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Eric Flannery

Coaches Corner: Favorite Drills

  • Date:
    Jan 7, 2020

This content originally was posted in February 2015.

Every basketball coach has his or her own routine when it comes to practice – how they like to warm up, teach plays, scrimmage, etc. Of course, specialized drills are a big part of the routine. See some of the favorite drills of eight USA Basketball coaches below.

What’s your favorite practice drill and why?

Mike Jones, head coach, DeMatha High School (Md.)
We do a series of drills at the start of each practice that we call 'Perfection.' It consists of drills based in fundamentals, consisting of full court right- and left-handed layups, pass ahead and mid-range jump shots on the fast break, 3-man weave, and a competitive fast break layup drill with passes. Each drill is timed and has a goal number of baskets the players must make. 

It gives me a clear indication at the start of each practice as to how focused my team is and also gets their focus and competitive spirit going. I think it really sets the tone for us.

Eric Flannery, head coach, St. Edward High School (Ohio)
The drills I enjoy most are the ones that are competitive, keep score, or stress what you want as a coach.

However, the one I enjoy most is the 'War Drill.' This drill puts an emphasis on rebounding and being aggressive both offensively and defensively.

You start with five offensive players outside the 3-point line and five defensive players inside the key. The coach shoots the ball from anywhere on the floor, the players then have to rebound. If the defense gets the rebound you play live action, and they head to the other side of the floor and become the offense, and you let them play a full possession. If the offense gets the rebound, they get one point, and they continue to play that possession, but then you stop after they score or the defense gets the rebound. You reset the drill with the same offense and the same defense. The only way you can score is by getting an offensive rebound or scoring during the action. There are no points for defensive rebounding. 

You also can add what we call a 'Rambo' player to the drill. This player is designated by the coach, and if he gets an offensive rebound it is worth five points. This emphasizes focusing on a great rebounder and/or inspiring one of your weaker rebounders to focus on doing a better job. 

The drill can be timed, which is what I prefer, or you can play up to a certain score.

VIDEO: Classic Mikan Drill

Cory Alexander, Current Basketball Announcer and USA Assistant Coach at the 2013 & 2014 Nike Hoop Summit
My favorite practice drill is the 'Shell Drill,' because it allows you to work on so many different aspects of the game, yet is the core of how your team should operate on the defensive end. Also, the drill can be used at a slower pace for teaching, and can be ramped all the way up to an extremely competitive drill. As a player, competing in the shell drill actually made defense fun, and as a coach it gives you so many opportunities to instruct your players in a controlled environment.

Don Showalter, USA Basketball Youth & Sport Development Coach Director
Cut Throat is a four-on-four, very intense and fast drill that has three rules in order for the team to stay on offense:

  • Must square up on each catch – This is the triple threat position with the ball on the hip and the shooting foot ahead. If the defense is playing very tight, an attempt to square up is accepted.
  • Must move after a pass – A cut to the basket, screen away or screen on the ball is acceptable, but players cannot just stand.
  • Must thank the passer on a made basket – If the coach passes the ball, he must be thanked.

You can add other rules, such as a two-dribble limit, that all players must touch the ball, that players cannot shoot until a ball screen occurs, or any other rule you would like to implement.

If a rule is broken, that team is whistled off the court by the coach, the defensive team goes to the offense, and the new team comes in on the defense.

Play for a period of time – four minutes is good -- or a certain number of points.

Brian Robinson, head coach, Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School (N.C.)
My favorite practice drill is called 'Jump-to-the-ball.' The drill sets the tone for half-court defense. It is a one-on-one drill which involves jumping to the direction of the pass, denying the cut to the basket, opening up to be in a help position, bumping the offensive player flashing to the high post, denying a cut to the short corner, and then finishing with a box out and rebound.

The drill requires the defensive player to make contact first, seeing the ball and the offensive person at all times, and finishing the play with the defensive rebound while the players who are waiting to get in the drill are yelling out the words: Jump, Turn, Open, Help, Bump, Deny, Shot, Box as each action takes place.

Sue Phillips, head coach, Archbishop Mitty High School (Calif.) 
You are what you emphasize! Each drill should have an emphasis that is clearly communicated to the team. 'Rebound & Run' is one of my favorite practice drills, because it emphasizes the fundamentals of rebounding, transition offense, two-on-one and disadvantaged defense. It reinforces the concept that our transition game must begin with a stop, or in this case a defensive board.

Five players on the floor at a time: three on offense and two on defense. A shooter starts by flipping the ball to herself/himself for a shot (slightly above the free throw line). Two players on offense at mid-post are being defended by one player at the low block. The offense is expected to crash the offensive glass with a 'swim' or 'spin' move. The defense is expected to box out. We preach 'first contact wins.'

Both teams play the shot as a miss, even if it goes through the hoop. If the offensive team gets the 'O' boardl then they play two-on-two until the defense secures the 'D' board.

When the defense gets the redound, those two players push the ball up the court against one defender (the original shooter). It becomes a two-on-one drill. We want the offense to score in one or fewer passes, and we want the lone defender to get a stop, or at the very least force at least two passes.

Those two players who were crashing the 'O' boards now become the two defenders, and three other teammates step on to continue the drill.

To make the drill competitive, we make teams and keep score. The scoring is as follows: one point for the made shot around the free throw line; two points for each 'O' board; one point for the 'D' board; two points for the disadvantage stop; and the field goals of 2's and 3's are scored accordingly. We typically do the drill for five minutes and switch 'O' and 'D' on each end of the floor. The non-winning team has to do push-ups or planks.

VIDEO: Team Defense Scramble Cut Drill

Sharman White, head coach, Pace Academy (Ga.) 
My favorite drill is a five-on-four defensive disadvantage drill. In this drill, we have a team of four players who have to defend five offensive players in a live setting for various time limits. Generally, we set the time limit for 1 1/2 minutes, and we challenge the defensive group to get as many stops as they can in that time frame. We do not limit the offense in what they can do and encourage them to run sets that involve a lot of player movement and ball movement, so that it will test the defensive group on critical defensive tenets such as communication, help defense and defensive rotations. Being able to get multiple stops in a situation like this sharpens our defense and allows us to be even better during a game with the addition of an extra defensive player. After the time frame has elapsed, we rotate in a new four-man defensive unit each time, until every member has played in the disadvantage. This drill does wonders on both sides of the ball, but it sets a stage for application of defensive fundamentals and technique. Our players really compete and rank this drill at the top as far as their favorites go.


Ask your questions on Twitter using @USABYouth and #CoachesCorner

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