What Makes a Drill a Good Basketball Drill?

When I was a young gun coach, more years ago than I really want to count these days, I simply used the drills my college coach or high school coach used. It was better than nothing but it was based more on what I could remember and what I liked as a player, not what my team needed.

I quickly learned the need for drill specificity to what I was trying to teach in terms of offense and defense. The need for an emphasis on teaching, repeating and mastering fundamental skills also became quickly evident.

What makes a good drill? For me it includes the following:

  1. It fits the the system I am teaching and serves a distinct purpose in improving our offensive or defensive systems.
  2. The drill always places an emphasis on fundamental skill development.
  3. The drill must be simple in its organization and easy for players to learn.
  4. Small groups of players are needed for the drill to be executed, allowing multiple small groups to execute the drill at one time, utilizing the space available.defensive drills
  5. Competitive drills are good and some should certainly be utilized.
  6. Drills that include offensive or defensive transition as part of the drill are excellent.
  7. Drills should have a clear focus of what the primary skill, strategy or tactic being practiced is.
  8. Includes some form of communication, either verbal or visual.

What makes a drill a poor drill? For me it includes the following:

  1. Nothing in the drill correlates to the system being taught.
  2. The drill does not emphasize fundamentals.
  3. The drill is organized in such a way large numbers of players are waiting in line instead of performing repetitions.
  4. No clear focus of the primary goal and focus of the drill is evident.
  5. Basic organization of the drill is overly complicated.

Careful selection of drills is essential to plan and create effective, efficient practice sessions.

Three Simple Rules to Improve Cutting and Screening

Regardless of the type of offense used, cutting and screening are two essential offensive building blocks. In a recent survey I sent out I received a surprising large number of requests for information about screening more effectively. So, here are three simple rules that will improve the screening and cutting in any offense.


As simple as it sounds, communication between the screener and the cutter is essential, even in a continuity offense where the cutter generally knows the screener is going to set a screen. The easiest way to do this is with a visual signal. I prefer screeners to raise both hands above their heads with the palms facing in the direction the screener wants to the cutter to go and then motioning in that direction. This silent, visual signal is easy for the cutter to recognize and has the added benefit of not being overwhelmed in a loud gym.

Screen a Man and Not Space

All to often screens are ineffective because the screener does not actually set a screen on the defender. This one rule, more than any other, can improve the effectiveness of screening within an offense. If the defender’s ability to move is not impeded, the screen and the cut will not be effective.

Wait, Wait, and Wait Some More

This is the second most important rule to improve screening and cutting. Many times the screener will screen a man and not space but due to the cutter not standing still and waiting for the screen to be set, what would otherwise have been an effective screen serves no functional purpose. Cutters must learn to wait for the screen to be set.

Five Drills/Concepts for Emphasizing Rebounding

Regardless of your style of play, rebounding is an essential component to winning basketball games! Here are several concepts and drills to build excellent rebounding habits.

  • Assign an Assistant – Emphasize!

Sounds too easy? Try this approach and see the results it can produce in a short period of time. Remember the rule: Players do not do what we teach, they do what we emphasize! Assign a reliable assistant coach to rebounding emphasis. Delegate to this coach the authority to stop practice and impose a pre-designated negative consequence to the entire team if one player fails to block out, pursue the rebound or use proper technique in securing the rebound. When players see this kind of emphasis on a single skill, they will pay attention to what they are doing in regard to that skill all the time.

  • Team Competitive Rebounding

Competitive rebounding will be a team favorite as the season progresses and has the added benefit of emphasizing both offensive and defensive rebounding. Players are divided into two teams. The drill runs for five minutes. The basketball Drills Conceptsobjective is to finish the five minutes and be one of the players on the baseline team. To make the drill even more competitive have the losing team run. Diagram One depicts the basic alignment prior to the start of the drill.

Diagram Two depicts the start of the drill with X1 pass to #1 and closing out on the ball. X2 moves to an appropriate help defense position. Early in the season do not allow #1 to shoot the ball until the defense has finished positioning.

X1 and X2 block out on the shot attempt and all four players attempt to secure the rebound as shown in Diagram Three. If X1 and X2 obtain the rebound, they pass the ball to the next player at the front of the baseline team and go to the end of the lines for that team. #1 and #1 return to the end of the lines of the shooting team.

