Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Notecard Plays

I was at Office Max the other day and while browsing I noticed that they sold notecards that came spiral bound. Immediately I thought about how I could use these in the coaching realm. The first thing I thought of was putting a bunch of quick hitter set plays on them to use in different situations. They would be perfect for the end game situations when you need a basket. For the last shot, I usually like to have a set play that the players know, and we have practiced so we can just take it out of the rim and go. But at the same time these would leave you well prepared for any situation you need a quick score, not just the end of the game. It would allow you to pull a quick set to beat a defense that was defending a certian way, get a basket in a critical situation, etc. None of the plays on the cards could be too involved usually, but would be things that kids could easily remember. I would also categorize the cards by situation so when you need one you can flip to the situation instead of having to browse them and waste time.

You could also organize your notecards by with the plays you currently run, just to help keep your head straight!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shooting Form Progression

This is a progression that I used every day this year with my freshmen. We started out doing it for ten minutes a day, but as the season went on cut it down to about six minutes. I think it is a great progression and something that should definitely be used at the younger levels and during skill development workouts. What was did was the following:

Wrist Flicks

Start right in front of the rim, maybe a foot out. Put the ball up straight over your head with your wrist cocked and the ball on your finger tips. Then you simply flick the ball into the basket using your wrist. If you are on your own, the goal is to MAKE 30-50 shots. If you are coaching in practice, I did this for 3 minutes at the beginning of the season (out of 10) and then 2 minutes at the end of the season (out of 6).
The purpose is to get kids used to flicking that wrist hard when they shoot. Because it is important we isolate this aspect of the shot and just have them work on it.
Points of Emphasis: Flick the wrist hard, ball on finger tips (not palm), ball should come off middle and index finger last, follow through, and keep fingers straight (don't make a fist).

Shot Builder

The next drill we immediately go to is called the shot builder. The player stands about 3 feet from the front of the rim, puts the ball up on his "shooting U" (the position right before release) and shoots shots with one hand and just the motion of the arm. Now in the progression we are isolating the arm movement and making sure the form there is correct. I like players to MAKE ten shots and take a step back after every ten makes. In practice we did this for 3 minutes at the beginning of the year and 2 minutes toward the end when we were cutting back.
Points of Emphasis: Snap elbow and snap wrist, follow through, hold the follow through until the ball hits the floor (over emphasize it), watch the rim not the ball, look at the same place on the rim each time, and make sure the ball is on your fingertips.

Set Lifts
This is the last part in our short progression for the day. We spent 4 minutes on this in the beginning and 2 at the end of the year as we cut down the time.
The players start about 3 feet in front of the hoop again with their knees bent and the ball in their shot pocket. Players shoot shots where they bring the ball up from their shot pocket and come off their toes (don't jump). Everything you would do in your regular jump shot without the jump. Right now we isolate the actual release of the ball and those mechanics that go with it.
Points of Emphasis: Shoot off your TOES, start the ball in your SHOT POCKET not at your belly button (very common mistake), elbow in, snap elbow and wrist (proper release), watch the rim not the ball, one smooth movement, and ball on your fingertips.

So there it is. Like most of the stuff on this blog, it is by no means special. But it's something that I think you can devote 6 minutes a day to and see results, especially if you are a developmental coach or coach below the varsity level. I would also, as a coach, mandate that players do this during their summer workouts because to be a great shooter you have to have two things: great work ethic and great form.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spring Time - Random Thoughts

As a high school coach, the spring time is a critical time for coaches and players, and I think it is a time that sets apart successful and unsuccessful teams apart sometimes. What players and coaches do in the spring can set the tone of the summer and the following season. I have some general thoughts on this part of the year as it relates to high school basketball.

AAU Season
This is the time of year that players play AAU or All-Star basketball. There is no problem I see with players going out and playing AAU, especially when they have the potential to play big time basketball and need the exposure. Even if they do not, there is nothing wrong with playing against very good competition. Playing against top competition will always make you better, as long as you are playing hard.
On the other hand, it is important to play other sports, and I always encourage my guys to take up baseball or track. I really think, with most AAU organizations you can do both if you really want to, but have to deal with a few complications. At a small school it is imperative as a coach that you suggest other sports for your players and do not try to force them into being basketball players only. I say this because a kid may pass up chances to do things in baseball. track, or football because he has to chose a sport to focus on. Also, I think all sports end up losing athletes when coaches start demanding students to specialize in one sport. At a bigger school I can see the rationale, but again think they should at least try another sport, especially as freshmen. I think playing multiple sports allows the kids to have fun, have a different coaching style, and not get as burned out on basketball.

