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 a benefit 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 or at least intimidate opponents, but “don’t worry about scoring.” A pass may never even be attempted in the direction of the post man. This may be a wise choice at the stage of some Bigs’ development, but a coach should still be working on these young players’ offensive games in practice. The coach could 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 nice 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, 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. I 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 half price sale going on now:

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.

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.

First Year Cultural Problems

The excitement of taking over a Basketball Program can wear off very quickly when your Cultural Changes don’t seem to be working out. Depending on when you first start workouts with your new squad, these issues may come up in the summer, fall, or at the beginning of the regular season. How you handle them can make all the difference in establishing your program as you envision it for the future .

I was a New Head Coach of a basketball program 8 separate times in my career. Each situation was a little different for me due to the type of players I inherited, expectations of the followers, and history of the program. The challenges certainly changed as time went by in my 35 year coaching career too. Parents, administrators, and media all became more involved in judging coaches and their programs. Mine were no exception. To survive as a Coach, I had to adjust along with the changes in society. Below are four areas that consistently needed special attention during my more recent years in developing programs.


The top consideration I had to deal with was always “communication.” You can tell everyone your vision and expectations, but are they really listening? Do they think you really mean what you say? Are they going to buy in? These questions can be answered by a Coach’s effort to keep communicating and reminding everyone of the expectations. Written handouts are a good backup to a spoken presentation of a vision. Repeating early and often can be very helpful too.

Poor attendance may cause early communication problems. In the summer, players may not always show up to hear what is being said by the coach. In the fall, some athletes might be out for fall sports and again, not hear what the vision and expectations are for the program. The key to communication is to repeat, remind, review early and often.


The Seniors trying out for a new coach can be a big challenge. Maybe they liked the former Coach and aren’t too excited about having this “new guy” running things now. Or they could be eager for the change and excited for the arrival of a new leader to the program. But in most cases, I found that Seniors are often just looking forward to their last year of high school (or college) basketball and just want to fulfill their own expectations and dreams. This can lead to some interesting challenges for a new coach too. Will they earn the position and playing time they believe they now deserve? Will they buy in to the new philosophy the coach brings? These unknowns can sometimes become problems that will need to be dealt with regularly. Seniors that seem to lack potential to contribute much, might be better off being dropped from the program before the regular season starts. More than once I kept Seniors on the team my first year who never were happy with their playing time. The whole team would have been better off, in most cases, if I had released those players early.

Buy In

A change in philosophy is a challenge to players who have been working under a different system for a couple of years. I noticed this because I wanted solid defense, good shot selection, the front line always hitting the offensive boards, and an offense looking to the low post a great deal of the time. At several schools where I took over programs, the players had never heard such requests before. Some years it took a lot of “communicating” to get everyone to buy in to my philosophy. But generally, our improved play and winning record seemed to help convince the players that my methods worked. The younger players always seemed to “buy in” much easier than seniors because, as I mentioned earlier, they were not as entrenched in an old philosophy and also had a future to look forward to.


Buy in by the players’ parents, especially those of the Seniors, was also a problem at times. This was frequently true in more recent years as parents have become more involved in their kids’ lives. Senior parents often feel they too have waited for this year and now it is their son’s turn to shine. Even if their child didn’t play much the year before, they somehow expected that no younger player could possibly take their son’s playing time this season. Again, communication is important in this situation and it starts with clearly explaining the roles to players early on. This gives them a chance to present your reasoning to their parents; thus, avoiding some unnecessary meetings later.

Other Challenges

Despite the above mentioned challenges for a new Coach, there are several others that can arise during the initial season while establishing a Program’s Culture. Depending on a Coach’s Standards, these challenges could include players:

  • Showing up late or not at all to workouts and practices
  • Giving less than a good effort in practices or games
  • Causing problems in the locker room or the bench
  • Having citizenship or grade problems

These will have to be dealt with on an individual basis or sometimes as a team. A Coach needs to be consistent in handling challenges like these the first year, if he indeed wants to establish a great Culture for the future. A firm and consistent response to each issue is the most appropriate way to handle all problems. A coach needs to decide what is going to be most suitable for his program and stick with it.

While the first year of coaching at a new school may have many challenges, it can have many rewards too. Watching a team grow together and fulfill the goals you had for them can be very gratifying. And setting the standards and developing the Culture for the years to come, is very satisfying too.

