Surviving Your Second Year as a Basketball Coach

by Ed Riley with contributions from Steve Jordan, Darrell Garrison and Steve MacKinney. Click on the author's name to send an email message.


by Ashley (Crash) Riley

Hi! I have been playing basketball since fourth grade, and just started ninth grade two days ago. So why am I writing this forward for my dad? Because he asked me to write about what I've seen from a youth player's point of view. I didn't want to do it, but he bribed me. I now have a CD burner in my bedroom, and you coaches have to listen to a fourteen year old girl because of it. That's a deal for me, wouldn't you say?

Shortcuts to Chapters

Chapter 1 Oh John! Oh Mary!
Chapter 2 Goals for Year Two
What About Bob?
Chapter 3 Tryouts - Selecting Players
Chapter 4 Moving Without the Ball
Chapter 5 Simple Zone Offense
Chapter 6 Junk Defense
Chapter 7 Beating the Junk Defense
Chapter 8 Common Horse Sense
Chapter 9 Coach is Coax is Selling
Chapter 10 Survivor has Nuttin on us!
Chapter 11 Lost in Space
Chapter 12 Ultimate Offense
Chapter 13 Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round
Chapter 14 My Best Kept Secret Drill
Chapter 15 A Few Ball Handling Drills
Chapter 16 Perception Reality, Not Necessarily Truth
Chapter 17 Homework? Hard Work!
Chapter 18 When Inmates Run the Asylum
Chapter 19 They're Lost or the Missing Link
Chapter 20 ESS - ESPN Sportcenter Syndrome
Chapter 21 Multiple Teams? Here's Your Tylenol
Chapter 22 Basketball's Greatest Mysteries
Chapter 23 Teaching by the Comic Book Method

Even though I have only played basketball for 5 years, it seems like a lifetime. For the last four years, I have played over 100 games a year. Just this year alone, I have played 100 games from March through August. Because of all these games, I have seen coaches from all over the country. I have seen some really good ones, but I have seen more of the bad ones. As much as I love basketball, I would never play for most of these coaches.

Here is my description of the average coach I have seen. Normally it's a man, and he is usually very loud. When one of his players makes a mistake in a game, they are benched immediately. Most of the time, the coach will start screaming at the guilty player. A lot of coaches will curse at them. Remember, we are 10 to 14 year old girls being cursed at. Stupid and idiot are two words that are also used a lot.

Maybe I would think that this was almost OK if I hadn't seen the other good coaches. The good ones I've seen will pull their player to one side and tell them what they are doing wrong. Then they will tell the player how to do it right. You don't have to do all of this with a smile on your face, but I promise you, you don't get great results when you scream at them.

When an inexperienced player makes a mistake, she may not even know what she did wrong. This is when you should tell her what she did wrong, and how to correct it. When a true player makes a mistake, they usually know what they did wrong. We make mistakes because we are trying too hard, or being too aggressive, or because of attitudes. If you want to be a good coach, you need to figure out which of the three is our problem , then try to correct it. But you won't get any results by screaming at or cursing at a us. We will ignore you, or get so upset that we couldn't make a layup if we had to.

Have you ever thought, "I sure wish she would listen to me?" If you have ever thought this, then your player shut down and is totally trying to ignore you. Rather than yell even louder, find out what the problem is. Be a coach, not a Nazi.

For years my parents and I would talk on the way home after every game, and most of the time we talked about how badly the other coach acted. Finally my dad said he was thinking about writing a book about how not to coach. We talked about it for a while, and he decided to write a book about how to coach and act instead.

So now you know why he wrote book 1. My mom and I have had to put up with him on the computer. Sometimes we think his computer is his best friend. But sometimes he lets us read the e-mails from people who have read his book, and it reminds us of why he spent all of this time away from us. So you coaches had better pay attention and learn, because I have done without him at times because of these books. Make it worthwhile for all of us, and try to be the best Coach you can be. Basketball should be fun, try to make it that way.

Dad didn't say I had to write a lot, so I hope I made my point even though it's not very long. As you can tell, I'm not like my dad. My mom says it takes him two hours to watch 60 Minutes. I don't like the show, so it only takes me one minute to change the station. Thank you for listening to me, and thank you for the CD burner.

Oh, by the way, we normally crush the teams that have screamers and cursers for coaches. I wonder why so many losers want to be the center of attention by getting that loud? This is one of my dad's saying, but it sure makes a lot of sense to me.

If you want anything else written, I sure could use a DVD player in my room, DAD!

by Steve Jordan

Last year, Ed Riley wrote a very popular primer for new coaches of youth basketball teams. His engaging style and down-to-earth explanations made the seemingly daunting task of taking on a youth basketball team seem possible, at least, if not downright fun. Hopefully, thanks to Ed, many more parents will be stepping forward in this worthwhile cause. And, best of all for the kids, those volunteer coaches will be much better informed than their predecessors. If you have not yet enjoyed Ed's writing, try his first work, Coaching Youth Basketball. Its on this site in its entirety.

by Ed Riley

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water!

A little over a year ago I started a project, a booklet. It was a simple book, not very long, and easy to read. It was a book for first year YOUTH basketball coaches. It was written for the mom or the dad who got drafted into coaching their kid's basketball team. It was written for the beginner who didn't have a clue where to begin. I tried to take them from the first moment they volunteered, through their team selection, to what to teach their team, and I even told them what supplies they would need for their first practice. I tried to make this so simple that even a simpleton like me could understand it. And the name of the book? Coaching Youth Basketball For Simpletons Like Me.

Was the book a success? That depends upon your definition of success. If we define success by the number of people who read it, then it was successful beyond my wildest imagination. Three different websites carried the book. Just on PowerBasket's site alone, I've been told that 300 people a day read this book. Add the people who read it on all the other other sites, and umpteen thousand people have read the book. Using this as a definition, yes it was a success. But that's not my definition.

I would like to use a different barometer as my measure of success, did it help the beginning coach? I receive over 40 e-mails a day from beginning coaches saying it did, then asking for more help. This is how I judge success, by the # of actual readers who say thanks. So some of you folks got the message, and I truly succeeded.

So why am I tooting my own horn here? I'm not! This is Booklet 2 and if you haven't read Booklet one, then reading this one is as useless as ...

So here's what you need to do, go to any of these websites and read Coaching Youth Basketball For Simpletons like Me. It's free, it's easy to read, and Book 2 won't make much sense to you until you read Book 1. Ok, for you Doubting Thomas's out there, here's one for you. How much sense would Star Wars parts 5 or 6 have made by themselves, unless you saw the original Star Wars? OK, maybe that didn't make sense. But you need to go to any of of the following sites and find my Book 1. If you don't read it, a lot of this will not make sense to you. READ IT - THEN COME BACK TO THIS.

Steve Jordan's site, aka Alaska Coach, is Go to Coaches Notebook and look for Coaching Youth Basketball by Ed Riley.

Coach Larry Dean Jackson's site is Scroll down until you hit articles, and there's the book. This site also gives you lots and lots of plays.

Powerbasketball is Look to the right hand side of the page and you'll find the book.

OK, I've got my stopwatch out. You have two hours to get there, read it, and get your butt back here. It's one lap for every minute you take over two hours, so ....... On you mark - Get set - Go!!!

Humm te dum dumm, tra la, ho hum. I'm sorry, I got kinda bored waiting for you folks to come back. Ah oh, someone cheated! So when I use the term LS you are going to know what I mean, right? Yeah, sure. Now get outta here until you've read it, OK?

All righty then, welcome back everyone. I promise not to preach, as much. Here's a little of what you can expect from "Surviving Your 2nd Year," a whole lotta common sense approaches to the game and teaching the game. I am going to go into a few more advanced things, like plays. Wouldn't that be novel for me, an actual play or 2? I'm going to go into off-season ball and starting your own club. I'm going to go into teaching individual moves that will help the player, thus helping the team. And I'm going to answer the #1 most repeated question from Book ! = How do I set up my players when I start my offense?

What else can you expect, well - I have some friends that may help me in this endeavor, Steve Jordan. Steve's net name is Alaska Coach. Steve is much more of an advanced coach than I. Where I can associate with your 4th or 5th graders and what they are going through, Steve can relate to older kids. See, he is more advanced than I am. And there will be some other coaches that will help out along the way.

In reality, I am not an advanced basketball guru. I know my limitations and to go much further means I need help. I have turned to a few of the coaches from Chalk Talk, a website. These are the coaches I turn to when I need help, so I know they can help you, as well as me.

One thing I do need to point out, the chapters I write do not necessarily reflect the other coaches point of view, and the opposite is also true. But we all agree, LEARNING THE BASICS IS A GOOD THING!

Chapter 1 - Oh John! Oh Mary! What do we do now that the season is over?

by Ed Riley

NO, NO NO!!! You can't end Star Wars II with Hans Solo being frozen and make me wait another year before I get the next installment. This is just cruel and inhumane punishment. NO, NO, NO!!!!!

Is this how you felt a week after your basketball season ended? You'd think that being grownups and big people, you'd know what to do now that you finally have some free time, but NOOOOO!! You missed the little buggers, didn't you? No more frustrating moments because someone forgot who they were guarding. No more smiles when a player did something right. Even that you could handle, but your whistle being lonely and neglected is more than you can take.

OK, so you didn't want it to end. Well, get a life cause it's over, done, fini! There is no more till next year. So just get a life, all right!!!!! Unless ...... yes, I said unless. UNLESS YOU AND YOUR WHOLE FAMILY REALLY ENJOYED IT. I'm not saying did you enjoy it. I'm saying you, your spouse, your kids, and maybe even your dog needs to have loved it. This is the only way I would even begin to recommend the next step into insanity. Is everyone really, really missing it?? Well then - - - - - -


So what is club ball? Here in St. Louis we call it select ball. In other parts of the country it's called Club Ball. Club ball is where you try to field the best possible players you can possibly put together, and you play off season ball. Most basketball goes from November to February. That means the prime season is 4 months long. So what's the flip side of this? THEY HAVE 8 MONTHS TO FORGET EVERYTHING YOU TAUGHT THEM, OR EVEN THOUGHT YOU TAUGHT THEM. Isn't that a delightful thought?

Like everything else in life, you can act or react to situations. Reacting means you let your emotional side over rule everything. Acting upon a situation means you think things out, before you make a decision.

OK, Ed, how does this apply to basketball? Or, are you off the deep end again? Before you ever decide to do club ball, I believe you need to get schizophrenic. You need to sit down beside yourself and discuss why you would even want to do club ball. You need to decide what your priorities are. Are you there just so the kids, AND YOU, can have fun? Are you there to teach your players more than the regular season allows you, due to time constraints? Why are you doing it? Here are a few reasons why you need to decide on your priorities, before you ever jump into club ball.

If you and your players are playing basketball strictly for fun, think long and hard about not doing club ball. Here is a graphic example of why not to play club ball.

A 6'5", 200 pound Monster Child gets into a fight with little Johnny. Johnny weighs 110 pounds, soaking wet. The fight is to be timed. It is to last 3 minutes, max. It starts off badly for Johnny. Within the first 60 seconds, he already has 2 black eyes and a broken hand. As you watch the fight continue, Monster Child never lets up. Even after he pummels Johnny into unconsciousness, he still keeps hitting him. You start to scream "Let up already, you've won. Quit it, you're killing him!" No matter what you say or do, Monster Child will never quit until the 3 minutes are up.

Got a little graphic on you, didn't I? Sorry, but you really need to see the big picture before you react your way into something THAT IS NOT GOOD.

Club teams can be exact replicas of Monster Child. They are normally coached by power hungry, ego-driven, monsters. They want to beat every team by 50 points or more. They recruit the best talent they can find, and nothing is more important than the win. They don't just care about winning, they also care about how large a margin they can beat you by. Not every club team is like this, but there are enough of them, that it sure seems like it!

If you have an average old team and are doing it for fun, avoid club ball. Your players can lose a lot more than just a game. They can lose their self confidence and start thinking of themselves as true losers. Once you believe something at a young age, it's hard to reverse that belief. Sometimes it's nigh onto impossible to change your image of yourself.

Kids are strange critters! Once they lose their confidence, they might rebound tomorrow, or they may never rebound. Being beat by a merciless club team by a score of 60 to 2, might crush a kid. I have seen great kids with a lot of potential quit the game because of beatings like this. They started the game with a smile. At the end of the game, their looks and demeanor said, "I'm no good. I suck! I hate this game and I'm never going to play it again."

For an average or below team, club ball is not a Good Thing. Rather than play club ball, find an average ole summer league where you and your kids find similarly competitive teams and have a blast.


Now let's look at the other side of club ball. My team will be going into 9th grade next fall. We have played club ball since 5th grade. Are we God's gift to the basketball community? Absolutely not! We win a lot, we lose a lot. Priorities is what this decision is all about. I made up my mind when they were in 5th grade what my priorities as their coach should be. My job was to teach them enough, so that a player who wanted to, would know enough and be good enough to make their high school team.

By playing club ball, my girls became accustomed to playing the biggest and best players in the city. For one of my 5'8" forwards to have to guard a 6'3" center, is just no big deal. No one intimidates them because they're used to it. Take an average recreational league player, and see what happens when they have to play against that same 6'3" center. They freak out to say the least.

By playing club ball, they have learned to become better players themselves. Ever hear of the process known as osmosis? I can teach my girls a lot. But when they see a really nice player do a new move, they try to imitate, and they have learned a lot from simply playing against better players. My girls would not be half the player they are today, if we had stayed in a rec league. So if your priority is to teach your players the game, then club ball may be for you.


"But these are just kids. If they play club ball, won't that interfere with their other sports?" I've heard this 100 times in the last few years. Guess what? Unless your kid is the exception to every rule, it's now a one letter, maximum 2 letter, universe.

I have listened to coaches argue this point for hours. What it boils down to is this: If you live in a small town, there is a good chance you can play 3 sports and make your high school team. If you live in a large city, it's nigh onto impossible. What these coaches are really arguing about is the way they would like it to be.

I live in St. Louis and am going to use my town as the example. Girls start playing select basketball in 4th grade. A non-select season lasts 4 months. Select teams will play 11 months a year, or 7 more months than a non-select player. Between what they learn in the extra 7 months from their coach, and the extra experience they gain just from playing more, a select player has a much better chance of making their high school team, than a non-select player. This same scenerio exists in soccer, volleyball, and in baseball/softball.

When you hear someone arguing about kids shouldn't have to decide what sports to "major" in at such a young age, you are hearing wishful thinking. I wish the same thing as they do. I wish that in 5th grade my daughter could have played 3 or 4 different sports, and taken her time figuring out which ONES were for her. If she had spent equal time on every sport, and had done this up until 7th or 8th grade, she would never have made any of her high school teams. If you snooze, you lose!


As I said in the beginning it's time for you to make another major decision, what are your priorities as a coach? And, you also need to know what your players priorities are. You may not be into select or club ball. You are coaching for the fun of it, and not worrying about your player's future high school team, but what if some of your players want to make their high school team when they get old enough? If this is the case, help them find an off-season team to join. Don't agree to coach off season unless you really want to. You either are hooked on the game, or you're not. It's time for you o make an honest decision on what your goals are as a coach. Then decide on club ball.


You know the saying, "Boy, is he out in left field!" Folks, I bought stock in left field, so I have to go there occasionally. This is one of those times. You know how you get an idea in your head, and if you don't do something about it right then, you know you'll forget it later? And when you do forget it, you remember just enough to honestly believe that the one true original, money making thought that will change mankind and your life forever, just escaped you. That's where this next paragraph is coming from.

We all have images of things. Some of you are probably imagining us sitting in our coaches shorts, whistles around our necks, with a diagram of a basketball court in front of us, while we type this out on our keyboards. ** WRONG ** I am sitting in my kitchen, chain smoking, and thinking that an Absolute and tonic sure would sound good about now. Blew your image of me, didn't I? Actually, I'm not drinking the Absolute because I don't like to drink at home. If I drink, it's at a pub or a restaurant.

Now, the really fun part is have you ever wondered how the author imagined the readers of his book? I can see you now. You have just decided to coach club ball and you jump up from your monitor. On your computer desk is a plaque from your players that reads, "To The World's Best Coach." On your fireplace is a trophy that your team won for coming in 2nd or 3rd in a tournament. And you are more proud of that plaque and trophy than anything that you ever won at work. I like my image of you folks, so please don't ever tell me I'm wrong, OK? I like people whose hearts are in the right place.

ANYWAY, you jump up and yell, "I'm gonna do it. Club ball is for me!" I can see you guys in your tight old fashioned basketball shorts, and they are too short. You have long knee-high socks, (the ones with 3 red stripes at the top and go all the way up your leg to right below your kneecaps,) brand new Nikes on, and an old fashioned he-man shirt on, and your beer gut is hanging out.

I can see the women who read this. You women aren't as out of touch with the fashion world, as are your male counterparts. You have on a matching nylon/polyester sweat suit. You know, the one's that go - swish, swish, swash as you walk. They make that crinkly, aluminum foil sound as you walk. The older women have embroidered stuff on the shoulders and top of the sweat suit. The younger of you just have some sports logo on yours.

None of the above was meant as an insult. Sometimes I just have to go out into left field, just for the fun of it. Anyhow - You are ready, when you realize you are at home and don't know what to do next. So you sit back down in front of your monitor and keep on reading. That brings us to ...


  1. The first way is so simple, just take the kids who were on your regular team.
  2. If there are some kids from your team that you don't want on your club team, just don't invite them. Don't make a big production out of it. No 20 minute speeches on why you didn't invite them. Just keep your mouth shut and don't invite them. When they find out, just tell them what the real reason is and again, don't make it long and drawn out.
  3. Have tryouts. I went into this a lot in my first book. I'm going to give you 3 simple rules for club ball. Get some heigth. Take ball handlers over shooters who can't dribble. (It's easy to teach the ball handlers how to shoot.) And don't take anyone who is not coachable. (Superstars with an attitude are cancerous and will kill a team.)
  4. Remember, for you more experienced coaches, this is for younger kids. Simple is Good! We don't want to get too complicated. If you have a team with kids that can handle a ball, have some height, and are coachable, what else do you really need at this age?

Alright, you win! You want some drills for your tryouts, so here you go:

  1. Have them do a suicide while dribbling the ball right handed. Then have them do one while dribbling left handed. This will show you about their agility, speed, ball handling, and endurance.
  2. Have them play a 3-on-3 game. This shows you ball handling, whether they are a team player, whether they have court vision, and can they shoot.
  3. Have them play a no dribble scrimmage. This let's you see if they can move without the ball. It also shows you their passing abilities, and court vision.

This is all you really need for this age. I presently coach 8th grade girls and needed several players. For the tryouts, I had them do #1 and #2, and that's it.

All this seems too simple, right? Well, there is a small catch to it. If you are interested in a player after they pass your tryouts, tell them they are invited to 2 or 3 of your L.S.'s. No final decision will be made until then. Get them to your L.S.'s so you can find out if they are coachable.

Here's why I suggest this. I am coaching my daughter's 8th grade team. As I told you before, we are a club or select team. There is a girl who is a young 9th grader that wanted to join our team and she was about the same age as my girls. Her resume was great, she was awarded the mvp of her freshman team. I have an mpv 9th grader trying out for my 8th grade team, seems like everything is right in the world, right?

I accepted this girl on the team on a temporary basis, until I saw how she played in a game. Folks, this girl never learned anything about m-2-m defense. Sure, she had a sweet little shot, but that's all she had. Whoever was her previous coach had neglected passing and defense. This made me thank the day that I decided not to take a player until she had played with us for a while.

I will take a coachable average kid over a superstar with an attitude every time. If they pass your tryouts and are coachable, sign them up. And speaking of signing them up, get everyone of them to sign a contract. This will help you avoid 90% of all of your future problems. You will find a sample contract in Book 1.


In book 1, I spent a lot of time giving you the info on how to do this. So if you have forgotten, go back to Book 1.


Again, I spent a lot of time on this in my first book. The basics are all there. What I am going to add here is a few website addresses that might offer you tournaments in your area. and then go to tournaments on the left side of the page.

