Fundamentals - Coaches Handbook
This handbook provides an overview of key basketball fundamentals, links to drills in each technical and tactical skill area, and a teaching process (also see the Skills checklists, Favourite drills, and Team playbook).
Formulate your coaching philosophy (e.g. do you favour a fast break or controlled attack, fullcourt or halfcourt defence, man-to-man or zone defence, good defensive transition or offensive rebounding), combine that with team player strengths to develop a master plan of team tactics (systems) to be used over the season (fit your offence and defence to your players, see an example Team playbook). From this, prepare a training plan using a pyramid with physical development as the base layer, then technical, tactical and mental development. Winning teams play hard (work and compete), play smart and play together. Players are coachable and unselfish, e.g. share the ball, create spacing, know their role, and help on defence. Team is sacrifice (Michael Jordan - I have no individual goals, we play for one reason and that's to win the title).
Early on, focus on physical abilities (e.g. stamina, speed, agility), basic technical skills, and basic tactics such as the primary fast break and man-to-man defence. As the season progresses, shift the emphasis to advanced skills, decision-making, and team tactics such as offensive systems and zone defences. Focus on refinement late in the season, resist the urge to put in new concepts. It's not what you run but how you run it, keep it simple, go back and work on fundamentals and execution.
Practice progressions should flow from the season plan (master and training plans). Show the whole picture, break it into parts, put it back together. Good coaches break their systems down into progressive, teachable steps that challenge players without frustrating them. You coach people, and should understand how they learn.
Each practice should have an introduction (outline the emphasis), warm-up, main part, cool-down, and de-brief. Teach new concepts earlier in practice. Run development (teaching) drills and competitive drills (keep score). Coaching is about making players better, so always work on fundamentals, e.g. dribbling, finishing, and especially shooting (alternates and 5ball are practice staples, and use shooting as transition between drills, e.g. foul shots, 50 makes). Players forget what they hear, remember what they see (demonstrations), and understand what they do, so most of practice should be spent doing.
Practice must be fun. Drills should be short, e.g. 2 minutes for fullcourt passing, 5 minutes for technical (individual) drills, 10 minutes for team tactical drills. Have points of emphasis, pay attention to detail but coach on the fly, stop a drill only to make a point to everyone, if a drill is going badly, move on. Have variety (new drills), alternate hard and easier drills.
Use a "games approach" to transfer skills from practices to games (see Basketball Immersion - Games approach),
- teach them concepts, not memorization
- give them enough information to run a drill, run it, then break it down
- they learn by making mistakes
- three types of drills - teaching (stop at any time to correct), learning (coach on the fly and dead balls), and competing (like a game, play through mistakes)
- don't stop the action too much, players get frustrated and don't get the fitness component
- use at least 3 fullcourt trips before stopping play
- set up competitive situations but with conditions to work on specific concepts, e.g. 4-on-4 switching on screens (you can let players sub for each other), see Scrimmage (e.g. Bauer 5 on 5) and Attack/Defend, but also do 1 on 1 (competing at the basic level).
Most if not all practices should cover fast break, offence, defence, and transition (including converting to defence), with halfcourt and fullcourt scrimmage. See practice plans, tips and ideas from Canada Basketball, Steve Nash, Hubie Brown, Ray Lokar, Bob Hurley, and Dave Smart (and the Index for their drills), e.g.
- cover other team tactics less often or as needed, e.g. rebounding, press break, inbounds plays, special situations
- taper as the season progresses
- run offence 5 on 0, against dummy defence, then live 5 on 5
- practice mostly fullcourt if you are an up-and-down team
- 2/3 of practice on individual skills
- daily post-guard split
- do conditioning with a ball
- coach based on your best players
- make it clear that competitive games will be done only if good work is done during development
- finish practice with a fun shooting drill.
It's not what you teach but what you emphasize, and emphasis comes from practice reps.
See Youth Practice Structure, also Go-To Drills for coaches who want some top-shelf options but not a full menu of choices.
Key physical skills are stamina, speed, agility, and strength (see NBA combine). Off-season development is a must for serious players, especially the aerobic base. With limited practice time, much basketball conditioning can be done with a ball, e.g., passing, fast break, dribbling, 1 on 1. Defensive footwork drills combine conditioning with skill development, e.g., lane slides, slide and run, fullcourt zig-zag, X closeouts, as do quick backboard tips or rebounds (see Tipping, 5star quick bounce). Sprints (anaerobic training) can be used, e.g. winners of a drill run one up-and-back, losers do two.
