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

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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.

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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)

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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 keeping score.  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 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.

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 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.

The purpose of this personal story is to lead into my next blog article which will deal with a couple of questions coaches have asked me to write about:

  1. What can we do better to improve our Youth Basketball in the USA?
  2. Should third and fourth graders play 3 on 3 instead of 5 on 5?
  3. Can youth basketball be limited to playing only Man to Man Defense?

I’ll tackle those questions and give other thoughts about Youth Basketball in an article I will post soon.  I might even throw in some more “Indiana stories” just for fun.  Stay tuned.



Figure 8 the Wide Way

Fast Break Practice

“Figure 8 the Wide Way” is not  the traditional, old-school figure 8 with tight weaving down the middle of the court.  This Figure 8 teaches players to run wide and hard, to jump stop when receiving a pass, and to throw long, cross-court, two-handed chest passes.  There is no dribbling, no traveling (of course), and no bounce passes.  The drill begins with three lines of players on the baseline.  The first middle line player has the ball and starts from the baseline, while the other two participants are wide, on the sidelines, and a couple of feet up from the baseline.  The drill starts with a chest pass to a wing, but then the extended figure 8 motion begins.

A.  The middle man (3) goes behind the teammate he passes to (1), and heads for the sideline so he can touch it by mid court. (Diagram 1) 

B.  Wing (1), receiving the pass, catches and comes to a jump stop.

C.  The opposite wing (5), takes off down his sideline when the initial pass is made, making sure he is nearenough to touch the sideline at mid court.

D.  A second chest pass will now be made all the way across court, to (5) from (1), somewhere past the mid court line, at the opposite end of the court.

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E.  This second pass should be received with a jump stop also.  Receiver (5) must maintain balance and not travel after catching the pass as he waits for the original middle man (3) to get nearer the basket.

F.  The original middle man (3) runs down the sideline and sprints hard to receive a pass from the wing (5) as he (3) cuts to the hoop for a layup. (Diagram 1)  Any missed layup must be made before the action proceeds back the other way.

G.  The original outlet man, wing (1), sprints to the basket and follows up any missed shot, then takes the ball out of the net, pivots, and starts the drill going back the other way. (Diagram 2) He will then figure 8 behind the man to whom he passes.

H.  The first shooter, the original middle man (3), swings through and under the basket to the other sideline. (Diagram 2)  He sprints and gets wide in his lane so he can touch the sideline at mid court.  He will receive the second pass in this return trip, a cross court pass, over the mid court line and near the opposite sideline. (Diagram 3)

I.  Wing (5), who made the pass for the first layup, swings under the basket and receives the outlet pass from (1) for the return trip up the court.  He cross-court passes to the (3) to continue the figure 8. (Diagram 3)

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J.  The new middle man (1) will get the layup on the original end to finish this group’s turn. (Diagram 3)   After the first group scores the second time, the next three in line now take their turn up and back repeating the Figure 8 Drill.  The three players who have just finished their “up and back” will move to a new line and wait their next turn.  (Diagram 4)

After the team became familiar with the Figure 8 Drill, I added a second ball so that the following groups could start immediately as a preceding group was finishing.  This saved time and kept the action rolling.  

As in all my drills not having defense, the shot had to be made before going to the next step.  I tried to give all players at least two or three turns up and back in each drill, but we would do more turns early in the training season to improve execution.  As in other fast break drills with no defenders, we did not stress over turnovers.  The nearest player just chased the ball down and made the next pass.  We wanted to keep the pace up and the drill moving by encouraging players to sprint-out, get wide, and keep going.  They got better and had fewer turnovers because we worked at the speed game daily.

Key Teaching Points for “Figure 8”

  1. There are only six passes needed in this drill; Three up and three coming back.  All passes should be caught and thrown with two hands.

2. No bounce passes allowed.  There is no defense, so no bounce passes are needed.

3. No dribbles allowed.  Time the pass to cutters going to the basket.

4. The cross-court pass will be hard for them to throw in the beginning, but they will learn, get stronger, and get better at it.

