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Teach Players How to Play

by Rich Stoner, USAW Elite Basketball Training, LLC

Earlier this week I sent out an email that brought up the subject of basketball skill development in practice during the season and whether or not it should be a priority. If you did not see that email, here is the first part of it:

Yesterday while having a conversation with a local basketball coach, I happened to ask him about his practice planning and how he used his practice time. He told me that they worked on their offensive plays for half the time and their defensive plays for the other half. I was NOT surprised at all. This happens at least once a week where a coach tells me that all they work on is their offense and defense. I totally get it too. Gym time these days is severely limited almost to the point where coaches can only get one solid practice in a week. For the most part, that practice is only a hour to an hour and a half. The games are usually on the weekend so they have to work on their offense or defense during their practices. This seems reasonable and understandable but Iím not sure I agree entirely.

As a former varsity basketball coach and current basketball trainer, skill development played an important role in every practice. There was not a day that went by that we did not work on some, if not all of the fundamental basketball skills of shooting, passing, and dribbling. The reason behind this was that I wanted to have as many multi-skilled players on the basketball court as possible. Doing so would give my team the advantage over other teams who did not have the same type of player. It baffled me when I would talk to other coaches who told me that they never practiced shooting the basketball during the season. Last time I checked, the team with the most points won the game, and in order to score, you needed to be able to shoot and/or finish. The only way to get better at either one of those skills is to practice themÖso we did. Keep in mind, this is a high school team with players that supposedly had been working on these skills since their youth. The need for skill development in youth basketball practices is even more amplified because of the stage of the game they are in. However, from talking to many youth coaches, skill development during practice time does not seem to be a priority.

What seems to be a priority is teaching the players how to run their plays because knowing the plays will give your team a better chance of winning which, is totally understandable. Gym time, to my knowledge, is limited these days and the players have to know how to run the offense, so this rational makes sense, to a degree. Where I differ is that if players cannot pass, dribble, and shoot you can run plays until you are blue in the face and you still will not score. What happens after the player screens down, pops out and catches the ball? If the player does not have fundamental basketball skills, a turnover will usually occur. I have seen it quite often at all levels of basketball. Consequently, instead of teaching players the plays, teach the players how to play.

Please keep in mind that I am not saying that plays should not be taught or run. That is absolutely not my point. What I am saying is that if players know how to play, they will run the plays more effectively and this will, ultimately, lead to a better basketball experience for everyone involved. Skill development can and should be taught within the offense that you are trying to run. Break your offense down, no matter what type of offense it is, into parts. Work on skills within that specific part and then bring it back together to make it whole again. Teach the players how to cut, move and screen properly all while teaching them what to do with the ball when they catch it. We worked consistently on skill development within our offense on a daily basis. One of the best ways to do this is in a three on three setting. Three on threes simplifies the game, especially for younger players. It also creates more space for them to experiment on their offensive game. This will ultimately create more confidence in the players and the team as a whole, and a confident team can be a successful team.

In the end, teaching basketball players plays is doing them an injustice, especially at the youth levels. Players need to learn how to play basketball first and foremost and the youth level is the perfect place to teach players solid fundamental habits. With this in mind basketball skill development can and should be taught basketball skills in a way that relates to the offense you are running. Ultimately, this will lead to a better basketball experience and players will learn how to play rather than just learn plays.

Let me know what you guys think about this topic by writing in the comments section below.

If you would like to learn more about how Elite Basketball Training can help you teach your players basketball skill development within your offense, email me at rstoner42@gmail.com with questions and have us come to your practice to work on skill development with your players.

See you on the court.

Rich Stoner, USAW

About Rich:
Elite Basketball Training, LLC is a New Jersey based basketball training company that provides basketball players and athletes with the tools to take their game to the next level. Elite Basketball Training specializes in individual, small group, and team basketball skill development, sports performance training, and college planning and recruiting.

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