Friday, August 23, 2013

Pressure (and Panic) is Mental!

Two seasons ago, when I was the JV coach at St. Paul Como Park, I was reading through "Stuff Good Players Should Know" by Dick Devenzio. This was a few days before we were going to play St. Paul Johnson, whose bread and butter is pressure defense. In the book there was a line about how pressure is all in your head. And it really is true. It was a point of emphasis for the practices leading up to our game with Johnson and I think it's a big reason why we went from losing by 50 the first time to getting within 5 and losing by only 15. Losing by 15 still stinks, but a 35 point improvement says something. We handled their pressure much better, played with some poise, and didn't turn it over as much. When you don't turn it over, you don't give up easy point. Pretty simple, right!?

One of the best examples of pressure defense, and the kinds of turnovers it causes, are highlighted in this clip of VCU's pressure. This would be a great video to break down the VCU attack, but right now I want you to watch the video and focus on how the ball gets turned over.

What did you notice from the clip? Hopefully that most of the turnovers were "panic turnovers" where players simply made quick and bad decisions. They forced plays to happen and saw things that were not there because they panicked. How many turnovers were just great defensive plays? Not many. I'm not saying presses are bad, in fact I love them, but we as coaches need a better understanding of why the ball gets turned over.

Everything above is very much "No Duh" type stuff. But how are you as a coach training your players to handle this? Are you being pragmatic in your teaching of how to deal with pressure? Every team in America has a team or two on their schedule that wins by inflicting this type of mental warfare on their opponent. Many times it's this type of team that you'll need to defeat to win a conference title or a birth in the state tournament. So what are you doing about it?! Below are some things that I have found helpful in the past when having to play against teams that really pressured.

  • Make practice tougher and more physical than games.
    • In practice many times we don't call fouls unless it could cause injury. We encourage our players to play aggressively and physically. We create that culture of pressure so that it becomes the norm. Players just start to get used to playing in a crazy, high pressure environment so that when game time comes, any pressure and physicality becomes pedestrian. 
  • Play against 6,7, or even 8 defenders.
    • You'll never be able to simulate the pressure of a great pressing team unless you are already a great pressing team. Because a good pressing team makes it feel like there are extra players on the floor, we practice our offense against extra players. I've heard coaches say they don't like it because it doesn't help players look for the open guy on a double. I disagree totally. I think it forces the passer to be more careful and find a guy that really is open, it also puts a responsibility on all the other players to make sure they are actively working to get open instead of standing and watching. 
  • Play against older players.  
    • When you can't simulate the size, speed, aggressiveness, and quickness of your opponent with your players, farm the job out. Find some alumni or college guys to come in and help your team practice. That way they will get used to the game being a little bit faster.Even just purely athletic older guys who are not "great" players will do the job.
  • Be OK with a 5 or 10 second call. 
    • One of the best things you can convince a player is that a 5 second call is better than trying to force a pass. You force a pass and turn it over, the defense likely has a layup at the end. You give up a 5 second call because no one was open, we go down and play 5 on 5, much better odds than 1 on 0 or 2 on 1. This is a hard one to convince players, but once you do you will see them relax and stop worrying about the five second call as much. 
  • Emphasize the importance of ball security in every drill. 
    • No matter what the drill is, you need to always emphasize limiting your turnovers, limiting your panic, and protecting the basketball. Your players pick up on what you put a premium on and I think being strong with the ball is one of the most important. As Coach Meyer always says "It's not what you teach, it's what you emphasize".
Being that I am a big believer in TEACHING players to be great with the ball, I have a sickening amount drills that players can work on handling pressure here are three of the better ones. 
  • 3 on 3 No Dribble
    • This may be the BEST overall drill for teaching players how to pass, how to cut, how to get open, when to back cut, etc. Make sure you encourage the defense to all out pressure the offense because they can't dribble. Deny every pass. Players have to score without using the dribble, there are two exceptions however. The first is if they catch it on a cut TOWARD the basket they can dribble to finish the play. They can also dribble if they catch the ball on a post up. 
  • 2 on 2 10 Pass Drill
    • Pretty simple concept. Offense can't dribble and they have to make ten passes in a row, there are no shots. If they complete ten in a row the defense has 10 pushups, if they turn it over they have 10 pushups. If they get good increase it to 15, then 20. They can move around and use the entire half court, or if you need space you go multiple groups and give them 1/2 of the half court. I usually do this one right before 3 on 3 no dribble as it's a good lead in. Really teaches players how to cut and get open.You can also run it where they have to hold the ball for so many seconds, start with 30, work up to 45. 
  • 4 on 4 Trap Passing
    • Players spread out in a diamond shape. each player can move around in his area, but can't leave an area of about 8 feet. One player is designated a "trapper" and they have to follow and trap the ball. Offense has to hold the ball for 10 straight passes or 30 seconds without a turnover in order to win. 

 Just like monsters under the bed at night, the scary things on the court are completely in the heads of the players. Again, if you can convince your team that pressure is all mental, you've taken a big step.

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