Coaching Tips for Tournaments & Roadies

Crowd at BB

Playing in front of a hostile crowd at a Tournament or just a regular road game, can be intimidating for the best of teams.  Most “upsets” happen to you on the road or a neutral court, so a wise coach will pay particular attention to what his team’s mental state is during these encounters.  Here are some tips I have found useful during my many years of coaching both high school and college teams.

Coaching Tips for Tournaments

Tip #1  Losing the opening game of a three day Holiday Tournament can be a real “downer” for a team and coach.  You might go from a large crowd in prime time, to an early afternoon game the next day in front of only the scorekeeper and a janitor.  No chance for a “championship,” no exciting matchups, and nothing much to look forward to the next couple of days.

But wait!  It’s not the end.  It’s a beginning.  The beginning of a chance to start a new run of wins.  Your next opponent lost too.  They are down about their situation as much as you are.  But you both still have a chance to win the next two games and finish with a tie for the second best record of the weekend.  Who is going to step up for the next game and pull out the win?  And maybe the day after that too?  Even if you lose the first game of a tournament, at the end of the season, you could still be looking at two wins and only one loss in that particular weekend.  That’s much better than 0-3 or 1-2 because your team wasn’t mentally ready to play.

For a coach, getting your team back up after a tough loss is often hard to do.  Especially when you play the very next day and have little time to regroup, workout the rough edges, or even rest.  A coach who is a good motivator can have a positive effect in these situations, and his ability to do so should not be overlooked.  A team can sometimes “steal” a win from a more talented opponent in these situations, if they are more motivated and ready than the “supposed” stronger team.

Tip #2   Three games in three days can be quite taxing.  Don’t expect your Starting 5 to play major minutes every night.  Getting up early to go to school on Friday is tough, especially after a late Thursday night game.  If you use the first unit most of the game on the first day of a tournament, plan some rest for them Friday.  But when possible, use the bench in the first half of all games as much as feasible.  Your third day effort will be much better than opponents who have tired players.  There can be some pretty ugly basketball played on the final day of a holiday tournament, but your team can avoid that if they stay mentally and physically prepared.  As a coach, you control it.

Coaching Tips for Road Games

Tip #1   Being on the road in a strange gym can be intimidating.  One of the first things I tell players to do as they walk in the door is to find something they like about the opponent’s gym.  Getting a positive image in their mind will help alleviate any negative thoughts that can occur.  Maybe the facility reminds them of a favorite gym.  Or the floor is shiny with great traction.  Maybe the rims are “forgiving” and “soft” to shoot on.  Or  the gym lighting is exceptional.  Have them find something, anything, that will put them into a positive frame of mind before the game begins.

Tip #2    When the team arrives at the gym, on the road or at home, have them sit together during the preceding game, whether it involves a tournament opponent or the opponent’s JV team.  It is time to start bonding and mentally preparing.  Sitting with a girlfriend, other friends, or parents is not a great way to “get down to business.”  Players can be watching the present game and using it as a scouting effort, either because it is a future opponent during a tournament or a JV team that runs the same system as the varsity coming up.  Discussion among the players about basketball is what you are looking for in this situation.

Tip #3   Get up more shots, especially starters and key scorers, during pre game warmups on the road.  Maybe cut out or cut down on time used for your normal pre game warmup activities.  High school teams get anywhere from 10-15 minutes for pre game warmups, so use that time wisely and get the shooters use to the environment on the road.  At home, this extra shooting time is not as important and you can stick to a normal warmup routine.

Tip #4   Be polite to the opponent’s score table officials and go out of your way to see what they require for players checking into the game, when they want you to report your lineup, how to pronounce your players’ names, and whatever else they need from you.  These home officials will always look with more favor upon their home team, but may remember your thoughtfulness later and be a little more accommodating to you.

Tip $5   It is difficult to win on the road when it seems the whole crowd is against you.  But when you do, it is a sweet victory.  Be sure to leave the court humbly and save the big celebration for the locker room.  Be a classy winner and the same if you do lose.

Youth Basketball – Are We Doing It Right? Part 3 – Players



In parts 1 and 2 of  my three part series on Improving Youth Basketball, I covered guidelines for Parents and how to improve youth Coaching.  This concluding article will focus on what we can do to make Youth Basketball more productive and interesting for the participants up through the 6th grade.