Call 1-800-aau-4usa and this puts you in touch with your local AAU office and then just quiz them.

This gives you what you need to start your first club team, so I'm going to end this chapter the same way I began it. You need to decide what your priorities are, before you ever decide whether to start your own club or select team. Your team is going to follow your direction - make sure you have a positive direction for them to follow.

This booklet is a work in process. This means that as I have more chapters, I will post them one at a time. So keep on coming back to this website, because there will be more. Any questions, feel free to e-mail me at

Chapter 2 - Goals for Year Two

by Ed Riley

Alrighty then, we have off-season ball out of the way. Now let's go on to our main course, your second year of coaching regular season ball. Before every new season, I highly recommend you have a nice long internal look at yourself. Did you enjoy coaching last year? Do you think your team enjoyed playing basketball last year, and still learned something? Do you really want to do it again? I know, I know, if you didn't want to do it again, you wouldn't be going cross eyed in front of your monitor at the moment, now would you? I got the message, so let's move on.

I always think and talk about priorities and goals. It's now time to go back to them again. It's goal setting time. No, I'm not talking about how many wins do you want this year. I'm not talking about winning your league or a tournament. COACH = TEACHER AND ROLE MODEL so we need to figure out what your players should reasonably be expected to know, and do, by the end of their second year. This will then let you know what you have to teach them this year. Gosh, am I simple, or what? Don't answer that!

TOP 10 LIST of things a graduating 2nd year player should know

  1. How to make a right handed layup at full speed
  2. How to make a left handed layup at full speed
  3. How to set a screen that seals
  4. How to block out for the rebound
  5. How to move without the ball on offense
  6. Proper footwork on defense
  7. Proper spacing on defense
  8. How to play m-2-m defense
  9. How to shoot using the proper shooting form
  10. And anything else we can think of later on.

NOTICE, I never mentioned anything about wins or losses, or specific offenses, or game strategies, or zone defenses, or anything else. These are what we need to help you learn as a coach. This Top 10 List is what you should teach your players. These should be your goals. If your players can learn and retain these top 10 things, then you will have succeeded as a 2nd year coach.

TOP 7 LIST of things you need to learn as a coach

  1. How to handle The Attitudes
  2. Game Strategies
  3. Simple, but effective, offenses to teach your team
  4. Defenses, primarily m-2-m, to teach your team
  5. How to conduct your Learning sessions so you can teach more in a short period of time
  6. How to teach your players what they need to complete their Top 10 List
  7. And anything else we can think of later on - (don't you just love the way I end my lists?)

This gives you goals that you and your players should strive for this year. My job is to help you achieve these goals.

Now on to something different. I believe that as a coach, you have to do your best to make basketball fun for your players. Remember, when these kids first signed up, they signed up to play a game because games are supposed to be fun. Well, I believe that this book needs to be fun as well. I know that I hate boring technical crap, so let's have a little fun. Here's a little story for you, hope you like it.

What About Bob?

Ever had a ref that had it in for you? No? Yeah, right! Well Rob is a ref here in town that must hate my team. He will call 20 plus fouls against my team and 2 against the other team. We may be aggressive, but not that aggressive compared to everyone else. The sad part is, he has reffed at least 15 of our games.

We had a big tournament game coming up and I found out that Rob was going to ref our game. Being my normal elfish self, I went to my favorite store, Spencer Gifts. Alas, they didn't didn't carry what I wanted. But, they did send me to a mom and pop specialty store that did carry it. I went there, found what I needed and I was ready.

Because Rob had reffed at least 15 of our games, I knew his routine. He would walk in the gym, set his bag down on the bleachers, walk across the court, confer with the scorer's at the scorer's table, go back to the bleachers and change into his gym shoes. A lot of refs have this same routine.

Game day was no different, he left his bag on the bleachers, walked across the court, and conferred with the scorers. I sent one of my players to the scorer's table and she started asking him all sorts of questions about how she could avoid some of her normal fouls. Rob stuck out his chest proudly and began to expound on all of the things he knew nothing about.

While he was bragging on his knowledge, or lack of, I walked over to the bleachers. I got into his bag and took out his gym shoes.

Let me tell you about most gym shoes. There is a place in the front of the shoe that is ever so slightly tilted up, it's right under the tops of your toes. I taped a small pellet to the bottom of each of his shoes in this area. Where the sole meets the front of the shoe is where these pellets went.

Oh, another thing about Rob, he's big. OK, he's fat. He doesn't move out of a little 4 foot area much, when he refs. It makes the other refs so mad, they filed a complaint with the league about him.

Anyway, I then put his shoes back in his bag and hurried back to my bench. Rob finally came back to bleachers and put on his gym shoes.

Next he positioned himself close to the scorer's table. The scorer's themselves consisted of a parent from each team.

Finally, the game started. Every time we got the ball, my players would dribble close enough to Rob to make him jump out of their way. After he jumped out of their way 3 or 4 times, he started staring at the scorers, with the God awfullest look on his face.

I looked at the scorers and they had an equally scrunched up face and were staring at each other, and then they started staring at Rob, with his too tight referee's shirt that was trying to hide his beer belly.

I started to lose it. What I had done was tape a small, but deadly, stink bomb to the bottom of Rob's shoes. In his jumping around to get out of the way of my player's way, he had broken open the gel packed pellets and unleashed the results of every frightened skunk in the neighborhood. So the scorers were staring at beer belly Rob, and he was staring at them. Finally the woman couldn't stand it any more and she got up and left the table. The man at the table signaled Rob it was alright and he could handle it until she came back.

A girl on the other team was lazily bringing the ball up the court, when she passed within 2 feet of Rob. She stopped for a moment, shook her head a couple of times and then stared at Rob. Then she made a beeline for the opposite side of the court. I think she must have stayed too long, because she passed to a teammate, then rubbed her eyes a couple of times. Then she just stared at Rob for the longest time, then started laughing.

By now you could see the other scorer fanning his nose and shaking his head. Rob moved a dozen feet or so away from the scorers table. He totally ignored the game and just kept glaring at the scorer. Moving didn't help. Pretty soon he was rubbing his eyes. You could see that they were all red and tears were running down his face.

My team knew what was happening, so they avoided Rob's side of the court. All the other team saw was that Rob's side of the court was wide open. Every chance they got, a hapless player would dribble into the invisible fog bank, only to come out gagging and staring at Rob.

Rob moved a few more feet down the court. This time he stationed himself about 8 feet away from a cluster of parents. Pretty soon you could see them turn around and absolutely glare at the people beside them, in back of them, and in front of them.

Finally one old lady looked at her husband and shrieked, "Can't you control that in public?" That was too much, I lost it.

Rob called a referee's time out and went to the opposite side of the court to talk to the other ref. The whole time he was walking he was staring at the sole remaining scorer. He hadn't talked to the other ref for over 10 seconds, when you could see it hit the other ref. It about rocked him to his knees.

The other ref finally said, "Jesus, Rob! What are you doing? Have you lost it?" Then he walked away.

Remember Rob popped not one, but 2 stink bombs, so it lingered and lingered. I don't remember much about that game, but I will never forget the looks and the faces. Teams, and refs, and fans alike, still talk about that game and Rob. I will probably talk about it for years to come.

Chapter 3 - Tryouts ... How to Select Your Players

Tryouts by Coach Darrell Garrison

One of the most exciting and stressful parts of a young player’s life can be trying out for an athletic team where they have to show a coach they deserve to be on that team. You have those players who are extremely confident in their abilities along with those who have a lot of self doubt or are just not confident in themselves. Sometimes as a coach you have to look past what might be obvious on the court, and see if a players personality or lack of confidence is keeping the player’s real talent or potential from being obvious.

When holding basketball tryouts I am mainly looking at two areas in particular: attitude/character and athleticism. The area on attitude/character is a very wide area with many components; each of them are important in their own way. I feel that attitude/character can be broken down into a few subcategorizes with the total character of a player being a compilation of the parts.


Enthusiasm is so important in anything you do. Henry Ford has said that, “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm”. I love enthusiastic people, however enthusiastic people can be a bit of a trial to those who are not. Coaching and teaching enthusiastic players is fun! They help keep the team fired up; they help keep spirits high; they keep teammates working and they certainly make the coaches job much easier.

The only way a coach can get his points across is if the players are attentive. When coaching youth basketball it is imperative that the coach has the player’s attention. Some young people have a hard time focusing and paying attention to what is said or shown. There might be outside reasons for a poor attention span. The player may be distracted by other things going on in the gym, maybe he has had a rough day at school or at home, or maybe just by an anxiety to get started. Whatever the reason if a player can not refocus and isn’t attentive it will adversely effect the team’s performance.

How hard are young people expected to work in today’s society? It seems like today’s youth doesn’t have the same work ethic and attitude toward work that players have had in the past. Busy home lives and busy parents are just a couple of reasons that players don’t work as hard as they did years ago when there were simpler times and less distractions and conveniences. The coach needs to set his expectations of the work ethic from day one. Players will give a great effort for a coach who is fair and tells the players what to expect. I player that takes shortcuts in his work ethic isn’t worth keeping on the team.

Most importantly the coach must set the tone of the practice, especially with young athletes. Many youngsters don’t fully grasp what a great work ethic is, how to channel their enthusiasm positively, how to focus their attention and how to show and feed a positive attitude. All of these go a long way to help establish a young person’s character, and a long way to helping decide who should make the team.


The second thing I would look at would be the athleticism of the players trying out. I feel that you can teach a willing athlete the fundamental skills necessary to be a dominating player, but you can’t necessarily teach a player with fundamental skills to be an athlete.

Please don’t get the idea that I feel fundamentals aren’t important. The ideal player would be an athlete with great fundamental skills. Hopefully within the group of players that you have trying out for your team, there will be a mix of athletes along with those who have decent skills yet aren’t as athletic.

Most drills I would use during the tryout sessions would be timing and goal setting drills. Players will rise to the forefront when faced with a drill that forces them to meet a goal in a certain amount of time (i.e. how many power lay ups in 30 seconds).

In tryouts I will run drills that measure defensive quickness, change of direction and aggressiveness. I want to know how quickly a player can get from point A to point B, if a player can cut off a dribbler and force them to turn or pick up the dribble, and if a player will go on the floor for a loose ball. I will use drills that show a player’s foot speed; rebounding, outlet and sprint the floor; ball handling at full speed, and changing direction with the ball at full speed.

I will get all players in the tryouts involved in some type of full court scrimmage, but I will not use a scrimmage as the sole evaluation tool. I want to see how they handle themselves in game situations, if they have court sense, and how they work at the offensive and defensive ends.

My youngest son tried out for the school basketball team for the first time in eighth grade. He had such physical skills (he was a sprint, hurdles, high jump, and long jump champion later in high school), yet he had never expressed interest or love for basketball. I could have taught him all he needed to know to be great player, but a person has to love the game and want to learn it. Even though he had never played the game before, the coaches kept him on the team because of his athleticism and work ethic, and cut numerous players who had much better skills. The feeling was that you can always find players who had some skills (at that age), but it is tough to find such a good athlete with great size. Although it didn’t work out in this situation (he only played basketball that one year), I would have made the same call in the same situation. You can always teach an athlete some skills, but a player with skills isn’t always an athlete, and athletes win championships.


I want to give you a set of drills that I would use to help evaluate the players who were trying out. These drills would show the skills of the players while being able to showcase their athleticism.

Rebound Outlet: The player would toss the ball off the backboard, jump, rebound, pivot and outlet to a coach in the outlet area (near the sideline as high as the foul line). He would then follow the outlet, cut behind the coach and sprint to the opposite basket. The coach would then throw a long baseball pass for the player to chase down at full speed, gather in and make a lay-up. You could continue the drill with each player, then move to the other end and have them all come back, or you could have the first player grab his own rebound of the lay-up , outlet to another coach at that end and come back. This drill could be continuous.

Power Lay-ups: This is a timed drill (30 seconds is a good time to maximize top effort) that you can use with a player at each basket in the gym. The player stands on either side of the basket with a ball. On the whistle the player executes a power lay-up (jumping off both feet). As the ball comes through the basket he catches the ball. As his baseline-side foot steps, he pivots on that foot and powers the ball up on the other side of the basket. He again catches the ball as the baseline-side foot steps down, pivots and powers the ball back up on the original side. This back and forth action continues for the entire 30 seconds as other players count the made baskets. Baskets should be recorded. I would do this drill 2-3 times at different times during the workout and total the results.

Defensive Slide Drill: The player would start at the corner of the court, facing down court. Set cones about every 15 feet up the court alternating from the corner to the middle of the court 15 feet up court, back to the sideline to the middle every 15 feet. On the whistle they would defensive slide (taking short chop steps and never crossing their legs) from the corner back and forth up court until they reach the end of the court. Time how long it takes the player to make it to the opposite end.

Shooting Drill: Set 5-7 cones or spots in a semi-circle from 10 feet to 18 feet from the basket depending on the age of the players. The player has anywhere from one to two minutes to make as many baskets as he can. After each shot, he must get his own rebound and dribble in back out to one of the spots on the floor. Keep track of the number of baskets the player can make in the allotted time.

Full Court Lay-ups: This drill will give you an idea of the player’s conditioning and stamina. Have the player start at the far baseline. On the whistle he must speed dribble the length of the court and make a lay-up. He gets his own rebound and speed dribbles back to the first end for another lay-up. This drill continues for anywhere from one to two minutes, counting the number of baskets made.

Full Court Combination Drill: I like to use my imagination on this drill. It can change every time I run it. An example might be like this: Start on the baseline and weave dribble through a set of 5-7 cones spaced about 6 feet apart. After the player gets through the cones he would go hard for a lay-up. After the lay-up he would grab his rebound and dribble to a side basket for a 15’ jump shot, rebound, dribble to the next side basket for another 15’ jump shot, grab his rebound and go the the closest main basket for a lay-up. At each basket he must stay at that basket until he makes a shot or has three misses before he can move on to the next basket. I then take the amount of time from the beginning until the last lay-up is made. This is a great drill which, as I said can be changed by using a little imagination.

The importance of the timing and scoring of these drills will help to give you the best ball players possible. I feel that by using these drills or some like them you can find those athletes who will help your team win. In my opinion, when a team of athletes who have developed skills meets the team of ball players with skills but limited athleticism, the athletes will win almost every time.

A Word (or two) About Tryouts by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook

Basketball tryouts can be difficult for coaches. For small schools, there may be limited number of aspirants, but typically there are dozens of enthusiastic players hoping to make a team. Even in programs like the YMCA Youth Basketball leagues that endeavor to offer an opportunity for everyone to play, there may be a limited number of teams due to a lack of coaches or sponsors. The end result, in a high school program or a youth league organization, is that some kids will not get a chance to participate. It is usually the coaches that make the painful decision of who gets cut. Tryouts for basketball are usually very difficult and brief periods to evaluate dozens of eager players. Other complications include adequate gym space, complexity in organizing large numbers of candidates and trying to measure critical subjective attributes such as skills, potential and character.

The most important attribute for the tryout period is a sense of fairness among the candidates. If everyone has an equal chance to show their skills, the final decisions on player selection will probably be accepted by the players and their parents. If some players are considered favorites, by not actively participating or by receiving a disproportionate share of exposure, the slighted players will be disgruntled.

In every tryout, there will be some players that stand out as obvious picks for the team. The difficulty for the coaches is in deciding who will fill the bottom half of the roster. For instance, one player may have fewer skills than another, but shows more potential. It may seem like the best answer is to pick the player with the most potential and develop him/her, but try to determine the degree of coachability. In my arrogance, I have chosen players with good physical characteristics with the belief that I could mold them into a fine basketball player, only to struggle all season with attitude problems or poor attendance. An area where a coach's stereotypes can get in the way is dismissing candidates that don't have the outward appearance normally associated with a basketball player. I have passed on players that I thought were too short or too heavy only to end up competing against them to my team's detriment, so look carefully at the full range of contribution each player has to offer.

Here is some advice that may help:

Tryout Suggestions

Before you start, declare your expectations. Try and put yourself in the kids' shoes. They're all probably nervous and anxious to please, but they don't know what to expect. So, tell them. Describe a theoretical, ideal candidate. Don't use a real life example, or worse, one of the candidates. In fact, don't set any player above the others. To give you an example, here's an opening address:

"Thank you all for attending basketball tryouts. I know you are nervous, excited and eager to get busy, but let me take a minute to tell you what the coaches are looking for. We don't have very much time to look at you, so first impressions are very important. For that reason, don't hold anything back. Show us what you have. Any hidden talent or effort you take home with you will be qualities we don't know about.

First impressions include how you dress. Are you dressed to play or dressed for style? You get no points for style in the tryouts.

A second impression will be how willing you are to work hard. It means a lot if you are already in great physical shape. But it also means a lot if you're not in great shape, but are willing to get there. If you are still trying your best even when you are tired, we will notice that. If you give up easily when you're fatigued, we'll notice that, too.

Do you know how to listen? We will be asking to do a variety of drills, many of which may be new to you. Its OK if you don't know a drill, but its not helpful to you if you do not pay attention to directions.

Are you willing to perform the skills according to the coaches' directions? We will be stressing fundamental techniques and may ask you to perform skills differently than you are used to. Its far more important to us that you attempt the skill properly and be awkward rather than repeat a bad habit that you are comfortable with. For example, let's say you cannot shoot left handed layups well so you insist on shooting with your right hand. It doesn't matter to me that the shot goes in if it was made with the wrong hand. The point is that if you are not willing to change, we can't make you any better than you are now.

Finally, your basketball skills are meaningless if you cannot maintain your grades or get your paperwork in on time. Being on the basketball team is a special privilege, and it requires a great deal of time and commitment. If your level of responsibility isn't mature enough to manage a busy schedule and basketball, then you shouldn't be in the program. Further, if your grades are marginal, then there is a risk to the entire team that you may not be available at the end of the semester. The coaches will weigh that risk into the decision whether or not to select you as a basketball player.

Observe players performing exact same skill sets. Be sure to cover basics such using either hand for ball-handling and shooting. Young players can learn to use their weak hand for dribbling and shooting within the course of a season. After that first year, they will use either hand without a second thought. The longer a player remains single-handed, the harder it becomes to change. Single-handed players are an extreme liability at a competitive level because they are so easy to guard.

Should you score every player on different skills? It's a nice idea and it would be great to have a list with the players sorted by score. The objective approach may quell some backlash as you have documents to back your decisions. However, most coaches would rather trust their instincts. It's difficult to measure people with numbers. How do you score court sense or passing ability? At best you could score players as good - fair - poor and various scores, but that doesn't really differentiate the individuals very well. Besides, it is really tough to run a tryout and keep track of scores.

Avoid putting too many players on the team. Ten is the ideal number because each player will get an equal amount of practice time in scrimmages and the game time substitution rotations can be very simple. Twelve player teams are common and provide coverage for injuries and other contingencies, but usually the 11th and 12th players receive few minutes of playing time. Having more than twelve players practically guarantees dissatisfaction over playing time throughout the course of the season. Adding extra player to avoid the pain of cuts is a short-term solution.

Maintain a balance of talents on your team, assuming there are enough players in the tryout pool. If all your players are alike, there will be consistent weaknesses in your game plans. If your team is tall but cannot handle the ball, or is fast but too short to rebound well, your game strategy will be compromised.

Decide if players have the will to do conditioning. If players are out of shape, they may be worthwhile to pick up. Watch for those that quit easily during the tryout drills. If the players in your program do not want to train, it will be nearly impossible to be competitive.

Look for players who have already mastered fundamentals and show a good grasp of court sense. They have already proven they have a devotion to the game and are coachable. Players who are physically appealing, but unskilled, MUST show a willingness to learn and change. Too often players blessed with physical advantages are convinced they are good enough and only need try harder when the game gets tough. Over the course of the season, however, players with average ability eventually surpass the value of the gifted athlete because of their new skills and experience. Ultimately, the gifted athlete becomes a liability if he/she plays in a manner contrary to the team direction. Time invested in team offense and defensive strategies is wasted if one member elects to take ill-advised shots or is irresponsible on defense. Basketball favors the advantaged athlete, however. All other things being equal, quickness and height are hard to beat.