If either #1 or #2 obtain an offensive rebound, the two play offense and attempt to score. If #1 or #2 score, they move to the end of the lines on the baseline team and X1 and X2 move to the end of the lines of the offensive team. Note, regardless of whether or the initial shot attempt is made or missed by #1 (or #2) it is treated as a missed shot. Diagram Four presents an alternative the offensive team can use to increase their advantage in possibly obtaining an offensive rebound.

Following the initial pass from X1 to #1, instead of shooting the ball, #1 passes the ball to #2, forcing the defenders X1 and X2 to adjust their position. #2 may shoot the ball upon catching it. The shifting of the defense may present offensive rebounding opportunities that otherwise might not have been available.

  • Circle Blockout

Circle block-out is a simple drill used to teach players block-out technique. Diagram One shows the basic alignment for the drill. Diagram Two depicts players blocking out with correct technique following a shot by the coach.

  • Shell Blockout

Every team who plays man-to-man defense uses the time honored shell drill. Most coaches do not finish every repetition of shell drill with a shot and block out. This is sending a bad message to the players because it is not placing an emphasis on rebounding!

  • Rebound and Run

Start every fast break drill with a rebound (or made basket) which will require the players to block out. Finish every rebounding drill with an outlet pass and a fast break! Combine multiple positive habits in each drill, teaching players to emphasize these concepts in a game.

Developing Basketball Skills for Players by Position

Basketball is one of the hardest sports to master due to the simple fact there are so many skills each player must master. Regardless of the position played, players must have basic footwork skills, be able to play one-on-one defense (this is an essential regardless of whether or not the team defense being played is man-to-man or zone), shoot lay-ups and free throws, dribble the ball at least twice, pass and catch and move effectively.

If that is not enough, players still need to learn position specific skills, even if they play in a motion type offense where players are highly interchangeable. The foundation for position specific play are the foundational fundamental skills all players must master. The rest can vary by position. if you developing basketball skills make sure you have basketball court and basketball gears like best in-ground basketball hoops, basketball shoes, basketball sleeves and rack as well.

Point guards must be able to handle under pressure, initiate and offense, lead a team and create scoring opportunities for their teammates. Perimeter players must be able to drive, pass, shoot and feed the post. Post players have the difficult task of playing with their backs to the basket and executing finesse based skills while playing an extremely physical position. Of course, all of this is what makes the game so fun.

Number 9
Change of Pace

Players often make the mistake of not changing speed when executing a v-cut. Moving at a constant speed, even when combined with a change in direction, is much easier for the defense to react to than a change of direction combined with a change of pace.

When executing a v-cut, players should enter the cut moving at a slow speed and then accelerating quickly immediately after the change of direction has been made. Walking is an acceptable form of entering the v-cut slow and players need to be aware of this.

Standing still is a form of change of pace, particularly when the player who is about to change direction is running at full speed. In order for there to be the required change of pace as well as change of direction, the player must stop, and stand still. Standing still and then changing direction forces the defender to guess when the cutter will move and even with good anticipation the defender will lag behind the cutter, producing the desired space for the cutter to receive a pass.

Number 10

The ability to stop is as important as the ability to initiate movement. For shooters, the ability to stop with excellent balance and no extra motion, forward or to the sides, is essential.

Whether stopping off the dribble, filling a lane on the fast break or cutting off a screen, great shooters are ready to stop with balance, catch the ball, face-up in triple threat and shoot the ball in a smooth, fluid and controlled motion.

Basketball players have two methods of stopping quickly, the jump stop and the stride, or one-two stop using a step-plant. The jump stop is executed by taking a final long, low step, jumping in the air a few inches off the ground and landing on both feet at the same time with the knees bent, back straight, chin level and head centered. The advantage of the jump stop is the player can pivot on either foot if in possession of the ball.

The stride stop, or step-plant method, is often easier for female players and is appropriate for any player when already faced up to the goal and stepping into the pass for a shot or picking up the dribble for a shot.