Good footwork with and without the ball is the foundation of good basketball. Players must be able to change speed, change direction (v-cut, spin), stop quickly (1-2 and jump stop), and pivot (front and reverse, either foot), in an athletic stance (ready position).
To get open, use a v-cut, L-cut, blast cut, face cut, backcut, spin off, or step over (lockdown). Catch the ball with a hop pivot (jump stop), inside-foot front pivot (cheat step option), inside-foot reverse pivot (Paul Pierce), outside-foot reverse pivot (sweep), or permanent pivot foot. Square up into triple threat, ball on hip, read the defence (e.g. attack the top foot if it is splitting you), pivot to create space (space pivot), attack with a blast or crossover step, counters (fakes) are jab step, shot fake, sweep (low), rip (high), pass fake. Do triple-threat layups, then one-dribble layups, and one-dribble pull-ups.
If cut off on a drive, change direction, pick it up (shoot), back it up (pullback dribble), or give it up (pass), sealing with a reverse or step-thru pivot on the inside foot, or separating with a step back or front pivot on the outside foot.
While over-use is common, the ability to dribble effectively with either hand is an essential skill in getting the ball in position to score. Players need to be able to advance the ball, make fakes, change direction, and escape pressure. Always shift speeds. For a learning progression, do stationary ballhandling with one ball (Maravich drills), stationary then fullcourt or cross-court dribbling (with one ball then two), dribble zig-zag cones and a cone line, and attack the basket with primary and secondary moves. Essential dribbling skills are
- speed - dominant hand, weak hand, alternating hands
- control (crab) - forward, backward (pullback)
- primary moves - change of speed, inside-out, dribble-jab, hesitation (stutter, stop on one foot, skip, gallop step)
- secondary moves - crossover, roll crossover, reverse, between the legs, behind the back, bring along (running behind the back), spin, fake spin
See Nash ballhandling, Procopio, Gooroo fullcourt, Fullcourt zig-zag, Matt Doherty, Kevin O'Neill moves, KP Series.
The importance of passing can't be over-stated, yet it tends to be under-taught. Players must be able to find open teammates and complete passes off the dribble and out of triple threat, using pass fakes, pivoting, and sweep/rips. Start using a wall, then partner passing, one ball then two, stationary then fullcourt (see Tauer partner, Ganon Baker partner, Florida 4-line). Essential passes are chest, bounce, push, overhead (outlet, skip pass), baseball, lob, sidearm, kick, post entry. If you use two hands to pass, without jumping, you can change your mind.
Catching the ball, anticipate a pass (be ready), give a target (show both hands), keep your eyes on the ball (catch with your eyes), meet the pass, catch with soft hands (give with the ball, both hands, or block and tuck a pass to the side), use a jump stop (ball in the air, feet in the air) or a 1-2 stop. See 5star hands.
Finishing means scoring at or close to the rim, most often with a layup. Being able to finish at any angle with either hand is important, e.g. a reverse layup, or finish on the other side with a baby hook or tight scoop (underhand).
Shoot off two feet in traffic, a power layup from a jump stop (or 1-2 stop). Counters (dead-ball moves) are upfake-shoot, reverse pivot, step across, step-through (crossover), jab step-through, and even a second pivot (spin back). Use a pro hop to create space, hop to a jump stop (bully move) or to a slice (get the defender on your back). Other finishing skills include spin to the rim, Euro step (Ginobili), inside hand off the outside foot, reach-out (underhand), floater (tear-drop layup), and runner (a Steve Nash one-legged shot), see Basketball BC, 5star triple b, Kiwi, Daily dozen.
Scoring is getting the most out of player skills to put points on the board from shooting, mid-range, and slashing. Shoot with BEEEF principles - balance, eyes, elbow, extension, follow-through. Form shooting is a must, e.g. lying on the floor, at a basket, or with a partner (see Keys to shooting, Tauer form). Good shooters make foul shots, spot-up shots, shots on the move, and transition or one-dribble pull-up jump shots (e.g. freeze pull-up, spin and shoot, fake the spin, stepback, drag stepback), including 3-pointers and bank shots. We're back to footwork,
- move into a spot-up shot - step with the shooting foot, use a 1-2 step-in (permanent pivot foot), or hop to a jump stop
- coming off a screen, use an inside pivot foot or hop pivot
- off the dribble, use a 1-2 or jump stop (including one-dribble pull-ups)
- create space with a stepback off the inside foot (into a 1-2 or jump stop, or just step back using an outside pivot foot), or with a "drag" stepback (step back with the dribble foot, crossover dribble, shoot).