Skill Development
One drawback of AAU on the whole is that there is not a lot of skill development going on. Some organizations do concentrate on skill development and do a good job, while others do not/can not. I'm not faulting the AAU coaches for this, however. Some programs pull kids from all over the state, so having practices every day is hard if not impossible. When they do get their little practice time, then they have to put in an offensive/defensive scheme so that they can look at least respectable when they take the court.
So as a coach, remind your players that while playing a ton of games is great, they should not forget about working on the fundamentals that make great players. This doesn't mean they MUST do a rigorous 1-2 hour session every day. But at least going out and shooting/dribbling every once in a while would be good for them! It is illegal to work with your players in the spring here in Minnesota, but just because you can't work with them doesn't mean they are incapable of doing things on their own!

Preventing Burnout
I think guys that play all winter, then switch right to AAU basketball, and then right to summer ball tend to burn out a little bit. I think this becomes a problem, especially when the kid is very driven for a goal such as a college scholarship. As a coach, I try not to even TALK about basketball with my guys during this period. I encourage them to take time off of the game and recharge their batteries. To me that is where playing a spring and fall sport comes in as well. If they do that, it is not basketball all the time for them.
As coaches, I think the spring is a good time to prevent burnout. Go fishing, enjoy the weather, spend time with your family (I know some of you are asking "who??" because you have not seen said people since November.), watch movies, do something besides basketball during this period so that you can come back in the summer fresh and ready to go!

Bettering Yourself as a Coach
With the same breath of "don't burn out" I also say that this time is a time to better yourself as a coach. Spend some time reflecting on last year and what you thought you did well, but also figure out what you could have done better. If you had to do it all over again, what would you do? It is really funny all the little things you actually would do over. Make sure to take the time and write them down so you can refer to them before next season. This will help you avoid repeats of the same mistakes again next season. Also, sit down and figure out what you are going to do next year and what changes you are going to make.
Also take the time to become a student of the game. Buy a new video or two on a topic you are interested and really get absorbed in it. Get some basketball books and start reading. Read a book about basketball not related to coaching directly. Something like "The Miracle of St. Anthony". Talk to other coaches, college and high school to get some new ideas. Some of the best times to contact coaches are after the signing period is over and the "dead period" for watching recruits is on. But I would also talk to all the local coaches that you can to get advice and ideas.

Well there you go. Some random thoughts about the spring. As a coach, you can actually get a lot done with this time of year, but make sure you take advantage of it!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Start Your Own "Playground" Association

I was reading a topic on the X's and O's of Basketball message board (link on the right) about kids not having "basketball sense" because they do not play enough pick up basketball on their own anymore. It may sound strange to some people but this is a very valid point in my opinion. The more you play without structure, the more you learn to free lance and make reads/plays. Along with basketball IQ, kids lose organizational and leadership skills when they don't play pick up because an adult is leading and organizing them. Pick up and playground basketball has been replaced by more structured outlets such as AAU and summer team ball. I do think as a coach it's important to push kids to play unstructured pick up on their own as well as the structured situations. I am not trying to say kids should go And1 and am not saying kids should not play AAU or summer team ball, but should engage in some pick up situations also.

As I got to thinking about the topic, I remembered the genius idea that the Houston High School (MN) basketball coach put together. It was called the HBA for the Houston Basketball Association. Below is an outline of how the program worked.

The league was run by the players. The seniors to be were the "coach/GM" of each team. Each senior had their own team, unless there were not enough kids, then there could be two senior leaders per team. Before the season, all the players that wanted to play signed up for the "draft". The draft was open to basketball and non basketball players entering grades 7-12. It was open to non basketball players so there were enough players to play and were more than 2-3 teams. Each team had 7 players which was enough so that everyone played a lot but also guarded against players not showing up or being injured. If there were a few players that did not sign up to get drafted, but wanted to play, they became "free agents". Free agents still came to all the games and were thrown on teams when players were injured or did not show. Even if everyone showed we usually found the free agents a team and some minutes. By the end of the year, all the free agents had found permanent homes with one team or another. The seniors got copies made of the rosters so everyone had a copy. There was also a team in the league of alumni who wanted to play.

