This past Saturday, as I was working with one of my highly talented young basketball players one common issue kept coming up; he simply was not protecting the basketball as he made his move around a defender. During a drill that was designed to teach the players a very simple yet affective ball handling skill, hesitation, I noticed that he was not protecting the basketball as he made his move. I was actually able to reach in and knock the ball from him easily and consistently. The reason…he was doing nothing with his guard arm (the arm without the basketball). Then, on Monday as I was working with a young fourth grade team I noticed something similar. As the players were running through a full court ball handling drill I was watching their arm without the basketball and it was flying around behind them, again, not protecting the basketball. I immediately addressed the issue with them and they responded. Finally, yesterday as I worked with a talented high school basketball player during his skill development workout, I was, once again, able to reach in and take the ball from him multiple times. There was, however, a slight difference with this player. He did have his guard arm up to protect the ball, but he just was not using it properly. It was up, but it certainly was not active.
The common theme, obviously, was that none of these players were protecting the basketball. With this in mind, I felt that is was necessary to give you some tips on how to solve what seems like a common problem of protecting the basketball. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why this was and is the case, but it is clear that it is a problem. So, how do we solve it? First and foremost, it needs to be addressed. Ask yourself, as a coach, trainer, or player, how many times you have addressed this aspect of skill development. I’m just wagering a guess here, but, “not too often” is probably your answer. Let the players know about keeping their guard arm up to protect the basketball. Tell them that it needs to be active, especially when defenders are around. Use that guard arm to swipe away a defender’s active hands as they reach in. Use it to present a first line of protection from the defender before your body comes into play. Bottom line, is that first they need to know that they need to use that arm to protect the ball and they need to know often.
As far as drills that address this issue, I really like any of the tennis ball toss and catch drill variations. Whether doing this on your own or with a partner, this drill forces the player to get their guard arm up and to have it be active. The tennis ball toss and catch drill is quite simple. In a stationary position pound the basketball with one hand while tossing and catching the tennis ball with the other. Then add moves like the crossover to the drill by tossing the tennis ball, making the move, and catching the tennis ball with the other hand. It is important to note that the tennis ball should be tossed with your palm facing up and caught with your palm facing down. The palm being down should simulate how you would use your guard arm against a defender and therefore is the proper way of doing this drill. This drill also helps to quicken your handle (as long as you do not toss the tennis ball too high) especially when you start adding double moves. It should also be noted that this drill can be done on the move to make it even more game like.
In the video below you can view a similar drill being done between two and three players. Instead of a tennis ball, they are using a four pound medicine ball. Nonetheless, the concepts are the same. This drill can also be done without a partner by tossing the tennis ball against the wall and catching it on its return.
Protecting the basketball is an important skill that is often overlooked and therefore seems to be a common problem. In order to solve this problem, coaches need to constantly address the issue informing players that their guard arm should be up and active. Finally, the tennis ball toss and catch drill along with its many variations is an excellent drill to use that will help players focus on keep that off arm up and active. Ultimately, protecting the basketball is an issue that seems all too common and absolutely needs to be worked on.
Is this problem a common one with your basketball players? If so, let me know and let me know some of the drills that you use be responding in the comments section below.
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See you on the court.
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