Do not waste time on players that are argumentative or cannot pay attention. End of story.

Be leery of players that cannot get their paperwork in on time.

Insist on timeliness as a condition to staying in the program.

Consider grade point averages when making cuts. A marginal student may not be able to finish the season. There is a School District rule in Alaska that makes any student with less than a 2.0 GPA ineligible to play or practice. If you are coaching in a youth group league like the YMCA, grades are still an important factor. Some parents will not allow their child to play anywhere if their grades don't meet family standards. Counter-point: If basketball can motivate anyone to improve their grades - that's wonderful.

Difficult Decisions - That Last Cut

Team chemistry is built around commitment. Some coaches in areas with large talent pools can weed out the possible problem players and not suffer much, but coaches starving for talent must make more agonizing decisions. It is really hard to let a prospect go that has the physical characteristics you desire or has the ability to play at a higher level than the rest. Yet, coaches that have been around a while get quite familiar with the uncommitted "star" that misses practices, won't work at conditioning, bickers with teammates - and on and on. At some point it isn't worth it to try and build a team around an uncommitted person. This is especially true once you have had the joy of working with a group of unselfish kids that exceeded all expectations simply because they worked hard and worked together.

When you decide to choose a player that had commitment problems, make that choice with your head and not your vanity. After all, you are burdening some of the most important people in your life - your team - with the problem child and the situation will probably last ALL season. Is it possible for a kid to respond to a basketball team and improve character? Yes. Can a coach "change" a person through effort and values? No. That's the vanity - thinking you can force it. The right kid, at the right time in life, will respond. It may not matter who the coach is.

If you find a special player that needs help, its critical to have the commitment to the team. If the player isn't willing to practice, work hard, do fund raising, follow your instructions to the letter, conform to team rules - in short, change for the team, it won't work out.

What about the marginal player that "paid dues"?

The dedicated attender isn't always the best choice. I've seen some cases where a player has always been included in the program because of his "attitude", but objectively speaking, hadn't really improved much despite the camps, etc. Finally, at some point in his career, he's cut and the parents get really upset because the kid "paid his dues". They really don't care that he has the least amount of ability and could be replaced by a better (and committed) kid. The camps and open gym are wonderful opportunities for the kids, but they shouldn't place obligations on the coach.

Be prepared to justify your decisions

After all the soul searching and painful decisions are completed, your troubles may not be over. Be prepared for a challenged from a heart-broken parent. This is a very difficult situation because there is nothing you can say that will make a parent feel any better. All you can do is explain your process and say that you tried to be as fair as possible. Its OK to admit you're not perfect and that time may prove you could have made better choices, but at this time you feel you did the best you could. Keep this conversation as short as possible because the situation will not improve as it continues.

DO NOT compare the parent's child with another player. Don't even talk about another player. The parent has a right to discuss their child, but no other.

DO NOT add to your team roster just to appease a parent. If you do, your future teams will be populated with players who have the noisiest parents.

Disappointed parents may go over your head. An administrator may approach you and ask about your tryout process. If you can show that your selection was based on a fair evaluation, you'll probably be staunchly supported.

The cut players will like to know what they can do to better their chances next time. Again, you can't make them feel better, but you can suggest some things they can work on. Also, encourage them to stay active in sports. There are probably recreational venues where they can play basketball. Just don't make any promises. Its up to the kids to be good enough to make the team.

In summary ...

If you decide to keep a player based physical potential and cut a kid that has marginal potential but has displayed all the other characteristics you're looking for, make sure that the difference in the physical potential is dramatic. Otherwise, it isn't worth it. If the physically advantaged player is going to see few minutes anyway, you may have a happier season with the other player. It may come down to this question - which kid do you want to spend your season with?

Chapter 4 - Moving Without the Ball

by Steve MacKinney

There is one ball and five players so on average, you spend 80% of the time on offense playing without the ball. While playing without the ball, you should try to accomplish these things:

  1. Get open under the basket
  2. Help a team mate get open under the basket
  3. Get open away from the basket
  4. Get a team mate open away from the basket
  5. Pull a defensive player away from the basket to open space for a teammate
  6. Create a mismatch of size, quickness, or ability by forcing the defense to switch

Most of this chapter applies more to man-to-man defense than zones, but many of the techniques will work against either defense.

How to Get Open

We teach five ways to get open:

  1. Move to open space
  2. V-cut
  3. Back door cut
  4. Seal (or duck in front)
  5. Use a screen


Moving to open space usually starts with a slight push (push with the back of your hand) off the defensive player and two or three quick steps away from the defense toward an open area where the passer can pass to you (diagram 1). Give the passer a target by holding your open hand out on the side away from your defender. The passer should throw ahead of you so you and the ball arrive at the spot at the same time.
Diagram 1
The V-cut (diagram 2) is started away from the basket with a defender denying the pass by playing you tight or playing in the passing lane (in between you and the passer). You should take two or three quick steps toward the basket to get the defender moving with you. Go all the way to the lane in case the passer thinks he can get the ball to you and attempts the pass. When you get close enough to the basket to be sure the passer is not going to throw the ball, quickly plant your foot and cut back away from the basket to the spot where you want to receive the pass. Give a target as explained above. Sometimes if the defender is really close when you get ready to plant your foot and cut away for the pass, you can reverse pivot into the defender and give him a little bump with your butt to keep him from staying with you as you move out into the open.


Diagram 2

Back door cuts (or back cuts) (diagram 3)  take advantage of a defender who is trying to keep you from getting open. Usually you will start the back cut by moving into open space with a defender moving with you. To signal to the passer that you are going to back cut, hold out a closed fist instead of an open hand as a target. The passer should fake a pass to you to try to get the defender to focus on the ball and lunge into the passing lane. Plant your outside foot (when facing the passer, the foot furthest from the basket) and quickly cut toward the basket and look for a pass. A bounce pass is usually best because the defender will try to step back toward the lane to deflect the pass and a bounce pass will get under his hand. If the passer is dribbling toward the cutter when the cutter starts his back cut, he can pass with one hand (dribble pass) and put back spin on the ball so when it bounces, it slows and bounces up making it easier for the receiver to catch. When receiving a back cut pass, expect another defender to be coming to the basket and be ready to dish off to his man, fake the dish and take the ball up yourself, or just go up strong and score anyway.


Diagram 3

Sealing (ducking in) is effective close to the basket to keep the defender from deflecting a pass to you. You simply duck under the defender's arm which is denying the pass to you. Step across in front of the defender and lean back on him and stick your elbow straight out to the side so it blocks the defender from getting around in front of you. Stick your other hand out and ask for the ball. This is especially useful against zone defenses since the defense is usually focused on the ball and playing in front of the receiver.

Another way to seal a defender is to move up to him face to face and then reverse pivot into him and lean back on him. After setting a screen, try to seal the man you screened by reverse pivoting in front of him when he tries to go around you. Then step toward the basket keeping the defender behind you and ask for the ball.


Screening - How to help team mates get open

Unselfish players are just as happy to get their team mate open for a shot as they are when they score themselves. Thank the player who got you open with a screen just as you thank the passer after an assist. The irony of setting screens to get your teammates open is that the screener is often the one who scores because the defense switches to cover the cutter. Unselfish play and good communication is what makes the difference between being a team and just being five players.

Communication is important in screening just as it is when running a back door cut. We use a raised fist to signal that we are going to set a screen. That keeps the passer from bouncing the ball off the screener's face and lets the cutter know that he should start running his man into the screen. You can also call out the name of the cutter as you go to set a screen for him or point to where you want him to cut by you.

Using a screen is very effective for getting open and for creating mismatches by forcing the defense to switch (the screener's defender covers the cutter so the cutter's defender takes the screener - they "switch" men). By having the smallest, quickest player screen for the tallest player and forcing their defenders to switch, you can make their smallest player defend your tallest one and force their tallest player to defend your quickest one. Once they switch, stay spread out enough so it is hard for them to switch back.

There are several kinds of screens you can use:

  1. Back screen
  2. Down screen
  3. Ball screen (pick)
  4. Horizontal screen
  5. Flare screen
  6. Double screen
  7. Staggered screen
  8. Slip (fake) screen
  9. Yo-yo screen

You can also use:

  1. Another cutter as a screen
  2. Another player's defender as a screen
  3. A post player who has the ball as a screen.

The technique is similar for most screens. You should look for the cutter's defender (call him "CD") and get between him and the spot the cutter (C) is going to. Get as close to CD as is legal - an inch if CD can see you, about 30 inches if CD cannot see you like on a back screen. You (the screener) must be stopped when the contact takes place. Once contact is made, you should be ready to reverse pivot whichever direction CD tries to go around and seal CD behind you. Then you can step towards the basket looking for a pass.

The cutter is responsible for influencing his defender (CD) into the screener, either with fakes or subtle pushing with the back of his hand or his arm. The cutter should go very close to the screener (we tell them to rub shoulders) so CD cannot force his way between them. He should continue his cut several steps past the screener to force the screener's defender to go with him, leaving the screener open (if the screener is able to seal CD). The cutter will often get open against poor defensive teams and the screener will get open against the better teams if he seals properly.


Back screens (diagram 4) are set by a screener who is close to the basket going out and standing behind a defender who is away from the basket. The cutter runs by the screener towards the basket.


Diagram 4

Down screens (diagram 5) involve a cutter who begins near the basket and a screener who moves down toward the cutter's defender and screens him chest to chest. The cutter moves away from the basket and either curls around the screen back toward the basket (when the defender follows him around the screen) or moves away from the basket for a short jump shot if the defender stays inside.

Diagram 5

Ball screens (diagram 6) are set on the dribbler's defender and the dribbler tries to run his defender into the screen. This is usually called a pick and roll play.

Diagram 6

Horizontal screens (diagram 7) shows a pass to the cutter or to the screener after he seals and rolls back toward the basket have the cutter moving across the court and going above or below the screen.

Diagram 7

A flare screen (diagram 8) is a horizontal screen set near the three point line with the cutter moving away from the ball so he can catch and shoot a three.

Diagram 8

A double screen has two screeners side by side and a cutter running his man into the screeners.

Staggered screens (diagram 9) are two screens set for one cutter a few feet apart so the defender hits one screen and then another.

The slip screen or fake screen is used when the defense is switching quickly. The screener gets in position to set the screen and then cuts toward the basket when he sees his defender start moving up to switch onto the cutter/dribbler.


Diagram 9
The yo-yo screen (diagram 10) This is a name I made up. It is used when the cutter's defender is anticipating getting screened and goes past the screen ahead of the cutter. The cutter then reverses direction and cuts past the screen a second time catching his defender on the other side of the screen.


Diagram 10

Other types of screens

Using a cutter as a screen (diagram 11) borders on being illegal since the screener is supposed to be stationary when the contact happens, but if the cutter does not look like he is trying to screen, a second cutter can run his man into the first cutter (or into the first cutter's defender) and it is extremely hard to defend. We try to have the first cutter start low and cut to the high post while a second cutter starts high and cuts to the basket going as close behind the first cutter as possible.


Diagram 11

Another way to use a cutter as a screen is to have a high post with the ball and have a guard cut under him diagonally from the right guard position toward the left baseline corner (diagram 12). As the guard and his man go by, the post player drives right and forces his man into the cutter or the cutter's defender.

Diagram 12

When a post player has the ball along the side of the lane or at the free throw line, a cutter can start high and run his man into the post player by cutting above the post and then continuing toward the basket (diagram 13). If the defender tries to go under the post, the cutter can stop and shoot from behind the post player. If the post player is on the block, a player on the wing can "dive" down and run to the baseline side of the post player and often be open when he comes out on the other side, but the post player may get double-teamed by the cutter's defender and not be able to make the pass.

Diagram 13

Removing the Help - Pulling a defender away from the basket

When your defender is the "help" man and is playing off you to help defend under the basket, you need to take advantage of it. Flashing (cutting toward the passer) diagram 14) to the high post will usually allow you to catch and then pass inside before the low post's defender can get around him to deny the pass. You can also do a quick spin move from the high post and drive down across the lane for a lay up if your defender tries to deny the pass on the low side because there is no help behind you.

When a team mate drives and your man is going to help, step away from your man to give the driver an open passing lane and get your hands ready to catch a bounce pass.


Diagram 14


When two offensive players stand too close to each other, it allows the defense to double team quickly and to help. Try to stay at least 12 - 15 feet away from team mates except when cutting and screening to spread the defense out and allow some space for one-on-one moves.

Spacing against full court pressure

Most pressure defenses will try to double team the ball and cover the other four offensive players with three defenders. If the offensive players are spread out, it is harder for three defenders to cover them. If potential receivers are so far away from the passer that he can't throw to them without a defender getting there first, they aren't helping.

Against full court pressure defense (diagram 15 shows a typical diamond press), spacing of 30 - 50 feet is close enough for the passer to throw to you quickly but spread out enough to make it hard for one defender to cover two men. Cutting toward the passer and going to meet the pass keeps defenders from coming from behind to steal the pass. Catching the ball in the middle of the floor gives you 360 degrees to pass to but the sidelines only give you 180 degrees and the corner only gives you 90. When you catch in the middle, look to the opposite side because presses usually are moving toward the ball leaving the other side open.

Diagram 15

Taking advantage of mismatches

When you get a size mismatch, your best bet is to spread the other four players away from the basket and try to get the ball inside before help can arrive. If another player can flash to the high post for a pass, that is a good place to feed the low post.


When you get a quickness mismatch, try to isolate the quick player on one side and have your best shooter be the next closest player so he would be the person left open when a defender goes to help (diagram 16). The other players should be moving and screening on the weak side but try to leave the basket area open so the quick player can drive for a lay up.

Diagram 16

copyright Steve MacKinney 2001

Chapter 5 - A Simple Little Offense to Beat The Zone

by Ed Riley

Now that you understand more about tryouts, and moving without the ball, it's time we gave you what some of you readers of the last book cried for - OFFENSE!! Basketball is more than just X's and O's, or plays. You will spend just as much energy and time dealing with the personal and emotional side of the game, like tryouts. But it is basketball season and right now you might need a little OFFENSE in your life. So we will have a chapter or two on the people side. Then, out of nowhere, faster than a speeding bullet, WHAM....the next chapter might give you an offense or a defense that you can teach your players in their next LS. Is this book disjointed? No! We just want to keep you on your toes. So let's talk a little O = OFFENSE.

I have to keep reminding myself that this book is for 2nd year coaches. When you have a child that plays ball, and you coach their team, you tend to think in terms of that particular age group. So if I seem like I'm going too fast, that's why.

As most of you found out in your first year of coaching, most of your opponents played some form of a zone defense, right? Right! So this is where I am going to help you gut the next team that throws a zone at you. And ... it's too simple!

Have you taught your players how to set a solid screen that seals? If you have, then move on because this offense is for you. If your team's not good at it yet, then hold off on this offense until they are good at setting screens that seal. OK, let's move on.

If you have one of those diagram boards that you can use with a dry erase marker, then go get it. If you don't have one, then grab paper and pen. Now draw a halfcourt with the paint, the free throw line, the blocks, and the hash marks all on it.

I'm going to have you draw a little play. When I tell you where a forward goes, just write a big "F" in that spot. When I tell you where a guard goes, just place a big "G" in that spot. Use the letter X for the defensive players.

  1. Set up your defensive X's in a 2-3 zone. Put an X on each elbow where the free  thow line meets the sides of the paint. Now put an X on each block, and an X in between the X's on each block. This should look like a 2-3 zone. If it doesn't, then rearrange your X's until they do line up this way.
  2. Place an F outside of the X that is on the right block. The X should be between the F and the basket. Now you have their defensive player right in front of your forward.
  3. Place another F right beside your first F. Now you have 2 forwards facing their one defensive player.
  4. Place a FS in back of your first two F's. It should look like two linebackers guarding the quarterback from the defensive player.
  5. Place a G on the right hand side of the court between the freethrow line and the 3 point line. This guard has the ball.
  6. Place a G on the left side of the court directly opposite where you put the other guard on the right side of the court.
  7. Your guard with the ball passes to your FS = forward shooter. The 2 forwards in front of your FS screens the defensive player and your FS has a free shot from about 10' out.

    TIMEOUT......Plays are not designed to put the ball in the hole. Plays are designed to get you player open for a clean shot. Your player still has to make the basket in order to score. Alright, back to the offense.

  8. Once the defensive player figures this out, and sometimes that takes a long while, then they will try to fight through your double screen to get to the shooter. When they do get through, have your FS lob a 4' pass over the defender's head to one of your two F's. The F with the ball then pivots and takes the 6' shot. Sometimes have your 2 F's let the defender through so you can lob it for an even closer shot.
  9. Once the defense figures this out, then switch sides and now do it on the opposite side of the basket. The defender on that side will go through the same slow learning process that the last defender went through. You will get 5 to 8 shots off before they finally figure it out.
  10. Once both defensive sides have it figured out, then you go with your next option. Remember the guard who never had the ball, who was on the opposite side of the court as the ball? Now they come into play. When the defense finally figures out you are overloading a side, the other 2 defensive forwards will move toward your overload to help cover that little lob pass of yours. When they do this, your FS throws the ball to the open guard on the other side of the court, and they will normally have a nice 10' shot waiting for them.
  11. Once the defense figures out your passing to the open guard, then they won't move to help against the lob pass. This let's you go back to your original overload or lob pass.
  12. Younger teams have such a hard time with this offense, that it's flat out scary. In fact, my girls just got back from playing a tournament in Las Vegas. This was our major offense every time the other teams played a zone against us. Guess what? Most of the teams we played against played a zone, and we won the tournament with this offense. So it is an offense you can use against older teams as well.
  13. Don't quite understand it? Draw your diagram and use dimes as your guards and quarters as your forwards and nickles as your defenders. Keep reading this while you are moving your players into their designated spots. Now keep moving your players until it makes sense.

Let's call this offense The Overload. Let's remember, the overload is only to be played against zone offenses.

Any questions e-mail me at

by Steve Jordan

Just a few comments to add to Ed's discussion on zone offense:

  1. Learning complicated patterns will consume a huge chunk of precious practice time.
  2. Inexperienced players will have trouble concentrating on patterns during the game.
  3. Complex plays break down easily. Sometimes one mistake by one player can throw the entire team into confusion or disarray.
  4. If the offensive play is too difficult, the kids will just stop trying to run it.
  5. When trying to run a complex pattern, the kids work so hard at following the play, they miss the open shots that are created during the process.

You are welcome to any of the diagrammed, basic plays in the Coach's Notebook. These plays were designed when I coached 6th-8th grade team in YMCA ball and I find they still work well in 9th-10th grade high school competition. There is nothing wrong with simplicity. In fact, there is far greater value in performing simple skills well rather than complicated skills poorly. Choose plays that can be learned and mastered quickly. The players will be more successful and have alot more fun.

Chapter 6 - Junk man, Junk bonds, Junk mail, ... Junk Defenses??

by Ed Riley

Conventional...Traditional...Status Quo...Regular...Normal...these are all words that describe the defenses that most experienced coaches use. These defenses' names read like something a rocket scientist might use, or that James Bond might use as a secret code: 1-3-1, 2-1-2, 1-2-2, 1-2-1-1, see what I mean?

In the last 20 years there's been a new phenomena occurring. Remember when you first started coaching, how hard it was to find material that actually helps the first year coach? Because of this, a lot of younger coaches started making up their own defenses. So what do the older more experienced coaches call these defenses, JUNK DEFENSES. And what do the older coaches tend to think of these defenses? That they live up to their name, of course.

I fit right in with a lot of the older coaches, (no ole fart jokes now), because I preach that you need to stay with man-2-man 99% of the time. I'm not a big advocate of using junk defenses a lot. But, there is a time and a place for everything, even junk defenses. And ...... wouldn't today's traditional defenses be considered junk defenses when they first came on the scene?

Here's a little story to illustrate my point, and it may not be exactly correct, but it will be close enough. There once was a college coach who wanted to win the NCAA tournament. He was going to be playing some teams that each had an almost unstoppable superstar on their team. If he went m-2-m, his players weren't good enough to stop them. If he went with a zone, his team would get beat because of the great outside shooting on these superstars. The situation seemed hopeless.