The skill is executed by stepping on the inside (towards the middle of the court) foot first using a heel-toe plant followed by planting the outside foot. After planting the inside foot first, if necessary the shooter must face-up before putting the plant foot down. The knees must be bent, back straight, chin level and head centered.

Concepts For Point Guards

Number 39
Dribble Use

Players all too often catch the basketball and immediately begin to dribble the ball. Doing so eliminates two of the three threats the triple threat position. When a player has the use of the dribble still and is in triple threat position, the player can shoot, pass or drive. By dribbling, the player has eliminated two of the three threats without any pressure from the defense.

Good defensive teams work very hard to pressure the offensive player with the ball to put it on the floor and then dribble it to an undesirable offensive location on the court. The offensive player should only dribble when he has a clear purpose and destination in mind and dribbling is the only way the ball can be moved to that location.

There are only three reasons to dribble a basketball. They are to drive the ball for a scoring opportunity, to improve a passing angle to a teammate and to advance the ball up the court, if the ball cannot be advanced by passing it up the court.

Number 40
Four Dribbles to the Rim

Ball handlers should always be as efficient as possible with the use of the dribble. Just as the ball handler should drive from the 3-point line to the rim in one dribble, the ball handler should advance the ball up the court with the fewest number of dribbles possible.

An aggressive ball handler running at maximum speed can advance the ball up the court in four dribbles. Players who are not able to do this should work to develop this skill. Ball handlers who can advance the ball with just four dribbles are extremely difficult for the defense to stop in the open floor. This minimalist approach to advancing the ball with the dribble is not only difficult to defend, it creates numerous scoring and passing opportunities. Weaker ball handlers, high school girls and middle school players should set an initial goal of five dribbles.

Number 41
Use an Arm Bar

Ball handlers must protect the ball at all times. The best way to protect the ball while dribbling is to combine the use of an arm bar with placing the ball handler’s body between the ball and a defender.

The ball handler should not use the arm bar to push a defender’s hand away from the ball. Instead, the arm bar should be rigid. When the defender reaches for the ball and comes into contact with the arm bar, the effect should be like bumping into a wall. The rigidity of the arm bar serves to keep the defender away from the ball.

If the defender increases the pressure against the arm bar, the ball handler increases the force required to keep the arm bar stationary. The ball handler does not push back in this instance. The photos below demonstrate the proper positioning of an arm bar to protect the ball. Note in both examples the ball handler has positioned her body in such a way that her body will be between the ball and the defender with the arm bar serving as additional protection for the ball.

5 Coaching Pointers for Passing and Catching in Basketball

Passing (and catching) seem to be a lost art at times in the game of basketball. Here are 5 quick pointers to help your players improve in this critical area.

  • Always have your players face the basket in triple threat position and look under the net when in possession of the ball. This allows for maximum viewing of offensive teammates and the location of defenders.
  • Teach players to pass the ball with feet on the floor and use their legs and upper body to put “zip” on the pass!
  • Pass the ball away from the defense.
  • Teach your receivers to catch the ball with their eyes first and their hands second.
  • Teach your receivers to run through the ball to shorten the pass.

These five simple concepts will go a long way in improving your player’s passing and catching.

10 Coaching Points for Better Shooting

If you cannot score, you cannot win. There are no ties in the game of basketball – at least there aren’t supposed to be any ties.

Here are 10 coaching pointers to help your players improve their shooting.

  1. The shot starts with the feet and the proper stance.
  2. Be quick without hurrying.
  3. Get your feet ready first.
  4. Use, and hold, a high, one second in duration follow through.
  5. When practicing, take game shots, from game spots at game speed.
  6. Warm-up your shot every day before practicing or games.
  7. Players must become proficient at shooting off the catch when stationary, off the dribble and off the pass when cutting.
  8. Lock your focus on your target one full second before starting the shot.
  9. To make sure the shot is up and not out (flat), elevate the elbow above the eyebrow.
  10. When working on your shot to correct a flaw, go to the free throw line. Your free throw is the basis of your jump shot.

Athletic Directors Key to a Basketball Coach’s Success?

10 Things to Look for in an A.D.

Coaches by our very nature do not like to “kiss-up” to other individuals. We want to sink or swim on our own. Yet, the truth of the matter is our Athletic Director may hold the key to the success of our program, if not our job. The hard truth of the matter is a head coach must have a positive working relationship with the Athletic Director. I have learned the hard way the truth of this statement.

