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Scouting, Preparation & Program Development Tips

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Medicine Ball Drills

Medicine balls are great tools for developing muscular strength that is specific to basketball, as they can be used to simulate the exact movements that are used in basketball. An effective workout with medicine balls can be achieved in about thirty-to-forty minutes. Each session should be made up of eight-to-ten exercises with the athlete performing two-to-three sets of each exercise. If the athlete is to develop strength and muscular endurance, then conduct six-to-twelve repetitions (reps) of each exercise. If the athlete is to develop muscular endurance rather than strength, then conduct twelve-to-thirty reps with a lighter ball.

With a medicine ball of a size and weight that a player can handle, you can do:

  1. Overhead Throws
  2. Chest Passes
  3. Figure 8 around your legs
  4. Two-line pass-and-exchange
  5. Pass with a partner down the floor and back
  6. Squat to press: Start with medicine ball directly overhead with arms extended. Lower medicine ball to chest level while performing a parallel squat in a smooth and controlled manner.
  7. Sit-ups: Sit facing a partner with knees in a bent position. Hold arms above head. Upon receiving the ball, perform a sit-up and forcefully throw ball back to your partner.
  8. Seated side-throw-sit: Start with knees in a bent position and a partner sitting on either side. Partner passes ball to the outside hip. Upon receiving ball, athlete twists trunk, lightly tapping medicine ball behind hip and throwing medicine ball back to partner.
  9. Diagonals: Place medicine ball slightly outside either hip. Raise medicine ball above shoulder, extending arms. Lower medicine ball in a diagonal pattern outside the opposite hip. Repeat motion.
  10. Figure 8: Stand with back to partner (who should be one arm's length away) and extend medicine ball from chest. Keeping the feet and hips stationary, twist the torso and pass the ball to partner, who twists in the opposite direction. Pass should be executed with both partners turning in the opposite direction from one another.
These ten drills can get you started on a good upper body program that is specific to basketball.


The Off-Season: Player Development vs. Playing Games

The off-season is the best time to work on individual player development. Too many teams spend too much time playing games in the summertime and miss out on the great opportunity to make players personally better. While next season's team needs some time to learn the system and get used to each other and their new roles, they also need to become better individual basketball players.

All things considered, each summer league game requires about a two-hour time commitment. Some teams play forty games or more in the summer. Imagine how much a player could improve if he devoted those eighty-plus hours to fundamentals such as footwork, ball-handling, passing, or shooting. How much better would a player be if he used some of that time for jump training, quickness and agility workouts, or an effective strength program?

If players simply play games and do not work to improve their fundamentals, they are only practicing the same bad habits. In order for improvement to occur, there must be a balance of individual work, team practice, and some actual game competition.


Hiring an Assistant Coach

If you're coaching a high school team, try to get the best teacher, both in the classroom and on the floor. It's important to find someone who is prepared and willing to learn. Knowledge is important and the assistant needs to understand your system inside and out. Ideally, he should be committed to growth as a coach, attend clinics and camps, and read, scout, and question others.

Your staff must be hard-working. At all times, the coaches should work as hard as they expect the players to and be willing to put in extra time to improve the program. Look for people who have patience. Mistakes provide opportunities to learn, so treat them as such. Coaches should never give up on players, and you should continue to improve until the very end. Have a "Commitment to Excellence." Because you impress upon your players the importance of being their best, you and your assistant coach should be committed to becoming your best.

In order to maintain continuity, assign significant responsibilities to each coach, as they build a desire to stay. Hire assistants that will always promote the program in a positive light. Maybe the most important quality is loyalty. Coaches can debate in the office but must be united on the court. Just like we preach that we have a TEAM, rather than just players, we should have a STAFF, rather than just coaches. Always work together to improve the program from top to bottom. A staff that works together to achieve the same goals does a great service to their players.


Evaluate Your Team

Should your team look to fast break or run a slower, patterned offense? Should you pressure man-to-man defense or a safer zone defense? Full-court or half-court? When evaluating your season, it's important to determine how you performed against the teams that you need to beat. If your goal is to win your league, conference, division, section, or state, then figure out how you did (and what you need to do) against the teams that contend at that level. Most everything that you do will work against the teams that you are SUPPOSED to beat; the hard part is coming up with a game plan to defeat the teams that you NEED to beat.