5. When returning to the lines at the end of their turn, players should go to a new line from where they previously started.

6. If the outlet pass is to the left wing, the middle man will end up with a left-handed layup.

7. Encourage left and right outlets so players learn to make full speed layups with either hand and with confidence.

8. Groups must score on each end.  If a shot is missed, it must be rebounded and put back in the basket before proceeding.



Tips to Developing a Hustling, Aggressive Team

Dive on Floor Players

Very few basketball teams are naturally aggressive.  In fact, many players are soft in nature and need to learn to hustle and be aggressive.  That’s where a coach can make a big difference.  You need to find aggressiveness, teach aggressiveness, and praise aggressiveness if you indeed want it to be part of your team’s identity.

Aggressiveness is important to your defense, your rebounding, and right on through your offensive attack.  Including drills that teach and require aggressiveness is a must for teams that want to play harder than their opponents.  As I often said to my teams, “You are either going to intimidate or be intimidated.  Which will it be?”  I wanted them to get the loose balls, draw charges, pursue all rebounds, and attack the basket with no fear.  In order to do this, I had to drill them and reward them.  Early in the scrimmage season, I would start the more aggressive players just to send a message to others who were not playing as hard, even when it meant keeping better scorers on the second unit.  Winners will rise to the occasion, so those who needed to get tougher usually did so they could get the starting spots they wanted.

Here are a couple of “Toughness” Drills I used early in the preseason to find out who was aggressive and to expose others who needed to learn to be more aggressive.  I especially liked to use these drills early in tryouts when I took over a new program, which I did 8 times in my career.  Such activities helped set the tone for my new program and aided in the evaluation of personnel.  I usually only did these drills three or four times in a season, depending on the buy in.  The aggressiveness was then encouraged throughout practice in all drills and situational training.  If that wasn’t happening to my satisfaction, toughness drills were added back into the next practices.

Aggressive Drill #1 – Roll the Ball

I want to start off by saying that I am not looking to get anyone hurt.  The idea is to get players use to playing hard and aggressively without fear of getting hurt,  but with the ability to avoid injury.  This drill takes time, (about 10 minutes), has other players standing and watching while two players compete, but the watching and anticipating are important parts of this drill.  I encourage cheering and chatter as the drill proceeds.  I usually only did this drill a couple of times early in the pre season tryout period.

The entire team pairs up and makes two lines underneath the backboard, out of bounds on the baseline.   An assistant is at the far end and I have a ball and stand on the end line between the two players that are up first.  Players have to stay behind the end line and not go until I blow a whistle or say “Go.”  I roll the ball slowly down the center of the key toward mid court. (Diagram 1)  Somewhere along the way, I blow my whistle and the two contestants sprint to get the ball.  Whoever comes up with it immediately goes on the attack to the opposite end of the court. (Diagram 2)  The other player is now the defender and does his best to stop the offensive player from scoring, but without fouling.  If the offensive player scores or the defender fouls, the offense automatically wins.  If the offensive man misses his shot, the rebound is up for grabs and the defender can get it and score on that same end to win.

The loser pays a small penalty like 5 finger tip push ups.  Again, everyone is encouraged to cheer their teammates on as the action proceeds.  The assistant at the far end calls fouls and returns the ball back to my end so we can start the next pair.  This drill takes only 5-10 minutes, but tells a lot about your players’ aggressiveness.   Some will fiercely compete, dive on the floor for the ball, and really get after it.  Others may avoid getting on the floor and shy away from contact.  Their commitment will tell you a lot about the members of your team and their potential to compete in tough situations.

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Aggressive Drill #2 – Kentucky Drill

I originally got this drill a long time ago, when I was just starting out in coaching, from Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall.  His teams were known for physical play, both offensively and defensively.  I made a point to hear him speak at a clinic once, picked up this drill from him, and called it “Kentucky Drill” from then on.

