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Coaches Corner

Coaches Corner: Two-Player Drills & A Positive Environment

  • Date:
    Dec 24, 2019

Carla Berube (Princeton University)
What are some good two-player drills - for defense and for offense?
I think one of the best things young players can do is play one-on-one. It works on so many aspects of defense and offense. Defensively it works on contesting the shot, containing the drive, playing with your hands off, staying down on shot fakes and ending the play with a box out. On offense, you can work on your go-by moves. This can be a jab, or shot fake, or taking the shot if your defender’s hands are down. It works on different finishes around the rim or pull-up jumpers. It’s a way to put to work the aspects of your game that you’ve been working on individually. This is important before you take it to a five-on-five setting. Always try to play someone that is better than you are.

How do you ensure the gym is a positive environment for all of your team members and staff?
I think it’s important that each of our team and staff members get to know each and every one of their teammates and staff. This is how you develop trust and open lines of communication among the whole program. Team chemistry should be cultivated both on and off the court. We use team building activities off the court that pair teammates who aren’t naturally as close, competitive games on the court that foster support for each other, etc. We also think a loud gym is a championship gym. We want our players to constantly be clapping and cheering for each other. It brings energy to the practice and breeds a positive environment. You see it on our bench during games. I want to have that same trust with my staff – I want them to have a strong and unrestricted voice at practice. I want them to feel empowered to say what’s on their mind so that the whole team trusts them and in turn, we get better as a team.

Matt King (Arizona Basketball Coaches Association & CCV Stars Youth Sports)
What are some good two-player drills - for defense and for offense?
There are many drills, it is important to note though that understanding the ‘why’ behind the drill. Where it fits into the teaching progression is as important as the drill itself. For instance, choosing a two player drill such as two-on-two live play is a simple drill that can be done in a variety of situations and might be the best drill out there for both offense and defense. The important thing is taking a drill like that and first identifying what skill you are trying to work on. Let’s say it is creating a lead to get open and proper footwork and ballhandling on a side pick and roll. To accomplish this, we would start with simply working on the skill desired with minimal contact by the defender. This could be as easy as offense and defense on one side of the floor, a proper technique being repeated by the offensive player at a speed at which they can stay balanced, with a defender who provides some initial resistance. Once the technique is understood and repeated by the offensive player then we would ‘load’ the drill with the next stage in the teaching progression. That would look like adding the second offensive and defensive player, and teaching the proper angle on the side pick-and-roll for the screener, and the ballhandler ‘creating an act’ to set up the defender, before the screener gets set. Lastly, we would go live two-on-two while only using one side of the floor, so that we can create manufactured help on the backside. We would make it a competitive game to three points, but the ball would be turned over if the skills we had just worked on were not being done proficiently. The progression with a simple two-on-two drill could be appropriate for an ‘advanced’ and ‘performance’ player. We could also use that simple two-on-two drill and make it appropriate for an ‘introductory’ and ‘foundational’ player simply by focusing the drill on footwork/balance and ballhandling, which is appropriate for players at those levels in the Development Model. You could use the same drill with any team at any level.

The important thing when picking drills is making sure the skills being worked on drive the drill being used. At the end of the day, the goal is not to perfect the drill, but to progress in the skill that is being worked on. My advice is less time on drills, more time understanding, teaching and repeating skills that can be done properly against strength, length and in unrehearsed situations that require the player to make a quick decision.

How do you ensure the gym is a positive environment for all of your team members and staff?
I think there are three ways to ensure the gym is a positive environment for team members and staff. First, the head coach and the best player must set the tone on a daily basis.  The head coach and best player usually will get back what they model first. Most head coaches want what they are not willing to do, and that is a lack of leadership. There is no one else to blame for it other than the one who is in charge. Also, the best player has a unique responsibility, because he or she is the one in the gym everyone is looking at. When your best player is your most positive, hardest working and most selfless, that is contagious. Unfortunately, when they are not, that also is contagious. Secondly, I think there are some habits that just naturally allow environments to be more positive than others. Habits like smiling, speaking to each other respectfully, everyone doing their job and feeling like you have a sense of ownership are all things that are going to contribute to a much more positive environment, whether it is in the gym, at work or in the classroom. Too many times we assume these types of habits are defaults in everyone, and they are not. They have to be worked on, held accountable and demanded by the leaders of the program. Lastly, to ensure a positive environment you must have a proper mindset. You CANNOT have a consistent positive environment with a fixed mindset. You will ride the roller coaster of your performance. To ensure a positive mindset, you must have a growth mindset. A mindset that sees the value of both the win and the loss and knows that both of them are a part of the journey to get better. So, if you are a head coach and want a positive environment: model it, create and develop habits and have the right mindset. Being consistently positive is hard to do, but it is worth the effort.