Statistics can help you evaluate your team's ball-handling execution, shooting results (including from the three-point line and the free throw line), and rebounding performance. Examining your opponents' results will tell you about your defense.

The type of turnovers will speak to your offensive performance. Dribbling violations will cue you to spend more time on that or try different players as your primary ball-handlers. It is important to put players in positions where they can succeed. Maybe the passing turnovers are a result of forcing too quick a tempo or not being able to get open in the half-court. Slow down or work on various methods to get open.

Are your opponents getting too many second chance points on offensive rebounds? In this case, block out drills are prescribed. Fast break points? Transition defensive drills are in order. You may be taking too many outside shots. Charles Barkley calls bad outside shots "fast break starters." Maybe you don't have good defensive balance built into your offense. Develop a transition defense plan.

Are you quick and athletic enough to play pressure defense? We'd all like to play that way, but can you do that against the better teams? Maybe quickness and agility training in the off-season and an emphasis on defense at practice is all it will take. Or, maybe a zone defense designed to prevent penetration is in order.

As for shooting statistics, are you getting to the free throw line? Many coaches feel that getting fouled is the best thing that can happen on a possession. Jump-shooting teams don't get fouled often. Should you dribble-drive or go inside more? Is the team's field goal percentage poor? Do you need more practice, better shot selection, or an offense that will get you better (or at least different) shots? Maybe all of the above!

Finally, do you need to adjust the type of schedule that you play? Is it too tough to compete in, or do you need to "schedule up" and prepare for your tougher opponents? Maybe the teams you play early are primarily zone teams and you need to prepare for the man-to-man pressure from your league rival, or vice versa. Your pre-league and tournament games can usually be controlled. Schedule smart.


Outwork Your Opponents

The most valuable commodity that all coaches, teams, and players have in common is time. How you use that time will determine your success. Some of the best coaches in basketball aren't necessarily successful because of what they know, but because they outwork their opponents. Of course, the same holds true for players. What you do with your time will determine your level of success. An oft-used quote is: "Remember, when you are not working, someone else is. When you meet in competition, all other things being equal, they will win." --Ed Macauley, former NBA star.

That being said, coaches need to be just as aware of when their players need some time off as well. So, I wonder if MAYBE the following statement is just as true:

"Somewhere, someone is resting and recovering. That will revitalize them to the point that, when they take the court again, they will work harder, longer, and with more focus . This periodization of training leads to a more productive practice regimen. And when and you meet them in competition, all other things being equal, you will lose!"

Coaching is very time-consuming, so one of the best skills that you can acquire early in your career is time management. Determine your priorities and devote the time necessary to them before you move on. Whether it is practice time, practice preparation (often overlooked), scouting, film breakdown, game preparation, or promoting your program--get to work. Hire good assistants and put them all to work. Give everyone different responsibilities so that there is an "expert" in each area. Get others involved and delegate duties. Coaches expect players to put in time outside of practice to improve their game, and coaches should work as hard as they expect their players to work--the players will return the favor.


Develop a Successful Program from Scratch

When taking over a new program, it is important to try and develop an identity for your new team that is built upon on some basic qualities of success. Develop a plan of attack and emphasize the qualities that you want your program to be noted for. Here are six keys:

1) Work Ethic - Effort during practices and conditioning sessions is critical for ensuring the attitude and approach needed. You can't control how well you shoot or how well the other team plays, but you can always control how HARD you play!

2) Intelligence - More teams beat themselves rather than being over-matched. Eliminate turnovers, bad shots, and mental mistakes. If you make a mistake, LEARN from it.

3) Physicality - Work hard to be in peak physical condition. Be strong enough that you don't get pushed around, and have enough endurance to last through the end of the game. Dish out more than you take!

4) Cohesion - Players must realize that they are accountable for each other and that their teammates deserve their best effort. It means losing oneself in the group for the good of the group. It means being not just willing, but eager, to sacrifice personal interest or glory for the welfare of all.

5) Class - Players should take no cheap shots or trash talk excessively. Fans, the community, and the student body will respect a team that tries to do the right thing. Be a solid citizen and be reliable in handling obligations. Do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. Administration will be most supportive that way.

