Basketball Systems, Skills & Drills


Fast breaks
Zone offence
Zone set plays
Other offences
Quick hitters
Press breaks
Skills & Drills
Free throws
Post play
Fast break
Press break
1 on 1


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

Athlete Development Model
Season Plan
Practice Planning
Daily Practice Plan
Post Play
Fast break
Offensive Tactics
Zone Offence
Press Break
Pre-Game Warm-up

See Blog posts, Skills Checklists.

Athlete Development Model

The Canada Basketball Athlete Development Model (ADM) provides a framework for coaches to use in developing players, and uses long-term athlete development (LAD) as its guide. The ADM pyramid has four "faces" (components) - fitness, basketball skills, mental skills, and life skills. Basketball skills are broken into four sections:

  • fundamentals - e.g. how and why to dribble, pass, shoot
  • technical skills - involve decision-making (when to use a skill, making reads), can be individual or multi-player (e.g. screening, cutting, posting)
  • strategy - what to do in a game (offensive and defensive systems)
  • tactics - adjustments for or within particular games.up

Season Plan

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 fundamental, 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 fundamental and 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.up

Practice Planning

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 Coach Mac, Steve Nash, Hubie Brown, Ray Lokar, Bob Hurley, 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 Go-To Drills for coaches who want some top-shelf options but not a full menu of choices.

Also see Blog posts - Drills, Scrimmages.up

Daily Practice Plan

Canada Basketball has a Daily Practice Plan with the following parts:

  1. Warm-up (5%)
    • games approach, movement skills, injury prevention
  2. Individual fundamentals (30%)
    • shooting, passing, dribbling, defensive, 1 on 1
  3. Break-down offence / defence (30%)
    • 2 on 2, 3 on 3, offensive advantage, transition (technical skills)
  4. Halfcourt and fullcourt (30%)
    • offensive and defensive systems (strategy, tactics)
    • scrimmage
  5. Cool down, recovery (5%)

See Canada Basketball Technical Manual, also Youth Practice Structure (up to U12) and Practice Structure (U13 and up).up


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. See At-Home Training for vertical jump and other conditioning drills.

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).

Supplement with agility drills, e.g. Baller Boot Camp agility. Sprints (anaerobic training) can be used, e.g. winners of a drill run one up-and-back, losers do two.up


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.

See Blog posts - Shooting Footwork, Jab Steps, Body Jab and Shimmy Moves, Skills checklist - Footwork.up


Dribbling effectively with either hand is essential in getting the ball in position to score. Players need to be able to advance the ball, shift speeds, change direction, protect the ball, and escape pressure, but not over-dribble.

For a learning progression, do stationary ballhandling and fullcourt dribbling (with one ball then two), cone dribbling, and  attack the basket with primary and secondary moves (see Dribbling series).

Primary moves include inside-out, dribble-jabs, and hesitations (stutter, heavy foot, skip, glide or lift). Secondary moves include regular, push and Iverson crossovers, between the legs, behind the back, reverse and spin dribbles.

Protect the ball using a crab or back-down dribble, escape pressure (create space) using a retreat or lateral dribble. When attacking, get into a drop stance (e.g. using a hip swivel), and create space using a stop-separation move, e.g. drag pullback.

See Blog Posts (Dribbling & Moves), Skills checklist - Dribbling.up


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.

See Skills checklist - Passing & catching.up


Finishing is scoring at or close to the rim with a layup or dunk. Being able to finish at any angle with either hand is important, e.g. overhand, underhand, sidehand or reverse layup.

After regular layups with either hand, the next priority is shooting off two feet in traffic, a power layup from an outside-inside or jump stop. Counters include upfake-shoot, reverse pivot, step across, step thru, and spin away. Reverse layups are a good third priority (with either hand).

Other finishing moves include one-hand pickup, pro hop, Euro step, floater, swing step, first step (early layup), spin, and finishing with contact (e.g. pound evasion, veer).

Work on finishing from the wings (outside, middle), out top (left, right) and the corners (baseline, also middle).

See Blog Posts (Finishing), Skills checklist - Finishing.up


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).

Skill areas include free throws, catch and shoot (spot-up and on-the-move, including 3s), and shots off the dribble, e.g. in transition, coming off ballscreens, one-dribble pull-ups, stepbacks, fadeaway jumpers, drag pullbacks, freeze pull-ups, and slide 3s.

See Blog Posts (Shooting), Skills checklists - Shooting, Footwork.up

Post Play

Typical post play is a back-to-the-basket post-up in the low post, with a progression of options:

  • drop step series (foundation of post work)
  • turnaround jump shot (or fadeaway)
  • back-in dribble series (your defender is smaller)
  • face-up series (he is bigger or slower), with a reverse pivot on the outside foot (Sikma move)
  • baseline spin (another option for a quick post).

Post players also play in the high post and short corner, e.g. against zone defence.