Many Athletic Directors have no real understanding of our sport, and in many cases, have a direct interest in seeing our sport NOT be as successful as it could be (competition for athletes). Still others view a successful program as more work for them. Last of all, and perhaps the most important factor, some Athletic Directors do not want a coach who takes stands or plays a system that is out of the ordinary. Why? The A.D. does not want to deal with the inevitable barrage of parental phone calls.


Some factors to consider when hunting for a job should include a careful background check of both the school administrator and the Athletic Director. I have been guilty of wanting a job so badly I ignored the obvious warning signs indicating a lack of administrative support for what I hoped to accomplish and what had to be done for that to happen. Don’t make the mistake I did which resulted in a short tenure.

Let me say up front, I have worked for some great Athletic Directors. A.J. Talamo and Mickey Riggs are two of the best Sports Administrators I have ever known. Coach Talamo wanted every team, athlete and coach under his supervision to succeed and was determined to make sure funds and equipment were available to make success possible. He had an astute business sense that allowed his athletic department to maximize revenue and make the best possible use of funds available. Coach Riggs was a tireless worker who loved athletics and had a deep respect for the positive aspects of athletic competition in an educational setting. Coach Riggs was also one of the best event coordinators I have ever worked with. Nobody could host an athletic event, regardless of sport, better than Coach Riggs.

Not every A.D. is in the same league as these two gentlemen.

Things to look for in an A.D. when “interviewing” a school:

1) Can you work closely with the individual and develop a positive, two-way working relationship?
2) What kind of work ethic does this individual possess? Will he/she work as tirelessly as you for your program to succeed?
3) Does the A.D. have a track record of standing up for the coaches he/she supervises?
4) Does the A.D. serve as the head coach of a sport that will compete directly for athletes who play basketball?
5) How much control over key elements (season scheduling, gym usage, etc.) will the A.D. grant you?
6) Is the A.D. organized and efficient?
7) Will the A.D. support what you plan for your program?
8) Will the A.D. back you with problem parents if you are in the right?
9) When conflicts occur, and they will, how will the A.D. resolve the underlying issues?
10) Most important of all, what kind of character does this individual possess?

While I would hesitate to include this in the ten traits, it can be beneficial to have an A.D. who coaches the other gender’s basketball team. It can also be a problem if you play a completely different style or have more success. If the two of you get along well and want to promote the sport, it can be an ideal situation.

Having the right A.D. to work with can make all the difference in the world. The wrong A.D. can result in you looking for work elsewhere in a hurry.

Has How You Win Games Changed? Food for Thought

For more years than I can count I have always believed in the adage I was taught by Coach Don Meyer early in my career that making free throws and lay-ups is how you win games. Experience has taught me time and gain the truth of the concept. Lay-ups are hard to come by and you have to make everyone you get.

Missing free throws late in a game contributes to a loss, but what about the front ends missed in the first half? Those add up as well. Championship teams often are excellent free throw shooting teams.

Of late I have been watching a lot of small college games via the magic of live streaming. I am still convinced free throws and lay-ups are how you win games. I’m not so convinced there isn’t a third important stat or component of the game that should be included on that short list.

It takes a lot for me to reconsider a strongly held coaching view. But I have seen too many games the last few seasons lost by teams who made their free throws and lay-ups but who failed to….rebound the offensive boards.

One shot and done is a hard way to generate any kind of momentum in a game and it certainly doesn’t punish the opponent’s defense.

It’s not just the second shot attempts that are so important. It’s the psychological lift for the offense and the downer for the opponent when a second chance goal is scored. The offense caught a break. The defense worked so hard and then was scored on with such ease.

Some coaches I track are smarter than I am by far. Doug Porter of Olivet Nazarene Tigerball fame strongly believes in setting a game goal of obtaining 40% of all possible Offensive Rebounds (ORBs). Granted, his teams play fast, score a lot and shoot a lot of threes, but he is adamant those ORBs matter.

The more I watch games, the more I agree.

Something to think about. Five more easy shots a game – what would that do for your offensive production over the course of a season?