Part 3 – A Better Youth Basketball Experience for Players

Young kids need to learn how to play with others.  “Sharing” is a concept that parents often have to work at with their children as they play with siblings or playmates, and the same thing applies for coaches in basketball.  By introducing one “playmate” at a time, the “sharing of the ball” in team play can be more easily developed.  For beginners and very young players, the fewer people to deal with on the court at one time, the better for their development.  The participants get more “touches” and have less congestion in the half court.

Before any games can be played, young participants first need instruction in the fundamentals of the game.  With Coaches educated in the importance of teaching the “Basics” correctly, players can be introduced to the fundamental skills needed to be successful.  Dribbling, passing, pivoting, shooting and man to man defense are the basic skills that need to be covered from the beginning.  Then, to introduce competition, 1 on 1 games add the elements of challenge and fun.  The young players can be paired with age and ability appropriate opponents.  Soon, they will be ready to be introduced to the concept of a “teammate.”  A 2 on 2 game is a great way to teach the first progression in team play.  Man to man defense is more easily advanced this way as youngsters have to keep track of their assigned opponent.

With this progression, no matter what experience level or age the players are, eventually they will be ready for 3 on 3 games.  A good followup would be a 3 on 3 half court league for 3rd graders.  Those younger than grade 3 should continue with skill training, some “fun” games and drills, plus 1 on 1 and 2 on 2 competitions until they are older.

For young players, as mentioned earlier, one of the biggest challenges they face is sharing the ball. With less players on a team, there are more “touches” for each player and less frustration waiting for their own turn to handle the ball or shoot.  By the 4th grade, most players will be ready to be introduced to full court basketball.  A shorter court (sideways courts in most gyms) with another player added makes an interesting 4 on 4 game.  One more teammate has been added, running the court is introduced, but the floor is not too congested for open offensive play.  Lower basket heights are important at the fourth grade and lower age levels.  Kids are just too short to see the 10 foot rim easily and not strong enough to get shots up that high either.  With lower rims, more confidence is developed and proper shooting form is more easily developed.  It is also recommended that 4th graders and younger use a smaller sized “youth” basketball because of their hand and body size.

By the 5th grade, those that have been training in the previous levels consistently, will be ready for 5 on 5 full court games.  Introducing a bigger ball, higher baskets, more teammates, longer courts is the progression that leads to the confidence and success we hope for all of our young participants.  But at all levels, it is important to continue the training in fundamentals and shooting form.  Skipping these important stepping stones for the sake of playing games is a recipe for bad habits, poor basketball, and discouraged players.

Some kids develop physically and mentally quicker than others.  If it is best for them to advance up the ladder faster, then they should be allowed to do it.  If you can “hang with the Big Boys,” then you should be able to play with the Big Boys.  But until then, let’s slow down and let physical and mental development take a more natural course.  More clinics, more informal training, more small sided practice games, and less competitive tournaments and travel would be a good start.  There is plenty of time for Travel Teams later in the teenage years, if that’s what players want.  Until then, advancing skills, practicing fundamentals, developing a good shot, and learning team play should be the goals of Youth Basketball.  And that starts with good coaches who have been trained and tested before assigned the job of teaching our youth.

Age appropriate rules should also be set in place with an eye toward player development and not just winning games.  No zone defenses for Youth Leagues, no full court pressing until 7th grade, and play everyone equally in game time,  Make the games as much about fun and learning to play as possible.  The real competitive part will come soon enough in the teenage years.

Keys to a Successful Youth Basketball Development League:

  1.  Start with a clinic that teaches fundamentals and shooting techniques to coaches and players.

2.  Next, let the players test their fundamentals by playing 1 on 1 against same age and skill level opponents.

3.  Introduce Team Play by adding a second player and playing 2 on 2.

4.  Advance the team play experience by adding a 3rd player to each team for 3 on 3.

5.  Always play Man to Man Defense.

6.  Where possible, use lower baskets for 3rd and 4th graders, and younger.

7.  Use an age appropriate sized basketball.

Note: Your comments and discussions on this subject and article are encouraged and welcomed.  What other things can we do to make the basketball experience better for our Youth?

If you would like to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, go to the “Search” box in the upper right corner of this article and type in “Part 1” or “Part 2.”




Youth Basketball – Are We Doing It Right? Part 2 – Coaches

coaching youth


In Part 1 of my three part series on Improving Youth Basketball, I covered some guidelines for Parents of young players.  This article will next focus on what we can do to help Coaches become better and more respected by those parents and their young players.