6) Consistency - Setting a foundation is only as good as carrying out winning principles on a day-to-day basis. Allow no slippage and do not compromise your principles.


Strength Training

Participating in strength training and conditioning could give you that extra edge to win a championship. Weight training, along with a good flexibility program, will not only help your body resist injury (which is very important during the long season), but will also allow you to be more explosive and gain the strength and stamina necessary for basketball's physical play.

The goal of your strength and conditioning program should be two-fold: 1) prevent injury, and 2) improve athletic ability. Notice that "enhance basketball performance" is not one of the goals listed. This is because basketball performance is just that--basketball performance. In order for an athlete to improve his or her performance, he or she needs to practice the skills required for basketball.

Improving one's strength, speed, endurance, and flexibility will not only set the stage for practice, but it will also aid in preventing injury so that one can make it through the entire season without getting hurt. Sport-specific training should be implemented during practice. Keep in mind that it's not the strength that will improve performance, but rather it is the strength when applied to practice that results in improved performance. Use weight lifting, conditioning, and stretching to enhance athletic ability and prevent injury.


Develop a Plan

Once a coach has evaluated a season and assessed the next team's skills, a sound plan must be developed to head into the crucial off-season. The saying, "Teams are made during the season but players are made during the off-season," is true, to a large extent. While it is important for next year's team to get used to playing together, it is vital that individual skills be practiced as well. For every inch of player improvement, the twelve-member team improves by a foot. Individual skill enhancement must not be neglected in the pursuit of team progress.

Each individual player should have an off-season workout plan. It should coincide with the assessment of their skills and be geared toward improving weaknesses and maintaining (or even enhancing) strengths. Each player should be trying to add something to his game during the off-season. Physical quickness, agility, and strength should also be a part of the program.

As a team, a sound philosophy with clear and consise goals must be developed. The philosophy must complement the players' skills and the goals should be in line with the philosophy, achievable, and also difficult to attain. Some examples:

1) You may not want to play an up-tempo style if your players aren't quick or athletic relative to your opponents.

2) If you have players who are good penetrators, ensure that you have opportunities in your offense to open up driving lanes.

3) A goal to make more free throws than your opponents shoot will be tough to attain if your offense is designed to take advantage of a good-shooting, perimeter-oriented squad. Field goal, rebound, assist, and turnover totals may be higher in a fast-paced game, so don't dwell on totals as much as percentages.

The tenets of your philosophy should be charted out on a calendar so that they are introduced, practiced, and mastered by specific dates. You may want to introduce things slowly and add parts of your offensive and defensive package as the spring, summer, and fall progress. About eighty-to-ninety percent of your total package should be in by the time the season starts; then, you can add a wrinkle or two as the season progresses.

Gauge the progress of your players and do not throw too many things at them. Allow them to master something before going on to another. If they just are not getting it, you may have to adjust and not try to do as much. Remember, it is better to do a few things well than several things average.



Speed and strength are necessary assets in basketball. Speed and strength equal power on the court. Increased power helps a player in jumping, rebounding, defending, and finishing moves around the basket.

Enter: plyometrics. Jumping, bounding, and hopping exercises are used in various situations to enhance basketball performance. This type of exercise describes the method of training that seeks to enhance the explosive reaction of the individual through powerful muscular contractions.


Duties of an Assistant Coach

A good assistant coach is worth his weight in gold. A head coach should surround himself with good people to assist him. Under the direction of the head coach, the assistant coach should assist in all phases of the program, including practice, coaching, program development, academic monitoring of student athletes, participation in summer leagues, practice planning, and maintaining professional expectations.

During the game, the assistant coach needs to talk, talk, talk. He should help players that are on the bench and make adjustments (again, under the head coach's direction) with the players that just came off of the floor. The assistant coach should continue to make observations and offer the head coach suggestions. The hardest thing for the assistant coach is to continue to make suggestions when previous suggestions were not accepted, but that is exactly what he needs to do.


Evaluate Your Basketball Program

The time in between seasons is a good time to reflect on the past year and evaluate your basketball program. Some questions to ask yourself: What worked well for you this year? Why? What wasn't as effective as you had hoped? Do you need to adjust it? Your roster and your opponents will change. Some new rules in your area may be instituted. Is what you are doing suited to the type of players that you have? Are you preparing to play against the "best" teams around?