So what did the coach do? He went into his little red office, grabbed his little red notebook, and started drawing junk defenses with his little red pen. After 40 days and 40 knights, (only kidding)! he came up with a new defense, it was dubbed the Box-and-1. And with that brand new "Junk" defense, Coach Bobby Knight won a national championship tournament. Coach Knight, if I totally screwed up the story, please don't see red, because that was how it was described to me, sort of!

The point is that the Box-and-1 is now considered a traditional defense, to a point. You don't use it every game, you use it when you come up against a team that has a player that you just can't stop. Just as there is a place for the Box-and-1, I'm sure that the rest of these "Junk" defenses may have merit as well. So guess what Ima gonna do? Ima gonna give you my version of my own junk defense, I call it the Diamond-and-1. I liked the idea of the Box-and-1, but it just didn't work well for my team, so I changed it slightly. For me to explain it to you, I have to give you an over view of the Box-and-1 first.


  1. Put a forward on each block
  2. Put 2 of your remaining players on each elbow = on each corner of the free-throw line
  3. These four players play a zone, each covering a five foot or so area around where they are standing.
  4. Take your best defensive player, and they cover the other team's superstar, man-2-man.

The purpose of this defense is that no matter where the superstar goes, they are guarded by the one player who is playing m-2-m against them. And, they are also guarded by the person whose zone they invade. So whenever they are playing half court offense, they effectively have 2 people guarding them.

Now my problem with this is that with a person on each block and one on each elbow, someone can drive right down the middle into the paint and shoot. So I took the Box-and-1 and changed it a little, and it works for me.


  1. Place a guard in the middle of the free throw line.
  2. Place a forward halfway between the block and the elbow, on each side of the paint.
  3. Place a forward in the middle of the paint about 3 feet in front of the basket.
  4. When these four players are in the proper position, they form a diamond, and play their zone.
  5. Make your best defensive player play m-2-m against the other team's superstar.

With this defense, you accomplish the same as you do with a Box-and-1, except now someone has to go through 2 of your players in order to drive down the middle of the paint. Folks, pay attention now, only use this defense when it is obvious your team cannot stop an opposing player from scoring. So there you have it, my favorite junk defense.

Remember there are more chapters to come. Any questions, e-mail me at

Chapter 7 - Beating the Junk Defense

by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook

Junk defenses can really stymie a young team if they are not well grounded in dealing with zone defense. Some of the more common questions received by the Coach's Notebook and seen in various coaching bulletin boards concern tactics to use against "junk" zone defensive formations. The questions usually pertain to the 1-3-1, Box and 1 and Triangle & 2 zones. These defensive configurations can appear confusing even to an experienced team if they are being seen for the first time. For more information on conventional defenses, please see my articles, "Basic Man to Man", "Pressure Man to Man", and "Basic Zone".

The thing to remember is that all zones are compromises. To compromise means that one is willing to give up something in order to gain something else. People play zones to protect or hide players, or to constrain the defensive extension. What is given up is the individual responsibility inherent in a man to man defense. Zone responsibilities are about guarding an area rather than a particular player.

Junk zone defenses are often labeled as gimmicks. They are attempts to recover some of the advantages lost in the compromise of playing zone, so the junk defense is more like a hybrid of both zone and man to man. An optimistic coach will claim that the benefit is attaining the best of both worlds. I prefer to think that the junk defense is actually a compromise of a compromise, and therefore a weakened dilution of the basic zone defense.

Discussed in this article is the Box and 1 defense because that's what my buddy, Ed Riley, described above. If you run into a new variation, take minute and sketch it out on paper. The principles applied here will work against other formations. You may need to align the players a little differently to start the offense.

Fundamental Ways to Beat a Zone

To beat the gimmick defense, you must understand how to play against a zone. Breaking down a zone defense can be summed up in a few simple steps:

  1. Push the ball up the court as quickly as you can and still control the action. If the offense beats the defense down the floor, the zone will not have time to set up and open shots may present themselves with nothing more than fundamental two man plays.
  2. Place players in open areas. If the defense has two guards on top, counter with three. For example, the defense shows a 2-3 zone, you counter with a classic 1-2-2 with a point guard, two wings and two posts.  If the defense has three people out front, like in a 3-2, counter with 2-1-2 where you have a post man on the free throw line.
  3. Overload the zone. Just because the defensive players are guarding areas doesn't mean the offensive players must play in certain areas. Put four players on one side of the floor. The zone will not have adequate coverage on that strong side.
  4. If the zone is set up, make the defense MOVE. There are two basic ways to do this. One, attempt to drive between two defensive players. They will be forced to close the gap. For a moment you will have two defenders on the ball. Someone nearby will be open. Two, use short, quick passes. The defense will not be able to keep up as the ball moves from side to side. If you have an overload situation, someone will soon be open for a shot.
Beating the Box and 1

The Box and 1 will devote a defender to your best scorer (B1). The other four opponents will play zone, usually in a box formation (diagram #1). B1 will need to best both his man and the zone to get a drive at the basket.

What happens, though, if B1 becomes a post player? In diagram #2, B5 has moved to the high post and B1 is on the block.

Now, according to the rules the defense has imposed on itself, Both Y1 and Y4 are defending B1 (diagram #3). When B2 drives, forcing Y2 to pick him up, B3 is wide open for the pass.

In diagram #4, B3 has excellent angles to pass to B4 or B5 as well as an open shot from the wing.

 To read about beating other "junk" configurations, try my article in the Coach's Notebook, Beating Junk Defense.

Chapter 8 - Good Ole Common Horse Sense

by Ed Riley

Ever had an idea tug at you, but you can't quite put your finger on it? I always feel that if I don't deal with these ideas right away, I am going to lose something important. It's kind of like when you are shutting your car door, and your know you have forgotten something. You can go ahead and close and lock the door to your car, and then find out that you left your car keys in the car, or you can stop everything you are doing and try to remember what it is that's nagging at you.

That's where I am at the moment, so bear with me while I try to verbalize this current idea. Because I myself am so simple, I like to boil things down to their simplest form. I believe that this one chapter, if I do it right, can help you and me more than anything else I have ever written. Of course, I also invented the laser, penicillin, and coached the winning team in the NCAA tourney for the last 10 years in a row, ar, ar!!!!!

Ever heard of good ole common horse sense? How about common sense? Well, I am going to talk about basketball sense, and lack there of. The biggest problem I see with today's teams is lack of good ole fashioned basketball sense. Let's not restrict this just to the teams, let's include most of the youth coaches in this group as well. So what is basketball sense?

  1. If common sense is bringing water with you on your trek in the desert, then basketball sense is having your players bring a water bottle with them to the game. Why? Ever try talking to your players at half-time when they are all standing in line at the water fountain? As they say in the country, "That dawg just won't hunt!"
  2. If common sense is coming in out of the rain, then basketball sense is yelling for the ball when you are open under the basket. Ever had a player wide open under the basket and quietly wait, hoping their fellow player with the ball would see them? Yeah, me too!
  3. If common sense is looking before you cross the road, basketball sense is dribbling with your head up. How can your player make sure their boyfriend or girlfriend isn't flirting in the stands with some else, if they dribble with their head down. Besides, as a coach I'm sure you check the gym floor for potholes before every game, don't you? No? You always want to check for potholes just so your team won't have to worry about falling into one, JUST IN CASE  they try dribbling with their head up.
  4. If common sense tells you to wear a coat when it's cold outside, basketball sense tells you that you have to move to get open for a pass when you want the ball. Well OK, if your player takes their invisible pill, maybe they don't have to move. But, I heard that one of the side effects of the invisible pills is that they make you belch. If that is indeed the case, then maybe you would still have to move to get open.
  5. If common sense tells you not to dive headfirst into 2 feet of water, then basketball sense tells you that on offense, you shouldn't bring your sleeping bag, tent, barbecue grill, and CD player, and pitch camp in the 3 second area, the paint. Heck, it's hard enough to get that tent set up in the paint in just 3 seconds, let alone cook the shrimp on the Barbie in that time frame.
  6. If common sense tells you not to run that red light while driving, then basketball sense tells you not to try to dribble through 3 defensive players. really need to use the restroom that badly.
  7. If common sense tells you not to stick your hand into the fire, then basketball sense tells you that reaching in to steal a ball normally gets your wrist slapped, or at least a foul. Wanna have some fun? Teach your team not to slap, hack, or reach in to try to steal the ball. Instead, teach them to time the offensive player's dribble and try to slap the ball up. It's hard to foul when you slap the ball upward into the dribbler. And watch what happens to the dribbler, talk about throwing a player totally out of their rhythm, it can be quite humorous.
  8. If common sense tells you not to jump off of the bridge, basketball sense tells you that when throwing the ball in bounds, don't you step in bounds until you do throw it in.
  9. If common sense tells you not to pick on a giant who is 2 feet taller than you and outweighs you by 100 pounds, basketball sense tells you not to have your shortest player guard their tallest player.
  10. I can't resist, I have to tell you a short story related to #9. My point guard is only about 4'10. It is not totally unheard of for her to end up guarding another team's forward for a few moments, due to switching of players because of screens.

    In a game, my PG - point guard, was screened by a 6'3" center. Our other player yelled switch, so now 4'10" PG had to guard 6'3" Giant . Off course, the other team just had to pass it to Giant, who was about 12' from the basket.

    It was obvious that Giant didn't feel comfortable dribbling or shooting from that distance, so she just held the ball above her head.

    All PG could see was the ball, so she jumped up trying to knock the ball out of Giant's hands. With the height difference, PG couldn't jump any higher than Giant's shoulders. Now PG never would admit she was short, and because of this - she played tall. At 4'10", she was still my best 3 point shooter on the team.

    Anyway, here Giant is holding the ball above her head and PG is just jumping and jumping, trying to get high enough to get the ball. It was so absurd a sight, that everyone started chuckling.

    Finally, PG stopped jumping, stared at Giant, and hauled off and kicked the Giant in the shin as hard as she could. The ref immediately blew his whistle for the foul. PG raised her hand in the air admitting guilt. Then she turned to the ref and said, "If you'd called a 5 second call like you should of, I wouldn't have kicked her." With that, she stormed back to the bench.

    No, I don't condone this behavior, but it was kinda funny. All right, let's get back to work.

  11. If common sense tells you not to spit into the wind, then basketball sense tells you not to scream at or curse out a ref, for too long. Remember, most games are won or lost on the free throw line.
  12. Basketball sense tells you to pass slightly in front of the person running down the court on the fast break. Have you ever wondered what your passer is thinking, when they pass the ball and it hits the receiver in the back of their ankle, and trips them? I've wondered this on several different occasions.
  13. This is personally one of my favorites. Basketball sense says not to get hit in the back of the head with the ball, when guarding a player on a fast break. Rather, you should look to intercept the pass.

Have you ever watched the other team rebound under your basket and throw a long baseball pass down the court on a fast break? All the time, right? Well, how about when your defensive player is right behind the intended receiver, and never looks at anything except their player. Then WHAM, the baseball pass hits your player in the back of the head.

Or, even worse, your player can tell the pass is coming, so they stop and cover their head with both hands. In the meantime, the other player catches the pass and goes for a lay-up before your player uncovers their head. If you have never seen this, wait a while, you will!

In an effort to make these chapters short enough for easy reading, (and because my daughter is calling), I'll end this chapter here. Remember there are more chapters to come, so keep check this site for the next installment. If you have any questions, e-mail me at

Chapter 9 - Someone Is Selling Something To Somebody All Of The Time

by Ed Riley

A word of advice to all of you would be writers, DON'T FOLLOW MY LEAD. Go with shorter titles where you don't have to capitalize a lot, (typer's cramp). Anyway, I am sure that this title will raise a couple of eyebrows. Yes, folks, this is where I am going to sell you something, an idea.

I have this innate belief that life consists of a series of little and big sales. Let's take jobs for instance. A lawyer sells himself to his client, and then sells his client to the judge, jury, etc. A doctor sells his expertise. Think not? Look in the yellow pages under physicians, they advertise themselves. The assembly line worker sold his employer on his abilities to get the job done. In fact, every job interview is nothing more than an individual selling a potential employer on their own abilities. Other examples? How about a discussion? Isn't someone normally selling their perspective to the other person?

OK, ED, ENOUGH ABOUT SELLING, ALL RIGHT??? So what does this have to do with coaching basketball? Everything, is the correct answer. Here's an example of why. I get a lot of e-mails from you folks asking for help with this situation or that. The following is an e-mail I received from one of you folks. Read it, figure out how you would solve the problem this coach has, and then read on. The background is this: You have a mom, who was a basketball player herself, and is now coaching her son's 4th grade team. The rest I will let you read in her own words.

"Hey, Ed! Where are you and how quick can you get to Arkansas?

We scrimmaged the 5th graders last night, got beat 38 to 4. But I played all the players and this was their first ever game/scrimmage.

Now I have practice tonight and need to go over some plays. They never took the time to slow down and do anything last night. It was constant running back and forth up and down the court. Any suggestions? We have a game Saturday AM........


Got the picture? Her 4th graders played against experienced and bigger 5th graders. Now walk away from your computer and take a short break. Seriously think about what you would recommend to her. While you are thinking about this, I am going to go take a quick smoke break. (Yes, I have the ultimate nasty habit, and I love it.)

Glad to have you back. I am sure you have solved the problems of the universe for this coach right? Well, here is my e-mail response to this coach. LET'S SEE HOW CLOSE YOU AND I CAME TO HAVING THE SAME ANSWER.

"I wanted to see you play against an older and bigger team, and you boys did great. I know you may not think you did so good, but you scored 4 points against an older team. This Saturday when you play a team your own age and your own size, it should be a lot more fun. If you can play the older boys, you can beat the ones your own age.

Karen, it's time to turn the negative into a positive, motivate your guys."

What exactly did I suggest for her to do? Nothing more than to sell her players on the fact that they should feel good about what they accomplished. I even e-mailed her that silly little speech. A coach motivates, right? Motivation is nothing more than selling someone on an idea. This coach can throw up because of nerves, or she can try to turn the negative into a positive. Coaching is selling.

So let's look at some other ways coaches sell. How about teaching your players a drill, or a move, or an actual play with X's and O's, isn't this selling? Have you ever tried to teach your team a play, and watch them butcher even the simplest of moves? It's at these times when you begin to wonder if anyone on your team is bright enough to chew gum and tie their shoes at the same time. Wanna know why they aren't getting it? It's because they aren't sold on it!!! It doesn't take a kid long to learn something that they think is cool or fun. This is because they are sold on the idea. It takes a team forever to learn a play if they aren't sold on it.

I just opened up a basketball academy here in St. Louis. We teach kids how to play. Our goal is to teach these kids enough to be able to make their high school team. We have 6 hours a week of LS's and we play very few games at the moment, like none. For a kid, this has to be boring. So how did I get 60 girls to pay me to bore them to tears? First, I sold them on an idea that I could teach them enough to give them a shot at making their high school team. Second, I sold them on the idea that they are an extremely select group of warriors learning how to do battle. Last, I sold them on the idea that I could make LS's fun without playing a game for a while.

Here is a wonderful use of Ed's version of the English language. A definition of "Coach" means coach, a form of the verb "Coax." To coax, to sell! How's that for abusing the English language? I hope you get the idea. To maximize every situation, try turning the negative into the positive.

I once had a 4th grader who wasn't wrapped too tight. OK, I'll be honest, she was flat out mentally slow. She would believe everything I told her. One time before a game, she couldn't make a shot during warm-ups to save her soul. I mean she couldn't even hit the backboard. So I went up to her and told her, "You know, you can only miss so many shots in one day. After that they all have to go in. But you need to be careful because you can only make so many in a day before you have to miss all of the rest of them. So you keep on missing them in warm-ups like this, and you'll probably make every basket in the game." I then turned and walked away. This girl didn't want to quit shooting even when the horn blew for her to go to her bench for the start of the game.

She only took 5 shots that night, but she made four of them. After the game she came up to me with a real long face and said, "Coach, I'm sorry! If I had missed one or two more before the game, maybe I would have made that last basket in the game. I shot as much as I could before the game, I just ran out of time."

Someone is going to sell something to somebody, all of the time. Either you are going to sell them on your ideas, or they are going to sell you on theirs. You're big, they're small. You are educated, they're not. You are experienced, they're not. You are an adult, they're just kids. So how come they win most of the time? Because they are better at selling than we are. Now you know their secret, beat them at their own game. Sell them on why they should learn this drill, or that play, or whatever.

Don't forget, according to Ed's basketball dictionary, coach is a derivative of the verb "to coax, meaning to sell." So you can try to dictator your way through your teaching of drills and plays, or you can try coaxoaching your way through them. By the way, I think I'll keep that word - coaxoaching. According to Ed's basketball dictionary, coaxoaching is the act of a coach selling their team , individual player, or even the player's parents on an idea, drill, play, or wanted type of behavior through the use of words, verbal tone, or outright bribery. Folks, I'm not proud, I can bribe with the best of them. Sometimes a dollar candy bar saves you a $100 worth of headaches.

Remember there are more chapters to come. Any questions, e-mail at and I'll do my best to find some bum to answer them.

Chapter 10 ...... Survivor Ain't Got Nuttin On Us!

by Ed Riley copyright 2001

I am a relatively outgoing insane, type of fella. Add to that, that my wife has never met anyone but a friend. Add to that, that according to my girls, my was wife has that rare disease called talkalotis, pronounced talk-a-lot-is. With all of this going for me, it was inevitable that in my first year of coaching, I would get to know and become friends with every coach in our league. I met 14 brand new coaches the year I started coaching.

I hope you really, really enjoyed your first year because that is quite possibly the best year there is. Remember the one player of yours that didn't make a basket for the longest time? I had one that didn't make a basket until the last game of her first year. Do you remember their face when they made that first basket? They had a smile wrapped around both ears and you could see every tooth they were missing from across the gym. That's the stuff that coaching memories are made of. That's also the reason why all 14 of the first time coaches I met decided to stick with it and coach their team the next year as well.

AS YOU CAN TELL, ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, RIGHT? ....... WRONG ...... Ever wonder why I named this book "Surviving Your Second Year?" Out of the fourteen perfectly happy first year coaches, only 6 survived to coach their third year. So, six coaches quit at the end of year two and two more quit in the middle of the season.

We tend to give nicknames to the different ages. We have the Dark Ages, the age of the Industrial Revolution, medieval ages, the Age of Enlightenment, and more. Let's look at our own children. When they are one year old, we call it the Wondrous Ones. So what do we call it when they turn two, do you remember? We call it the TERRIBLE TWOS. We all know this term and have probably said it about our own kids. The Terrible Twos apply to coaching as well. During my first year of coaching I visited my local watering hole infrequently. During my second year, I was an infrequent Regular. I made and lost my first gazillion because I invested in Absolute, in more ways than one.

Here is my Top 7 List of Things to Watch For During Year 2

7. First year players are cute and precious. There is nothing cute about a second year player.

6. Your player's parents have had a whole year to build up their expectations of what they think their own kid ought to be able to do. If their child doesn't live up to those expectations, it's the coach's fault. 

5. The "Parents From Hell" surface. Year one was the Age of Innocence = The parents are excited if their kid gets equal playing time and occasionally scores. You will hear a lot of wonderful ouuuh's and aaah's in your first year. Year two is "Why isn't my Johnny playing more than little Jimmy?" "Why aren't you sticking up for Johnny with that ref? My kid never touched that other kid, let alone foul them." 

4. Your players and their parents have had a year to watch a little NBA on TV. Now try getting them to stick to the basics in your Learning Sessions, yeah, right! 

3. The "Parents Form Hell" now believe they know more than you and are not afraid to let you, and everyone else in the world, know that. 

2. Ear boogers! We all know what nose boogers are. Old men with lots of nasal hair have them. Most of us know what lip boogers are. They are the dried up crud you get in the corners of your mouth. An eye booger is the sleep crud in the corner of your eyes when you first wake up. But ear boogers? An ear booger is the visible or invisible crud that second year players get in their ears that prevent them from hearing anything you have to say. Ear boogers are scary things, and they are contagious. One player gets ear boogers, next thing you know, the whole team's come down with a major case of the ear boogers. 

