensive “put-backs” seemed to be a logical way to accomplish this goal. With improved rebounding, eventually our scoring improved, even though our shooting percentage was still about the same. Because of this success, I kept up the emphasis in future years and found it helped us to be very successful.

Establishing the Philosophy

In order to increase a team’s offensive rebounding power, a Coach needs to figure out how to get players to go to the glass when their own teammates are shooting. Who goes and how often is a key question for many? My personal philosophy was to send the three best rebounders to the glass every time and the other two back to protect our defensive end. Generally, those three rebounders were the frontline players, or the 3, 4 and 5 in the offense. Their job was to move to the basket anytime a teammate shot the ball. The only exception was if one of the frontline players shot outside, he was not required to follow his shot. (We wanted him to completely concentrate on making his shot.) The three offensive rebounders not only had to crash the boards, but get back quickly in transition whenever we no longer had possession. Rule: Crash the “O” glass, then get back in transition immediately after an opponent gains possession.

Teaching Techniques

An early lesson in rebounding that I gave players was the “70% Rule.” It’s not really a rule, but more like an incentive. It states that a missed shot will rebound to the opposite side from where it is attempted about 70% of the time. If the shot is taken from in front of the basket, it rebounds back to the middle about 70% of the time. I call these the Hot Zones. With this in mind, an offensive player can remind himself to maneuver to the “hot zone” whenever possible, thus increasing his chances of getting an offensive rebound. Of course, if an offensive player already has good inside position on his defender from the shooting side, he should hold firm to that “30% territory” until he sees where the rebound comes off the rim.

Avoiding a box out by an opponent is also a technique that should be encouraged. I taught offensive rebounders to get around a defender before getting blocked off; or to step back, away, and then around a box out; or to spin and roll off the back of a defender boxing them out. These moves were practiced daily in our drills for rebounding, thus challenging our defense to be better at boxing out and pursuing the ball too. The key was: Don’t Be an Easy “Box Out.”

When a player secured an offensive rebound, I wanted him to look to score. The player was already near the basket and had the advantage of going against a frustrated opponent. Frustrated because he didn’t get the defensive rebound he was suppose to get. I encouraged players to use a good pump fake before taking the ball back up to the rim. This often caught an opponent off guard, getting him to take the fake and jump out of the way, or even foul our shooter for a potential 3-Point Play.

Another area of concentration I had was offensive rebounding a Missed Free Throw Attempt. I had our middle rebounders move up their lane and away from the inside opponent. It was then harder for that opponent to box our players out because of the extra space between them. This made it a little easier for us to get to the ball first by avoiding an opponent’s contact. We also worked on tipping the ball out toward mid court if we couldn’t get two hands on it. If we could recover the ball, this at least gave us another possession.

Coaching Tips and Responsibilities

Teaching the philosophy and techniques will do no good if a Coach doesn’t follow through in practice. Every drill and every scrimmage situation should be closely monitored for the rebounding efforts of players. If someone is standing and watching rather than going to the glass, then this must be pointed out and addressed immediately. Offensive rebounding is a habit. The assigned players must do their jobs every time for the team to gain the advantage needed.

In the same regard, I would substitute a player out of a game if I saw him not going to the boards when he was suppose to do so. Either he was too tired or he disregarded his responsibility, so someone else needed to take his place until he was ready to again operate at peak performance.

Two other important tips for Coaches: Practice rebounding with a drill or two every day and have a manager or assistant coach keep stats on your rebounds in practice and games. I would often announce the number of offensive rebounds per player at the end of practice. In games, I usually announced it at half time and sometimes after the game too. This became great verbal encouragement and reward for players.

Drills to Improve Rebounding

I never really had any fancy drills to teach rebounding. Mostly, I used the standard ones like “2 on 2” or “3 on 3 Rebounding;” but, I paid particular attention to what the offensive rebounders did as well as those on defense who were suppose to box out. It seems most Coaches spend time on boxing out, but don’t put enough emphasis on the Offensive Rebounding aspect. When I changed my philosophy in that regard, it really helped our offensive rebounding numbers. We not only got more put-backs inside, we got more free throw attempts, and yielded less fast break opportunities to the opponents. They were too concerned about our offensive boards to leak anyone out early when we shot.

I also liked to watch our rebounding during 5 on 5 work on the fast break. Did we consistently hit the boards with 8 players (3 on offense and 5 on defense)? If not, I stopped the action immediately to point out the problem and sometimes made a substitution. This reinforced the idea that offensive rebounding was important to our cause.

Remember: It’s what you work on consistently that you become really good at doing. If you want a better offensive rebounding team, then you need to consistently demand that your players work on it every day in every drill. Try it as I did and you will see your offensive efficiency improve too.

For more on Offensive Rebounding Techniques used by Coach Battenberg, consider reading his latest two books:

http://coachbattenberg.net/books.htm