This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Workouts

SMACKS is an acronym that I like to use for teaching players how to play when they have the ball. Every time a player attempts to score, it can be broken down into each of these 6 stages. When players learn to master each stage individually, they can start putting them together and become better players. SMACKS gives me a way to help teach offensive players in a progression that is easy for them to remember.

S = Setup

M = Move

A = Attack Dribble

C = Crossover Step

K = Kill Dribble

S = Score

The setup is what the player do before they make a move. The setup is probably the most overlooked part of SMACKS. When a player is making a move off the dribble, this is learning to change speeds and levels to freeze the defender. If the player is making the move off the catch, it is learning how to prepare their feet and bodies to make their move without being off-balance or traveling. Players who forget this step often make moves that are ineffective. Players must always learn to set up the move before they make it. In many cases, this setup is not complicated or difficult. The setup can be as simple as playing just a bit slower to make a good read so that they can make the proper move.

The move is probably the most popular part of SMACKS that coaches teach and that players work on. Players always want to work on or learn a new move. The move can include a change of speed, change of level, and/or a change of direction. While the move might be the “flashiest” part of SMACKS, the other parts are just as important to a successful scoring opportunity against the highest levels of competition.

Once the offensive player makes the move, the player must attack the advantage that they gained. This piece of SMACKS is critical to maximizing the advantage that the player gained. The attack dribble must create as much space as possible away from the defender. As a result, a poor attack dribble ruins even the best “move” because it allows defenders to recover and make any scoring opportunity more challenging.

The attack dribble’s partner is a crossover step. The crossover step increases explosiveness and protects the ball from the defender. Many times, this footwork is often overlooked, but mastery of the crossover step can help lesser athletes gain an advantage. Poor footwork by even good athletes can make them less efficient, effective, and easier to defend.

The kill dribble follows the attack dribble in situations where the player needs more than one dribble to score. In some situations, the attack dribble can lead to a scoring opportunity. Although at higher levels of basketball, players must have a variety of finishes in their arsenal. The kill dribble helps players get their feet set for whatever attempted finish they need to use.

The score refers to the different finishes that a player can learn to use. This could be a jump shot, floater, Euro step, pro hop or any number of other finishes that exist in the game of basketball.

Fast Break Drill #1

Here’s a Fast Break Drill. It emphasizes passing, catching, sprinting the floor, The framework is pretty basic. How can you tweak it to make it different?

Change where the lines start. Dictate the type of passes players make. Put time on the clock. Make a number of layups in a row or in that time, or even both. Dictate that the layups have to be perfect (bank swish). All passes must be perfect. Run the drill to the other side. Add another ball. Make them finish every layup off of two feet.

There are probably lots of other ways to tweak this drill to make it different. You can run the same drill every day, but you don’t have to run it the same way every day in order to help your team improve. Be creative. What different ways can you think of to run this drill so that helps make your team better?

fast break drill 1 Fast Break Drill 2Fast Break Drill 3 Fast Break Drill 4Fast Break Drill 5

Dribble 2 on 0

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series 2 player combinations

What happens when somebody dribbles? Most players know that when a teammate shoots, you’re supposed to rebound. You might rebound if your job is transition defense, but you get the idea. When a player passes, most coaches tell the players on the team where to go and what to do.  What do we tell them when a player dribbles? How is this not just as important as shooting and passing?  In fact, it’s probably more important. Many players don’t know what to do when their teammate dribbles. They become observers instead of active engaged participants in the action. They wait to see what kind of play their teammate is about to make instead of preparing themselves for what might happen.

This same drill can be used at different instances.  We used it after we taught attack dribble and circle movement. We used it after we taught dribble at. We used it to test the two concepts together. We used it to put two actions together. You can run it from an even front or an odd front. You can move the lines anywhere you want. It’s the same drill. But there are lots of things you can tweak to make the same drill completely different.

