Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you think learning how to teach layups is just for coaches that have very young teams? If you do, think again. If you are coaching anything less than high school varsity ball, you will probably spend time teaching basketball's most fundamental shot. What else can you do when the perfect but inexperienced basketball body ducks under your door one day? It isn't at all unusual to see promising high school kids that never took the time to develop their off hand for shooting. Decent layup form can be learned in just a few weeks, even using the player's weak hand, if the student is diligent and practices often.
If you are coaching a very young team, then this article should be of help as I will assume your player knows nothing at all about shooting a layup. There are links to four diagrammed drills at the end of the article and a couple more drills described in the text below.
Put the basketballs on the rack because you won't need them. Even though the hoop is ten feet over the floor, learning layups must start at floor level. Proper footwork is absolutely essential for this skill. Whether the player is a 3rd grade novice or a 9th grade athlete that can only shoot right handed, build this skill from the ground up. Basketballs are far to distractive at this point.
The first thing we want to do is make sure the kids can jump off either foot.
TAKE A BREAK
When you need to build a complex process (and the layup really is a fairly complex process from start to finish), teach one phase at a time. Let the kids practice other basketball skills and then go home and sleep on it. If they can't practice for a few days, tell them to do their basketball home and practice jumping at home, especially off their weak foot.
If you don't over-teach, you may be surprised by how much better the kids do the next practice. If you try to teach the whole process in one practice, it is too much for their bodies to learn, and they may not be much better at all the next you get together.
The basketballs stay on the rack.
For phase II, we want the kids to be able to run to a given point and jump off either foot as they are told. Put a marker on the floor as a target. Line the kids up and assign them a foot to jump off of. At first, the distance should be short, perhaps two or three step. They'll need to figure out which foot to step out with first (or you can help them). Back the line up a couple steps. With more distance, the kids will subconsciously adjust their stride so they launch properly. Well, with practice they will be able to do that.
If things are going well, its time to add a new element, height. You want the kids to get up as high as they possibly can. To get more height, have them:
To motivate them, kneel close to where they are jumping. Hold out a clipboard or ruler after each jump to give the jumper a clue about how high they want off the ground. Make them laugh by holding the indicator much higher or lower than the jumper achieved (or play this joke on your assistant!).
As a drill, ask the kids to take two steps, jump of the left foot, two steps, jump the right, repeating as much as needed to go all the way down the court. Then they can line up on the baseline and do it again on the way back.
Another necessary drill is to have the kids line up about a third the way down the court and approach the basket on the run. From the left hand side of the basket, they should jump off the right foot and from the right side of the basket, off the left foot. It will be necessary to place a mark on the floor to show where the should begin the jump. For young kids, the block is OK, for older kids move the launch point back as their speed and leaping ability permits. They should try and jump up to touch the net as a target. If they can actually grab the net, have them go for the rim. You do not want them grabbing the net as they may get hurt.
What you are looking for is a launch point 5 to 10 feet from the basket. The kids should be able to jump up towards the basket and release the ball before they start coming down. If they are too far away, they will show a pronounced forward lean and shoot the ball too soon and too hard. If they get too close to the basket (a very common fault), they will slow dow before they jump and their shot trajectory is so vertical that they can efficiently bank the ball of the backboard. The take off distance is critical.
OK, we can use the balls now.
Since the ball is a major distraction, don't add another distraction by making them dribble it. What you want to teach is a progressive shooting skill.
The idea in this phase is to allow the players to add the dribbling skill. Introduce dribbling as simply as you can. If the kids simply cannot handle the dribbling skill, then it will be best to practice dribbling separately and stick to the layups as a shooting only drill.
OK, here is another drill that will help the players improve their approach.
Move out to the free throw line. Drive to the basket from the right side of the free throw line, dribbling with the right hand, jumping off the left foot and shooting with the right hand. Get your rebound and dribble right hand to the other side of the free throw line. Reverse direction to the basket and switch the ball to the left hand. Dribble left handed to the basket, jump off the right foot and get your rebound and dribble left handed back to the other side of the free throw line. Reverse direction to the basket and switch the ball to the right hand. Repeat over and over. This is called the X drill and it is very good for conditioning and consistency. As you get closer to the basket, try to increase your speed as much as you can and still be in control. Increasing your speed will help you jump higher. Always try to jump as high as you can when shooting layups. The most common mistake is kids go too slow. Pretend you are in a game.
Once the players have the basic layup down fairly well, it is time to add challenges and complexity. You can also introduce layup drills. There are several on this site to get you started. The drills add various related skills and add interest. Don't beat a layup drill to death by demanding long durations of the same drill over and over.
As players get more advanced, they will add their own special styles to their layups. A lot of this is developed on the playground where no real fouls are called and the shooters must alter their shot to avoid a block. Some of this natural adaptation is fine, but often you will see an older player that is so conditioned to changing the shot to avoid a block that the shot becomes too difficult to make at all. The problem with block avoidance is that it is also foul avoidance. The shooter drives, twists and turns and throws up a circus shot. Sure, the shot wasn't blocked, but it didn't go in the basket either. Where you once had a decent shot, now you essentially get a turnover.
What is a coach to do? First, you must convince the players not to change their form as they shoot. If you do the contact layup drill (number 8 on the list above), your shot changers will be exposed at once. Sometimes the mere hint of a block attempt will make an aerial gymnast out of them. Promise them you won't block the shot and challenge them to have the courage to maintain their form. In time, with discipline, they will be able to concentrate through the contact and still score.
Another skill you will want to teach your advanced drivers is to protect the ball after they jump towards the hoop. The launch is the same, but as the shooter rises and passes the defender(s), the ball is tucked tight to the body as if it were a football. At the peak of the jump, the player unfolds and extends the arms to make a normal basket. This method protects the ball from being slapped away.
Big players, especially, should perfect the power layup. What I mean by power layup is when the player is positioned very close to the hoop, jumps high and, holding the ball in both hands, banks the ball in. The hands may even be above the rim. This shot is nearly impossible to block and almost sure to score. If your big man can jam the ball, too, that's great, but make sure the shot goes in. I have seen many, many more missed dunks than missed power layups.
Another shot experienced players start using is the finger roll style layup. The shooter holds the ball well out in front with the palm facing the ceiling. The ball rolls off the fingertips and can either be shot over the rim or be banked in. This shot has advantages, especially if the defender is trailing the shooter. The problem is if the shooter shoots exclusively with the finger roll style. If the defender is in front or alongside the shooter, the ball is very exposed for a block. Make sure your players are comfortable with shooting layups with the palm facing the backboard. This style is more forceful and more accurate when banking the ball off the back board. The finger rolls style is the one that sometimes produces that lazy layup that rolls around the rim a time or two before falling off. After mastering both styles, your player will have options to fit the situation at hand.
Here are some common faults to watch for regarding layup form:
The layup is the most common shot in the game. Winning teams master the common events and do them better than their opponents. If you are quicker to get back on defense (happens 80 times a high school game), box out on rebounds (happens 30 times a game) and make your layups (happens 20 times a game) you will be very tough to beat.
If all this seems too basic, remember this. The NBA players that are so good at making layups now had to start by practicing the basic elements first. It doesn't matter if you are 10 years old or 20 years old. If you don't stop and practice the elements, you will never - ever - be accurate at shooting layups. If you are having trouble, don't skip to step PHASE IV and start there. Start at PHASE I and work your way up. There are no shortcuts.
My favorite saying is "Learn to do the simple things perfectly".
Here are some diagrammed drills you can use to practice layups.
Layup Drill 1
Layup Drill 2
Layup Drill 3
Layup Drill 4