Part 2 – How We Can Develop More and Better Coaches

In my travels around the United States and other parts of the world doing clinics, I came up with some interesting discoveries.

  1. We have many fine coaches and trainers in the United States, but the highest percentage are at the upper levels of our basketball system.

2.  Other countries have far less high-level basketball compared to the United States, so that’s why foreigners seek our colleges and the NBA for top competition.

3.  However, when it comes to the youth level, many countries seem to do a much better job of organizing their youth training, educating their coaches, and teaching the fundamentals to their players.

I believe it is time for us to take a hard look at what we are doing in the USA and consider doing more teaching and less fleecing.  This starts with a better organization for  training and educating our  Coaches, and less emphasis on trying to make everything a money-making business opportunity.

It would be nice if USA Basketball would be the governing body and overseer of our Youth Basketball Programs in America.  I’m talking about putting AAU, High School, and younger recreation players under the same umbrella.  Set up the guidelines by age group for training our players so coaches have a model to follow.  Provide clinics, on court training, and testing for coaches at all levels.  Have coaches earn a certificate of expertise for various levels, from beginning youth through the high school and AAU programs.

We could have something with 5 levels, each a little more challenging to obtain.  Any prospective coach would have to obtain the certification level he seeks to coach at, but he could also work to qualify for higher levels.  Some suggestions for these certifications:

  1.  Community – recreational level teams, beginners.
  2.  Club – AAU teams and other youth travel teams under 12.
  3.  Competitive – high school teams, upper level AAU teams.
  4.  Collegiate – higher level performance teams and National Teams.
  5.  Master – successful, experienced higher level coach and mentor.

Community Youth Leagues and recreational basketball programs should not only provide training for players, but coaches too.  This would lead to a Level 1 Certification for new, volunteer coaches.  Before even one practice is allowed, all coaches should be trained and tested in the basics of coaching basketball.   A league or program director can lead the sessions or an outside coach can be hired to come in and provide coach and player training before any league games start.

Each step after the first (Community), would have an experience level written into it.  The idea is to get well-educated, qualified coaches at each step according to an outlined structure.  This would also seek to find a common ground for AAU and High School Coaches to work with players on a more directed path.  Cooperation between all levels in seeking what is best for all players is the goal.

Anyone claiming to be a Trainer of basketball players should also have a coaching certificate at the level of the players they intend to instruct.  Parents and players can then confidently know the person they are hiring for training is qualified and certified as a coach with the same qualifications as the player’s team or club coach.

Most basketball coaches want to know the preferred methods and standards to teach.  Too many are just left to come up with this knowledge on their own or they ignore it all together.  In order to have a better Player Development System, we need direction and education at all levels.  We need to get away from Dad coaching “little Johnnie’s” team just so “little Johnny” gets to play a lot and shoot a lot.  “Little Johnny” needs to develop as a total player, and so do his teammates.  That’s what makes basketball better.

Club teams need to spend more time teaching skills and teamwork, and less time traveling to distant cities for the purpose of playing several games a weekend.  High school teams need to  be coordinated with AAU programs and teach the same basic fundamentals.  Both programs are good for players as long as coaches don’t fight over gym time and commitment from the participating players.

Certification will help educate our coaches and players to a higher level.  It will also give a basis for coaches who want to move up to the next levels of coaching in the future.  We already have a great game.  We can certainly make it better with better coaching and training.

In Part 3 of this series, I will take a look at what we can do for our young players to improve basketball in the USA.

Note: Your comments and discussions on this subject and article are encouraged and welcomed.  What other things can we do to make the basketball experience better for our Coaches?





Youth Basketball – Are We Doing It Right? Part 1 – Parents

parents BB

Introductory Questions

Youth Basketball has changed a lot in recent years.  What was once done on the playgrounds, then changed to short season Recreation Leagues, has now developed into a massive business dealing in year-around competitions.  Playing full court games and traveling to tournaments all over the country has become a norm for many young basketball players today.  And parents spend “big money” not only on these tournament adventures, but also for individualized training sessions too.  So now I ask the questions: “Are we doing things the right way in the USA?”  Or has the country that invented Basketball in the first place lost its way when it comes to developing its young participants?