See Hubie Brown (spot, on the move, off the dribble), Tom Crean, Nash workout, 5star in the box.
Get open where you can score easily (without a post move), stay open by sealing.
- Sprint the floor on the fast break (rim run), seal a trailing defender on your back, or bury a defender in the lane with a swim move or pin and spin.
- On a wing-entry pass, reverse-pivot seal if your defender is still on top, look for one dribble down and a post entry.
- If fronted, point to the top, seal out (reverse pivot) on a pass.
- If guarded high-side and the ball goes out top, reverse pivot, seal with one arm, call for a lob pass with the other.
- Duck in (step across) if your defender opens up.
- When weakside, v-cut high or low, flash middle (but don't chase the ball), seal in on a skip pass, duck in on a pass to the top.
Post players often have their back to the basket in the low post or high post, but also step out to the extended post (off the block) and the short corner. In the low post, play between the ball and the basket (on the line of deployment, or post line), show your "goal posts" (both hands), meet a pass, catch, chin and check (usually middle). Crab dribble to protect the ball, e.g. from the extended post (see Post dribble moves), play the short corner in a "21 position", heels to the baseline.
A drop step (reverse pivot) is a foundation of post work, do it off different moves, e.g. catch and drop step (post shot), power move, drop and hop, catch in a drop step, crab dribble then drop step and spin. Other post moves include a turnaround shot (strong side, strong shoulder), jump hook, running hook, spin move, and Sikma (reverse pivot on the outside foot); common counters are up-and-under and fake drop step (see Post moves and shots). Posts should be able to pivot on either foot in either direction (use jump stops), and finish with either hand off one foot or both.
Winning the battle of the boards is incredibly important (defence wins games, rebounding wins championships). Although height and jumping ability are advantages, the keys are determination and technique - most rebounding is done below the rim.
Defensively, see the shot, assume a miss, get low, move your feet, find your man, hit him (make contact with a forearm), or box out with a step-through (front pivot) and/or reverse pivot, then go get the ball. Use just a reverse pivot close to the basket, and hold the box-out (hit and hold). Offensively, try to get around, make a move, e.g., jab and go opposite, swim move, spin off.
Good team defence doesn't let other teams do what they want to do, and keeps them from getting good shots. Pressure the ball, keep it out of the paint (no layups or inside-out shots), contest all shots, allow no second shots (get every rebound), and avoid fouling.
Key skill areas are defending the ball, away from the ball (gap, deny, help positions), dribble penetration, cutters, screens, in the post, and on post-entry passes (e.g. choke, dig, trap).
Stations can be used. Start with on-ball defence - stance (Nash wave), slides (see Duke, DeMatha, slide and run), close-outs (Nash triangle, continuous, pack-line Vegas), jumping to the ball (face cuts), contesting passes (denial). Work on technique then go live 1-on-1:
- on the ball - Wing, Drive line, DeMatha
- jump to the ball - Villanova, With passers, Blackhawk
- gap position - Stops, Coach as passer
- deny position - Duke, Villanova, Blast cuts, Pasquali denial
- help position - Pitt, Machine-gun, Miami, Off skip pass, Weakside cuts, Weakside
- stunt and recover - Pitt, Pasquali closeouts
Add rotation to stop dribble penetration (see help rotations, Pasquali advantage), and defending in the post, e.g. adjusting position as the ball moves (see 4 on 1 post, Dick Bennett, Duke 6-point).
Gap, chase or switch off-ball screens, start with 2 on 2 plus coach (see Nash, cross-screens) then 4 on 4 (Pangos). Defending ballscreens, progress from 2 on 2 to 4 on 4, using gap, switch, squeeze then shock to start. See gapping screens, and defending ballscreens, off-ball screens.
For shell drills, a useful progression is 2 on 2 (with coaches as passers), 2 on 2 plus coach, 4 on 2, 3 on 3, 4 on 4, and 5 on 5.
Fullcourt pressure can wear down other teams, cause turnovers, and increase pace. Good conditioning is a must (and is also a by-product). Key skill areas include forcing and turning the ball, trapping, run and jump, intercepting a pass, and back-tipping on a break-out dribble.