This is another early season drill that is used only a couple of times in the pre season tryouts, but it can be revisited once in a while in season to bring back the spirit and hustle to your team.  Like the previous example, Roll the Ball, there is standing and watching while a limited number are involved, but the players rotate through quickly and they are again encouraged to cheer each other on.  The Kentucky Drill has three opportunities to demonstrate aggressiveness, all happening in quick order: 1) Draw a Charge, 2) Dive on the Floor for a loose ball, 3) Attack the Basket for a Power Move and Score.

The players line up as if in a layup line, starting beyond the 3-point line at least.  The first player in line (X1) moves to the middle of the opposite lane line and assumes a helping defensive position.  He pretends to be guarding an opponent on the opposite side of the court from his line of teammates.  The next player in line (2) has the ball and when told, he drives hard at the basket as if to shoot a layup.  The defender waits until the dribbler gets nearer to the basket, then quickly moves over to draw a charge on the shooter. (Diagram 3 below)  Shots are usually not taken because we just want the good, solid contact near the basket so the defender can draw a legitimate charge.  If the timing is off or the contact is poor, everyone “boos” and two players start over.  We want a good, solid charge to start out.  Meanwhile, a coach standing out of bounds under the basket, has a second ball that he rolls slowly toward the top of the key after the defender hits the ground on his drawn charge attempt. (Diagram 4)  The defender (X1) quickly gets to his feet and dives on his belly to retrieve the ball, then dribbles his way up to a standing position and attacks the same basket.

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An assistant coach or a third player will defend the basket using a football blocking pad (or an old pillow), bumping the shooter as he attempts to make three power shots. (Diagram 5 Below)  The offensive player keeps shooting and rebounding until he does make three.  Then the drill repeats with the next person in line (3) starting with the ball and a drive to the basketball. (Diagram 6)  The new defender (X2) will be the player who just drove in for the original layup attempt, the original defender (X1) can now be the pad (pillow) man, or go back to the layup line to await his turn driving in.

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This drill takes about 10 minutes of practice time.  It always causes a lot of cheering and encouragement from the other players who await their turn to be aggressive.  As I said earlier, we did not do this drill very often, maybe 3-4 times a year, but it certainly helped to make us a more aggressive team.  Our coaches took great lengths to make sure no one got hurt by controlling the amount of contact.  We wanted the players to be physical, but never injure a teammate.  Before the Kentucky Drill was ever used, we had separate drills to cover how to safely draw a charge, how to dive on the floor and legally dribble up a recovered ball, and how to use a power shot around the basket.

Sometimes we used the Kentucky Drill as an enthusiasm builder at the end of the last practice before the start of league, before a rival game, or before the beginning of play-offs.  It seemed to really set up the mental preparation we needed for a special contest.

Key Teaching Points:

  1.  Drill aggressiveness early and emphasize it often in the season.  Make it a habit and part of the team’s identity.

2.  Reward what you want in players by praising and putting them in the starting 5.

3.  Safety is always a concern.  You don’t want unnecessary injuries.  Control the action but don’t make your players overly cautious.

4.  Teach players early how to dive on the floor properly, draw a charge correctly, and attack the basket while receiving contact.

5.  What you emphasize, practice, and praise will be what your team does best.







Late Game Dead Ball Press Specials


The Regular Fast Break Set and Press Offense I presented in earlier articles are simplified attacks for beating full court pressure.  But sometimes, “Specials” may be needed for Dead Ball Situations.  Especially late in a game, out of a timeout or after a turnover, it’s nice to have something new to use against your opponent.  Something that gives you more options to get the ball in immediately or maybe a special that will lead to a breakaway lay-up.  I always liked to have one of each and I saved them for key moments, usually late in a game when the score was close and time was almost out.  