Always remain open to change. If you find that your philosophy or style is proving increasingly less effective, refusing to adapt will only cause you and your team frustration. Go to clinics, read books, attend other teams' practices, and talk to coaches about different styles and methods. After this research, you may find that your methods need some fine-tuning in order to better fit your present personnel and competition. If you make that discovery, act on it!

Don't change just for the sake of change. "If it isn't broke, don't fix it!" But if you can find a way to "build a better mousetrap," then by all means, go for it!

How should I warm up shooting?

Shoot Your Way Out

When you begin shooting at the start of any session, you should begin close to the basket, and work your way out. Start one step from the basket and shoot with one hand. You can check the position of the ball in your hands, the position of your elbow under the ball, whether you are keeping your eyes on your target, and your follow-through. Then they take one big step backward and repeat, now using their guide hand and legs. They continue to do this all the way back to the free throw line, hitting five straight "nothing but net" shots each time. After you hit five free throws this way, then you are free to begin free shooting. The advantage to this technique is that players get a chance to hit quite a few shots, building confidence, but also developing proper shooting technique.


Quickness and Agility Drills for Basketball

With individual players being stronger and faster than ever before, basketball has become more and more competitive in recent years. Including a complete agility and quickness program into a training program can help a player gain advantage over his competitors.

Quickness and agility are popular terms used to describe an athlete's patterns of movement. Simply defined, quickness describes the athlete's speed, acceleration, reactive ability, and explosiveness. The more players improve limb speed, reaction, and acceleration, the greater the potential to increase their speed will be. Agility is the athlete's ability to change direction suddenly with minimal loss of speed, balance, and body control.

There are several key aspects to consider when developing an agility training program for basketball. A basketball player's quickness and agility program should include drills that emphasize lateral movement, change of direction, and sudden starts and stops (with or without a ball) because these movement patterns are specific to the sport of basketball. By implementing these drills, a basketball player's skill acquisition will inevitably be enhanced.


Scouting Made Simple

The importance of scouting varies from coach to coach and from year to year. While it is obviously very important to do the things that you do well, I'm sure that each coach has determined different aspects of an opponent's game that are important to his preparation. What that coach must do then is develop an approach to compiling and using important information. Over the years, I have found that a thorough, simple, organized method of scouting an opponent can aid in preparing a game plan against that particular team.

Before you play an opponent, it is a good idea to "scout" them and find out how they play. When doing so, some things to look for are:

  • Your future opponents' individual tendencies (identify preferred moves and shooting spots and their main players)
  • Possible match-ups (who on your team will guard who on their team)
  • Team offensive tendencies, including their fast break, early offense, and pressbreak
Important general items to note are:

  • How do they start their offense?
  • Are they patient?
  • Does the offense have any continuity?
  • Do they prefer one side or the other? You probably want to try to diagram some specific plays that were most effective.
You also need to know their defensive tendencies. Will they press? Will they defend you man-to-man or by zone, and, if zone, what kind?

Once a team is scouted effectively, whether you saw the team one, two, or three-or-more times, how you use the information really varies. Some teams go over all of the information in great detail with the players, while others post a summary in the locker room or give each player a copy. I like to leave the players with some very general team concepts and, immediately before the game, hit them with some specific individual tendencies.

Scouting helps determine an effective practice plan in preparing for that team. More importantly, though, I think that it gives the coach some peace of mind in knowing that he has done all that he could do to make sure that his team is the most well-prepared team that it can be.


Off-Season Jump Training

After the regular season ends, it's a good idea to take a couple of weeks off from strenuous practice. Spring is the perfect time to start a rigorous twelve-week training program to increase your strength, quickness, agility, and explosiveness. There are many things that you can do to increase your vertical jump. Some programs are as simple as jump rope, line jumps, or four squares. Others are ball or bench jumps. Some involve more sophisticated equipment, like plyometric boxes, dot drills, and agility ladders. Most of the programs involve one simple thing: JUMPING.

The more times you jump as quickly or as high as possible (with proper mechanics), the better you will get at it. Regardless of what program you use, however, the most important aspect is how HARD YOU WORK to get better!

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Guru Spotlight
Ray Lokar