One hack is to get open where you can score easily without a post move, and stay open by sealing. For example,

  • 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.
    • Hubie Brown - the easiest place to post is on the dotted line in front of the rim, everyone plays behind you, nobody fronts.
    • Billy Donovan
      • Run to the rim and post, hands up, sit down, spread out, move your feet to keep the defender on your back, if he gets in front, seal and point to the next pass.
      • Really good post players score before they touch the ball.
  • In the low post, on a wing-entry pass reverse-pivot seal if your defender is still on top, look for one dribble down and a post entry.
    • Pete Newell - seal a top-side defender by stepping over with the top foot (top foot over top foot), the passer takes a dribble, keep the seal and break when the passer picks up the ball.
  • If guarded high-side and the ball goes out top, reverse pivot, seal with one arm, call for a lob pass with the other.
  • If fronted, point to the top, seal out (reverse pivot) on a pass back out, look for a direct pass.
  • If your defender opens up on a pass out top, duck in (with the inside foot).
  • When weakside, look to flash to the ball or high post, v-cut high or low, seal in on a skip pass, or duck in on a pass to the top (your defender stays open).
    • Newell
      • On a flash from low weakside to the foul line, a front pivot on the inside foot can expose the ball, a reverse pivot on the outside foot takes you further away from the basket for a shot.
      • Use a reverse pivot on the inside foot, but don't open up right away, screen for yourself, jab at the basket to drive the defender back, then open up to shoot.
      • Bill Self - cutting away from the basket, catch with a cheat step - the inside foot is the pivot foot, but step out with the other foot for balance, then forward pivot to square up.
    • Jeff Bauer
      • Weakside post play is a great time to v-cut or wait for a skip pass. A flash to the ball at the high post should be the least-used option, don't chase the ball.
      • Use v-cutting to seal a defender, not to run to the opposite lane line. If the defender is level or higher, take him higher then cut 90 degrees to seal him from the baseline side; if he is lower, take him lower then seal on the top side.
      • On a skip pass, step into the defender deep in the paint as the pass is in the air.
    • Sherri Coale - from weakside, muscle into the middle of the lane on a pass out top (her favourite way to feed the post is from the middle of the floor).

See Blog posts - Post play, Getting open as a post, Skills checklist - Post play, Post play - Post moves & shots.up


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.

See Skills checklist - Rebounding.up


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 (Pack-line, Vegas, Lines), jumping to the ball (Face cuts), contesting passes (Villanova). Work on technique then go live 1-on-1, e.g.,

A good progression is shell breakdowns (e.g. 2 on 2 with coaches as passers), then 4 on 4 shell (see Practice Structure for drills). Also build up from 2 on 2 screening situations (MacKay and Celtics ballscreens, Oakland downscreens), using gap, switch etc.

See a 10-week defensive training program (pdf).

See Blog posts - Closeouts, Jump to the ball, Ballscreen coverage, Skills checklist - Defence.up


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.up

Fast Break

Fast break on misses and makes to get easy baskets, get into offence early in the shot clock, and help wear out the other team.

  • Larry Brown - a fast break helps keep the other team from crashing the boards and pressing.

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.

  • Mike Brown - they want deep outlets, get into offence with 20-21 seconds on the shot clock (pace).

  • Scotty Brooks - we don't need the fastest wings, we need wings who run their fastest.

The fast break can be "numbered" (each player has a specific role) or unstructured (see Fast Breaks for player-role options).

  • Jay Triano - he has always been a proponent of the numbered break.

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.

  • Del Harris - first-side action must be clear-cut, otherwise swing the ball and look to attack.
  • Phoenix Suns - early pick and roll is one of the hardest things to guard. They want to be aggressive, get the defence on their heels, attack before the defence gets set.
  • Memphis - when you stop the primary break, can you run your secondary break without having to pull it out and make a call?

Progressions to build up the fast break in practice:

See Blog post - Fast Break.


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.up

Offensive Tactics

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.

  • Ettore Messina - spacing means not allowing one defender to control two attackers. Use all the floor space, from corner to corner.

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.

  • Steve Kerr - if you run pick and roll over and over, the other three guys who are just standing there kind of lose some juice, it affects your defence and morale.

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 run-around, turn the corner), hand-back (or fake)

See Skills checklist - Offence, Tactics - Teaching 4-out motion.up

Zone Offence

Keys to zone attack are

  • fast break (beat the zone up the floor)
  • line up in the gaps
  • move the ball (the ball moves the zone)
  • shallow cut
  • drive a gap (draw two defenders), pass
  • freeze dribble (right at a defender), pass
  • make the extra pass (pass-pass)
  • quick, full ball reversal
  • skip pass
  • fake a pass to make a pass
  • flash middle from weakside
  • get the ball inside to score, or inside-out for 3s (collapse the zone)
  • use the high post (keep the defence in)
  • get behind the zone on the baseline (flatten the zone)
  • attack the short corner, heels to the baseline
  • run the baseline (a post or shooter)
  • overload the zone (side, top, bottom)
  • screen the zone
  • crash the boards.

See Zone offences - Duke, Hurley, Bill Self, Dave Odom 1-3-1, Principles, sets and options.up

Press Break

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.up

Pre-Game Warm-up

A proper warm-up sets the stage for the opening tip. In addition to dynamic stretching, a typical warm-up includes

For a full warm-up, add a post-guard split (see a pre-game routine), a shell drill (e.g. swing the ball, stop a baseline drive, see Oakland closeout), or Serbia 3 on 3.

With U10 teams I use

2007-21 Eric Johannsen