Sunday, January 8, 2017

Free Throw Practice Thoughts

Photo courtesy of
The picture to the right comes from a blog by Brian McCormick on shooting. The picture proves one thing - traditional free throw shooting does not work. Look at Dwight Howard - shooting 82% in practice and 49% in games. The practice to game percentages are all over the place and don't really correlate.

The obvious question is why - why doesn't making free throws in practice help you make them in games? I don't think, personally, that we are teaching them correctly. As McCormick eluded to in his article - we shoot free throws in block practice. We shoot a number of free throws in a row. That allows players to "dial in" they might miss their first few then make a high number in a row because they had so many chances to get a feel for the shot. This doesn't happen in games, so why practice it?

Since I'm not really about pointing out problems without solutions here is what we are going to try. Every Saturday after January 1st we bring in 1/2 our team (9th and 10th one Saturday, JV and Varsity the next) and focus only on shooting for 2 hours. This was the first Saturday we did it and we spent about 20 minutes on free throws. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Only practiced 2 free throws in a row MAX - because that's usually all you will shoot in a game. 
  • Started by teaching how to shoot the first free throw. 
    • Most players have a higher percentage on their second free throw - the skill is really being able to step to the line, size up the shot, and shoot. 
    • We talked about taking a deep breath before you step up to calm yourself. 
    • Think only about aiming, not making, missing, being embarrassed if you miss, your parents, your girlfriend, etc. 
    • Take time to go through your routine - lengthen this and really work on focusing your aim. 
    • We then shot one free throw and switched. Also changed baskets to give a different backdrop for each one to try to make it as new and not block as possible. 
  • Then moved to the second free throw. 
    • We teach them to stay on the line no matter what. That way they can calibrate their second one. 
    • First one goes, shoot the same. 
    • First one misses, adjust your second one.
      • Right, left, short, long

Nothing earth shattering, but things that I think players need to be explicitly taught more than it is. Not sure it will make a difference, but we will definitely start tracking them as we go to see if there is an uptick from what we taught!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

High School Practice with a Shot Clock

We are 3 practices into the season, after 2 days of tryouts. One of the things are are experimenting with this year is practicing our offense with a shot clock. We've been using a 24 second shot clock for a some of our small sided games, 5 on 5, and full court work. In our full court work the clock starts with the ball crosses half court.

It's early on, but I'm really liking using the shot clock while working on offense. We want to play quickly and it forces us to do that. It forces players to stop wasting time on offense (over dribbling, dribbling to nowhere, holding it too long, etc). It really forces us to constantly attack and hunt great shots. It's been great to increase our offensive urgency.

The downfall to using a shot clock, obviously, is rushing and throwing up bad shots. In order to discourage bad shots we do have a bad shot rule in our games. If a player takes what we consider a "bad shot" we will not award a point - even if it goes in. The idea is that we want to move quickly in order to find great shots. Our assistant coach Jeremy Christiansen hit it on the head on Friday "We want to play quickly in order to get a great shot more quickly, not just to shoot quickly."

I would encourage you to think about practicing with a shot clock. I think it will force your players to play at a quicker tempo than they are used to. It will make your high school games slow down for your players, which is a key to great offense.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Disconnect Between "Skills" and "Skill Development"

I haven't written for a while, being a head high school coach eats up quite a bit of time! But I want to
get back into writing, I enjoy it.

Something we've been seeing a lot on Twitter lately is the ridicule of trainers because they are having their clients doing 19 dribble moves with 19 cones, and so on. The issue, in my opinion, is that there is a disconnect between what we think of when we think "fundamentals" and what fundamental play looks like. When we think "fundamentals" we think too much about dribbling, dribble moves, and And-1 Mix-Taping someone.

I think we could all agree that fundamental basketball looks like the classic video below. Now obviously what happens in this video, and what we consider "fundamental", isn't anywhere near what you see in a lot of the videos that trainers post with their clients. Frankly it's not what a lot of coaches everywhere do with their teams for skill development. It's not what I did for skill development for the better part of the last decade.

What we need to do as trainers and coaches is define what fundamental offensive skills look like. When you see "skill work" with coaches and trainers there is too much of am emphasis on dribbling and dribble moves. Those need to be cut out and replaced with things that actually happen in games.

Below are some things that I think are fundamental offensive skills. Now I'm not going to go into HOW to teach or what to teach, but rather address some areas that I think need to be covered by players as they develop their skills.

Plays Off the Catch

  • Catch and shoot jump shots
  • Catch, attack in a straight line, variety of finishes. 
    • Regular
    • Reverse
    • Reach (defender chasing you)
    • Scoop 
    • Power (off 2)
    • Close Off and Finish Off 2
    • Pull Up-Bank (5' and in)
    • Floater (6' and in)
  • Catch drive, make a direction change and attack the rim
  • Catch, one dribble (beat defender), pull up. 