After the draft, the seniors had a meeting and set out all the rules and regulations for the league. They then shared those rules with their individual teams, in a team meeting (very informal). The rules, as I remember them, were:
1. Play full court
2. Play to 21
3. No cherry picking
4. Call own fouls
5. Arguments about fouls equal ejection for the game
6. Home team in dark shirts, away team in white shirts (or go shirts/skins if someone forgot colors)
Those were the ones I can remember. The games themselves were played on the blacktop court outside the school. The seniors set the schedule for who played who, what time, and who was home and away. The seniors got copies of the schedule and gave them to the players on their teams.

Seniors also got to pick the type of offense they ran. And it was interesting how that helped the basketball IQ. I remember a team of all guards who basically ran Grinnell style and another team who had two bigs and ran a slow down high-low type offense. Of course the offenses were extremely simple, and usually became free lance at some point, but at least the thinking was there. They tried to push all man defense, didn't always work, but did for the most part.

We played two nights a week and one game a night. It was funny how the competition grew as the season progressed. They kept an official standings board where they displayed the records and who was where. The last few weeks of the league were playoffs were a champion was crowned. All they won was bragging right but it was worth playing for.

The league was great for us. It made us competitive, taught us how to play, and taught the older guys how to lead. It gave us a chance to just get out, play, and have fun. And most importantly it was player directed - we set it up and ran it because we wanted to. This is something that does not happen enough anymore, in my humble opinion. Kids don't get to just play for the joy of playing. But this was an opportunity for a lot of kids to get that joy. I also think it helped a couple of kids who didn't play basketball before go out, and that is important in a small town.

The only major thing I would do different, maybe, is expand the league to kids in the immediate area so you could have more teams and a little more talent to play against. Have all the kids from your town on a few teams, and then bring a team or two from each of the neighboring towns for variety. I would also have the league run shorter. Ours ran I think from beginning of May through the middle of August and it was too long. I think a two month season would be perfect with the possibility of a second season if enough kids wanted to reup and reshuffle teams.

I would recommend this program to any coach, especially one that coaches in a smaller community.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Playing to Win

First off, I apologize for the break between posts! It was state tournament week last week so I spent four straight days at the Target Center and "The Barn" watching a great high school tournament unfold. I think it is important, as a coach, to be able to truly enjoy this time of year and kind of revert back to being a "fan of the game" after your team has bowed out for the season. This time of year always re energizes me. After the state tournament, I am ready for June and summer workouts!

There was something that happened at this years tournament that was kind of controversial and I wanted to comment on it. When St. Cloud Tech played Hopkins (who was heavily favored to win it all), Tech decided to go with a stall to win the game. Because they were on the Target Center floor, which is an NBA floor, they had everyone at or above top of the key extended and were working a Princeton style backdoor offense to try to get baskets and slow the tempo down. At halftime they went in down 15-16. They came out in the second half and finally lost as Hopkins got a sizable lead that forced Tech to play.

Many people criticized Tech for trying to slow it down to win, commenting on how it was not basketball, and how we needed a shot clock. I totally disagree with these statements. Now, don't get me wrong, I am not the type of coach who loves to slow it down, but Tech was doing what they thought they had to do to win in that situation. So all in all it is the right call. And if Hopkins did not have a 6-9 D1 center who came from the weak side to block many of the backdoor layups, Tech may have had a chance down the stretch. But to me the bottom line is Tech was trying to win the game by slowing it down. How is that different than if a team would have tried to beat Hopkins by playing Grinnell style because they had good shooters and quick guards?? No one would be complaining then. And this is my biggest reason I don't want a shot clock, why favor one style of play over others? I love to get up and down the floor with my teams, but why should my style be favored over someone like Coach King the former Orr coach who won lots of games with a patient slow down offense?? I think as a coach you play the style that you feel will help you win, no matter what style that is!

To the four people that read this blog: Have a great week and enjoy what is left of MARCH MADNESS!!!