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10 Habits of Great Defenders

Great defenders are hard to find these days. There are good ones and bad ones, but I don’t know how many great ones there are. Good defenders exhibit a lot of these qualities. Great defenders exhibit all of them.

  1. Know what they are protecting
    Playing defense is about keeping the ball from going in the basket. The most obvious goal is to keep the ball from getting to the rim so that players can’t get easy lay-ups. The easiest way to do that is to stay between the player with the ball and the basket. Now this isn’t the only way of defending the ball. The goal could be to keep the ball handler to a certain area of the court or to keep the ball handler out of a certain area. The goal could be to keep the ball from being passed to a certain part of the court or to a certain area. In any case, defenders must know what they are protecting at all times. If they don’t know and understand their purpose their purpose at all times, it becomes more difficult for them to defend well.
  2. Fight to protect it
    Once a defender knows what they are protecting, it has to be a constant mental and physical effort to protect it. Of course defenders must be taught the techniques and concepts of how to defend individually and within the team structure, but it is a constant fight to defend.
  3. Are always ready to move
    Defense is a journey. It’s never a destination. A defender who has arrived is about to get beat. Great defenders are always ready to move. They can’t always predict where they are going to have to move, but when it’s time they are ready. If a player’s feet stop moving, It’s probable that they aren’t ready to react. This is on ball and off ball. We have to be careful when we’re teaching defensive positioning that players know that they are only in the right spot for a split second. The ability to succeed in one brief moment is short lived. As soon as the ball or a player moves, their positioning should probably change.
  4. Move when the ball moves
    There are a lot of defenses and defensive philosophies out there, but all of them start on players moving when the ball moves. If players are late, they are probably going to be out of position, no matter how athletic they are. Players who can learn to move when the ball moves can be great defenders.
  5. Talk with a purpose
    Good defenders talk. Great defenders talk with a purpose. Good defenders call screens. Great defenders tell their teammate what to do when the screen is set. Good defenders see a play develop. Great defenders let everyone else know what’s about to happen. It’s one thing to talk on defense. It’s another thing to talk purposefully.
  6. Go after loose balls with 2 hands
    How many times is there a deflection and a player tries to reach for the ball with one hand to dribble it while losing control of the ball? Whether it’s a loose ball from a deflection or a rebound, great defenders pursue the ball with two hands. It’s not enough for them to touch the ball. They want to have the ball. There may be some instances when players can only get one hand on the ball, and yes one is better than none. We’re talking about GREAT defenders. They find a way to get two hands on loose balls.
  7. Recognize personnel quickly and react appropriately
    The scouting report says that #23 is a 45% 3 point shooter. A great defender closes out and doesn’t give up a shot or a drive. #24 checks in for #23. The scouting report says #24 is 0 for 15 for the year from the 3 point line. A great defender doesn’t closeout on this player if their teammate needs help in the lane.
  8. Help when they are supposed to
    It’s nearly impossible to play good on ball defense every time. There are times when we will have to help. The key is to help with the right person in the right place at the right time. When two people help the defense is in trouble. If the wrong person helps, the rest of the team is forced to rotate in a way that is unexpected. If a player “helps” when they aren’t supposed to, it will force rotations when they aren’t necessary. Great defenders know when not to help as much as they know when to help.
  9. Know how to rebound
    Rebounding is about effort, positioning and then more effort. It’s amazing how players who might not be in position to rebound initially can get themselves in position with just a little effort. Then how many players get position, but then they don’t go for the ball. It’s not enough to just get position. Rebounding requires pursuit of the ball. I’ve coached a lot of players who just want the ball. It’s not complicated, they just like having the ball, and they will do whatever it takes to get it.
  10. Foul When They Want To
    Sometimes players need to foul. Maybe you’re trying to make a last-minute comeback. Maybe you don’t want to give up an easy lay-up and fouling is the only option. Maybe you aren’t in the bonus and you want to make a team inbound the ball against the end of the quarter or half. Great defenders know these situations and know how to foul in these situations. They don’t give up “and 1s.” They don’t hurt themselves or the other team. They don’t get intentional fouls called on them. However, they also have fouls to give because they haven’t fouled unnecessarily in other parts of the game. They know when to try to block a shot and when to stay on the ground. They don’t foul in the opponents back court, just because they missed a lay-up and are trying to get the rebound when they don’t have a chance at it. They move their feet to stay in front of ball handlers and don’t put their hands on them.