10 Ways to Close Out the Basketball Game

I have watched a couple of thousand close basketball games in my life, either as a player, coach or fan. There are few things in sport as exciting as a close finish to end a game.

There are few things as painful as losing the lead of a hard fought game in the final minutes or seconds.
To prevent victories from becoming losses, it is necessary to have an arsenal of tactics to choose from to protect even the slimmest of leads as the clock runs out. Here are nine tactics to use to protect a late game lead.

Never leave anything up to the officials

Communicate every chance you get. Make sure you are polite and respectful and wear good quality basketball shoes. Remind officials of the rules. Let your captains do this as much as possible.

“Run Ice”

Long ago, my players coined the term “ice” for the tactic of running our regular offense as a delay game. The idea is to not alert the opponent to the fact the offense no longer is interested in attacking for a score, but rather is holding the ball for an uncontested lay-up only to run the clock out.

The reasons to run regular offense instead of a delay game include:

  •  one less offense to learn and master
  • the defense may have a special trapping defense designed to disrupt a delay game (I have one so it is logical well coached opponents have such a defense).
  • the opponent may begin fouling in an attempt to stop the clock and force a change of possession – the change of possession not only means the opponent could score, but the opponent can now apply full court pressure
  • running the regular offense in attack mode but with no shot attempts allowed decreases the possibility of tentative play slowly creeping into the offense, allowing a shift in momentum favoring the defense.
  • Ice can always be modified to “frozen” if the time and score situation allows

Foul for Profit

As much as I hate fouling, there is a time and place for intentionally fouling. I differentiate fouls into three categories, two of which are acceptable in almost all situations and one of which is NEVER acceptable.

Acceptable Fouls

Hustle Fouls: Any time a player attempts to take a charge I find it hard to criticize the attempt. The same is true when a player dives on the floor for a loose ball. These types of fouls are the result of hardnosed hustle which should be encouraged.end basketball game
There are times when even hustle fouls are not acceptable and this should be communicated to the players. Time, score and personal or team foul situation may dictate a temporary moratorium on hustle fouls.

Fouling for Profit: These are fouls intentionally committed for a specific reason. For this tactic to be utilized, the opponent cannot be in the bonus. Just a few reasons include:

  •  fouling to force the opponent to inbound the ball again (especially if the opponent has called a timeout in order to set up a SLOB for a score).
  • fouling a player dribbling the ball to force the opponent to inbounds the ball and use more time to set up their offense.
  • foul a great scorer as soon the scorer catches the ball. This takes the ball out of the scorer’s hands and once again forces teh opponent to inbounds the ball.

Unacceptable Fouls

Fouls: All other fouls are unacceptable. Period. Fouls are a result of a lack of hand discipline, being out of position, laziness, selfishness or frustration. All of which are inexcusable.

Time, Score and a Designated Inbounder

Some coaches feel it is not necessary to have a permanent, designated inbounder. I feel it is essential. Inbounders should be trained to think like point guards and be held equally responsible for defeating pressure and running out the clock. In addition to the skills needed to inbounds the ball against pressure and to defeat a full court pressure defense, designated inbounders must be trained in how to handle a wide number of time and score scenarios.

Here are two examples of how a trained designated inbounder can make a huge difference in a key, late game pressure situation.

First, calling timeout without calling timeout. In dead ball situations when the opponent is pressing and going to attempt to get a five second count or an interception, the designated inbounder should inform the official prior to receiving the ball he/she is going to call a timeout on the count of four if the ball cannot be inbounded. The inbounder then counts a slow count out load and at the count of four calls timeout. Usually the official will call the timeout for the inbounder.
This approach insures no confusion on the timeout to avoid the five-second violation.

Another great example involves both the point guard and the designated inbounder. If the opponent scores and the offense still has the lead, if .049 seconds or less remains, there is no need to inbounds the ball and risk a turnover and score. The inbounder must indicate this tactic will be used to all three officials as the game winds down, to make sure a whistle happy ref does not stop the clock.

If there is only one clock in the gym and it is behind the designated inbounder, the point guard is responsible to check the clock and let the inbounder know whether or not it is necessary to inbound the ball.
If there are two clocks or the clock is facing the designated inbounder, it is both player’s responsibility to be aware of the time.