Kara Lawson (Boston Celtics)
What are some good two-player drills - for defense and for offense?
For 3x3, we spend a lot of time working on our ball-screen offense and defense. Our team is comprised of four players. Unless we have a scrimmage group, any live action comes in the two-on-two format. Deciding how we want to play the ball screens and then drilling it is very important for our success. We don’t have weak side help in our game, so our details have to be exceptional in order to keep the offense from scoring.

We teach a concept. Then, have each set of players go at each other live for a predetermined number of possessions and keep score. Always keep score! We do a lot of one-on-one as well to talk about how we need to defend. It also allows me to put the players in the proper matchups by observing where their strengths and weaknesses are defensively.

How do you ensure the gym is a positive environment for all of your team members and staff?
Good communication – by making sure that all players and staff have a clear understanding of what the expectations are. I think player input is valuable no matter level you are coaching. I involve the players in decision making, because they have to be great decision makers on the court as well. Also, spending time individually with each players allows for a better relationship.

DeLisha Milton-Jones (Syracuse University)
What are some good two-player drills - for defense and for offense?
Anything I do in practice is built on the foundation of efficiency. All drills should combine as many aspects of the game as possible within my practice setting.

Two-on-Two full court:
- Works on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Emphasizes communication for both teams as well as aggressive play from both sides without being out of control.
- Turn the ball handler as many times as possible without fouling. Make her pick up her dribble or slow her progression up the court.
- Your teammate should always be in position to help if you get driven by, while also playing up the line on her man to deny any easy passes to advance the ball.
- Constant communication
- Constant low defensive stance with hands active and feet moving
- Attack with eyes up and low stance. Try to find angles to blow by your defender or advance the ball with a pass
- Use change of speed to keep defenders off balance
- Communicate with your teammate to either clear out, set a screen, dribble hand off, etc.

Initially I will give them a certain amount of time to get the ball down the court to score. For example, if it’s transition I’m emphasizing, I’ll give them eight seconds to score once they’ve inbounded or rebounded the ball. If it’s half court, I’ll give them 15 seconds and will stipulate they have a certain amount of dribbles (0-3), or if they can make on ball screens for one another. I will even mandate post ups for post touches to initiate scoring out of that as well.

You can do the drill for a time goal (6-10 minutes) or for a score goal (10 points normal scoring or 5 points with everything counting as 1 point).

How do you ensure the gym is a positive environment for all of your team members and staff?
I ensure a positive environment for staff and players by emphasizing ENERGY and passion for what you’re doing by showcasing it in your efforts physically and emotionally. We value encouragement of EVERYTHING. WE CELEBRATE THE SMALLEST VICTORIES OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS (diving for a loose ball, taking a charge, shooting open shots, good offensive possessions, good defensive possessions, hustle plays, great communication, etc.) I like for the environment to electrically charged at all times.

Brian Robinson (Bishop McGuinness High School, NC)
What are some good two-player drills - for defense and for offense?
We do a drill called ‘Jump To The Ball.’  It's a dual drill, meaning it works on our offense and defense. Player A is on defense but starts with the ball under the basket.  Player B is at the top of the key waiting on a pass from Player A. Player A passes to B and then closes out. Player B passes the ball to a manager/coach on the wing, and then cuts straight to the basket. Player A jumps in the direction of the ball (towards the manager/coach) to be between the ball and man. Then turns their head to defend the cutter down the lane. Player B then goes to the opposite short corner, while Player A opens up in the lane to see ball and man. Player B then tries to cut to the ballside elbow/high post, and Player A has to defend that cut, making sure that B doesn't cross their face. Player B then cuts to the ballside short corner and Player A denies them the ball. The manager/coach then takes a shot, and Player A has to box out and rebound to finish the play. The words used for the defender in the drill are: jump, turn, open, help, bump, deny, shot and box.

