Is This Ruining Basketball?

At the culmination of my all of my basketball skill development workouts, I always give each basketball player a recap of what we went over and something specific to work on over the next week until I see them again.  Recently, I was explaining to one of my younger basketball players why his jump shooting form was so awkward.  In his efforts to try to reach the rim from the three point line, he would throw his whole body into his jump shot and torque himself out of the proper shooting position.  This bad habit has become semi-permanent in his game and the unorthodox nature of his shooting method causes him to consistently miss jumpshots in multiple directions from behind the three point line and from closer to the rim as well.   This is a habit that has clearly been developed because of his determination to make three point shots despite not being a three point shooter just yet (to his credit, he did make tremendous strides during that workout and was knocking down more mid-range jumpers by the end).  Nonetheless, the determination to make the three ball is shared by young players of all ages and is directly related to the poor jump shooting that seems to plague basketball at all levels.

Jump shooting in general seems to be suffering lately and in order to fix the issue, there needs to be a grass roots movement at the youth levels to do so.  Let’s face it, young players just do not possess the strength to reach the rim from that distance so do not even let them try.  Doing so causes them to develop bad habits that manifest themselves in their individual abilities and consequently affect the overall game itself.  So how do you fix this issue?  Eliminate the three.

Eliminating the three itself is obviously, not that simple (nor will it ever happen), however, eliminating the concept of the three pointer can be.  As you run your drills, specifically your shooting drills only let the players take shots in their range, which for many youth players is no further than a mid-range jumper.  Use, what I call, the Find Your Range Drill to help you as the coach/trainer and the player firm this distance up.  To run the Find Your Range Drill, start three feet from the basket and have the player shoot with proper form. Once they make that shot, they can take a step back and repeat.  Have the player continue to step back until they miss three shots from a specific spot, then the distance of that spot is their range for the duration of the practice or workout.  Be strict with this by also not allowing the player to break from their proper shooting form.  If they do, count it as a miss.  Once a player’s range has been determined, then run your shooting drills while only allowing the player to shoot from their specific range.  This should help the remedy the situation of a player jacking up threes that they cannot make during shooting drills.

Shooting drills are not the only part of a practice though and players should be encouraged to take more shots from within their range during game play as well.  A simple solution to this problem is to make your live play a competitive game and give the players/team more points for two point jump shots and layups.  For example, make a three point shot worth only one point, make a mid-range jumper worth three, and make a layup worth four points.  Doing so will help the players take shots that are within their range but also help them understand the higher value that you as a coach place on getting easier shots.

Good jump shooting has diminished in recent history and it has a direct correlation to the the introduction of the three point line.  Too many young players fall in love with trying to knock down three pointers even though they are not a three point shooter.  Their continued attempts to make three pointers cause them to develop bad shooting habits that further hinder their ability to make shots from any position on the court.  To fix this problem, we as coaches and trainers need to start at the youth level and eliminate the three pointer.  Have players find their range and place more value on shots made from within the arc. The bottom line is, the team that scores the most always wins and if your players are all around poor jump shooters than you can guarantee that your team will not be the one on top in the end.

Little Hinges Swing Big Doors (Redux)

A while back, I wrote the original Little Hinges Swing Big Doors post about how the little things in basketball make a huge difference.  Very similar to how something that is as big as a door can hang and swing from something that is only a fraction of its size, like a hinge.  At the time of the original post I was still coaching high school basketball and the premise was on how my team could fine tune some of the little things that would ultimately make us a tougher team.  Little things like closing out properly, sliding into help position early, reacting on the pivot not the pass, reversing the basketball, etc.  At the team level, these little things make a very big difference in how successful your team can be.  This time around, the focus is on little things from a basketball skill development standpoint that will make a huge difference in your overall individual efficiency and quickness with the basketball.

Basketball players are always looking to become quicker, to gain that small edge over their opponent that will give them the space to be a successful scorer.  Quickness can and should be developed in the weightroom through sports performance training (an array of strength, power, speed, agility, and quickness drills) designed to develop that advantage, and this is absolutely the best way to do so.  However, what if there is a way to become quicker without working on your squats or sprinting?  There is, and it involves making little changes to certain things you do on the basketball court, not in the weight room.

