Why do fake fundamentals persist?

A coach sent a video of a prominent coach starting a camp with his favorite fake fundamentals, and this coach expressed his frustration with the lack of evolution in coaches who are described as among the world’s best. The below is based on my reply.

I have found that coaches take bizarre pride in doing things when they know that players hate them. I am convinced that many feel that it is unfair that players/children today do not face the same struggles as during their childhood, and they intentionally inflict this struggle onto the players who they coach. I suppose it is the coach’s version of “when I was your age, I walked to school uphill both ways”.

I cannot relate because my father’s mission in life was to make sure I did not suffer through the unpleasant things of his childhood and adolescence. He worked to make my life (and my sister’s and mother’s) better and easier. Therefore, I do not understand these coaches who want young players to go through the same crap they did as a rite of passage of some sort.

This is not to suggest that everything about basketball must be easy and fun all the time. We practice defense, have a conditioning test, lift weights and more. Players improve. It is the desire, which I see in many, to make basketball purposefully not fun that I struggle to reconcile.

This attitude starts with the analogies that we use: “We’re going to war”, “boot camp”, “We’re grinding,” etc. Basketball is not war; war is war. Playing a game is not a grind; washing dishes for $6/hour is a grind! Soldiers go through boot camp to prepare for war; one reason is to see if the soldiers will break under extreme mental and physical pressures and exhaustion in order to exclude these soldiers before they get into a war zone and cost lives. I understand that coaches will argue that they want to see which players will break under pressure, but why do we want to exclude players at the developmental levels? Missing a crucial free throw in an u15 AAU game is not life or death. For those who missed it the first time, basketball is not war; it is not life or death.

My initial philosophy boiled down to: Eliminate everything that I hated or thought was irrelevant as a player and do more of the things that players enjoy. I took small steps, as I did not want to stray too far from the good coaches. After I read about former St. John’s University (MN) football coach John Gagliardi, I jumped feet first and eliminated all fake fundamentals.

This should not be revolutionary. Why intentionally do things that you disliked as a player? Some things that players dislike may have value, and part of the coach’s job is to push players beyond their comfort zone. Many drills and exercises could be changed to be more fun and engaging. Why do many coaches feel that is a negative? Fun is not a bad word. It is okay for players to enjoy the experience; that does not make you soft or a bad coach.

The problem with stutter steps 

Originally published in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter, 8.15. Subscribe here.

I attended a college practice, and the team practiced closeouts. Fake Fundamentals explains my philosophy on the traditional closeout. This drill mixed short and long closeouts depending on one’s starting position, and the staff treated them the same. Players ran a few steps and stutter-stepped to close the distance to one arm’s length from the attacker. Because it was a  non-competitive shell drill, nobody gave up an open shot or was beaten on the drive. The closeouts worked!  Read more

Fake Fundamentals in Japan

How to play defense: No Fake Fundamentals

My friend and future NBA coach Jon Giesbrecht put together the above video on Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson’s defense. Many consider Roberson to be the NBA’s best perimeter defender, especially with Kawhi Leonard’s persistent injury problems this season.

As I watched the video, I noticed two things. More specifically, I noticed the absence of two things: (1) stutter-step closeouts; and (2) a low defensive stance. When I played, these were the two most instructed and drilled defensive fundamentals.

At summer camps, we sat in defensive stances, with coaches aiming for our thighs to be parallel with the ground, for several minutes at a time. After sitting in a stance, we progressed to the super-slow zigzag drill staying in this low stance. I see nothing in this video remotely close to the stance that I was taught as a player.

Once we mastered the low stance, we practiced stutter-step closeouts. We were instructed to sprint 2/3 of the way to an attacker and stutter step for the last third. Practically speaking, this is like a 2-3 step sprint followed by stutter stepping. In the video, Roberson sprints to shooters. He does not stutter step or slow down; he sprints until he stops. He stops with a stride stop or a hockey stop within reach or slightly past the shooter.

His angled stop takes away two things: the shot and one driving lane. This is what we emphasize. I do not believe that a defender can take away the shot and the drive on a long closeout, but a defender can take away the shot and one driving lane, or the defender can play far enough from the attacker to take away the drive in either direction. We attempt to take away two out of the three options: the shot, the right-handed drive, and the left-handed drive. Generally, we take away the shot and the strong-hand drive because that requires a closeout to the shooter’s shooting hand, but this is not always possible due to the angle of recovery and the shooter’s handedness.

The low defensive stance and the traditional closeout are two prominent fake fundamentals. I see tweets and articles daily about the lowness of a defensive stance or the importance of stutter-stepping to stay on balance when closing out. At youth and high school levels, when players catch and triple threat before shooting, a defender has time to stutter step and defend the shot. Against good offensive players who think shot first and catch with feet set, defenders do not have this time. They must choose.

Against great shooters, defenders must sprint to the shooter’s body, not stop a few feet from the shooter. In the video below, an NJCAA All-American (potentially the POY) defends one of my players. I imagine that she thought she was well-positioned to defend the shot with her hand at the three-point line, but my player stopped out of range of the defender, but within her shooting range. This is too much space against a great shooter.

This is typical of many closeouts (although it was not a typical closeout situation). The defender slows down and stops short of the shooter with a hand up. This defender defended the drive; she defended two out of the three things: right-hand drive and left-hand drive. However, she did not defend the shot.

Roberson demonstrated how to defend the shot. Does he give up dribble penetration? Yes. Again, one cannot defend all three on a long closeout. Great defenders take away the shot and recover to contest the dribble penetration. This separates Roberson from his peers, but this is a skill that rarely is taught or emphasized because most believe in the traditional slow closeout and low stance. This is the difference between how great defenders defend, and fake fundamentals.

What is skill development?

Recently, I read several articles that suggested that children need more skill development. Of course. It is the same as suggesting that players should play hard or that practice makes you better. These are uncontroversial statements with which almost nobody disagrees. However, nobody defines skill development. It is similar to fundamentals. These are terms that are used frequently and rarely defined because everyone assumes that we know what each other means. What do people mean by skill development? Read more

Indecision with the ball

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.

Read more

Coaching expertise: It depends or an absolute

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Fake fundamentals: Marketing or skill development

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Talking Fake Fundamentals

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Podcast: Talking Fake Fundamentals

The podcast is a longer conversation that I did with Coach Nick of Bball Breakdown about Fake Fundamentals.

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