How do you ensure the gym is a positive environment for all of your team members and staff?
Making sure the gym is a positive environment starts with warming up in practice. Players are not to warm-up/shoot-around at the same basket with the same people (i.e. ‘friends’) every day. Moving around to different baskets and shooting with different people discourages cliques from forming and encourages teammates to get to know each other. During practice, each coach is given a responsibility to run a drill, so that they are involved and have a voice. Teams are not broken up into ‘starters’ and ‘subs,’ because mixing players up keeps everyone on their toes, allows for teammates to gain confidence in each other and no one thinks that they are better or lesser by the color of jersey they are wearing. When everyone is pulling in the same direction and thinks their role is just as important as another, it makes team chemistry better and creates leadership opportunities. Then at the end of practice, we all stand around the circle at half court. No one is allowed to step in the circle until the coaches are finished talking. The circle represents an unbroken chain, and there is no spot around that circle that is more important than another. Little things like that have helped keep a positive environment in our practices for everyone.

Heather Stewart (Christopher High School, CA)
What are some good two-player drills - for defense and for offense?
One-on-one full court is a great drill that can assist both offensive and defensive development and conditioning. In the back court, players are kept within specific lane lines, then at half court may use the entire court. Defense is given goals on how many times they must turn their player in the back court, they often learn recovery footwork and angles in beating players to the basket versus fouling 25 feet from the basket. Offense works on ball handling and the coach can set dribble parameters after half court (i.e. four dribble max, must finish on the left, must finish in the paint, etc.) Establish good matchups prior to practice and partner them for this drill.

How do you ensure the gym is a positive environment for all of your team members and staff?
Ultimately, kids want to improve and be recognized for their efforts. In order to create an environment where athletes can grow their game and skillsets, they have to be allowed (and encouraged) to fail. By this, I mean that we as coaches can’t get upset when they make mistakes. When asked to reach beyond their comfort zone to try new things, often athletes choose not to for fear of failure, which they correlate with getting yelled at, subbed out, disappointing teammates, coaches or parents. It’s important to give kids that growth climate, where they feel safe in the gym while they go through those growing pains of development. If we as coaches can focus a bit more on the ‘correct reps’ by celebrating small victories of growth, that would help. Additionally, if we try not to point out the ‘obvious negative,’ for example, ‘That’s a terrible pass,’ and teach in that moment with, ‘Release that sooner on the next one,’ or ‘Try a bounce pass in that situation,’ we aren’t piling on the weight of their error. (I promise they already know they messed up.) This is where athletes grow the most, and our roles as teachers of the game and life lessons thrive. As a head coach, it’s also important that my staff knows they are supported, have a voice and are appreciated. Find ways daily to shout out your coaches and mentor them in their roles.

Ras Vanderloo (Sioux City East High School, IA)
What are some good two-player drills - for defense and for offense?
I think a good two-player drill that emphasizes both offense and defense is one-on-one full-court.

It’s a drill in which there are no excuses. The offensive player is trying to score on the defensive player, and the defensive player is trying to stop the offensive player. The drill takes hard work, skill, imagination and effort on both sides to succeed. One of the main take-a-ways of this drill is that the player is using the skills they have been taught in order get better.

How do you ensure the gym is a positive environment for all of your team members and staff?
I think in order for your gym to be a positive environment for all your team members and staff, it must start at the top. The head coach must give off a positive vibe, so that it translates to everyone else in the gym every day at practice to ensure the most productivity. When your head coach and best player show up every day with a great attitude and ready to work, the team’s chances for success are high. We all have been in places where the environment is negative, and the amount of work that gets done that day is very minimal.  A positive environment will beat a negative environment EVERYDAY!


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