Passing and Catching
  • Right and left handed push passes
  • Pass to a cutter - moving player
  • Pass on the perimeter to a filling teammate
  • Pass away from the defense
  • Pass off the dribble (one hand)
  • Pass off the stride stop
  • Bounce pass to a cutter
  • Post entry passes
    • Up top (Defender behind)
    • Bounce low to a side
    • Lob vs. front

There are a lot of ways to go in footwork - depending on what you believe and teach. Here are some AREAS I think should be taught. 
  • Catching on the move
  • Catching stationary
  • Stopping going right and left
  • Pivoting when you've catch the ball

Teach players how to shoot! 

Post Offense
  • How to score with your back to the basket. 
    • Move and counter. 
  • How to pass out 
Decision Making
As much as possible, we need to incorporate game like situations where players must make decisions. But you could write an entire series of blogs in incorporating decision making so I'm going to leave this one short. 

These are things that we are going to work on more extensively in our program as opposed to the over dribbling. I think doing these will help your players become more "skilled" within the context of a game. I'd love to hear any thoughts or feedback on this? Any skills I'm missing or any other thoughts? 

Friday, August 19, 2016

They Are Who We Think They Are

The video to the right is the classic Dennis Green "They are who we thought they were" rant about the Chicago Bears. Although it's often used tongue in cheek, I think there is some truth to the concept for basketball coaches. Often coaches, including myself, try to make players into something they are not - and all they end up doing is wasting time and energy. I think the ability to see a player for who they are is a skill that the truly great coaches have in common. And it's a skill that I'm trying to refine now that I've had the realization.

To illustrate the point let me tell you a few stories. First, when I was in Iowa we had a 6-4 kid who was by far our tallest player. I spent a lot of time trying to turn him into a banger in the post. Truthfully that wasn't who he was. He had a decent jump shot but didn't have that personality to bang under the boards. I kept trying to jam that square peg into a round hole to the frustration of both of us.

When I was an assistant at LaCrosse Central my first years coaching we had a kid who was 6-7 as a freshmen and 6-11 as a senior. I spent three summers working hard with the kid - who frankly wasn't that interested in basketball. In doing that I didn't spend as much time with a kid who was a smaller post but loved the game, worked hard, and ended up being a heck of a high school player because of that.

So what's my point? Well, I think that part of the magic of coaching is to evaluate your players as they currently are - what ARE they good at? How can that be utilized? Too many times coaches, again - myself included, look at what they have to do to fit our system instead of how can we adapt our system to utilize their strengths? Now for me that doesn't mean that you completely overhaul your offense or defense yearly, but instead look at how your players can use their strengths within your system.

As an example, I am a motion coach at heart. We started teaching 4 out this summer because it's my favorite alignment. But after watching our players run it, it was apparent that our "big" didn't fit. Yes, he was 6-5 and strong, but he could shoot, dribble, and we were not utilizing him correctly as a back side post. We also didn't have a second player who was truly a post. So we changed and adopted more of a 5 out where he could go inside if he wanted to but our base would be 5 out.

So in closing I've got to a do a better job of understanding who our players are and how we can utilize their unique talents. Hopefully this realization helps our team this winter. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Spain's Interesting Flex Set

Photo courtesy of FIBA
There were some great games in this year's FIBA U17 World Championship, and can't wait to watch more of them on YouTube over the next few days. Special congrats to Coach Don Showalter and Team USA on yet another title!

Below is a set that Spain loved to run. It's dangerous for two reasons. First, it has so many actions - UCLA, Flex, baseline double, down screen, etc. I always think the best sets have multiple actions, and this one definitely does that. The other amazing thing about the set is the cadence/pace that it is run at. Almost makes your head spin.

The set starts out with a 4 out look. The guard enters to the wing and comes off a UCLA/back screen from the post. As that is happening the opposite slot (4) starts to come down toward the opposite wing's (3) man to set a down screen.

As soon as 1 comes off the UCLA screen, the screener (5) pops and gets the reversal. As soon as 2 lets it go he comes off a back screen from 1. As this is happening 3 is coming off the 4s down screen. 5 reverses to the 3 coming off the pin down. As you can see it's the quickness of the actions and the pace that makes it effective. 

As soon as 5 passes to 3 he down screens 1 who just set the baseline screen for 2. 2 continues across the lane and gets a second screen from 4 - he can curl it or go to the corner. 