I will look at those two questions in a Three Part Series featuring first the Parents, then Coaches, and finally the Young Players.  I will be sharing my thoughts, experiences, and ideas from more than 50 years as a parent, coach, and young player myself.  I don’t expect everyone to agree with my analysis and suggestions, but hopefully this will start people thinking about how we are teaching basketball to our Youth, and how we can improve our methods.

Part 1 – How Parents Can Get Things Started Right

Moms and Dads are responsible for raising their children.  They teach them the basics of life and how to succeed in the family, at school, and eventually out in the world on their own.  Parents also are often the prime motivators of activities that their children become involved in and eventually pursue in depth.  Basketball can be one of many activities they introduce.  How is that done?  Maybe by watching another family member play basketball.  Or seeing a high level game on television or in person.  Or maybe just shooting around on a hoop in the driveway or at the park.  Eventually, parents may consider a higher level of participation for their child.  Deciding when it’s the best time to start this is often debatable.

When should youngsters start receiving skill training and/or play in an organized setting?

In my opinion, it’s when they show enough interest and have a desire to learn how to play better.  Young kids may be able to learn the game from others in the neighborhood, older siblings, or from a parent who has experience in playing basketball.  If a child is lucky enough to have a really skilled Dad who has played at a higher level, they can have a real advantage.  Just ask Steph Curry or Clay Thompson.  But for most young players, somewhere along the line a parent may not be able to meet all the needs and outside sources will have to be used.

Caution to parents: Dragging Little Johnny away from his video games and forcing him to be in a league or with a trainer when he hasn’t shown any interest in playing basketball, is not a great way to start.  If Johnny spends much of his time outside shooting and dribbling a basketball, then maybe he is ready for more.  He might enjoy a short, introductory skill training clinic with kids his own age.  Or he might be ready to try a short season, once a week, recreational league with his peers.  But it should be something he wants and asks for, not what the parents think he needs.

What are some other signs a youngster might be ready for more basketball?

As I mentioned before, if they like shooting a basketball as an  outdoor activity, that’s one sign.  If they enjoy watching older kids playing basketball or even college and Pros, that could be another indicator.  If they ask to play in a league with friends, this could be an important sign too.  Parents need to encourage activities where their kids show interest, but they need to proceed slowly.  Start with a local one day or one hour basketball clinic, if there is one in the area.  Players need skill training besides just shooting and dribbling.  A clinic or camp will expose a young player to the fundamentals of the game and help them decide if organized basketball is for them at this time.

The next step could be a short season, youth league run by a local Recreation Department, high school, or service organization.  These leagues usually have one game a week and one practice a week, with everything lasting about 6 weeks.  This is enough of a commitment the first year for a young player just starting out.  They will pick up some basketball skills, learn about defense, and see what it’s like to work with teammates.  There will still be plenty of time left in the year to pursue other activities and sports as they wish.

Parents are the most important support group a young player can have.  But a “hovering,” super-involved parent can often times be a detriment more than a benefit.  Moms and Dads should stand back and give their kids a chance to enjoy participation in a sport.  Pushing a child to fill a Dream that is not their own, can be a rough adventure at best.

Tips to Becoming a Considerate and Supportive Sports Parent:

  1. Talk over with your child potential activities they might like to try out.  But let them pick the ones that interest them.

2. Discuss the meaning of “commitment” and the time and responsibility that comes with signing up for a team or activity.  Once they start, they stay with it till the season ends.

3. Keep your distance at practices and games.  It’s nice to be there and show your support, but don’t be an “Up Front Super Fan.”

4. It’s OK to not attend every practice or every game that your child has.  There are other family obligations that come up and it’s not necessary to always be there.

5. Don’t be loud and obnoxious when your child does well and don’t sulk and show major disappointment when they have a tough day.

6. Never yell out at officials, coaches, or opponents during contests.  And don’t try to coach your child from the stands.  Let them listen to their coach only.

7. Keep your distance until games are over.  Don’t talk to your child or bring them drinks during games.  When they are with their team, let them experience and enjoy the moment.

8. After games, during the ride home or at home, be positive but be honest.  When things haven’t gone well, acknowledge it, but help a child to be realistic in self evaluation.  The same goes for times when things have gone well.

9. Ask if your child had fun after a contest or make the comment, “That looked like fun out there.”  Complement them on hustle, rebounds, assists, defense, or teamwork; not just shooting and scoring.