1. OK gang, now do a drum roll on your computer desk as you read the number #1 thing to watch for, during your second year of coaching ....... AND, #1 on the list is TIME. Time, you say to yourself, Yes, Time! It has been 9 months since you last coached these kids. THEY HAVE HAD NINE MONTHS TO FORGET EVERYTHING YOU TAUGHT THEM LAST YEAR. Sometimes we have to control our own expectations and frustrations. Please don't bet that your kids can do even half of the things they could last year, because you'd lose. In the beginning of your second year, just get used to the idea that you have to start from scratch.

So now let's see if I can make the glass half-full again rather than half-empty. As I have stated many times in the past, I would rather solve a problem before it becomes a problem. I have just listed seven major areas of concern for you second year coaches. Now let's solve these problems one by one.

7. 2nd year players aren't cute. I started treating my girls as responsible adults in 5th grade. This was the first year I had my players sign an Expectation contract. If a player couldn't make it to an LS or a game, the player had to call me and tell me why not. Parents were not allowed to call and make excuses. Playing time was equal as long as attendance and great positive attitudes existed. Screw up, and your playing time was reduced. 

6. Parents expectations and their subsequent actions were curtailed dramatically with the introduction and enforcement of the Expectation contract. This was the first year that I gave out homework. I.E., work on left handed dribbling, shoot 100 free throws before the next LS, etc. If I had a parent with unusually high expectations, then I asked the parents to sign off that their child had actually done their homework. When they realized that their child wasn't doing their homework, then how can it be the coach's fault? All of these things can help you in your second year. 

5. "Parents From Hell" can be greatly reduced by the having your Expectation contract signed and enforced. The next way to help solve this is by what I call the "One Minute Mis-manager." When I first started coaching, I would take forever to explain something to a parent, or even to a player. By doing this I not only missed the boat, I missed the taxi to the boat.

Most kids have a very short attention span. If it takes longer than a minute to explain something, you've lost them. Also make sure you explain it like you would to a four year old, so there is no chance for them to misunderstand what you are saying.

So it's time to apply my One Minute Mis-manager to the parents. I do everything in my power to limit my parent conversations to one minute as well. The shorter the conversations, the less time they have to whine, yell, or scream at you. Another helping hand is when you forbid your players to have their parents call you about being late, missing LS's, or missing a game. Parents can't work you unless they are talking to you. Another aide in this battle is e-mail. I try to do 90% of all communications outside of our LS's by e-mail. And, I never let a parent say a word during an LS. Combine all of these and you reduce the chances of a "Parent From Hell" catching you.

4. Being influenced by ESPN is easy to rectify. Without their parents to support their potential Hot Dog, non-fundamentally sound skills behavior, most potential showoffs will settle back down and follow your direction, especially when they are faced with suicides as an alternative.

3. Refer back to #5 for the solution to "wanna-be coach parents".

2. Ear boogers are tricky things. If you have a kid who won't listen, hand them a phone and tell them to call their parents to come and get them. They can explain to their parents why. Then tell them to bring back a doctor's excuse verifying they have an incurable case of ear boogers. Without this excuse, they are not allowed to come back until they apologize to you and the whole team for disrupting the LS. Also cutting playing time works.

1. To have nine months to forget what you already taught them once is a hard one. You need patience, lots and lots of patience. They will relearn everything relatively quickly. Just don't expect a lot immediately and you won't be disappointed.

Folks, my job is to help you survive your second year. It's the personal side of the game that gets to you and makes you crazy. You have all heard of the term "nuts and bolts." Drills and X's and O's are the "bolts." The personal side of the game is the "nuts," short for nutso. I hope these seven steps to survival helps. Now lets go on to the next chapter and deal with some bolts.

Remember there are more chapters to come. As always, e-mail me at if you have any questions.

Chapter 11 Lost In Space

Let's play a little guessing game. I give you the clues, and you tell me who I am or what I am talking about. Remember, basketball is a game and games are supposed to be fun. So, if I extrapolate from there, (big 50 cent word for me, huh?) then basketball books should be a little fun as well, right? OK, so here we go.

Clue #1 Intruder alert! Intruder alert!

Clue #2 Who is quicker, me or them?

Clue #3 What do Fred Astaire, a young John Travolta, Julia Stiles, N'Sync, and you have in common?

Clue #4 "I once caught a fish, this big," is a line and a scene from the movie "DAVE." It's what Kevin Kleine was doing when he said this.

Clue #5 It's a basketball quote, "When everything else fails, you still have your _______?

OK, stop! Scroll back up and take your worst guesses, then scroll back down to here. OK, the answers are:

Got it, or give up? I'm talking about DEFENSE.

Clue #1 is when you take the court you need to feel like you own that court. So when the other team takes the court, they are invading your home, thus...Intruder Alert!

Clue #2 about who's quicker, has to do with spacing.

Clue #3 had to do with footwork, thus dancers.

Clue #4 has Kevin Kline spreading out his mechanical arms as far as they would spread. On defense you have to keep your hands up.

Clue #5 is "When everything else fails, you still have your DEFENSE."

Defense is all about spacing, footwork, keeping your hands up and out, and attitude. Maybe the hardest part for someone to understand is the spacing, so let's tackle that first.

Lost In Space

One of the first things a defensive player needs to figure out in a game is, is the player you are guarding quicker than you are? The answer to this, determines how far away from your opponent you play.

In Your Face Defense

Let's assume that you know for a fact that you are much quicker than your opponent, and that they have the ball. Then you play "In Your Face Defense," or IYFD. This means that you are always within one arm's length of your player when they have the ball. If they fake you out away from the basket, then you should be quick enough to catch up with them and still stop them.

I tell my girls in this situation that I want them closer enough to smell the other player's breath. My girls gave me that Eewww, gross! look when I said this the first time. But, they soon learned what I meant by that. Now they make jokes about what the other players had for lunch.

You're Quick - I'm Smarter Defense

When the player you are guarding has the ball and is quicker than you, then your spacing is not IYFD. If they are 15' or more away from the basket, then be at least two arm lengths away from the quick player you are guarding. If they start to drive on you, this spacing gives you more of a chance to stay with them on defense.

My daughter is a great example of this. Crash is 5'9" and 155 lbs. (She used to be 177 lbs.) At 5'9" and 155 lbs., you wouldn't think of her as being quick enough to be a defensive whiz. If she isn't the best defensive player on my team, then I don't know who is. This girl is just as good against a super quick guard, as she is against a wide body forward. Why? She has spacing down to a science.

I'm not trying to brag, I'm trying to make a point. And Crash is my "Crash Dummy". If a wide body player with average speed can guard a super quick guard, simply because of spacing, then we all need to take a serious look at this.

When Crash is guarding a "Superstar" guard who has the ball, Crash will play as many as 3 arm lengths away from the girl. As the girl approaches the basket, that 3 arm lengths goes to two, and then to one the closer she gets to the basket. It's kind of hard to drive around someone who is that far away from you.

If Crash is guarding a forward who is slower than she is, she puts a body on the forward and stays within 6 inches of her girl. Crash puts one hand in front of the opposing player to block any passes, and the other hand stays between the player she is guarding and the basket. Not only is it hard for a forward to receive a pass like this, but once they get the ball, what are they going to do with it, shoot? Crash blocks a lot of shots every game because of this spacing.

Weak Side vs Ball Side

This is where you might get to stretch for a moment. Do you have one of those dry erase boards with a basketball court imprinted on one side? You know, the kind you see coaches draw plays on for their players during a game. OK, go grab it. If you don't have one, grab a sheet of paper and a pen.

Got everything? Good! Now I'm going to talk to those who are using paper. The rest of you with the boards can start at the appropriate time. Now draw a halfcourt with free-throw line and all. Now draw a line down the middle of your 1/2 court from the middle of the baseline under the basket to the 1/2 court line. This should give you two equal halves of your half court. If I lost you, reread this again and then do it. Now do you've a right side and a left side of your half court? Alrighty then!

Now you only need one more item and we can continue on with this very long project. Now you need a coin. I would prefer a Susan B. Anthony dollar, but I guess any old coin will do. (I just have rich tastes.) So now you have your paper or board with your half court divided in half, and you have a coin.

Imagine the coin is the player with the ball. Put the ball on the right side of your half court. Now the right side is called ball side, or strong side. The left side is called weak side.

Now place the coin, player with ball, on the left side of your court. Now your left side is your ball side, and your right side is your weak side. So, duh, whatever side the ball is on is your ball side. Whatever side the ball taint on is your weak side.

Why did I make this so complicated? I bet my wife I could get a bunch of grown adults, (duh, most adults are grown), to draw on dry erase boards and paper when it wasn't necessary. OK, I wanted to make sure you wouldn't forget, OK? Let's get back to defense.

Again, Weak Side vs. Ball Side Defense

It doesn't matter whether your player has the ball for this. If the player you are guarding is on the ball side and within 15' of the basket, you play more of an IYFD.

If your player is on the weak side, then you play them 2 arm lengths or more away from them. You position yourself between the player, the ball, and the basket. Here are the benefits of playing the weak side this way. If at all possible, weak side players should be standing in the paint or real close to it.

  1. If someone tries to pass to your player, then you can still intercept the pass.
  2. If your teammate on the strong side loses their player, then you can slide over and stop their player from driving to the basket. Some people call this a sagging defense.
  3. If your player does get the ball, you are still in position to stop them from driving to the basket.

I don't know about you folks, but I am kinda bored with this. Don't misunderstand me, what I just gave you is probably one of the most important things to learn. Defense wins games. It's just that I think we both need a short break, so let's break out the anti-bored serum.

Now You See It - Now You Don't

A friend of mine, Dave, runs a summer league for average teams. It's not for the super elite club teams, but it's a great parish league for the average team. Dave and I are even good enough friends that we co-coached our daughters' AAU 11 and under team.

Here's the rest of the background. A guy named Tom is the Lay-Director of basketball for this parish. He is also, quite possibly, the worst referee that has ever set foot on a hardwood court.

Last spring Tom reffed a game and called 30 fouls in the first half, by himself. The other ref called a total of 2 fouls. By the end of the game, Tom had called over 50 fouls. A normal game takes at most, an hour to play. This game lasted almost two hours. At the end of the game, one team only had four players left that had not fouled out.

Here's the last bit of info that you need to know before I can go on. The girls who kept track of the scores and fouls at the scorer's table, were all 6th-8th graders that went to that parish. And, away we go.....

I had a game there and found out that Tom was going to referee the game. I knew I was screwed because my girls have always played hard physical basketball. I knew that it would be a long game with the other team shooting a lot of free throws. So, I called my buddy, Dave, and told him what I had planned and told him he had to be there to see this.

Next I went to one of my favorite stores in the world, Spencer Gifts. I truly do love that store. I bought my supplies for the game, and I was ready for the next step.

I called up the coach we were going to play against, he was another friend of mine, and told him my plans. After regaining his composure, he agreed to be a party to my plan. Before the game, I met with the opposing coach and gave him his supplies.

As you already know, before the game, you have to fill out the scorebook with your player's names and numbers. Well, right before the game, and I mean right before the tip off, I filled out the book and made sure I handed it to Tom, the ref. He's pretty anal retentive, so after CAREFULLY scrutinizing the scorebook, he handed it to the scorers. The whole time I was sweating like a gutted pig.

The game began and within the first two minutes Tom called a grand total of 6 fouls. As he looked to the scorer's table to tell them the number of the offending player, this is what he saw. Both young girls were rifling through all of the papers on the scorer's table. From the looks on their faces, they were desperate.

When Tom couldn't get their attention, he called a referee's time-out and walked to the table. When these girls saw him coming, they straightened up and one of them said, "I'm sorry, who was the foul on?" Tom told them, blew his whistle and started the game.

As soon as the game started, these two girls started going through everything on their table. They looked under their chair, under the table, and they even looked on the stage behind them. I felt sorry for them, because the other coach and I had filled out the scorer's book with disappearing ink.

It wasn't another thirty seconds before the next foul was called. Tom looked at the scorer's table and the two girls were tearing up the place trying to find the pages the other coach and I had filled out. He called another referee's time-out and walked over to them.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"You wouldn't understand," replied one of the girls. "It's a girl thing."

Well, the other coach and I about lost it. These girls didn't want to be embarrassed about losing, not one, but both pages of player's names and numbers. And how do they cover it up? "It's a girl thing!" If that's not priceless, what is? At what age do you girls learn to use this universal female way of saying, "Don't ask?"

Tom just shook his head, and started the game again. You could tell who wore the pants in his family. Another 30 seconds went by, he called another foul. This time the girls 'fessed up and told him they had lost the pages. He stopped the game and the three of them looked all over for those pages.

Tom saw Dave and motioned him over into a conference with both coaches. Tom explained the situation and asked Dave if he would ref the game for him, and Dave agreed. Next Tom said he was going to do the scorer's table and could both coaches fill out a new page with the player's names and numbers.

The other coach and I went to the book, took both pens off of the table and filled out our pages in real ink. Then we left the two pens with disappearing ink on the table for Tom to keep score with and took the real pens with us.

Next the other coach and I asked Dave, our new ref, and my friend who was in on it, if we could take a three minute break and quickly go to the restroom. He nodded and even joined us. We didn't make it through the restroom door before all three of us lost it. We couldn't control the laughter. There was more snorting and cackling than you would ever hear at a farm.

On the way back to the gym, Dave told his daughter to go find her two girl friends who were doing the scorer's table and explain the practical joke and to tell them that no one was mad at them. I handed her two fives to give to the girls as a bribe not to tell anyone.

The game began, again. Now we were rid of the ref we didn't want, and we were waiting to see how he was going to handle keeping score with the disappearing ink. He kept writing down the players points, stare at it for a second, then proceed to watch the game.

My players were all in on the prank by now. So, I sent one of my players to the table to find out how many points she had, you could see him scratch his head and just stare at the page in front of him. Then he took his glasses off, as if this were going to help him. Then he told her to sit down and not bother the official scorer. I absolutely couldn't control it any longer. I laughed until I couldn't breathe. My throat hurt, my stomach hurt, and my head hurt. I looked over and the other coach was about in the same shape.

Somehow we made it through that game, and to this day, I don't know how. I don't know who won and I really don't care. After the game, I took Dave, his daughter, her two friends who started on the scorer's table, and my team for a milkshake. The other coach and his team met us at Ted Drew's, a milkshake icon in St. Louis, and we laughed for what seemed like hours.

Weak Side Zone Defense

Alright, I've been off-topic enough. We were talking about defense. Now it sure seems like everything I was talking about applied to m-2-m defense and not a zone defense, right? The weak side - ball side principles apply as much to zone defenses as they do m-2-m. If you are on the weak side, you stay 2 arm lengths away from the players in your assigned area. Place yourself where you can see the ball and the players in your area. Take one hand and point it at the ball. Take your other hand and point it at the player in your area. Now you are in a perfect defensive position.

Oops, I forgot something, how to position your body. You bend your knees like you are squatting and sitting on a wall about three foot high. Now you can point at the ball and the player in your area. Now you are in a perfect defensive position.

Ball Side Zone Defense

OK, so you are now playing ball side zone defense. Body Position? Your knees are bent, but you aren't going to squat quite as low as you do on the weak side. You place one hand in front of the player in your area. This way you can deny the pass. Place your other hand between the player and the basket, and you are semi-facing your player. You are now within six inches of your player. You keep your eyes on the ball, and let your body do the defense. If your player starts to move on you, you will feel them move. Now you take your eyes off of the ball, and cover your area, not the ball.

I don't care if you play m-2-m defense, or a 2-1-2, or a 2-3, or a 1-3-1, or a triangle and 2, or the OLE goobaly gock defense. THESE SPACING PRINCIPLES APPLY TO EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM. If you can teach your team spacing, then you will have the absolute best defensive team in your league, bar none.

I am not telling you what specific defense to play, although I will always recommend m-2-m defense, I AM teaching you something much more important than a specific defense. I am giving you the genetic building block for all defenses, SPACING.

Remember, there are more chapters coming, so come on back to this site. Got a question? E-mail me at

Chapter 12 The Ultimate Offense

I just gave you a chapter on basketball sense (Chapter 8). My point there is to teach yourself as a coach, and to teach your players, to understand the game. This isn't rocket science. You don't need a doctorate or a high dollar coach to point out that you throw a pass in font of a player who is running. In your next LS, start looking for the little common sense things that you can correct or adjust. You will be amazed at how many little things you will find, that can be extremely simple to improve on.

Common sense leads me to this chapter. This is about what I consider to be a common sense offense. This chapter's title could have gone either way. It could have read The Ultimate Failure. What I'm about ready to go into could go either way. This is an offense in theory only. I don't know that it has ever been taught, executed, and been successful. It's sort of like the speed of light deal. Many scientists have theorized, (how's that for a 50 cent word? OK, it's only a 10 cent word), what would happen to a human if they went faster than the speed of light.  Just like we can only guess at the results, I can only put forward this idea about the ultimate offense without proof that it works. Only try this if you and your team meet these qualifications:

  1. You have to care more about teaching your team, than you do about winning today's game.
  2. Your team has to be extremely coachable, able to take constructive criticism.
  3. Both you and your team have to have a lot of patience.
  4. You must have unselfish team players.

OK, so you want to know a little bit more about it, huh? I call it Read and React Motion Offense. My friends are calling it Riley's Waterloo, and time will tell. The basic premise is too simple. No matter what defense a team uses, there will always be a second here or there where a weakness opens up. If a team, not an individual player but a whole team, can play with their heads up and have court vision, they can exploit those few seconds when the chink in the other teams armor opens up.

I know, I know! This is the goal of every offense, right? I've probably seen several hundred youth teams play, and I've never seen this yet. Most coaches go with a set or semi-set offense so it gives the players an idea of where to go and what to do. Kids like a routine. Yeah, they may kick and scream about it, but in the long run they like it better than chaos. Add this to the fact that most youth coaches aren't that knowledgeable, and you get set offenses.

Read and react is just the opposite of a set offense, there's nothing set about it. Stop, hold the presses. I know I defined court vision in my last book, but I can see some of you guys scratching your bald heads. I can see some of you women trying to look up it up in the last book. So here you go, court vision is keeping your head up and being able to see what is happening on the court, the whole court. And being able to do this every moment you are on the court. The moment a player dribbles with their head down, they lose their court vision. Think about it, when your forwards or centers touch the ball, don't you cringe because you know they are going to dribble with heads down and lose the ball? The opposite is the other team's point guard who can thread a pass to their open player. Now you have court vision.

Let me try again now. Read and React is like a chess game. It relies on every member of the team being able to have court vision and to see the best possible place for them to take advantage of the other team's defense.

The thought process works like this. Imagine you are a forward. You see a defensive player playing a tight defense on your teammate. You go to screen this player even though your teammate you're screening for doesn't have the ball. Your teammate sees you coming takes advantage of the screen and cuts to the basket. At the same time you make eye contact with your guard who does have the ball. They come driving to the basket, and you then set a screen for them. The first player you screened for yells for the ball. The player guarding you and the screaming player, both move to stop the driving guard and the forward yelling for the ball. This leaves you wide open. Your guard with the ball has court vision and passes it to you for an easy lay-up.

Now I can see some of you thinking that I just lost you. All it is, is a scenario where court vision and playing smart can work. I can see others of you thinking, "Man, that would make a great play that I could teach my team!" It doesn't work like that. If the forward you first screen for has a player that is not playing a tight defense, then there is probably a better play to make. Read and React is an offense where you continually have to ask yourself, "If I do this, what will happen? Is this a better move than that?" Again, it's like chess, you always have to think two steps ahead.

Read and React can be where you see there are no weaknesses in the defense, so you try to figure out what you can do to create a weakness. Your players have to be constantly viewing the court and thinking. Read and React is a combination of court vision and unselfish, smart basketball. Now if you can honestly say you have the right ingredients as a coach and your players have the right mind set, then read on McDuff.

Here's how to start this program. Your first goal is to get every one your team to be able to handle a basketball with their heads up. How?