Finally, it is essential in this situation to rebound the ball out of the net to prevent the opponent from stopping the clock by interfering with the ball. Make sure you have use in ground and adjustable basketball hoop during training session.Since most officials give a warning before assessing the penalty for this infraction, well-coached teams may take the chance and deflect the ball away after the made basket to stop the clock and force the ball to be inbounded.

Hybrid Defense

I am not a fan personally of multiple defenses. Having said that, there are lots of coaches who have great success using this approach.

I will also readily admit hybrid defenses like a box and one or a triangle and two can induce either panic, a timeout or a much slower approach in attacking this type of defense. All of which are positives for a team who is protecting a lead. Caution should be used in suddenly springing a hybrid defense on an opponent. Team’s who see such a defense on a regular basis are often prepared to attack a hybrid defense just as effectively as any other defense.

If you plan to use this tactic and anticipate a close game, it is worth investigating to determine of the opponent is ready to attack such a defense.

No Help Defense

When you are behind and you have a group of players who are excellent 3-point shooters, the 3-point shot is your friend. So are tactics like the penetrate-and-pitch, Euro, etc.

With this in mind, the 2-point shot becomes the friend of the team in the lead. If you are going to get scored on, you want it to be a 2-point shot, not a 3-point shot.

If you know the opponent is going to look to take as many 3-point shots as possible, a great tactic is to identify who the 3-point shooters are and tell your defenders to play “no help” denial defense on the 3-point shooters.

This means not giving help on dribble penetration that is designed to draw the defender of the 3-point shooter to the ball. It is better to give up the lay-up than to give up the 3-point shot.

Never take your foot off the gas

For some reason, both coaches and players will “take their foot off the gas on offense as the game winds down, losing critical momentum. This in turn translates into tentative offensive play, giving the opponent to seize momentum and make a strong offensive run to finish the game.

Never let up. Show no mercy. If you are worried about running the score up, establish a restriction for lay-ups only and a required number of passes before the lay-up can be taken. Let your subs play. But never, never let up.

Hands Team

There are times when it is necessary to use a delay offense, particularly if the opponent has decided to foul for profit and force the offense to shoot free throws.

In this instance, two bad things can happen for the offense. The first is the ball is turned over due to the rough contact from the defense, with no foul called, or the increased, frenzied defensive pressure results in a turnover due to a travel or bad pass.

The second is a missed free throw, particularly the front end of a one-and-one.

This is the situation to send in the “hands” team. This group consists not of your five best defenders or offensive players, but rather your five best free throw shooters and three of your best offensive passers/ball handlers/receivers.

This unit has the best chances of not turning the ball over as well as the highest percentage of making free throws on your team. They should practice together as the “hands” unit, running a delay game or “icing” your regular offense.

It would also be wise to practice a soft press as a unit as well after making free throws.

Soft Press

Some pressing defenses speed the game up. Others zone presses not only have the opposite effect, they are very unlikely to give up a quick easy shot. One example is a soft 2-2-1 zone press.

Teams can break this press by being patient and taking their time. Since a trailing team cannot afford to turnover the ball, it has to take its time against a soft pressing defense.

Not only does this tactic have the advantage of taking time of the clock, the opponent almost always will take the time to set up its offense before attacking the half court defense after breaking the press, using up a few more precious seconds.


When the opponent gets into the “flow of a comeback” it can be necessary to disrupt their momentum. Standing around waiting to
play is an effect way to cause a disruption.

If you want to save your time-outs, which is often wise in a close game, substituting is a great way to disrupt momentum, even if you are simply alternating two players every dead ball.

Instruct the players to take their time to enter the game by walking slowly on the court to communicate with the player they are entering the game for.

The player leaving the game should leave as slowly as the officials will allow.

As soon as play resumes, have the next player to enter the game report to the scorers table immediately and wait. This way, on every dead ball you can substitute and further slow down the momentum of the opponent.

Keep in mind, this can slow you down as well. To prevent this, you need to practice this tactic with an emphasis on “keeping the foot on the gas” on offense and defense.

Players need to understand what is going on and why in this situation to prevent the tactic from coming back to haunt you.