Becoming quicker on the basketball court has a direct relationship with how efficient you are as a player.  Efficiency, in a nut shell, is the proper use of your energy and efforts.  To be an efficient basketball player, you must use your energy in a way that is focused on the specific task.  In other words, eliminate the extras.  With this in mind, line your players up to do their usual pregame layup lines and watch them dribble in and take their layups.  I guarantee that the majority of them will swing the ball across their body to the inside, then back again to the outside before they put the ball up towards the rim for the layup.  This swing is caused by the player bringing the basketball to the off hand and is an unnecessary extra movement that slows the player down.  Not to mention, it puts the ball in a position that is closer to the inside defender and in danger of getting taken.  Bottom line…this is an inefficient use of your energy as a basketball player. So, how do you fix it?  The answer is simple (remember little things, big doors).  In this situation, have the player work on bringing their inside hand (in this case, the left) to the ball as opposed to bringing the ball to the inside hand (the movement that causes the swing) and go right up with it.  As a coach or basketball trainer, stand on their inside near the rim and just pop them on the arm or the ball if they swing it towards you as they approach the rim.  This will help them learn to bring their inside hand to the ball and will make them an efficient and quicker basketball player.

Not swinging the ball to the inside as you near the rim is a little thing that can be done to make a big difference when finishing at the rim, but finishing is only one aspect of being a more effective scorer.  The other component of scoring is the ability to shoot the basketball and everyone wants a good jumper especially one that is quick and efficient.  This week at my skill development workouts, we have been working on shooting off the dribble and I noticed a common pattern amongst many of the players as they shot the basketball.  They all dribbled the ball softly on their last dribble into their jumpshot.  This is a very inefficient action and made each and every one of them much slower jump shooters off the dribble.  As a player, if your last dribble before your jumper is soft, then the basketball will only come up to waste height, at the most.  Consequently, you then have to bring the ball up into your shooting position near your chest prior to shooting the basketball.  This adds a step to shooting off the dribble and makes it into a three step process (the dribble, the raise up, and the shot) when it only needs two steps.  The simple fix for making your pullup jumper into a two step movement is to dribble the basketball hard on you last dribble into your jumper so that the ball bounces right into your shooting position and you can then go right into your jump shot.  By dribbling the ball harder on your last dribble, you have eliminated the wastful step of bringing the ball into your shooting position and made the pullup jumpshot into a two part movement instead of a three part movement.  Eliminating the second step makes you more efficient, it makes you quicker, and all it took was a little bit harder bounce prior to your jump shot.

It’s the little things that make a difference on the basketball court.  Little things can make you a more efficient baskeball player and inadvertantly, a quicker one.  They do not require you to get out and train for quickness (although I highly recommend you do that too) only to make little changes to your game.  Little changes like bringing your off hand to the basketball on your finishes (and even on your jump shot) and bouncing the basketball harder so that the basketball comes up into your shooting position rather than you having to raise it there.  These are little things  that make a big difference in you as a basketball player, just like the little hinges that swing big doors.


Congratulations to Cassie smith of Metuchen High School for scoring her 1000th career point on Friday night, January 19.  I can still remember the first camp of mine that Cassie attended as a fifth grader.  Even at that age, she was willing to put in the hard work necessary to be a great player.  I even remember the father of one of my own 1000 point scorers that I coached in my career commenting on her work ethic and how good her jump shot was at that age.  Cassie has continued to prove that hard work and dedication to the game is the ultimate recipe for success.  Cassie is now a junior in high school and well on her way to achieving her goal of playing college basketball.  Keep up the great work Cassie.

Find out more about Cassie’s career 1000th point here => Cassie Smith Scores 1000

Not to get (A) Technical but…

This week, I was reminiscing with some of my students about the only technical foul I ever had called on me in my 10 year coaching career.  I remember it vividly, as we were playing Cardinal McCarrick high school on Ash Wednesday, a major scheduling glitch for a public school.  If you thought public schools were behind the eight ball and got no calls against Catholic schools on regular days of the year, try playing one on one of the holiest days in the Catholic faith.  The refereeing bias was exponentially multiplied and a clear contribution to this lame technical foul that I picked up for nothing good (unfortunately).