Skill Development

Skill development is one of the most critical areas of any basketball program. Even the best players in the game have skills they can improve on.  Some players may have more room to improve than others, but every player can improve.

So then how do you develop a player’s skills?

Well to me it’s like learning how to do math.  You have to master the basics first.  If you can’t do 2+2, you’re going to have a difficult time doing calculus.

However, once you know the basics, you have to learn how to do the basics better or move on to harder problems. You can’t just stay with 2+2 because it makes you feel good.

As you progress from the most basic skills to the more difficult ones, there must be a component of failure involved.  That is not to say that the skills should be so difficult that they can’t be executed.

However, they must get more difficult to the point that players do not succeed every time.  Then when they fail, they  must learn how to succeed. As important as developing the physical skill might be, developing the mental skill of overcoming failure is just as important.

We must constantly challenge players to execute the skill with higher levels of intensity, speed, and precision if we want them to truly develop. When they fail, we must continue to hold them accountable to executing the skill correctly, even if the cards are stacked against them.

Executing a skill on one level two days in a row is good, but executing it at a higher level from day to day is great. We must teach players to be confident where they are, but always looking to take the next step.

Making Second Most Important

This entry is part 18 of 20 in the series Practice

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, right?

You might be thinking…

“Coach, you talk about defense being most important, but you don’t start with it. It doesn’t matter what we think in our minds as coaches, if our players don’t think we are serious about defense they won’t play it. How can your offense be good if your defense isn’t? How can you make defense most important if you don’t start with it?”

Check out Practice Plan #1. This practice was all about playing with the ball and guarding the ball. There are lots of opportunities to play 1 on 1 without it being just 1 on 1. There are lots of opportunities to closeout and help in a more game like environment. Defense is emphasized in almost every segment. Even more importantly, we’re creating a mindset of offensive aggressiveness without having to say it. The players are put in situations where they have to make plays. They can’t hide and let their teammates do the work for them. It’s obvious that they should be aggressive which puts pressure on the defense right away.

You are what you emphasize right? Not only is there a lot of defense being played in this practice, there are lots of opportunities to make defense important. There are a lots of opportunities to critique and correct defense. We might have started with offense, but by the time practice was over, we had the opportunity to make defense most important.

Look at Practice Plan #2. Practice #2 builds off of the first one. There aren’t many new offensive concepts being introduced in this practice, but we are emphasizing good defense on the ball and good team defense if we have to help. Again the same aggressive mindset is being established offensively, but we don’t have to worry about the offense being aggressive. They don’t have much of a choice. We do have to worry about how we’re defending, and it will become very clear who our best defenders are and who really needs to improve.

Keep in mind these practices are a result of the environment I was in. The first day of practice resulted from the team having no skill development sessions in the preseason. We had no on court time with players before this practice. Of course we had some players who returning from the previous season, but we had players who had never played for this team before. From year to year, we couldn’t take things for granted and so we started from the beginning.

Even if we were having an individual or small group workout, we would make sure that we introduced the “WHOLE” part before we did the smaller parts. They might not understand it completely, and we might not be able to go 5 on 5, but when we reference the bigger picture, they will have something to go back to in their minds.

If we could have had 2 hours per week per player on the court, we would have worked on a lot of these skills and concepts then. Our first day of practice would have looked much different. However, our first workout would have been had a similar idea. Learn how to play with the ball and defend it. Once you can do that, the rest becomes a lot easier.

When Should We Stop the Action?

