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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.

 

 

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

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Introduction

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

Introduction

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.

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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

Practice Drill

A Fast Break Drill That Makes Running Teams Better

“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 sets up 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. 

A.  The action starts with a chest pass to a wing, and then the extended figure 8 motion begins.

B.  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) 

C.  Wing (1), receiving the pass, catches and comes to a jump stop without traveling.

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

E.  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. (Diagram 1)

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F.  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.

G.  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.

H.  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 prepares to start the drill going back the other way. (Diagram 2)  

I.  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 receive the first outlet pass in this return trip.  (Diagram 3)

J.  Wing (5), who made the pass for the first layup, swings under the basket, gets wide so he can touch the sideline at mid court, and receives a cross court pass from (3) to continue the figure 8 coming back. (Diagram 3)

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K.  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 their lay up.  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.

I introduced this drill early in the practice season and ran it up to 10 minutes while teaching it each day.  Eventually, Figure 8 was used as a warmup, fundamental review drill that only went for 3-5 minutes a practice, every third day.

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.

9. Yes,  JV and Frosh teams can run this drill too, not just Varsity.  They may have trouble at first, especially the weaker, smaller players, with the cross court pass, but they will get stronger and better with repetition.