PART ONE Dribbling Exercises

  1. Play Red Light - Green Light while dribbling one ball the length of the court using your hand motions as the stop and go. By using your hand signals, they have to keep their heads up to see what to do next. You keep watching and correcting when a head goes down. You may need someone to help you watch for the heads going down.
  2. Now do Red Light - Green Light while dribbling 2 balls
  3. Once they have Red Light down to a science, have them do it again using one tennis ball. When they master this, then go with dribbling two tennis balls. If every one of your kids can dribble two tennis balls with their heads up, you have the beginnings of something very special.
  4. To break up the monotony, throw in some suicides using the same basketball, tennis ball progression. To help make this fun for the kids, divide them into 2 or 3 teams of 3 or 4 and have them compete. The more drills you make competitive, the more fun everyone will have.
  5. Go to your high school football stadium and have them do the one and 2 ball dribbling up and down the stadium steps. This will provide you and them with a lot of laughs and frustration as they chase the balls down the steps.
  6. Do drills 1-4 every LS. Future and present coaches of the world, in order to get everyone on your team to be able to do this, it may take you a year or more. Still have the patience? All I have asked you to do is to teach your kids how to handle a basketball with their heads up. Every coach needs to teach this and every player needs to know it. So...I really haven't asked you to do anything strange or unusual yet. I haven't asked you to kiss your brother or sister, so you are still Otay, Panky!


  1. In Book 1, I gave you a passing drill called The Ring of Fire.  This drill is great for learning how to make a quick pass, using your peripheral vision.
  2. Again, you should know the 3 Man Weave. This teaches you how to make a leading pass to a receiver.
  3. Tape a large "X" on a wall about 3.5' off of the floor. Have your players dribble by it and try to hit the X  while they are moving. Have them do it from different angles, different speeds, and both bounce and in the air passes. Over time make your X smaller and smaller.
  4. Now we get original. Your team has school colors. Have 5 of your players with school color tops, they are offense. Why in the school colors? It gets your team used to recognizing a teammate quickly. Have another 5 players in white tops, they are defense. Have one kid with the ball facing away from the basket so they can't see behind them. Then arrange your other 9 players so that one is slightly open and the rest are totally defended. Once you arrange your players, no one moves.  Next, tell the player with the ball to turn quickly and pass to the open player. This gets them used to looking for the best teammate to pass to. After every pass, explain to everyone why is was the right or the wrong pass to make, and why. Rotate ball handlers and positions for the other 9 players. Get them use to justifying why they chose player they passed to. This is the drill that could take you a solid year before anyone masters it, let alone all of them.
  5. Do drills 1-4 every LS.

Lets recap for a moment. Have I asked you to work on anything but the basics? Nope! The only hard thing about this is that you need to keep coming up with new ways to do the same thing to keep it from being boring. Use different incentives for the winners of the team competitions, and this will help.


This may be the easiest of the ingredients for Read and React. You have to have every player learn how to set a screen that seals. You don't want a screen that is easy to get through. You have to teach them to stay motionless once they set the screen, or else your player fouled the defense on a "moving screen." The only other portion to this, is that once the screen or pick occurs, then you teach the screener to roll to the basket looking for a pass or a rebound. They roll to the basket EVERY TIME THEY SET A SCREEN, not every time but.....they do it EVERY TIME.


Once you have everyone setting solid picks that seal, it's time to teach you a new drill, "Tag-You're Picked." You start off again, by having five offensive players in team colored tops and 5 more defensive players in white tops. Here's the drill.

  1. Arrange your ten players in the positions you want them to stand stationary in. No one moves!
  2. Hand the ball to any player. No one moves.
  3. Ask an offensive player, without the ball, to tell you where they should set a screen. It can be screening the ball handler, or away from the ball. Based on everyone's current position, who should they set a pick for?
  4. Then ask them to justify why they chose that person to screen. If they are right, praise them. If they are wrong, tell them who they should have chosen, and why. Make every player do the same thing based on their positioning.
  5. Now rearrange your players, and tell white they are on offense. Now repeat step 4.

Are you starting to understand why I said in the beginning, you and your players have to have patience and they have to want to learn?  Is this for everyone? Hail no! But all you are really doing is making your players use their gray matter. You are asking them to think.

You will find a not-so-surprising tidbit when you do the Tag drill. Everyone wants to pick for the person with the ball. The reality is, that most of the time the best person to set a pick for will be a team mate without the ball.

What's the hardest part about this so far? Keeping your player's interest. Remember, they're kids, they came to learn maybe, but still to have fun. If you have an hour long LS, then do this drill for about 10 minutes of every LS. But you do it for ten minutes EVERY LS. Kids learn through repetition. After 5-10 LS's, you might start seeing a player make the correct choice in  a game. When you see this occur in a game, bow down, face Mecca, throw some salt over your left shoulder, buy a Powerball ticket, and hit your local watering hole on the way home.  Why?  Because someone on your team just  took their game to a new level. Libations will be allowed at that appropriate moment. You may even have earned the title of coach.


For you folks that actually have read enough of my ramblings to be able to say that you are getting to know me, then you know what's coming next. I HAVE BEEN TOO SERIOUS HERE FOR TOO LONG. I am a person who can stay with technical and serious thinks for only so long, before I need a break. I'll get back to Read and React in just a moment, but first I NEED to break my boredom. It's not that you are boring. I'm boring myself with trying to describe Read and React. If I'm bored, I know you have to be bored.

Sooooooo's a lil story for you. I'm not a real proud individual. I don't have an ego the size of a Clinton, so I hope you can have as much fun hearing this story as I do recounting it. If you don't like graphic, gross stuff, skip the story and go on to Read and React.

In 7th grade I was 6'2," that's big for a beginning 7th grader. I can only imagine that my coach was foaming at the mouth when he saw me walk into tryouts. He was probably thinking that by 9th grade I would be 6'6" or more. I faked him out, I did, I did! I never grew another inch.

Anyway, we practiced and practiced until we finally had our first game. We were all so excited that we couldn't think of anything except for "when do I get to play?" By the luck of the genetic pool, I started. The other team had a big ole boy about my height and we kept battling each other for rebounds.

At half-time, we went into our locker room and the coach started yelling that we screwed up here, and there, and everywhere. We didn't care, we were playing our first game and life was good. At the end of his tirade, I hit the fountain like there was no tomorrow.

With water still dripping off of my chin, we started the second half. Did I tell you the other guy was big? OK, but did I tell you he was mean. We battled for position, we battled for rebounds, and we were at war. War for a 7th grader consists of pushing and shoving, elbowing and stepping on toes. Even as a 7th grader, he said things that I won't repeat in print. He was big, mean, and Mr. Nasty.

About 5 minutes into the game, one of my teammates put up a shot and I got the long distance rebound. I put the ball on the floor for one dribble, went up into the air for a lay-up, and then it happened.

When I said I went up into the air, it wasn't very high up because I didn't have much of a vertical. My bladder was about the same height as the elbow that Mr. Nasty threw at me. So guess where that fateful elbow fell? You got it, right smack dap in the middle of my Lake Erie.

I fell to the floor in pain. I had consumed so much water at the half, that I could have floated The Titanic. I was in such pain I couldn't hold it any longer, and Lake Erie gushed out, and I mean everywhere.

The ref never called a foul so the game was continuing. Both teams were fighting for my rebound. With the floor becoming a river of pee, everyone started slipping and sliding, and before you could say " Peter Piper Pee'd a Peck," (Pee'd a peck?), anyway, half of both teams slipped and fell. Where did they fall? Right into Lake Erie. Everyone on the floor got soaked someplace. Beside me lay Mr. Nasty, face down on the floor with one of his teammates laying across him, face down.

I told you before, there's a time to act, and a time to react. But every once in a lifetime, there's a time to do both. There was no more a perfect time to do both, than right then.

I jumped up and acted like I was smelling one of the real wet spots on my uniform. "God, this smells like pee! Did you pee in your pants?" I yelled as I pointed at Mr. Nasty.

That was all it took. Everyone was scrambling to get out of Lake Erie and that made it even worse. Even more players ended up in the Lake. By the time the smoke cleared, at least 8 players had fallen and all of them ready to choke Mr. Nasty.

I never knew Mr. Nasty, or even saw him again. I only know that I sequestered him away, and he became the original member of the Wetness Protection Program. One thing's for sure, I just proved I am not an overly proud or egotistical individual, because I just ratted on myself.

Let's get back to Read and React. You know how to teach them to look for the open player to pass to. You know how to teach them to look for the best mate to set a pick for. Do not implement the next part, until your team has drill #4 and Tag-You're Picked almost down to a science. If you try to go too fast, you'll be on step 8 when the rest of your team is only on step 3. That's not a Good thing!

Once your team is ready, then it's sort of like a cake, you have some ingredients, but now what do you do? NOW HERE'S THE REST OF THE STORY, OR HOW TO BAKE YOUR PIE!

WJE Passing Drill

Let's go back to red light-green light, only this time your whistle begins and ends all movement. Begin your baking process by explaining to your players that you know that they are going to make a lot of mistakes in the beginning. You also know that the longer they do this exercise, they fewer mistakes they are going to make.

Next, tell them they are going to play half court 5-on-5. Every time you blow the whistle they are to stop immediately and not move from that spot. Also, they are not allowed to screen for each other. You are simply looking for them to pass to the appropriate teammate.

The game starts and the first time someone makes a pass to the wrong player, blow the whistle. Of course they won't stop on a dime, so you may have to rearrange them back into the whistle-blowing position. Then ask the passer to justify why they picked that person to pass to. Afterwards, tell them who they should have passed to and why.

Coaches of the world, if you use a sour tone in your voice, this won't work. What you will have are a bunch of doe eyes, staring into the car headlights. They cannot think you are attacking them or making fun of them. They have to believe you are teaching them positively to become a better player and a better team.

Every time someone makes a bad pass, whistle, justify, and explain. WJE, pronounced woogee = whistle, justify, explain. By Jove, I do believe I just came up with a new saying, WJE! Gosh, I'm so dumb. I just realized how new sayings occur.    When you get tired of writing something, you come up with a new, shorter way to say it. DUUHHHHH!!!

To get back on topic, make sure everyone gets a chance to pass the ball and then WJE them. I would do this for about 10 minutes and then reward them with a competitive drill with spoils for the victors. They need to have some fun, doing something fun for a while. Don't ever lose your team to total boredom. After they have gotten some of the boredom out of their system, you are ready for the next step.

WJE Picking Drill

Same red light-green light premise, only this time tell them you are looking for them to set the best picks possible. When they hear the whistle they stop dead in their tracks. Every time someone picks the wrong person to pick for, WJE. Again, I'd spend about 10 minutes per LS on this.

Want the end results on the WJE Drills? No results in the beginning, Rome was not built in a day. It may take you months and months before you see something. But....what is it you hope to see? Michael Jordan flying through the air? A flurry of 3 pointers made in a row? Don't think so, this isn't ESPN Sportscenter. What you will see is basketball in it's purest form. You will see passes to open players. You will see your team create holes in the other team's defense that were never there before. You will see unselfish TEAM BASKETBALL at it's best.

Another aspect of the beauty of Read and React, how do you defend an offense that is not defined? It never is played the same way twice, unless the opposing team keeps making the mistake over and over again. It's like the ole saying, "How do you catch the wind?"

So let me give you one more ingredient here, you have to teach your team how to shoot. All an offense is designed to do is provide an opportunity for an open shot. To win a game, you have to make a lot of your shots, more than the other team makes. If Read and React gives you a lot of open looks at the basket, then you have to be able to make some of them. If not, you have done all of this for nothing. How to improve your shooting will be a different chapter in this book.


I have tried to make this easy to understand, I hope I have succeeded. I am trying to let you integrate this into your LS's without taking up your whole LS. If you try this, you will need to devote about 20 minutes plus per LS. Have I gone into the everything concerning the Read and React? Nope! But anything more would make this more than just an excerpt. Just stay tuned and we will start posting the book here, and soon I hope. If you have any questions, e-mail me at

Chapter 13 - The Wheels On The Bus Go Round & Round

by Ed Riley, copyright 2001

I've had so many e-mails from you readers asking me for a simple offense against a m-2-m defense that I guess it's time to give you a simplified version of The Wheel. Remember, it is to be used against m-2-m defenses only, not against a zone. The purpose of this offense, and most offenses, is to spread out the defense.

Space all 5 of your players outside the 3 point line, and space them equally apart. This should end up looking like a half circle surrounding the basket. Here are the rules:

  1. Every time you pass the ball, you cut to the basket looking for a pass.
  2. Every time you get passed the ball, look to see if you can drive to the basket, or if the cutter is open to pass to.
  3. If you or the cutter are not open, then pass to the person on either side of you, and now you cut to the basket looking for a pass. The process begins all over again.
  4. If you the cutter does not get passed to, then when they finished with their cut, have them go to the baseline positions outside the 3 point range.

Timeout, I just lost you, right? OK, draw a 1/2 court and include the 3 point arc. Now draw circles for your players.

  1. Draw a small circle to the right and left of the basket outside the 3 point arc. If you connected these 2 circles, it would form a line parellel to the baseline. Make the circles about 5 feet away from the baseline. Number this position on the left 1, and the one on the right 5.
  2. Now draw a circle at the top of the key, outside the 3 point arc. It should be in the middle of the court so the player is staring straight at the basket. Now # this position 3.
  3. Draw a small circle 1/2 way between players 1 and 3, this is position number 2.
  4. Draw another small circle between players 3 and 5, and this is position number 4.

So now you have a semi-circle of players in positions 1-5, all outside of the 3 point line.

So here's how it works.

If 3 has the ball and passes to 2, then 3 runs to the basket looking for a pass. In the meantime, number 4 runs over and takes 3's original position. Then 5 moves up and takes 4's position. If the original 3 doesn't get passed to, then they move over to 5's original position. This gives you a new 1-5 set up. Now you can go back up to the original rules, re-read them and they should make sense.

How do you teach this offense? First they learn their position, so never have the player with the ball pass to the cutter. Just have them pass and cut, and learn how to rotate to the empty spot. Once they learn this, then start having them pass to the cutter whenever you blow your whistle. If you don't blow the whistle, they don't pass.

A simple rule? The person cutting to the basket should look to the passer for the pass. I have actually seen an open cutter, but not looking for the pass. The passer is trained to look for the open cutter, so if the cutter is open, they pass the ball. I've seen passes bounce off of the back of cutter's heads before, because they weren't looking for the pass. And, THAT HURTS!

Another simple rule? If you are a cutter, don't yell for the ball unless you are really open.

Want another one? Don't pass to the cutter unless they are open.

The major disadvantage to this offense is rebounding. You have absolutely no one in position to get a rebound when a player does shoot. You have to teach your players that every time a teammate shoots, they need to crash the boards quickly to get the rebound. A word of caution, always have a player in position 2,3, or 4 stay back around the top of the key on a rebound. This way you have a person back to help stop the other team's fast break, should the other team get the rebound.

Sounds complicated? It's not. If it was too complicated I wouldn't be able to do it, because I am no rocket scientist. Play with your diagrams and use coins as your players . Move the coins as a player would move. All of a sudden, the light bulb will come on and you'll understand it.


With any luck, within the next week or so, I will have my website up and running. It is designed for youth coaches and players. There will be a section on plays, one on defenses, one for articles, a threaded discussion board where you can ask questions and have various coaches answer them, and A WHOLE LOT MORE. My web address will be

Chapter 14 My Best Kept Secret Drill

by Ed Riley copyright 2002

I know, I know, best drills are a matter of opinion. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? So that's why this is my best drill, not everyone's. Here's the but, but what if I could convince you that it is the best drill? That would be quite a challenge, wouldn't it? So here's my best shot at having fun convincing you.

We do drills to teach players how to do something. We do the same drill every LS because we coaches are a smart breed. We took our inhumane psych 101, and we know that kids learn things by repetition. The more they do it, they better they become at doing it. So we do the same drills every LS.

We, the intelligent adults that we are, and I use that term loosely, also know that if a drill can teach a player more than one thing, it's a great drill. So if a drill can teach your players more than any other drill, that would qualify it for "The Best Drill," right? So let's see what my best drill might accomplish.

  1. What if it teaches your players to move without the ball?
  2. What if it forces your forwards and centers to learn how to dribble?
  3. What if it gets even your guards to learn to block out?
  4. What if it helps teach your players the effectiveness of a screen?
  5. What if it teaches your players competitiveness and how to be more aggressive?

I can hear you all now, "Yeah right, and rats have wings!" I hear you Doubting Thomas's out there, and I would feel the same way if I were you. But what if I'm right? It would one heck of a drill and it would qualify for the Best Drill Hall of Fame. Here are the rules of the "Drill."

  1. Divide your team into 2 relatively equal teams, quality-wise and by equal number of players on each team.
  2. Hopefully you are practicing on a full-sized court with six baskets. If you go sideways and divide the court in 1/2, you have 2 smaller basketball courts.
  3. You now have your 2 teams play each other in a full court 3-on-3 game on one of these shorter courts.
  4. No one is allowed more than 3 dribbles.

After several times of doing this, you will be astounded by the results. First let's talk about conditioning. No one likes to do laps that I know of. 3-on-3 is about 2 to 3 times faster than regular basketball. It's hard to stay in for over 3-4 minutes without signaling to come out for a breather. Your players will get into shape and have fun.

Next, let's talk about moving without the ball. I have yet to meet a coach who hasn't complained about how they wish their players would move to get open. When there are only 3 on a team, and when no player is allowed more than 3 dribbles and then they must pass, everyone learns real quickly to move to get open. Trust me, it just happens!

How about teaching your forwards and centers to handle a ball? In 3-on-3 there are no forwards or centers. There are 3 players on the court who have to play every position. With the 3 dribble rule, forwards and centers must dribble the ball. Guards have to learn to block out. Everyone learns to screen. Everyone has to learn everyone else's position.

Competitiveness? Losers run a suicide, that gets their juices flowing.

If you let them do this the last 15 minutes of every LS, your LS's end on a fun note, and you will see them start to learn right before your very eyes.

Now it's time for me to fess up, and state the obvious = this wasn't a drill I went into, now was it? OK, I cheated just a little. But it is part of our practice routine and over the years, my teams have learned more from this than any drill I have ever shown them.

Sorry this chapter was so short. What's that? You like shorter chapters because they're easier to read? All right, I got the message, or did I?

Chapter 15 A Few Ball Handling Drills

by Ed Riley

The Slide (or the Ladder) - a passing, catching and footwork drill

  1. Line up all but 1 of your players on the baseline, facing the opposite basket, about 4' or so apart. For the sake of simplicity, let's number them 2 through 10.
  2. You need 2 balls.
  3. The 1 player has a ball and stands about 8' away, facing # 2 who is at one of the ends of the player's line.
  4. #2 now has a ball and the 1 player facing them has a ball.
  5. The 1 player passes to #3, the #2 passes to #1, who passes to #4, while catching the pass from #3. #1 passes to the next person in line, while catching a pass from the last person they threw the ball to.
  6. Players 2-10 never move, except to step into the pass they are receiving from #1.
  7. #1 slides their feet as they move down the line catching and passing. They never cross 1 foot in front of the other as they move, THEY SLIDE FROM SIDE TO SIDE.
  8. Once #1 has made it to the end, they go the other way and pass to 9, while receiving a pass from 10. When they make it back down to #2, then it's #2's turn to do the drill. #1 now takes a place in line.

Here's my attempt at a diagram. Quit laughing, at least I'm trying.
2  3  4  5  5  6  7  8  9  10
1  1  1  1  1  1  1  1  1  1  1

After 1 passes to #3, 1 slides right while receiving the pass from 2, They constantly are sliding right as they pass. Once they get to 10, they go back the other way. Do this until everyone has been back and forth once.

The Reverse Direction Drill

This is a SET of ball handling drills using the following pattern. Draw a basketball court with halfcourt line and both free-throw lines. Number the following positions on your drawing.

#1 = Bottom right hand corner of court, where baseline meets the out of bounds line.

#2 = Middle of closest free-throw line.

#3 = Where half court meets the out of bounds line on the right side of the court.

