Indecision with the ball

by on November 19, 2015
in Practice Design

A friend sent me an email with the following drill:

How to develop an explosive dribble

Only allow one dribble to get to the hoop after grabbing the ball off the chair to develop an explosive, fast first step.

Why use it

Too often players look indecisive with the ball in a game – give them a lot of first–step repetitions in practice so they are better prepared to attack in game situations.

Set up

Place a chair near the 3–point line at the top of the key. Place a ball on the chair facing the player. The player is in a basketball position with knees bent and hands ready to grab the ball.

How to play

Snatch the ball off the chair and attack the basket. The player is allowed one dribble. If the dribble isn’t explosive enough, then the player isn’t close enough to the basket to shoot the layup.

When the dribble is explosive, the player plants off the left foot and surges toward the hoop completing a power layup.


Players quickly learn they must explode with the only dribble they are allowed or be forced to shoot 10 feet from the basket. Institute a penalty for a missed shot, which makes getting to the basket and creating a higher percentage shot all more worthwhile.

Drills such as this one are the reason that I wrote Fake Fundamentals. The coach obviously believes in this drill, and by the look of the diagrams included, it appeared to be a drill circulating through email newsletters or websites. Parents see the drill, and it looks organized and appears to practice an important skill: Driving to the basket.

The instruction says to use the drill because players are indecisive in games and need more repetitions. That is not entirely false; if players are indecisive in games, more repetitions in those situations that cause indecision may help to alleviate the indecision. Of course, there is also a very real possibility that the coach causes the indecision with conflicting messages: For instance, practicing a drill like this, but following it with 5v0 offense where the player holds the ball rather than driving. In a game, does he drive or run the play? How should he make the decision? I don’t know, and he probably doesn’t know either because he’s practiced primarily in unopposed situations.

The indecision that the coach attempts to correct likely has more to do with the presence of a defender than a lack of repetitions in a 1v0 drill. The chair provides no information; the player is told to penetrate every time in the drill, so there is no decision-making. There is nothing to make the player indecisive in the drill because the instructions are explicit. Pick up the ball and go to the basket using only one dribble. There is no room in the instructions for any debate, thinking, alternatives, etc.

Is the situation in the game the same? Of course not, as chairs are not allowed on the court during a game. Beyond the ridiculousness of the chair, is the situation the same? When the player receives a pass, are the instructions explicit? Is he told to do one thing and one thing only? Is he told to drive to the basket with one dribble?

Funny story, but when I coached a women’s team in Europe, I gave those instructions to my 17-year-old defensive stopper. She had worked from being a non-player in the previous season to earning playing time because of her defense, but teams did not guard her because she was a poor shooter. I told her that on the first possession that she received a pass, she had to drive as hard as she could to the front of the rim. Every game: First time that she caught a pass. Why? Because I wanted to establish her as a threat so that the defense would have to devote some attention to her and could not double-team my best player. I did not care if she traveled, was called for a charge, drew a foul, scored, etc. It did not matter. It was one possession that was potentially wasted simply to convince the other team that they had to guard her or she was going to drive to the basket.

Maybe the coach tells these players that every time they receive a pass, they have one dribble to get to the basket. Of course, which direction do they drive? Does it matter where their defenders are? What if their defenders move, unlike the chair? Maybe these questions have something to do with their indecision, because they are not practicing in a situation that presents these questions. In practice, the instructions are explicit. In games, the decision is ambiguous. How do they learn to play in these ambiguous situations when they only practice in a simple drill with explicit instructions?

Beyond the chair and lack of opposed practice, why punish the players when they are unable to make the shot? Players make mistakes for three reasons: lack of skill, lack of understanding, and lack of effort. Which one deserves a punishment? Should players be punished because they aren’t good enough? Isn’t that why they come to practice? To improve their skills? While they’re doing the punishment, are they improving the skill that they were unable to do?

There are other problems with the instructions. For example, I wold never refer to a layup shot off one foot a “power layup.” Second, it appears that they are only practicing in one direction if they plan to shoot layups off of their left foot every time. What about the other direction? What about their left hands? I suppose this limits their indecision in games if they are only able to drive in one direction, but it probably makes them easy to defend too.

I do not see anything about this drill that will help with indecision (again, unless the instructions in a game are to drive right on every catch), but that is the stated objective (the WHY) of the drill.

When creating a drill, coaches must think more deeply about the drill to insure that it actually accomplishes its purpose. Otherwise, you’re wasting time with fake fundamentals.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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