My “Go to Set” for any tight situation was called “Pack.”  I liked it because it was useful from either an end line or sideline position of inbounding and worked against a Man or Zone Press.  It can be used anytime during the game if pressure is bothering your team on Dead Ball Situations.  To set it up, the on-court players bunch up in a pack directly in front of the player taking the ball out.  When the player with the ball slaps it, the pack breaks apart in different directions and four new pass options become available.  As a backcourt inbound play, Pack can even get you an open layup with a long pass.  This is set up by the point guard calling the number of a teammate (1,2,3,5 – 4 is taking it out) who has the option to go deep if no safety is playing back.  The (4) has the option of throwing over the top to the open player if that player is open and/or ahead of his defender. (Diagram 1)

If a safety is back, then the streaking player must stop, turnaround, and come back to an open area as a safety release. (Diagram 2)  The player taking the ball out of bounds, (4), must be away from the backboard, back off of the baseline so he won’t step on it as he throws a deep pass, and he should look to see if the opponent has a safety back or not.  If (4) decides he cannot throw deep, he must immediately find one of his other three teammates who is open and pass the ball into him.  

Basically, the Pack will split with players heading to their normal sides of the court.  That is, (1) will post himself at the edge of the key, (2) and (3) will go to their respective sides if not called upon to go deep, and (5) will fill the empty spot left by the player who is called to take off deep.  Once the ball came in, the Regular Press Offense now takes shape and we followed the rules of our 2-1-2 alignment (Diagram 2 again) to beat zone presses.  If the defense was pressing Man to Man, then the player with the ball cleared the backcourt and brought the ball up himself.  Another choice was to look for potential passes up court or to the point guard on a hand off, if that is who you want always dribbling the ball up.

Page 004Pack         Page 005Pack 3


A second special I used was called “Spread” and I really liked it for the end of a game.  It was especially effective when ahead and the opponent was most likely to fully-deny all of our players and have no one back as a safety.  I actually picked this up many years ago watching a local high school coach in Fair Oaks, California , David Gonzales, who used it very successfully.  I called it “Spread,” because it is the same play as Pack, only from a spread set.  

Lined up in the Regular Press Offense, with (1) and (5) up and (2) and (3) down court on their sidelines, the Spread Play was generally called in a huddle at the end of a game when we were ahead.  It could also be signaled from the bench on a dead ball (turnover) situation, but that’s not something we did very often.  The (5) set up at the low block, ball side, and on the slap of the ball, he set a screen for (1) as if to free him up for the inlet pass.  The point guard (1) cut off the screen to the low block asking for the ball. (Diagram 3)  Simultaneously, (2) and (3) ran up the sideline toward the ball as if to give help.  After a slight delay following his screen on (1), the (5) took off and was hopefully open for a long pass and dunk or layup.  

Again, as in Pack, if there was a safety back, (5) would just go down a couple of steps, turn around, and come back to serve as a safety inlet at an open spot. (Diagram 4)  Basically, late in a game when down, the opponents have a choice: Front and deny all of the players or give (4) an uncontested look at his four teammates working to get open.  The beauty of Spread is that most coaches choose to have their defense pressure everyone, assuming no opponent would dare throw deep late in a tight game.  Since my teams looked to throw deep all game long and all season long, our (4) was accustomed to throwing this pass and it was hardly a gamble at all for us.

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There are other good late-game Specials out there that coaches use.  Consider finding something you like and add it to your playbook, if you don’t have something already.  You, your team, and your supporters will be glad you did.

Key Teaching Points:

  1. Make sure your (4) checks the height of the ceiling before throwing a long pass from out of bounds.  Don’t hit the top or anything dangling down.

2. Tell (4) to make sure he takes it out deep enough to not step on or over the end line when throwing deep.

3. Train all players to cut hard and sharp on the “slap of the ball” to get open.

4. Deep streaker must be aware of a safety so he can come back to help.

Note: You can find more about press offense, fast breaking, and the speed game in Coach Battenberg’s latest book:  “You Can Run With Anyone – Secrets to a Successful Fast Break Attack.”  See link below.