It all began as a player from the other team hit a deep jumper from the corner and his foot was on the three point line.  I know this because my coaching box was five feet away from where he took the shot from and I saw it clear as day.  The referee who was standing on the baseline, also about five feet away, did not signal for a three point shot either as it was the referee that was at half court on the complete opposite side of the court that put both hands in the air signaling a three pointer.  Clearly this referee saw it as a three pointer depite being roughly 35 feet away and having to look through nine other players on the court.  His superman-like vision was uncanny yet absolutely wrong in this situation.  I let him know ther error of his ways however, my vocal aggravation at this point was not what earned me the technical.  On the very next play, my best player, a career 1500 point scorer, got poked in the eye and had to come out of the game due to the stoppage of play.  He got checked out and I immediately went to insert him back into the game, but at the sound of the horn, the ref told him to go sit back down because his shirt was not tucked in.  So despite the fact that three out of the five Cardinal McCarrick players on the court had their shirts untucked, my guy had to sit back down until the next stoppage of play (which was, of course, an eternal two minutes).  Like I said, never play a Catholic school on Ash Wednesday.  At this point, I had had enough of this nonsense and  I let the referee have it, throwing my hands up in disgust and yelling, “I still don’t know how the hell you called that a three pointer.”  The whistle blew, the referee’s hands came up in the shape of a T and I was banged for my first and only technical foul in my career.  The worst part of this was that I was forced to sit for the rest of the game (a stupid rule that I struggled immensely with).  Like any good Catholic, I begged (the ref) for forgiveness, merely so I could stand up and coach, but there was no way I could Hail Mary my way out of this one.  I was doomed and relegated to a sedentary remainder of the game.

I know I usually write about the nuances of basketball skill development and sports performance training but having ruminated over this very topic this week, I thought it migh be a fun story to share with you all.  Overall, I never felt the need to be demonstrative towards the referees or try to work them over.  As a coach, I was honestly more concerned with getting my team to do what they needed to do on the court in order to be successful.  Perhaps this is a valuable lessson for coaches and players who get caught up in these extra curriculars and let in affect their game.  Just go out and do what you need to do in order to be successful and the referees will work themselves out…I hope.

By the way, we lost the game that night, due to the run that McCarrick put on us over the five minute transgression I described.  It happens, and you live and you learn.  No more techs for me and more importantly no more games against Catholic schools on Ash Wednesday for the remainder of my coaching career.

Why Some Players are Better Than Others

The answer to this title can be no real secret if you look at it in its simplest form.  Honestly, some players are better than others because they are more skilled and that is a fact.  However, at the higher levels this is not entirely the case, and if we really delve into this topically deeply enough, we will find that there is much more to one player being better than another when the basketball skills are on an even playing field at some of the advanced or elite levels.

In regards to this matter, I recently had an interesting conversation with an old college friend of mine who played Division 1 basketball and then professionally for the Boston Celtics and in Europe.  We were talking about a number of topics regarding basketball skill development and he began telling me about his oldest son who is a nationally ranked eighth grader.  He said how people come up to him and tell him how good his son is and his response is always the same, “No he’s not.”  I was a little surprised to hear this (because, he’s really skilled) but then he elaborated.  He explained to me that his son has some skills, but that he happens to be in much better shape than the majority of his competition so therefore can outlast and outperform them on the basketball court.  Therein lies the answer and to borrow a phrase from Alan Stein, “the best players are in the best shape.

Basketball players who are in great physical shape hold two advantages over their opposition who is not:

  1. They can physically outperform their opponents because they are stronger, quicker, more powerful and more agile.
  2. They can mentally outperform their opponents because they have great stamina and therefore do not commit the mistakes that are related to being tired.

These two advantages can go a long way for a player on the basketball court and it is one of the main reasons why a well designed sports performance program is essential to the development of basketball players who are looking to elevate their game.  A sports performance program designed for basketball players will increase the players strength, power, speed, agility, and conditioning all while improving flexibility and preventing injury.  This type of program is a necessity for any player looking to elevate their game.  Being physically stronger than your opponent will allow you to body them up and make them feel uncomfortable.  Being more powerful will allow you to outjump them on not only the first jump, but the second, and third jumps that happen so often.  Being quicker than your opponent will give you that first step explosion you so desire and allow you to create space in order to get cleaner looks at the basket.  Being more agile will allow you to change directions without having to slow down with or without the basketball.  This will make you a matchup nighmare when handling the basketball and when having to guard a player defensively.  Finally, being well conditioned will ensure that you are mentally in the game from the first whistle to the last.  Mistakes like dribbling the ball out of bounds, making an errant pass, or missing free throws late in the game would occur less frequently and lead to more victories.

If victories, both personal and team, are what you seek then do yourself a favor and starting training for it.  This should include a basketball skill development program but also a sports performance program that relates to basketball.  Make improving your athleticism and physical conditioning your goal this year because, as Alan Stein says, “the best players are in the best shape,” and you need to ensure that you are one of them.

Elevate your game.  Become Elite.

Rich Stoner

Ps. if you are interested in getting yourself in the best basketball shape, contact me immediately about me Elite Sports Performance programs.