Here is a video of them running it live. Again, I can't emphasize enough how much the tempo of this set throws the defense off. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Building a Culture of Shooters

This blog is in response to the response that I got about the tweet to the right. There were a lot of questions and I hope that this blog can answer them. Tonight we started teaching shooting in our workouts. We use some things from the "Pro Shot" shooting method. If you have not seen any Pro-Shot stuff, it's as good as it gets for shooting. Below are some of their resources. Their YouTube channel is first class. If you have the money I would strongly suggest having them in to do a shooting clinic. It will be well worth your time.
Pro Shot's Youtube Channel
Pro Shot's Website

Now about this board. At last week's round table Zak Boisvert (@ZakBoisvert) gave a phenomenal presentation. One of the things he talked about was developing a "culture of shooters". An aspect of developing that culture was having a few competitive games that players compete at for the high score. This keeps their interest and lights a competitive fire to get better at these games - and thus hopefully their shooting. So I picked 4 shooting games that fit the following criteria:
1. Could do them on your own or with a partner.
2. Were total shot based, not time based.

Then I got my wife to make me a nice leader board. It's just a dry-erase board with permanent marker written on it. I write the players' names in dry erase so I can change the names and scores, but the other parts of the chart are in permanent marker so they won't smudge. Every time we do these games in workouts, or players do them before/after, I'll change the list and update the high scores. Hopefully we can see our scores improve as the summer goes.

As a reward, the leader at the end of each week gets a Gatorade. I'm also giving out something to the winner's for the summer - not sure what that is yet. The goal here is to try to make this as fun and competitive as I can. I've also told players they can do these outside of workouts for the high score - but they have to have a teammate present to verify their scores. So the hope is that they are constantly working to improve their shooting.

As for the drills, they are nothing special or out of the ordinary. They are simply 4 mini-games that we can track. I will list them below but I would encourage you to just pick 4 competitive shooting drills you like.

Celtic In-A-Rows
Pretty simple concept. You use the 5 perimeter spots - corner, wing, top, wing, corner. You start in a corner. You get two shots to make your first one. If you miss 2 to start you move to the next spot. If you make one then you shoot till you miss and count how many you make in a row (that's why it's called in a rows). Once you miss you move to the next spot. You add up all your points for each of the 5 spots and that is your score - how many shots you made in the drill.

Oklahoma V-Cut
You can do this in groups of 2-3. Shooter goes elbow to elbow touching the top of the key each time. He catches and shoots at the elbows. Take 30 shots and count how many you make.

Spurs 40
Divide the court into quarters. Take 10 shots in each quarter (we shoot 3s). Count up your total out of 40.

BYU Shooting
Ball and a partner. Shooter spots up on the three. Passer gives the pass then runs out with hands up and distracts the shooter (don't run them over, either stop short or run by). Shooter catches and shoots then rebounds and becomes the passer. The passer becomes the shooter. Shoot from different spots on the 3pt line. Each player shoots 40 shots and keep track of your makes.

Again, none of these shooting drills are anything you haven't heard of. They secret is to really get your players to buy into the competitiveness of it - I'm selling it hard early. We want them to be relentless about doing these and trying to get that top spot. Because if you start to get competitive and obsess, you are more likely to dial in and learn how to shoot more effectively. Hopefully the above explained it, if not then let me know!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

High School vs. AAU

High school vs. AAU basketball has been a hot topic on Twitter lately. Recently an AAU coach in Iowa sent out a letter to his players. He suggested that his players not play with their high school team in the summer. Since everyone else is weighing in on this topic, I decided to take the advice of
  The Common Man - "Why not me, why not now?". I've coached both high school and AAU and think I can bring a pragmatic perspective to this - not that a single person cares about my perspective. So with that said, here are some random thoughts about high school and AAU.

First of all, I still agree with Brian McCormick that having both AAU and HS puts pressure on players to be in performance mode all the time. They are competing and trying to win for their high school in the winter, then doing the same for AAU in the spring, doing the same for BOTH in the summer. Throw in a fall league for good measure (AAU now has them too) and players are never out of competition mode. So we complain players don't work on skills, but WHEN should they work on them? So from that aspect I would like to see some changes made - not sure what they are. But anything to let players have a designated time to work on fundamental skills.

Second, AAU and HS provide different, but important, experiences for our players. In fact I think they need each other. What we need to help players understand is that AAU and HS provide two different services for an athlete but both are important. High school coaches have more time with their athletes during the year and thus take a big hand in developing players from skills to IQ. They also have more control over expectations in the class room. AAU is where players are allowed to show what they are capable of against high competition - and to get that buzz word: "exposure". Without AAU it would be harder for kids in a state like mine (Minnesota) to be seen by college coaches at every level across the country. Yearly, our AAU clubs and coaches give opportunities to kids that would not be otherwise possible. I know many kids who got the opportunity to play college basketball at a level they may not have without playing AAU. Other kids were able to find an opportunity at a non-scholarship school that may have not known about them otherwise. Many of the AAU programs and coaches in our state our a valuable resource and have helped to grow our game.

