The Myth of the Talented Basketball Player

There is a gross misunderstanding of talent in basketball. I read articles that suggest that the coaches of the uber-talented must “let them play” or that the uber-talented cannot fit into a style other than a stereotypical AAU game. Is a player talented if he excels only in 3v2 fast-breaks, isolations, or catch and dunk lobs? Read more

Game Awareness and Ball Handling

As I watched a group do a simple ball-handling game, I realized an unintended consequence. Because of space constraints, I played one big game rather than several small games, and used multiple balls to increase the activity. When I added the third ball, things really got interesting. The third ball (with 15 players) really forced all the players to be aware of their surroundings. Players turned their backs, lost sight of one of the ball handlers and suddenly were tagged without ever seeing the player who tagged him. With younger players, and more players, the drill worked even better. Read more

3v3 Leagues Offer the Best Developmental Environment

When looking at the best players in middle school, high school and college, what skills separate the players? If we eliminate physical attributes like height which we cannot control, and adjust for athletic skills beyond the purview of most coaches like strength, agility and quickness, what technical and tactical skills separate the best players from the average players? If I could condense the ideas into one phrase, I would say that finishing plays separate the best from the average: the best players make better decisions and more shots inside the scoring zone than average players who miss open teammates or take more contested shots.

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Teaching the Overlooked Skills

An ESPN ScortsCenter’s top play last night was this goal by FC Bayern’s Thomas Mueller’s goal:

Watch the goal again. Everyone notices the skill of the shot. It is an amazing strike with an incredible degree of difficulty.

However, the goal is only possible because of what Mueller does before beginning his strike while the ball is loose in the box. Rather than run wildly toward the ball or stand and watch, when the ball deflects toward the edge of the box, he quickly backs up into space and prepares his body. When his teammate heads down the ball in his direction, his feet are set and he has space to strike the ball.

While the strike is exceptional, players often practice this skill, just as basketball players practice different shots. However, few people practice moving into the right area to be a bigger threat. In basketball, most movement instructions starts and stops with the movement of specific plays. Therefore, players only learn this type of movement through experience, if they learn it at all.

On the other hand, at the end of the third game of the WNBA Finals, Angel McCoughtry missed a three-pointer. One of the Miller twins rebounded the ball. After she rebounded the ball, the other Miller twin back-pedaled to the three-point line; she received the pass as she moved backward, never set her feet and missed, ending the series. When you need a three-pointer to tie, why stand inside the three-point line? If she had recognized that her sister was close to the rebound a split-second earlier, much like Mueller starting to move before his teammate received the ball, maybe her feet are set when she receives the pass and she makes the shot.

This skill – this awareness – is common to elite players. If our goal is to develop better, more aware players, we need to find ways to cue players so that they move subtly into more dangerous positions, regardless of the play.

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

Zone Defense and Player Development

Many coaches feel that youth teams should not be allowed to play zone defense. They believe that man-to-man defense increases player development. The perception is that zones are lazy.

It is true that zones can take advantage of young players’ lack of strength to shoot three-pointers and throw skip passes. However, for players this young, I advocate 3v3 play, rather than full-court 5v5 games.

As for player development, I do not understand the dislike of zones. I do not spend a lot of time with help defense and rotations with my high school team. Instead, I use general directions: no shots close to the basket and no wide open, catch-and-shoot three-pointers.

However, as I played in a 4v4 men’s league tonight (and played zone because one of our players was sore from painting his house all day), I realized that any team that can play a four-man zone understands help defense and rotations. As we talked about the game afterward, we were surprised at how well we rotated and covered for each other. We played with awareness and talked on defense.

If players practice in 4v4 or 5v4 situations, and play zone defense, they practice the same type of defensive rotations required to play great team defense. They develop help-defense skills and learn to help and rotate in a live situation rather than memorizing certain rotations in a shell drill and trying to apply those lessons to a game situation.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching,
Playmakers Basketball Development League

  • What Is A Playmaker?

    Who decided that a point guard has to be small? More importantly, what is a point guard? We expect a point guard to be a leader and have a high basketball I.Q. Why don’t we expect or challenge all players to develop this game awareness? Why rely on only one player? Read more →
  • The PBDL Concept

    English soccer academies wait until players are 11 to play full 11v11 soccer; in Italy, youth basketball players participate in skill-oriented clinics at 6-years-old, but start competitive games at 12. In the United States, kids play 5v5 full court games and compete for national championships when they are 8-years-old.

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  • Starting A PBDL

    The PBDL emphasizes learning and development. Presently, players and parents have numerous recreation options - leagues based on fun and equal participation, typically for beginners - and numerous competitive opportunities - teams focused on strategy, game preparation and winning. There are few true development leagues - until now.

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