A good fast break on makes or misses can generate easy baskets, save time on the shot clock, keep other teams from pressing, and tire them out. Inbound quickly on a make, rebound and outlet on a miss (or break-out dribble), sprint to fill the lanes (both wings and to the rim), be able to score at high speed in advantage situations (e.g. 2 on 1, 3 on 2), but even 3 on 3 is an attacking situation because of available space.
The fast break can be "numbered" (each player has a specific role) or unstructured. On a primary break, headman the ball, look for a wing attack (usually baseline), post dive, or skip pass to a shooter and post seal. A rim run collapses the defence, making ball reversal to a shooter easier. On a secondary break, push the ball into the frontcourt, get the ball to the baseline (flatten the defence), reverse the ball (move the defence), try to get it inside (collapse the defence), flow into offence. Optionally the trailer ballscreens if he arrives and nothing has happened yet.
Progressions to build up the fast break in practice:
- 1 on 0 - Transition finishing, DeMatha transition
- 2 on 0 - Outlet and go, 5star outlet pass, Chaser layups, Outlet series, Running outside
- 3 on 0 - Nash cutting, Kevin O'Neill 3-man, Tennessee point-guard push and 3-man
- 4 on 0 - Tennessee 4-man break, Spurs 4-out
- Rim runs - Post sprint, Triano first big
- 5 on 0 (a practice staple) - Spurs 5-out, Six cycles
The fast break is transition from defence to offence, converting is transition from offence to defence. Often much time is spent on halfcourt defence, and not enough on transition defence. Good defensive transition teams usually have one or more safeties who don't offensive rebound when their team shoots, they get back to help defend a fast break (don't give up easy baskets). Other tactics include jamming the defensive rebounder (delaying an outlet pass), and picking up the ball early to slow it down. Being able to match up is important, and defending out-numbered situations, e.g., 2 on 1, 3 on 2. Players enjoy transition drills, e.g. 3 on 2 to 2 on 1.
The goal on offence is to get a good shot every trip. Good offensive teams have spacing (spacing is offence, offence is spacing), ball movement, and player movement. Attack the rim (play inside-out) with cutting, screening (one player to the basket), and post entry and dribble penetration, with rehearsed movement (e.g. create a double gap for a dribbler). Look to change sides of the floor or get the ball inside before a shot is taken, unless it's a layup (or a green-light shooter). Create opportunities for the best match-ups to shoot or draw help (it's players that are hard to guard, not plays), and set up an offensive rebounding triangle on shots.
Be quick on offence, but don't hurry. The most open you are going to be is when you first catch the ball (Chuck Daly), so think attack on the catch - shoot, drive, or pass. Take care of the ball (limit turnovers) and take good shots (in your range, on balance, uncontested, at least one rebounder, defensive balance, time and score). Key skill areas include
- basket cut (give and go), backcut, exit cut, fill cut
- set and use ballscreens, off-ball screens (e.g., down, flare, back, cross, stagger)
- dribble-at (hand-off, backcut or runaround, turn the corner), hand-back (or fake)
See Teaching 4-out motion, Motion offence progressions.
Keys to zone attack are fast break (beat the zone up the floor), line up in the gaps, drive the gaps (get two defenders on the ball), freeze dribble (right at a defender), quick ball reversal (with full reversal to the corner), skip pass, pass fake, attack from behind, play inside-out, attack the short corner and high post, overload, screen the zone, and crash the boards.
See Zone offences - Duke, Hurley, Bill Self, Dave Odom 1-3-1, Principles, sets and options.
If your team can't break fullcourt (or halfcourt) pressure, it makes for a long, frustrating season. A good press offence provides for ball reversal, secondary options if the point guard is denied, and court spacing when a ballhandler is under pressure - three short pass options, one long option (see Press Breaks). Individually, players need to be "ball tough", meeting passes, strong pivot, sweep and rip, fake and pass opposite.
Pre-game warm-upA proper warm-up sets the stage for the opening tip. With limited time, do 4-corner layups (or triangle, 4-corner or Auriemma 3-line passing), two-line layups, shooting (curl, fill cut), and foul shots; with more time, add a 3-man weave to centre, defensive footwork (zig-zag, close-out 3x), post-guard split (see a pre-game routine), a shell drill (e.g. swing the ball, stop a baseline drive, rotate players), or Serbia 3 on 3.