#4 = Middle of farthest free-throw line.

#5 = Farthest corner of court where baseline meets the out of bounds on right side of court.

Folks, if you draw a line from 1 to 2, 2 to 3, 3 to 4, and 4 to 5, this should look like a zigzag on the right side of the court.


  1. Player starts on 1 and dribbles to position 2 left-handed.
  2. At 2 they do a crossover, and dribble right handed to position 3.
  3. C. At position 3, they do another crossover and dribble left handed to position 4.
  4. At position 4, they do another crossover and dribble right handed to position 5.
  5. When they do their crossover, they dribble lower to the ground while switching their dribbling hands.
  6. SPIN MOVES using the same positions 1 - 5 as in the Crossover Drill
  7. The player runs the same route, 1-5. Every time they reach a numbered position, they use a spin move to change their direction and dribbling hands.

BEHIND THE BACK using the same positions 1-5

The player uses the same route, 1 - 5. Every time they reach a numbered position, they do a behind the back pass to themselves to change direction and dribbling hands.

Duck Walk or Figure 8's - a ball handling drill

Have the player do a figure 8 between their legs with the ball. You can learn this movement while you sit in your chair reading this. Go grab a ball, a book, even a pen. Let's say you have a book. Now hold the book in your right hand in between your knees. Take the book under your left knee, and reach down and grab it with your left hand. Take the book in your left hand and take it on the outside of your left knee, then take it under your right knee and hand it to your right hand. Voila, you now have a figure 8. This is how your players must do it with a basketball, just not sitting down.

Duck Walk = Have your players on the baseline with a ball. They do a figure 8 between their legs while they walk the length of the court. When they get good at this, have them walk backwards and do it.

Once the players get accustomed to these drills, you can do all of them in 15 minutes. For the younger players, this may be all the ball handling drills you need to teach them for a while. If your 3rd grade through 7th grade team can all do crossovers, behind the back, spin moves, and the rest of these moves, then they will be one of the best ball handling teams in your league.

One thing to remember, these drills are for your forwards and centers as well. The kid who is your center today, may not grow anymore, and may be your guard 2 years from now. Everyone should become a ball handler.

Chapter 16 Perception - Reality, Not Necessarily Truth

by ed riley copyright 2002

As some of you know, I run a car dealership. I can hear you folks doing the car salespeople jokes now. "What do you do when you see a car salesman bleeding on the side of a road? Drive on by!" OK, I just said one for you.

Anyway, I was just sent to a 2 day class that cost my dealership $2,500. I don't know about you folks, but that's pretty expensive in my book. So what was I doing there when I wasn't trying to fall asleep, thinking basketball. What did I learn? Something to help me work on one of my team's major weaknesses. So it was a really good training session and learning session for me. (Yes, I'm a basketball rabid, sick puppy.)

My team has always been a what you see, is what you get. We play full court in-your-face defense every second of every game. We contest every inbounds pass. We depend on speed. Last, we will outrun you. We may be down by 12 at the half, and win by 12. Why? If you can't run full speed the whole game, you lose. A side note here, because of all of this, we are a fun team to watch.

If the coach of a team knows anything about us, then they try to play a slowdown game and this is where we lose a lot of games. We are a very straightforward one dimensional team. What you think it's going to be like, is what it will be, speed and m-2-m.

So I'm sitting in this training session learning all about customer satisfaction and trying to exceed a customer's expectations. All necessary in my line of work, but a widdle bit on da boring side.

The speakers flips the page on his flip chart and writes P = R, Not The Truth! Great, now we are learning algebra. Let's just design the trajectory of the next Mars probe while we're at it. The next thing he says catches my attention.

"P = perception. R = reality. So to our customers, Perception = Reality, but not necessarily the Truth. You dealers can bend over backwards to solve a customer's problem, but the customer may not think so. Their perception is reality to them.

At this point in time, my ears perk up and the sleep buggers in my eyes magically disappear. What's real doesn't matter to a customer. What matters is what they think is real. Sometimes their reality is what they think it should be.

Ummmm!!!! My basketball mind is a flutter with new/old horizons. This has got to apply to basketball is what my pea sized brain tells my elephant sized head. So what a team or a player thinks, is what they believe. Perception = Reality to them.

I remembered a game we played several years ago. We were playing against a highly touted team we had never played before. They were supposed to have great guards, and our rep was our speed. So I decided to confuse their guards.

Every time my guards brought the ball up the court, I had them dribble left handed and go slightly to the left side. I wanted their guards to think we were left handed. Once my guard would hit the top of the key they would do a crossover and drive to the right for a relatively easy basket. We must have scored 20 points this way.

Why did this work? Because their guards expected us to drive to the left side of the court because they thought we were left handed. Perception = Reality!!!! I'm not saying this to brag, even a blind squirrel will find an acorn once in a while. I'm using this to make my point.

Perception = right handed guards go to the right - left handed guards drive left. This is a relatively true perception. So I used this belief and we won by 10 or more, who cares? The point is that a player's perception is their reality.

My team had always been a damn the torpedoes and straight ahead kind of team. My job from here on out is to play upon the other team's perceptions and exploit them. So how can this help you?

I have never gone into faking a lot because of bullet passes and our speed. Now I have been converted, I see the light. Fake one way, go another. Fake a pass to the right, go left. Exploit a player's perceptions.

A player is guarding you close, head fake them Jerk your head up quickly toward the basket like you are going to shoot, then drive right or left.

A simple spin move = spin to the left, get 1/2 way through and spin the other way. The defensive player will almost break their ankles trying to switch directions as you fly by them.

You are going up for a lay-up, as your feet leave the ground, look to your left for a millisecond like a teammate is there and you are going to pass to them. Your defender will back off of you as you are now totally free to execute your lay-up.

Head fakes, shoulder fakes, ball fakes, which hand do you dribble with fake, there are a million of them. I have seen other teams perform them all and always thought that this was wasted motion. Well, folks, I was wrong! I was too stupid to use them. I was like the coaches who preach never to make a one handed pass. There is a time and a place for every basketball weapon, we just need to use them at the appropriate time.

So folks, now you have today's Algebra Lesson.

Perception = Reality, But Not Necessarily The Truth!

Chapter 17 Homework? Hard Work!

by Ed Riley

The older I get the more I am constantly amazed by how smart my parents were. I'm sure we have all experienced our parents telling us, "Well, in my day we used to walk 10 miles to school in 3 foot of snow," and all the rest of the stuff that parents tell their kids. As a kid my response was always, "Yeah, right." I would go into that fantasy zone where you nod your head at the appropriate time but tune them out when they talked like this. I'm sure you coaches and players alike know exactly what I'm talking about.

Sheesh, I just remembered a perfect example of this. I heard about a coach who coached at a school for the deaf. Most of the players couldn't hear at all, but some could hear with the help of some major hearing aids. When these hearing aid players got bored with their coach's speech, they would turn down the volume on their hearing aids and pretend they were broken.

Anyway, my parents used to give me these speeches about working hard if you want to get any where in life. I always tuned them out for the most part. This same analogy applies to players and coaches.

You coaches may relate to this. You are giving your "You have to work harder if you want to get better" speech. As you are talking you can see the players eyeballs roll back up into the back of their head. When you see this, YOU HAVE JUST ENCOUNTERED THE ZONE! I'm sure you players know what I am talking about as well. I am sure that you encounter this zone every time you talk about work ethics.

Work ethics? Yes, basketball work ethics. Players learn moves, how to shoot, proper skills, and everything else by repetition, by doing it over and over again. We coaches talk a lot about it and then expect our players to listen and do it at home on their own. I guess that we adults have forgotten about the ZONE. I guess we have forgotten that calling our friends after school is a major part of our life. Now we have the Internet to make after school hours even busier.

Here's a S.W.A.G. for you. Have a talk with your players and ask them to practice some of these moves you have been teaching them. Watch their faces and body language, and you will be able to tell right then who is going to do it, and who won't. My SWAG is that you will find your better players are listening to you and the rest entered the Zone. The players that need help the most, will ZONE you in a heartbeat. There's just no justice, is there?

So how do you get around this? How do you make your point and get results? Hummm, bribery? No! Yelling? Don't think so. How about homework???? OK, after all, that is the title of this chapter.

Teachers get your kids to do things you never dreamed of, right? You ask them to empty the dish washer and 2 days later, it's still full, as well as the sink. Their teacher gives them homework and what happens? Yes, they wait till the last second, but they get it done. It's a bloomin miracle, it is!

Words change the way people look at things. I use the term Learning Session rather than practice. It let's people know what they are there for. I use the term "Homework." This announces to my players that it is required and they might be graded on it. How do you grade basketball homework? With more or less playing time. Playing time is a player's report card.

So the next time you want to preach about what they need to do outside of your Learning Sessions, don't! Just verbally hand out their homework. Keep it short and to the point. Here's an example:

"OK, gang, tonight's homework assignment to shoot 300 freethrows before our next L.S. That's your homework. I will be able to tell if you did it, and I will grade your results."

Did I yell, pull out my remaining 8 hairs, or spend a lot of time on it? No, no, and no! I didn't ask them to do something, I very nicely told them what I needed done and that they would be graded on it. The only other thing you need to do is to follow up with the grading in your next LS.

Wanna know what the results will be? Most of them will do it. You did not take too long talking and send them into the zone. You told them what their homework was and let them know they will be tested on it. You grade them on it next week, and life is good!

So the real point is, quit giving long sermons. That means DO NOT BE LIKE ME! Your players have a short attention so recognize this fact and then use it to your advantage. I would have homework to hand out after every LS. You only have an hour or so of gym time per week, so don't use it preaching, use it teaching.

Two things I want to add here. A sub-theme of Book 1 was SIMPLE IS GOOD! Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of coaching, and work, and teaching, and trying to have a real life outside of work and basketball, we adults see life in a much more complicated manner. We are dealing with younger and less worldly youths, and life sure is simple to them. Life isn't black, white, or even grey, it's just life. So the simpler we make things, the better the results will be when dealing with our players. But isn't that true about everything in life as well? SIMPLE IS GOOD!!!!

The other thing is that I am trying to take the advice of a lot of you readers, keep it short. Many of you can only spend 15 minutes at a time on the net, so shorter is better for a lot of you. So see, I am trying to be customer friendly. I hope this works for you.

If you have any questions feel free to post them on the discussion board on my website. Not only will you get my sick answers, but you will have several quality coaches who can lend you their expertise. My web address is

When The Inmates Run The Asylum

by Ed Riley copyright 2002

I just knew this was going to be a special week, I could just feel it in these ole bones, special, special, special. This was going to be a week that would go down in the history books as "That Week." A little background? OK!

An acquaintance of mine, Gary Pinkerton, now a friend, and I started a basketball academy in Sept. of 2001. Our goal was to teach basketball to girls. Gary had been doing this for 2 years by himself with maybe sixteen 9-11 year old girls. I had spent several years coaching between 1-3 teams of slightly older girls.

I had an idea and Gary and I met one night. After his 1 Bud Lite and my 4 vodka and tonic tall, we agreed to start this academic experience. By God, we were going to hook up and open South County Basketball Academy.

Gary is excellent at teaching the basic skills. He would be the primary teacher and I would be the administrator, the paperwork shuffler. I promised my wife 1 night a week was all I was going to put into this, except when we played our 70 games in the spring/summer. Yes, 70 games!

We decided that our 1st real games would be with AAU. AAU stands for Amateur Athletic Union. You pay $12 to join and this gives your players a $200 deductible insurance policy. Here in St. Louis, you get to play 2 games and if you don't qualify, AAU is over until next year. If you do qualify, you get to play 1 more qualifying tourney, if you don't qualify, it's over. If you do qualify in that round, you go to a national championship tourney somewhere.

We thought we might have as many as 40 girls join us and we would enter 4 teams of ten players per team. A nice manageable number, 40. Movies = 40 Days, 40 Nights. The Bible says it rained 40 days and 40 nights. On your 40th birthday, some wise-ass buys you a black cake, signifying you are over-the-hill and close to death. So all things considered, 40 seemed like a perfect number to shoot for. Organizing for 40 would be a piece of cake.

Ole man Murphy, who came up with Murphy's Law, was a pretty wise ole boy. Our 40 turned into 120 plus.

So now you have the background. And now we come to .....

"That Week"

Prologue - This was our week to play in the AAU tourney. I had ordered the uniforms well in advance and they were to be here Monday. The tourney started on Friday so there was my breathing space. Monday the store called and said to come pick up the uniforms. Everything was progressing nicely.

I go to pick the uniforms up, and they have no record of anyone calling me saying "Merry X-mas, their ready." My uniforms were at the printers and would be done in a week and 1/2. After explaining there must be some mistake, we were playing Friday and I had to have them, I had to listen to everyone in the store blame everyone else, but there would be no uniforms. I walked out of the store wondering how could a small mom-and-pop shop allow a $5,000 order walk out the door.

The next day my uniform salesperson, who is also a friend of mine, calls and says the uniforms will be delivered to me on Weds. And apologizes for his store's employee's ignorance. So all is right with the world again.

I get the uniforms, inventory them by number and size, and mentally match them up with the sizes I was given by the PLAYERS THEMSELVES. Oila! I have just enough of everything, even though our number of players have grown like rabbits. Life is good.

I couldn't go to our Weds. Learning Session because of my daughter's high school basketball awards banquet, so I give the uniforms to Gary to pass out and log. He does an excellent job, everything gets logged. Life is good!!!

Until the Inmates Run The Asylum!

"That Week"

One player who is totally a medium size, wants to be cool and takes a large top and an extra-large bottom. See, it's cool to have your basketball bottoms be too long. It's not like you see these players continually hiking them up because they are falling down or in the way, or anything. Or maybe that's what those players are doing on ESPN, hummm!

Well, this starts a run on x-tra larges. So now I have 4 players, who really do wear x-tra large, trying to fit into mediums. Every see the movie Big with Tom Hanks? There's a scene where he is hopping around trying to fit into a little kid's pants. Problem is, this isn't a movie.

Next problem, the smaller girls don't want to give up the x-tra larges because now they won't be cool. So when we force the issue, we have players with attitudes and we are the bad guys. Life is good????

"That Week"

1. We play on Friday and get our game schedules on Wednesday. AAU goes by what year a girl was born in. We have a 1985 team. Only 2 girls were born in 85 so I have the rest of the team made up of 1986 players, so most of our team is playing up a year. Then we have 2 more teams of 1985 players.

2. I get our schedule and see that they have us for 2 teams of 1984 players, and we don't have any 84 teams. I call up and leave a message that there is a mistake.

3. They e-mail they're sorry and give me a new schedule for only one 84 team and two 85 teams. I have no 84's and only one 85 team. In the meantime, my two 85 players drop out, so my 85 team is really an 86 team, playing up.

4. I get my final corrected schedule 1 day before the tourney. I coach 2 teams, 87 and 86. Now my teams are playing at the same time, 20 minutes away from each other. Why ask for another change? I would probably get a corrected schedule 20 minutes after my first game was to start, sheesh!

"That Week"

I get informed the day before our first game that 8 of our players are going on vacation, it's spring break week. Like they didn't know this earlier??

"That Week"

2 of my parents tell me the night before the game, that they won't let their daughters play in, nor take their family to, "That Part Of Town" to play.

"That Week"

I get 12 phone calls saying their daughters really hate their uniform number and I "NEED" to change them.

"That Week"

The AAU tourney director calls the night before the games and assigns us 2 more games because he has only one 1984 team and has to give them 2 games. My players are dropping like flies, and he gives us 2 more games.

"That Week"

Our last real "Practice," on Thursday before our games the next day, sees 1/3 of our girls absent because of their high school track meet.

"That Week"

One of my coaches complains about playing his 15 year olds playing against 17 yr. olds in a fun, but meaningless game and doesn't want the extra game. And, tells me that if it weren't so late in the deal, his team wouldn't play any of the games because they have to travel 45 minutes to the games!!!!

"That Week"

And this was the straw that broke the camels back, my wife didn't want to go to the local watering hole after all of this!

What's the point, other than me venting? Steinbeck said it best, "The best laid plans of mice and men, oft go astray!" No matter how well you have something planned, take 2 aspirin every morning the week before a big event, something is going to go wrong.

No, the real point is this, as a coach you want to be the nice guy. You took on this responsibility because of your love of the game and your love of kids. You want to be, at the least, liked by your kids and their parents. You are a nice person, right?

There are going to be times when things happen that are totally out of your control: uniforms on time, your game schedule, it snows so when there is no school you lose your gymtime, and the list goes on. You cannot control these events.

But never let the patients run the asylum. Your world is crazy enough without letting the players and their parent's perception of you, run your world.

  1. A kid who is a medium gets a medium uniform that you specifically ordered for them!
  2. A player gets the number you assign them!
  3. Don't apologize for telling a player to shut their yap when they talk at the wrong time!
  4. When a player doesn't inform you they can't make it, on a timely basis, discipline them. Sometimes it seems like common courtesy is a lot art, doesn't it?
  5. When a player fails to tell you they can't come to a game or a Learning Session, discipline them = loss of playing time.
  6. Adhere to the "1 Minute Manager," never hold a lengthy conversation about a problem. Explain the problem to the player/parent, explain how best to correct this problem, explain the repercussions, and walk away. Do not get into a Presidential Debate with the other party.
  7. Drumroll please ........... Never lose control of the things that you can control. You don't have to be mean and nasty about anything, ever! Just be direct, to the point. Explain the problem - Explain how to CORRECT the problem - Explain the repercussions - AND WALK AWAY!
  8. This is the last and hardest thing to do, if you are right, then don't relent. If you dole out a punishment, stick to your guns. Do not let them off the hook! Bench them, run them, whatever you decide to do, but make them follow through with it.

As a coach and an inhuman being, (like that didja)? I want my players to learn that they must be responsible for their own actions. I don't care if it's a 9 year old, or a 17 year old, a person should be responsible for their own actions. I not only want it, I demand it of my players. Always maintain control. DON'T LET THE INMATES RUN THE ASYLUM!!!!!!

And how did my AAU turn out? We play tonight and I am going to have fun, win or lose! If I get beat by 60 points, I am still going to try to make sure my players have fun.

And what about "That Week"? One of my 120 players, one that I barely know, E-mailed me a note last night. She thanked me for letting her join and said that she is having more fun and learning more than ever before. This one young lady made my week worthwhile. So "That Week" was a great week!! (Of course the lobotomy helped)!!!!

Chapter 19 Sheesh, They're Lost or The Missing Link

by Ed Riley copyright 2002

So I get this idea in my head, based on a recent experience or emotion, and I think, "That would make a great chapter!" Now I have found that if I don't write it soon, I lose my train of thought and the emotions behind them. Must be ole fart's disease! So I am ignoring some pressing matters with my local shrink to bring this to you before I lose my train of thought.

Why did I just write the 1st paragraph? Because this will be a short chapter and the 1st chapter makes it a little bit longer? Dah!

I am going to relate an extremely recent experience and hopefully a light bulb will come on in your heads and you'll go, "Yeah, that's what's missing. Now I see! I have been heeeeeled! I see the Light!"

We had lots of our girl's teams play in the preliminary rounds of an AAU tourney this weekend. One of my teams played in the 14 and Under age bracket. I had 12, 13, and 14 year olds playing as a team against 14 year olds. I really didn't care if we won or lost because this was our 1st game as a team. They wanted to play, so we played.

In our Learning Sessions these girls are learning crossovers, behind the back dribbling, spin moves and lots of ball handling skills. I thought that at least we could protect the ball and move it down the court. We have spent eternity learning some of these skills and to watch them in practice makes your heart skip a beat. Some of them are really good at it.

Our 1st game was against a team my daughter's team had played against several times before. (Even though my daughter is now in 9th grade, with the way AAU counts a players age, most of my players were the same age as this team, just a different grade.) Anyway, I knew the team and what they could and would do. I also knew that we would lose and lose big. But that's OK, we were there to play our 1st game and have fun.

Once we were at the game I realized I didn't have enough players to play a game. I went to the other coach, forfeited, and told him if he wanted to play, I could move some of my girls from another team on to this one and we would give him a practice game. We played.

