Teaching “The Play” Part II

In case you missed “Teaching ‘The Play'” Part I….

Let’s take a step back and look at how many players learn how to play team defense. Outside of individual defensive skills, many coaches put 4 or 5 offensive players on the court with defenders.  Then the offensive players will pass the ball around while the defense adjusts their position based on where the ball is.  This is a necessary part of teaching defense.  If the defensive players can’t be in position with stationary offensive players, then it will be much harder for them to be in position when these players start moving.

Moving the ball by passing it means very defined defensive assignments.  Coaches can predict that if a pass goes from point A to point B that defense will adjust in a specific way. As a result, it’s easier to design “the play” based on passing the ball from point A to point B. Likewise, it is also easier to teach players the “consequences” of decisions that involve a pass.  It’s similar to teaching defense.  If the pass goes from here to here, this is what happens.  Again, this is an important part of teaching offense.

How many players are potential receivers for a passer?  Are all 4 players options? Or are there just 1 or 2?  Are 1 or 2 players absolutely not options at all?  For every potential receiver, we have to teach the consequence. The consequence could be the same for each receiver or it could be different.  The more it is different, the more complicated it becomes for the players.  If we limit the number of potential receivers, then it becomes easier for defense to take away the allowable receivers.  Maybe that’s ok.  Maybe it’s not.

We should also teach players when to look for shots.  Is it on every catch?  Is it on certain catches for certain players in certain spots?  We should also teach players when to look for driving opportunities?  Again, is it on every catch?  Or is it only on certain catches for certain players in certain spots?

What happens when someone shoots?  This isn’t too hard to teach. Certain players rebound, certain players don’t.  You may want everyone rebounding.  Maybe not.  I don’t know.  That’s up to you. If you miss the shot and get the rebound, do we “run the play?”

What happens when someone drives?  Do we tell our players what to do then?  Is “the play” over?  Can we continue “the play” even in this situation?  Or now do we “just play?” Many players may not know how to “just play”, because they are so used to “the play.” I know that defensive rotations aren’t nearly as predictable when someone drives.  Are you teaching your players to make decisions in these situations?

Then what happens if they don’t have a shot or a drive, and the allowable passes aren’t available?  Remember this could be because the coach told them not to shoot or drive, it could be because they aren’t comfortable with their skills, or it could be because the defense has taken that decision away.  Does the player have a failsafe decision?  Maybe that decision is call time out?  Maybe another player has to come get the ball from them? Who knows?  Can “the play” still function in any situation?

When we’re teaching “the play,” we need to consider these things. We have to be conscious about what we tell our players and what we don’t. We can’t give them too much information at once, but we have to give them enough to function independently.  Sometimes we need to let them ask questions, but we always need to have good answers.  Oh and remember, your players have to have the skills to execute these decisions.  Just a minor issue, right?

So here are my issues with “the play”.  When we teach “the play,” we have a tendency to eliminate options in the decision-making box that may be available. Maybe we don’t want those players to make those decisions, but I would rather base it on that player than on “the play.” Defense can choose to take away the options that “the play” gives our players, but defense can’t take away everything.  So now they are stuck in a Catch 22.  If I choose from the decisions that are part of “the play”, it is going to be a bad result and coach will be mad.  If I go outside of “the play”, coach will be mad. I don’t believe players have the time to mentally process these thoughts in the moment.  However, I do believe that they get so caught up in “the play” that they don’t evaluate other options.  If we give players too many options within “the play”, the consequences to the different decisions can be difficult to process.  Oh and now we’re going to have 10 of “the play.”  Too many boxes to remember the different options in each box.  Each box is either too limiting or too much to remember.  Eh, it’s just too much.

Consider, there are lots of different things that can happen on a basketball court at any given time. This is not football where everyone starts from a standstill.  We don’t get to huddle before every play.  We don’t have 40 seconds to let Peyton Manning direct traffic or remind us of what we’re supposed to do before we start playing.  Basketball doesn’t work like that.  It is free-flowing.  It is dynamic. The game creates different scenarios every split second that players must adjust to.  There are so many variables that are uncontrollable.

Let’s teach spacing, player movement, and ball movement and SKILLS.  Then we don’t have to worry about “the play” and we can spend more time teaching  skills and how to play.