I'm not trying to say AAU doesn't develop. But there just isn't enough practice time usually for substantial development to take place. For example, I coached a middle school AAU team a few years ago. We practiced three times a week, two hours a day. Each night we devoted at least an hour to skills. This is more practice time than a traditional AAU team, and I still didn't feel like I had enough time to practice. Juxtapose (yup, just wrote that word) this with high school. As a high school coach I am in the gym practicing 2 hours a day with our players between 3 and 6 days a week in the winter. That's a lot more time to develop players. Then, additionally we work with our players 4x a week for 2 hours in the summer (skills for 1:15, lifting for 45). As a high school coach there is a lot more time to help players develop than AAU coaches have. It's math. Players need to understand and value the amount of hours they spend with their high school team and use them to develop so they don't get exposed. Where AAU coaches CAN (and do) help their players develop is giving their players good coaching against high level competition.

But I have an issue with everyone touting all AAU as "high level competition". The fact is that everyone can play, and everyone does play. So unless you are on a truly high level AAU team the competition you face is going to be a mixed bag at best.

I also think that both high school and AAU give kids a unique experience that the other can not provide them. AAU allows players to compete against kids from across the country and see how they stack up as players. It allows them to play on a team with a group of people who are just as crazy about basketball as they are. Many times this is not be true with their high school teams. It also gives them a different experience and a different "voice" when it comes to coaching. It also allows them to feel like they've gotten a fair shake or a fair look when it comes to being able to play college basketball at the next level. It gives them an opportunity to be seen. Our Minnesota kids get to travel the country, experience different things, and make lifetime friendships. I can't fault them for that.

On the other hand, high school basketball is a special thing. I know that AAU players and teams bond, but I'm not sure it's the same type of bond as the bond with your high school teammates who you are around all years. There is no other time in a young person's life where you can have this kind of experience. It's why I coach. There is something magical to me about spending a winter with a group of people, getting to know each other closely, and being able to represent your school and community. Nothing compares to that feeling. Also, high school basketball has certain accountabilities that are not present in AAU. Students who play high school have to be academically and behaviorally accountable to be eligible to play. While some programs monitor these things, there is no accountability at the top.

In terms of coaches at each level, there is good and bad in both. My issue with AAU is that there is no one that governs who can be coaches, what is accepted behavior, etc. There is no certification or checks and balances. ANYONE can be an AAU coach - and anyone is. The other part of AAU is that there are currently so many players that the demand for coaches out paces the amount of ready/good coaches. So you end up with people coaching just to be helpful, but who don't know the game. You end up with young coaches who don't understand what it is to be a coach but are handed a team and wished good luck. My first job as a coach was as an assistant freshmen coach. I was under a head varsity coach and head freshmen coach who taught me the ropes - and etiquette. Every time I see an #AAUBingo I kind of feel bad for the coach who likely doesn't even know they don't know. With that said, there are some FANTASTIC coaches in AAU who make our kids better. Many of them are high school and college coaches who "get it" and send kids back to their high school teams better.  And on the other hand there are many not so great high school coaches who exhibit #AAUBINGO behavior. I saw a JV coach at a large school coaching a game in a True Religion t-shirt, flip flops, jeans, and a winter hat. And he coached about how you would expect. It was as much of a clown show as any #AAUBINGO. If he would have been coaching an AAU game his picture would have been plastered all over Twitter.

In closing I want to say this. Basketball is a fun and beautiful game. Players should have JOY while playing the game. But I feel like JOY is too often missing. Why? Because we, the adults, can become so childish and selfish about it. You have to ask yourself "are you jealous"? I know I get jealous of AAU coaches who get to travel the country and just focus on helping kids get scholarships or the opportunity to play in college (the fun stuff!). I wish I had the time and flexibility. We also need to keep in mind that anything the player accomplishes is on the player. No AAU coach has ever gotten a kid a scholarship - the player's talent has. Just like no HS coach has really developed a player - that player's hard work, passion, and effort did. No AAU coach should send out an e-mail telling players not to play with their high school team - just like no high school coach should tell players not to play AAU. Support these kids and ensure that they have a great experience playing this game - because they only play it once. And we all know deep down that when every player's playing days are done they will remember how they felt more than anything. And we on both sides (HS/AAU) need to do a better job of supporting each other and supporting our players. I love this game, I love working with young people, and I want to see our game continue to grow. If coaches on both sides don't work together and support each other, we're only hurting the players and the game.