10. Don’t push expectations or extra practice on young players.  Let them seek their own level of involvement, improvement, and enjoyment.

Parents can have a definitive influence on the success or enthusiasm their child has for a particular activity like basketball.  Mom and Dad should suggest, not force choices.  They should be positive as supporters, but realistic in expectations.  And if their child chooses to no longer pursue a sport, parents should respect that choice and let their child move on.

Note: Your comments and discussions on this subject and article are encouraged and welcomed.  What other things can we do as parents to make the basketball experience better for our young kids?






O.D.O. – A Transition Training Drill

fastbreak-running game

Offense-Defense-Offense ( O.D.O.) is a drill I used to work on our half court Set or Motion Offense while still keeping the principles of Fast Break, Early Offense, and Transition Defense involved.  It is actually an extension of Rebound and Run, discussed in an earlier blog article, but should only be used after a coach has installed at least the basics of a half court set or motion offense.  Otherwise, Rebound and Run will work just fine until an offense is in place.

This 5 on 5 Drill starts with one team running its half court set offense against the other team’s best-effort, half court defense.  An “out-of-bounds” turnover causes the drill to start over; otherwise, it proceeds as a regular controlled scrimmage.  The object of the drill is to play full effort, fundamentally correct basketball, with no turnovers, for three lengths of the court.  Thus, the team with the ball first will be on Offense, then transition to Defense, and then back again on Offense. (O.D.O.)

Assume Team A (numbers in Diagrams) has the ball first.  They will start by running  a half court offensive set or motion (Diagram 1), followed by transition to half court defense (Diagram 2), and finally, either a primary break or secondary break leading to a quick score, early offense and/or set offense (Diagram 3).  If Team A scores on both of its offensive possessions, they get to start the drill again on offense.  If not, Team B gets to begin the drill and try for two scores that will allow them to keep the ball.

Page 001         Page 002

Team B (x’s in Diagrams) starts with half court defense first. They will try to stop Team A from scoring by forcing a turnover or missed shot and getting a rebound which leads to a fast break situation.  If Team A scores, Team B will run a secondary break which could lead to early offense and/or the set offense.  Their third trip will be transition defense back to the original end where Team B again tries to stop Team A from scoring.  The drill ends on the original starting half court end. If Team B stops Team A from scoring on at least one of their possessions, Team B will then be on offense to start the next drill cycle. (Diagram 4)

Page 003Page 004

Here are some things I wanted to see in the O.D.O. Drill:

A.  A sharply run set play or motion, with fundamentals emphasized.

B.  The defense using all principals we have taught & playing their best D.

C.  Eight players hitting the boards on every shot attempt.  (5 Defense/3 Offense)

D.  Transition Defense always full speed to mid court, then searching for man and ball, and adjusting from that point.

E.  Transition Offense having the three lane runners sprinting out hard.

F.  Point guard looking sideline, then middle, then cross court.

G.  The Early Offense checking inside first, then swinging it if possible.

H.  Point guard making sure his team gets into Early Offense and/or Set Offense when appropriate.

I.  Everyone at near Top Effort at all times. 

It is helpful to have an assistant who can watch the rebounding, another who can check on the defense, and maybe even a third one to help the offense.  But I coached many years by myself and found that I could pretty much watch all nine points listed above without too much trouble.

This was an 8-12 minute drill in my practices.  I tried not to do drills that took longer than 10 minutes and I liked breakdown, fundamental review drills that only lasted 3-5 minutes.  For me, the key was to keep it short, require great effort, and repeat the drills on a regular basis.  I would rather have a team scrimmage “full-out” for 10 minutes than have a 30 minute scrimmage with players in “cruise control” half of the time.  “Playing Hard” and “Transitioning Hard” are habits I wanted to instill in my players.

I often used O.D.O. right after the Rebound and Run Drill mentioned in an earlier article.  This gave us a 15-20 minute block of intense training on the speed game, first emphasizing rebounding, and later our half court offense. They were two drills I used almost every day in practice so that we maintained great transition on both Offense and Defense. If I noticed the players getting tired during the drill, (especially early in the season or later in league), I would say, “Let’s end on a good one now.” Then I stopped the drill as soon as a good offensive play happened.  Ending early on a good note is always great for the morale of the group. 