This entry is part 16 of 20 in the series Practice

Some of the most important decisions that we make as coaches are those that deal with how we conduct practice.  As coaches, we decide how our practices operate.  We choose how much we teach individual skills versus team concepts. In addition, we choose how much we let the players play; we also choose how often we stop the action and when we let them keep playing.

Every second of every practice we choose to stop the action or let it continue. Do we stop the action to reinforce a positive moment?  Should we stop the action to correct a mistake?  Do we let the action continue until someone makes a mistake?  Should we let them play through their mistakes? Do we stop the action to change drills? Do we keep things moving to get repetitions in the current drill?

Stopping the action gives the coach the opportunity to teach. Stopping the action allows the coach to get a player’s undivided attention to either congratulate a positive action or correct a mistake. This means the action must start again. It means that the players stop moving.  If the players stop moving enough, they can lose their conditioning.  Stopping the play makes the practice less game like. It can create unnatural stops in the action which doesn’t allow players to finish a play.  This can condition players to think they have multiple chances to get it right.  It can bring too much focus on the “previous play” and take focus away from executing the next one. It can make us spend more time than we planned initially, or it can cut the number of repetitions that we get through in the prescribed time. Players don’t like it when coaches stop the action.  They want to play.  Even if it’s not a live situation, players would rather think they are doing it right than the opposite.

Letting the play go, provides more game like scenarios. Keeping the players moving improves conditioning.  Keeping the action going allows players to learn how to have that “next play” mentality. However, it’s very difficult for players to correct mistakes “in motion”.  Stopping a play to congratulate a good play has a stronger impact than letting the play continue, even we make a positive comment after the play ends. Keeping the action going may mean that some mistakes aren’t corrected. This could be acceptable or harmful depending on the type of mistake and the player who is making it.  Letting the action continue keeps players happy. It gives them a sense of confidence that they are doing things correctly.

Basketball is not football.  We don’t have a huddle after every play, and we don’t have one group that plays offense and one group that plays defense.  We can’t take our offense to the bench while the defense is playing to show them how we can do better on the next possession. Our players play both ends.  They are constantly transitioning from one to the other.  They have to learn how to play through mistakes, but they also have to learn how to do things correctly.

So there’s the problem.  Here’s one solution.  A lot of the basketball specific part of this blog talks about the teaching progression.  Coaches can teach offense at the individual skill level first and gradually add multiple offensive and defensive players on the court with multiple actions.  When coaches teach progressively, it gives the coach a clearer focus.  As a result, it helps the coach decide when he or she should stop play and when he or she should let it continue.

I believe that the practice plan needs clear emphasis for each drill.  Two or three things might be more important that will make practice stop no matter what segment of practice.  However, for each segment of practice there should be a clear and intentional emphasis for that segment.  The coach should know (and should communicate to the players) that this is what is important about this segment. It maybe that the coach decides that the only thing that is important in this segment is the physical effort. Maybe the only thing that is important is that players make a ball fake before every pass.  The coach might decide that everything defensively is important in this segment but what the offense does isn’t important in this moment.  Maybe the coach decides that everything on both sides is important.

Once everyone knows what’s important, now the coach has a better idea of when to stop play.  The coach can look through a practice schedule and have an idea of how much practice will be stopped today.  If coaches feel like practice needs more fluidity, they might take out one segment and put in a segment that will be more free-flowing. Maybe that gives the players a mental break or maybe it allows them to condition a little more.  If a coach feels like the practice won’t be stopped enough, they may change it up to give the players a physical break. If there are a couple of things really need to be taught and emphasized today, then make it important and teach it.

I think every coach has their natural tendencies to either things go or stop and correct each mistake.  Both have their benefits and their drawbacks.  I think we have to get away from always doing what’s natural to us and think about what our team needs in each segment of practice. If we teach the game in an organized and progressive way, we know exactly what we can expect our players to execute correctly and we can stop the action for those things. Everything else we have to let go because we haven’t taught them those things yet.  If it’s so important that they do a certain thing correctly at this exact moment, then teach it and make it important.