Friday, November 9, 2018

4 Man Inbounds Plays - A Solution for Youth Coaches

Often when I talk to youth coaches, especially about using SSGs and live play to practice the issue of putting in offense always comes up. A refrain I often hear is "we have to practice our inbounds plays 5 on 0 because we only have 8 guys". I'd respond that 3 on 5 is better than 5 on 0. But then I was thinking about it and came up with another option: Run all your inbounds plays with 4 active players and 1 player as a spacer and emergency "get open" guy. 

This will allow coaches to practice their inbounds plays basically live! They can do the basic actions with 4 players involved and they can practice the proper spacing and movement without needing to be in a 5 on 5 situation. If anyone ends up trying it out this year let me know. Below are some 4 man plays, but feel free to make up your own. I just looked at some classic inbounds plays and tried to figure out how to adapt them. Also I tried to run them so they'd fit the skill sets of middle school players.

Sample 4 Man Inbounds Plays
Editor's Notes: 

  • I show the extra player in the diagrams using a red "1" just to see what it would look like 5 on 5. So when you play it 4 on 4 you leave out the red "1".
  • I would introduce these 5 on 3 (or 5 on how many extra defenders you have) to get the general feel then run them 4 on 4. 
  • The numbers are meaningless - focus on the skill needed for that position. In the diagrams 5 is going to the rim, posting up, and looking for inside shots a lot. If your PG is great at posting, put him there. Put players where they fit in the plays. 
  • Modify them to get the shots your players can shoot. If they can shoot threes run them out there, if not run them to the mid range - I tried to show this in the diagrams. 
Wishbone Series
This series starts with the extra player at the top of the key, one player at the FT line, and a player on each block. The extra player at the top should cut to get the ball in an emergency - or if his guy leaves him to help. 

Wishbone - Double Cross
Start with a cross screen and the ft line player cutting to the corner. If no pass to the player coming off the screen or the cross screener sealing, hit 2. Inbounder fills the backside. The player who got the first cross screen sets another cross screen and then flashes to the elbow. 

Wishbone - Screen the Screener
Ball side block screens up for the free throw line player who cuts to the corner. The backside block back screens the screener and dives. If the ball goes to 2 the ballside block (4) cross screens and flashes high. 

Diamond Series
This series starts with a player at the rim, two elbows, and the extra player at the top. The extra player should cut to get open in an emergency or if his defender helps too much. 

Diamond - Pin
Basket player up screens backside elbow and the backside elbow comes to the ball side. The ball side elbow pins the screener to the corner and dives to the back side. 
Diamond - Side
Basket player screens up for the ball side who cuts to the backside block. Screener pops and gets it. The backside elbow chases and ball screens for a pick and pop. Inbounder fills the back side. Note: Here 1 would probably space to the backside wing when the pick and roll happens even if it's not shown on the diagram.

Diamond - Curl
The basket player cuts out and gets the ball at the wing. The ball side elbow cross screens the backside elbow who curls it. Inbounder fills opposite. The 5 who screened away chases and sets the ball screen for 2. 

Flat Series
This series starts with 4 players across the baseline.  The extra "1" player is the backside corner spacer. 

Flat - Cross
The ball side block and corner double screen for the backside block to the ball side corner. On the pass in the original corner cross screens the original ball side block and goes high. 

Flat - America
The backside block cross screens the ball side block. If that's not open throw to the corner. 5 pops, 3 gets out, and the corner screens down for the original back side block for a shot. 

 Flat - Flex
The corner screens in for the ball side block who pops out. The opposite block pops up his lane line. The screener then pops up the laneline and gets the ball. The inbounder steps in. Ball gets swung and we run the flex action. 

Flat - Pop
Ballside block rises up like they are going to get the ball.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Making a Quick Fill Practice Plan

It's been a while...almost two years in fact. Having a kid and being a head high school coach will do that to you. The older I get the more the Ferris Bueller quote on the right rings true. So I'm going to try to get back to blogging to "stop and look around" the basketball world, process more of the stuff I'm seeing, and in general reflect as a coach. Thanks to J.P. Nerbun for pushing me to do this again a few months ago as well.

I wanted my first blog post back to be a solid one, and I think I've got just the thing. Below is a step by step process of how I'm making a "Quick Fill" practice plan for the season. And by "quick fill" I don't mean one of those apps with all the pre-loaded drills that don't fit you, your system, or your team. What I mean is a way to quickly plan a practice using your activities and your philosophy!

 My plan is for me to use it as well as have our lower level coaches using it. It ensures we are all doing the same practice activities and teaching basically the same way - which is good for our program and player development. It also helps me to make practice plans quicker! Note: I'm not going to include any links to mine, or templates of mine because I think the process of designing your own is very important and enlightening. 

So first start by designing your practice plan. One of ours is below. I always try to start with the goals for practice - which focuses the rest of the plan. It's great to review a plan and see - does what we are doing match our goals? I like to have a time, the activity, the goal, and the constraints (violations or other special rules for our SSGs). I also like an area at the end to put our teams for different games we are going to play. The area that says "activity" is where you are going to be able to plug in your drop down menu to quick fill a practice plan. There is no wrong way to set up a plan as long as you've got an area for the drills, games, activities. We've stopped calling practice stuff drills or games, and went to activities - another blog for another time.

The next thing you need to do is create a second sheet on Google Sheets. Click the "plus" in the bottom left corner and a second sheet will appear.  See the red arrows. 

On the second page I break it into two parts - Practice Phases and Diagrams. I write one in each top cell. We use big font to distinguish them even though the differences in font size won't show up on the plan. Practice phases is where the practice activities ultimately go. Diagrams is where we will put fast draw diagrams. The diagrams won't show up on the plan, but they are there if coaches need them for reference. 

Under "Practice Phase" I put each phase in a font smaller than Practice Phase and in the cells below. We see phases as different parts of the game - transition to defense, defense, transition to offense, and offense. We have skill work as a 5th one that doesn't really fit in the 4 but we prefer it be separated out. 

Next thing to add is the smaller parts of that phase, if needed, as additional cells under that phase. And again, I go down a font size to distinguish it. An example of a smaller part of skill development would be "driving and finishing".

Lastly, I add the activity in the smallest font size. In as many cells as I need - each activity gets it's own cell. I then type the activity on the far left of the cell. I then space down, indent 3 spaces, and write description. Then space down, indent 6 spaces and write what we do in the drill/game/activity. I then add an emphasis portion on the bottom in similar fashion. It is also important to note that the width of your practice phase column should be exactly the same as your activity column on the plan or the formatting will be goofy.

Then go to the insert tab and insert the play diagrams from Fastmodel. You don't have play diagrams just skip that column all together. 

We use the diagrams as a reminder of what each activity is if we need it as we fill in our plans and think about the upcoming practice. 

Now we format our practice plan to have a dropdown menu. Start by selecting one of the cells under Activity and right clicking (or control and click for Apple folks) and select "Data Validation". 

Then go to the second sheet and click on the Criteria box. 

Highlight and add ALL the cells under practice phase. Repeat for each box on your practice plan. 

Now if I click on the little arrow in each box under "Activity" I have a drop down menu for all the practice activities our program is going to use. The heading and sub headings are there to guide you as well. 

I will readily admit it is tedious to set up it will save you a fair bit of time during the season. Your staff will be more in alignment which is good for a program. It will also help you keep from teaching too many drills and not enough basketball if you keep it tight. I'd suggest as you do this trying to make it as concise as possible. What is the minimum number of practice activities you can have, per area, to keep it fresh but not spend time teaching new drill/game after new drill/game? Anyway, have fun and hope it works for you! 

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.