Key Teaching Points:

  1. Keep your drills short (5-10 minutes each) and ask for full effort. 

2. Run a simple Set Offense so you don’t spend too much time working on it. 

3. Work more on your Fast Break and Early Offense than the Set Offense because the first two will occur more often in your Speed Game.

4. A turnover out-of-bounds in O.D.O. gives the ball to the defensive team automatically for the restart. 

5. Suicides (Line Drills) are a waste of time for conditioning.  Put the effort into Fast Break Drills and Transition Drills that are game-like. 

6. Playing hard in blocks of 10 minute increments is more productive than 30 minutes of scrimmaging in “cruise control.” 

7. Make your Captains and/or Seniors responsible for the practice effort. 

8. Always try to end drills and practice on a good play – a high note.

9. Instead of scrimmaging, O.D.O. is a better way to prepare your team for game-like efforts.

If you would like to read more on my thoughts about Offensive and Defensive Transition, you can check out my book You Can Run With Anyone.  It’s available in ebook or paperback.  You can preview it or order below.




Youth Basketball – Days Gone By

Youth BB

The first organized basketball game I ever played in was when I was in the 5th grade in Indiana, against the 6th graders at our school.  It was also the first time I had ever played 5 on 5 basketball, or with a referee, or with fans in the stands, or with a scoreboard.  It was something I had looked forward to since the 2nd grade, because that was the first time I watched the older 5th and 6th graders play in that annual school contest.  Classes always ceased on that particular afternoon and students of all grades went to the gym to watch this epic battle.

Each year in elementary school, as I got to watch the next “big game,” I dreamed of the day I would play in it.  It was going to be the highlight of this Indiana grade school boy’s life.  Oh yes, we had played basketball at recess and lunch time, almost every day at school it seemed, but never 5 on 5 full court in a gym.  Usually it was 3 on 3, or 2 on 2, and even sometimes just 1 on 1, played on the outdoor courts.  But the “big game” was played in the high school gym and it was “real basketball.”

Finally my big day came and we headed to the gym along with a couple of hundred first through 6th grade students and teachers.  Our two teams of 5th and 6th graders got to wear old uniforms from the 7th and 8th grade teams and believe me, it was a thrill.  Two teachers refereed the game, the 7th and 8th grade coaches organized and coached our two teams, and all the students were there screaming like it was a State Championship game.  I don’t remember too much about the game itself anymore.  I just know that the 6th graders “whipped us good.”  Of course, they had Donnie Brown, a really good shooter who eventually became the best player at our high school and later got a basketball scholarship to Ohio State University.  That helped them just a little.

Another interesting thing is, I don’t remember the game from my sixth grade year, but I’m pretty sure we “whipped those 5th graders pretty good too.”  I do know that those were the only two games I played in until I made the 7th grade team and we then had scheduled games against other junior high schools in our county.  So Youth Basketball for me was pretty much self-directed, playground limited, and highlighted by the two games in 5th and 6th grade.

Today’s youngsters might not play basketball at recess on the outdoor courts as much as we did back then, but they certainly have many more opportunities to play 5 on 5, with referees, coaches, uniforms, and parents and friends watching.  Even third graders have AAU teams that play organized games during various times of the year.  Parents coach their teams, parents organize their leagues, parents drive or fly them to tournaments, and parents are in the stands cheering them on.  That is certainly a different situation than I had, and I sometimes wonder if it is better or not.

I don’t know that I would have liked playing weekend tournaments all Spring and Summer like many young players do now-a-days.  In high school, I really looked forward to the “real season,” with packed gyms, bands playing, and the excitement at school all week long for the upcoming games.  As a grade schooler, I enjoyed playing with my friends and neighbors informally on outdoor courts or driveways, often getting tips and coaching from the older kids.  I did all of that plus, baseball, track, and band in junior high and high school.  That would be tough to do in today’s basketball world, unless you are a “super athlete” with multiple talents.

I guess my advice to parents today would be, let your child choose what activities they want to do.  Ask them if they want to sign up for an activity, make sure they know it is a commitment, and have them finish the season.  Then see how they feel about continuing with more, or trying another sport, or just taking some time off to relax and refresh.  Don’t push them into something they don’t really want to do at this time.

I know that I became a pretty decent high school basketball player, (but bench warmer in college), and no one pushed me into playing extra basketball.  I just liked the game, loved to shoot on my own, and learned to be pretty good at it.  But I still did other things too.  All kids need that choice and sometimes, a little encouragement to choose something.