The score was like 84 to 24, we lost. So where's the light bulb that was supposed to appear for you? It's in the describing of our game. In the 32 minutes we played, from my 7th and 8th graders I saw one crossover, no behind the backs, and zero spin moves by my girls. They would dribble right handed, head down, right into 3 defenders, sound familiar?

Let me repeat, 1 crossover, zero behind the backs, and ZERO spin moves! My players had the ability to leave their defenders in the dust, but never used the skills. Why????

In our post game talk, one of my players said to my daughter, "That was a neat move when you drove by that girl. What was it?"

My daughter replied, "A spin move!"

The younger player thought for a moment and said, "Oh, so that's when you use it!"

LIGHTBULB!!!!! "Oh, so that's when you use it!" I know you folks are smarter than I am, so you probably already know what I am about to say. Not only should I have taught them the skills, but I should have taught them when to apply them and why!!!!!

So from here on, I never want to hear "Oh, so that's when you use it," because I forgot to teach them.

Chapter 20 - ESPN Sportcenter Syndrome

You and your child are watching ESPN Sportscenter and you see these short news bites. Allen Iverson gets the NBA's MVP award. A little bit ago you saw where he was arrested for having a gun in his car. You see a pro-football player arrested and charged with murder. You hear the announcers laugh as they show a clip of Shaq trying to shoot a free throw. You see replay after replay of Allen Iverson driving down the lane and getting his head taken off by some monstrous forward, and the announcers say, "That's one way to stop him." They show a clip on some college kid who made five 3-pointers. Or a player who takes off from the free throw line and stuffs one. Coaches, this type of publicity is already the bane of youth sports and basketball is leading the charge.

There is a girl who played off-season for me for the last 4 years. She was one of those players who gave you everything she had, every moment she was on the court. She was well on her way to playing ball at a major high school. Over the last year I started noticing she was taking more and more 3 pointers, and working the ball inside less and less. In her last game of the off-season, she took over fifteen 3-point shots....and only made one.

OK, Ed, so she had an off day. How do you keep the rest of your team focused and playing team ball, when they watch her? Even when I bench her for not listening to me, the damage has been done. And what is it that she is really doing wrong? That's what you see on ESPN, isn't it?

Let's look at this aspect of it. Another player on your team is wide open under the basket for a lay-up, and Miss 3-pointer won't pass to her because she HERSELF is open for the three. So how does the open player feel about Miss 3-pointer now? Teamwork and team spirit is rapidly deteriorating. It doesn't take much of this before your whole team is so brain damaged that you might as well blast and rebuild.

Basketball is about 5 people acting together as a team to achieve a common goal. It is not about imitating the plays on Sportscenter. So what do you do, tell the parents to stay away from watching it in front of your players? Yes, that's exactly what I would ask them to do. Next, correct the behavior whenever it occurs, LS or in a game. You don't wait until it happens twice. You WJE them immediately = whistle, ask them to justify their behavior, and then explain the correct thing to do. If it continues, then they run laps in your LS. If it happens in a game, then they lose playing time. This is about as serious a problem as there is in today's youth sports. Do not accept any form of this behavior as being even semi-OK.

The real controversy is this, NBA players are role models for today's young players, whether they want to be or not. These players signed big money contracts to play ball. Their contracts don't say anything about being a role model. They get paid to play. BUT.......with their faces and athleticism splattered all over our TV screens, they are definitely a lot of today's youth's role models.

Please don't misunderstand me, there are an awful lot of NBA players who are great role models. The problem is that these players aren't the ones you hear of or see. We hear about Sprewell choking his coach, or Iverson arrested, or Rodman being his usual bad-boy self. We just don't hear about the good things. Just as I'm sure that Sprewell, Iverson, and Rodman do their share of good things, YOU JUST DON'T HEAR ABOUT IT because it's not newsworthy.

When you originally signed up to coach your child's team, you never thought that you would have to contend with ESPN sensationalism, did you? Folks, I'm here to tell you that it starts as early as 4th grade. You tell a player not to take that long distance shot because they have a teammate open under the basket, right? They go home and watch players make 7 million a year and do what you just told them not to do. This can be just a little bit confusing for little Johnny or Susie, don't you think?

A classic example: you spend a lot of time teaching your players to shoot the right way, and then they watch Shaq make over $100,000,000 and he still can't shoot a free throw to save his soul. What's wrong with this picture???

I don't blame the NBA players. They get paid for playing, not for living up to my expectations. I don't blame their coaches, or the General Mgrs. I'm just telling you that this is one of those things in life that just exist, and you will have to deal with it at some point in time.

There's more than one way to skin a cat. and my way is just one of many. I discourage my players from watching sports on TV I discourage the parents from doing the same. And my players all sign a team contract before they ever set foot on my basketball floor. If I have a problem, I will counsel the player several times. Then I meet with them and their parents and discuss the problem. If that gets me nowhere, then I kick them off the team and start looking for a replacement. I will not allow cancerous attitudes to fester on my team.

Now for those of you who can't kick a kid off of your team, control the their playing time. Cancerous attitude means less playing time. The greater the attitude, the less the playing time. Make sure you document the attitude and lack of cooperation of the player. Then inform the refs before each game. Also inform the head of your program, be it a school's Athletic Director or the head of your club. Document everything and this way it won't come back to haunt you.

If you want your TEAM to succeed, if you want basketball to remain a fun game for your players, if you don't want to become even more of an alcoholic, then be prepared to handle the E.S.S. = ESPN Sportscenter Syndrome. If you don't control it, IT WILL CONTROL YOU!!!!

Chapter 21 Multiple Teams? Here's Your Tylenol!

by Ed Riley copyright 2002

Am I doing better at the length of these chapters? I had an overwhelming number of e-mails requesting shorter chapters so you could read them on your lunch break, in between helping your child with their homework and playing on the computer, etc. So this is why the chapters are so short. (That and I get typer's cramp.)

We started a basketball academy. Our goals are to teach girls 4th-11th grade girls and to improve their game. My partner started with 9 kids, 2 years a go. I joined him last September and we went to 40 girls. January we went to 80, now we have 120 that we know of. Every week new players just show up. We're like rabbits out of control, we probably have close to 30 players that we know nothing about. We ask who they are, and they say they came with that girl, as they point to someone in a drill line of 20 players.

Next, we only have 5 coaches to handle this. Only 3 coaches handle all of these player's skills Learning Session. All 5 handle their own team Learning Sessions.

We are in a 3 game minimum tourney this weekend, with 10 teams. In the beginning, I was counting on having 8 players for my 8th grade team. Yesterday I had 14 show up for the games. Another coach had originally planned on 10 of his high school players showing up, only 7 showed. We borrowed players from other teams to fill in.

So what can you learn from this?

Riley's Rules based on Riley's Mistakes.

  1. Make sure you know your own priorities and goals. Is your priority to teach your players, play games, win, whatever....
  2. Make sure you surround yourself with teachers of the game with the same priorities as yours. I.E. A coach who just wants to handpick his team and win, doesn't fit the description of a basketball ACADEMY! There's nothing wrong with select coaches, but they don't fit into an Academy. Remember, this is for clubs with multiple teams.
  3. Figure out the number of players you can comfortably handle. Then figure out if you can say "Sorry, we're full," to that little face who really wants to learn and play. My partner and I can't say no. So have emergency gym time lined up as well as extra coaches.
  4. Make sure your wife, husband, or significant other is singing from the same song book as you are. If they don't have the patience of a saint, you're screwed if you take on too much!
  5. Make sure you don't let yourself become a baby sitter. Kids should be picked up on time. You won't have time to baby-sit players with attitudes. Cut out any cancerous attitudes, you don't have time to correct them.
  6. Make sure your players have the same goals as your program, if not, cut the tie that binds.
  7. Collect your money up front, and keep great records. When you receive $$, write it down immediately.
  8. Communicate via e-mail when possible. God, this is a must. I type one message to all 70 pre-high schoolers, click on send and I avoided 70 phone calls.
  9. Keep reminding your players and their parents of your goals and your expectations of them.
  10. Don't take your frustrations out on your players. Trust me, it is so easy to do so. Your big, they're small, just have patience!
  11. Don't let your ego or pride keep you from admitting a mistake. When you screw up, hold your hand up in the air and admit it. (It's good exercise for your arms.) Learn from your mistakes and go on with life!
  12. Don't be thin skinned, or don't start this project in the first place. You are the head of the program, so be prepared to walk around with a bullseye on your back. When anything goes wrong, you are to blame, whether it's justified or not.
  13. Last, but not least, buy stock in whatever relaxing hobbies you have. I just bought stock in Absolute, ar, ar!!!!!!

If you have any questions, I now have a website with a discussion board where you can ask questions and get several coaches to answer them. The address is

Basketball's Greatest Mysteries, Including Teamwork

by Ed Riley and a lot of friends, copyright 2002

Since the dawn of time, (don'tcha just luv the way I started off so official-like?), people have asked the "W" questions, who, what, where, why, when, and are We there yet. Why does the govt. tax us so much? What happened to that guy's hair? Who is that person across the room? When do I get off work? You, know, the "W" questions.

Basketball is no exception. There are a gazillion basketball mysteries to explore. I asked a few of my e-friends to chip in and we have come up with a partial list of these mysterious unknowns. It's been a little slow on the discussion board, our book has been serious for too long, so here's a little basketball fun fer yea.

When you are winning by 1 with 2 seconds to go and the other team's worst freethrow shooter goes to the line for 2, why do they always make both of them and you lose? by b-ball ed

How does my coach figure out who to sub next? by every player who has ever played the game

Why do kids almost knock each other over with hard passes during passing drills and then on game day each pass is so slow and soft it would not knock over a feather. by SAS

Also - What's a bounce pass?? - We practiced them every week and I don't think I ever saw one from my team in a game. by SAS

Why does my point guard show up at an important game1 hour before the game but can't find her shoes 10 seconds before the game starts? by Dr. D

Why is it that everytime coaches instruct their players to shoot within 10-12 feet at halftime, one of their players launches a three within the first 10 seconds of the first possession which elicits an instructional "No, that shot is too far....." from the coach as the three is drained. Eyes rollback in the coaches head and he stops in midstatement and gives that player a smiling glare and they both know everything is ok. From Ed's Old Buddy of past firepower days, Dave

Why does my team practically kill each other during practice scrimmages and then on game day play as if they don't want to hurt a flea? by SAS

Why does an outlet position for a guard mean stand in the high post? by JAM

How can a player foul out when you specifically tell them not to foul, no matter what? by b-ball ed

Why is when you run your offense / a cut and get a score more than once in a row, your players make sure they never ever run that same cut/play again that night. by Raider_Coach

Why was I worried when I had a ref say "who's ball is it anyway " repeatedly while blankly staring at the possession arrow? And why did the other coach keep saying it was his ball, every time?? Coach T

Why do the weakest players' parents think they are the best players on the team? And why are those parents the most vocal critics of the coach?? by Coach T

Why is it that the smallest player on the court seems to come up with the most important rebound of the game? by LC

This next one is a great one for newer coaches. How come the other team always seems to get the ball to begin the second half? by b-ball ed

Why does it always seem like it's your better players who have bad attitudes? by b-ball ed

I did the same thing the last time they had the ball, why is it a foul this time and not the last time? by b-ball ed

No matter who refs our game, why do they always pick on us? by b-ball ed

Why do we teach our kids "you got to learn how to play the game properly," when the pros' don't? by JAM

Why is it that your weakest shooter always wants to practice shots outside the 3 point line when they can't reach the basket from the free throw line? by JAM

Why is it that the smallest player on the floor jumps higher than the tallest??? by Sbay Coach

Why is it the longer the shorts, the more the player wants to pull them down??? by Sbay Coach

When coach call for a press, why does the team press THAT time down the floor but forget to keep pressing after that? by Coach Landwehr

Why do coaches call a time-out to tell players what to do and what not to do when we KNOW that they will do the opposite? by Coach Landwehr

Why do post players believe that they are point guards? I don't know any point guards who want to go to the block and post somebody up. by Caoch Landwehr

When every player has their number on the front and back of their uniform, how can you lose your player? THE NUMBERS DON'T MAGICALLY CHANGE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GAME, DO THEY? by b-ball ed

When you send in a sub and they are waiting to check in, the player you are taking out will always make a great play and then all the fans will say, "Why did that idiot take HER out?". by Coach Mac

The worst passer on your team will always want to throw the ball in on your inbounds plays. by Coach Mac

The more you want to run clock, the more likely someone is to throw up a three. And if you jump up and yell "NO!!!" as they shoot it, it will go in. by Coach Mac

If you have a player who misbehaves in practice and you finally discipline her, her parents will complain that you are picking on her and the other players will complain that you let her get away with too much. by Coach Mac

If you almost never yell, but maybe once a season you cut loose on the kids, the principal will walk into the gym at the peak of your tirade. by Coach Mac

Why do younger players jump in front of a driving teammate and yell "I'M OPEN" by Coach Kel

Why does the ref's can only see my players foul? by Coach Kel

Why is what the coach on the next court is teaching his players so much more interesting than I'm trying to teach my players? It must be, because that's where they're always looking> by Coach Kel

Why is it that the other team's 3 point shot at the end of the game always seems to go in, while yours comes up a bit short or goes in and out. (Happened to us 5 times a couple of years ago). by Country Coach

Why don't the guards see the forwards?? Can they only see horizontal? At what age does the vision improve (I had 9 yr olds for this one) by SAS

Why does someone launch a 3 pt shot with 45 secs in the game when you are up by 1 by SAS

Why does the other team always seem to find the open man. by SAS

When playing m-2-m why does someone need to be triple-teamed (this only happened to me the first couple of games). by SAS

My last mystery is what is so magical about the ball that everyone wants to hold it by SAS

Why is it that the other team always has fewer fouls than your team? by b-ball ed

Why is it that players continually think that playing defense means using your arms, not your feet? by b-ball ed

Why doesn't the ref ever give the other coach a technical? by b-ball ed

Why is it whenever you tell your player not to foul they do??? - Sbay Coach

Why is it when you call a time-out tell your player to spread the floor and run you delay play, they take a quick or unneeded 3 pt shot??? - Sbay coach

How does a player play one game as if everything he's learned has finally sunk in, then play the next game as he has all the others? by the boy

Why does one of my players always get a style hair cut and a new pair of shoes when we play the number one team??? He always has a bad game!! by coach butch

Why is it that whenever a youth team wins, the parents say "My kid is really good" and when they lose the parents say "My kid's coach is really bad". by coach mph

Why is it that when you tell your point guard not to dribble straight up the middle of a 2-1-2 zone because he will get stuck, he does it anyway. And no surprise, he gets tied up four times in a row.

And when questioned about said variation from the coaches instruction, he replies "but I'm a good dribbler" by JAM

Why when you tell a player to force the player left they get beat baseline right? by mb

"That player is killing us. You need to keep them from scoring." After hearing their coach say this, why don't players ask, "Alright coach, we understand what needs to be done. What we need is for you to give us some ideas on how. It's obvious that what we are doing isn't working, so why don't you follow up with HOW to do it?" by b-ball ed

I have heard for years that attitude helps to win games. So why do so many coaches scream at their players, humm??? by b-ball ed

I once coached a team that couldn't make a freethrow or get a rebound, so why did I constantly want the other team to foul us in the act of shooting, DAH?

Why does a player who wears a true medium shorts, want an x-large? Then, they are constantly pulling them up ????

Why when you tell a player to stay out of the corners they dribble right back in? by mb

Why when playing against a full court press a player picks up his dribble as soon as he crosses the half court line and gets trapped? by mb

Why when the other team is shooting free throws and you yell "Box out," invariably you lose the rebound? by mb

Why players block out harder to get the seat on the bench closest the coach than they do on the court to get the rebound, which is the reason they are sitting on the bench in the first place. by Boni

Chapter 23 Teaching By The Comic Book Method

by ed riley copyright 2002

What is the one thing that stands out about comic book characters? Humm, let's see, OK here's one. Superheroes are drawn with strong jaws, or a strong exaggerated chin line. People who rely on their strength are drawn with exaggeratedly big biceps. Goofy characters might be drawn with exaggeratedly big, high cheekbones, and really baggy clothes. Intelligent people are drawn with glasses. Superheroes disguise themselves behind exaggeratedly big glasses. The list goes on and on. The common thread here? Everything is exaggerated, bigger than life!

Why do you think this is? I don't think that the artists draw this way to prove they can draw BIG things. It actually costs more to draw some characters this way, because the bigger something is, the more ink it takes to fill in the pictures. So why would they draw their characters this way?

Could it be that people tend to remember things that are exaggeratedly big? I have not seen a Dick Tracy comic in over 30 years, but I remember his jawbone, it was big and squarish. I remember the Hulk had muscles bigger than most people's head. I remember that Disney characters bottom jaw would drop down to their beltline when they were astonished by something. If you take the time to think about it, you can come up with your own exaggerated memories.

Comic book characters are drawn with exaggerated features so you will remember them. So what does this have to do teaching kids the game of hoops? I try to teach using exaggerated methods. Let's take a simple drop step. Here are the steps for performing a drop step:

  1. Post a player about 6'- 8' from the basket on the right side of the paint. Have one foot in the paint, one foot outside the paint, facing the elbow.
  2. Without the ball, have them revolve to the right toward the right side of the basket.
  3. While revolving toward the basket, take an exaggerated high and long step towards the hoop. This is your step you go up off of for a lay-up.
  4. When they can do this smoothly without the ball, then we give the passer a target. They are facing the elbow and now they hold their left hand out as a target for the passer.
  5. When they catch the ball, they start revolving toward the basket and switch the ball from the left hand to their right hand.
  6. They now have their right palm up holding the ball. Their left hand now goes out to their left side in a crooked position so they can ward off a defender on the left.
  7. With the ball in their palm up right hand, they do their exaggerated step and do a one handed lay-up. No 2 handed layups are allowed.

Human nature says the defender is going to try to block the shot, so your player will get their shot off, and normally get fouled to boot. This is a simplified drop step.

FOLKS, notice step #3. I tell you to take an exaggerated high step. When I teach it, my leg goes real high and I do it in slow motion. Then I have them do it lifting their leg as high as they can. All my girls look at me like, "You are one loco hombre!" I've even had them tell me they refuse to look that stupid in a game.

So I guess I've failed in teaching this move, right? WRONG-OLA! My girls remember the move because it is so exaggerated. They remember it because I have made it bigger than life in their minds. They refuse to do it my way because they don't want to look retarded. So what do they do? They spend time learning it without such a high step, but they SPEND THE TIME LEARNING IT! Could you ask for anything else?

Another example? Howsa bout spin moves, or crossovers, or between the legs, or behind the back moves that lead into an open shot, would that work? Let's use a crossover. I teach both forwards and guards to start a crossover at the right elbow, from right to left hand. Then they do a jump stop in the middle of the free-throw line, and I make them go immediately straight up into a jump shot. Simple move, right?

The drawback to this move is that their body momentum is carrying them to the left. The player normally tries the shot while still moving to the left. The problem is that it's a totally off balance shot, without the shoulders squared to the basket. It's hard to make 10% of these shots. So here's my exaggerated solution.

When they end up at the spot where they should take the shot, I have them jump onto the spot, landing both feet at the same time. I demand that they land hard enough, that you can hear their feet make that "Plop" noise as they hit the floor. If you can't hear the "Plop" from across the gym, they shoot free throws as a punishment. I have exaggerated the noise they have to make.

The result of this is that when they "Plop," they have just stopped their momentum, they are no longer off balance moving left. Then I have them go straight up, shoulders squared to the basket, and do a jump shot. Now their chances of making it have greatly improved. Without exaggerating the sound they HAVE to make, my girls would still be taking that off balance shot with their shoulders pointing at whatever good looking boy was in the stands.

What can we learn from the comics? To put it simply, the more exaggerated you teach the move, the more your players will tend to remember and execute the move. Sometimes it's the stupid things in life that work!

ANY QUESTIONS? You can ask on my discussion board at or just e-mail me at

copyright 2001 by Ed Riley, Steve Jordan, Darrell Garrison and Steve MacKinney, all rights reserved