Changing How We Coach Basketball Finishing

How We Currently Coach Basketball Finishes

Every year, hundreds of thousands of young people are introduced to the great game of basketball. At an early stage, the lay-up is taught as one of the most important and fundamental basketball finishes.

For 99% of players it is almost a guaranteed right of passage that the 1-2 step, overhand finish is taught as the “textbook” way to finish near the basket. Players supposedly must use the “correct” hand on the corresponding side of the basket. Early on in the process, well-intentioned coaches appear to be helping players with the first steps of what will hopefully develop into a life-long connection with the game.

Surely this is a sound, fundamental approach? Or on the other hand, has this approach restricted the development of millions of players? 

Is this the best way?

Early in their playing careers, players are restricted from developing a wide array of basketball finishes in order to reproduce a mental model that coaches have in their head for supposedly the textbook way to finish. In order to please the coach and avoid being criticized, players all perform exactly the same lay-up technique. All the excitement and creativity that exists within finishing is removed, in favor of a conveyor-like process where players are treated like machines.

Looking at various types of basketball finishes, there are literally thousands of possible variations. No finish is ever going to be the same. Learning is non-linear, so why do we teach one of the most important skills in basketball (finishing) in such a linear fashion?

Furthermore, how frequently is this perfect lay-up actually used in the game, and how many basketball finishes are obtained from the ideal 45 degree angle approach, as it is so frequently taught?

These are the questions we need to start asking ourselves as coaches. Let’s take a deeper dive into how the basketball community can undergo a radical overhaul of this coaching approach. 

The Solutions

Using the Constraints Led Approach (CLA) as a framework, finishing skills emerge as a result of the interaction between the player (individual), the environment and task-specific constraints. These task constraints relating to finishing include factors such as location of defense, positioning of defender’s hands and body etc, approach of the offensive player, speed of the offense’s approach, amount of time on the clock, approaching off the dribble or a cut etc. The traditional approach neglects the role of constraints and the fact that skill is an emergent behavior that appears within the environment. When a task representative environment does not exist, it is merely players rehearsing finishing techniques. This is not player development.

This video shows the reality of finishes in the game. Every single finish is different due to the continuous changes within the interaction of task, individual and environmental constraints.


Insisting every player uses the same technique robs players of opportunities to develop a wide repertoire of finishing solutions. This is especially damaging for beginners, and the reason why the notion of “players first having fundamentals” before progressing to more complex situations makes no sense. The irony is that later on as players become more advanced, coaches and trainers attempt to “re-teach” specific techniques such as one step finishes, euro-steps etc. If players were exposed to the CLA framework from a young age, players would be better attuned to their environment, able to recognize different affordances (opportunities for action) within finishing, as well being able to use a wider variety of solutions because their degrees of freedom have been expanded as a result of being encouraged to finish in several different ways, as opposed to constrained to a few rigid techniques.

Can basketball finishes really be discovered naturally? 

Last year in Sweden I worked a camp with beginners and players who were very new to the game. 

I used Smile 1-on-1, a staple on the Immersion membership community, as the base SSG for improving finishing skills and the ability to defend at the rim. This was a live 1-on-1 but with several different task constraints that I used at different intervals:

  • The defender is live but cannot move, having to stay rooted in the smile 
  • Offense must finish and land inside the smile, starting in a new location every-time 
  • Bursts concept is applied with defense staying for 45 seconds. This respects the role of individual constraints in leading to skills emerging by allowing offense and defense to constantly be playing against different people as opposed to the same match-up. 

A more advanced version of Smile 1-on-1, beginning with a scripted pocket pass.


This 1-on-1 lasted four minutes and with 20 players in the gym there were many different basketball finishes being used. What was apparent was that players who were taught the traditional layup technique found the 1-on-1 activity much harder than the beginners who were able to self-organize freely and come up with solutions naturally. The traditional lay-up technique actually acted as a barrier to new solutions developing. 

Many coaches typically say that for a player to do more advanced finishes they need to have a base foundation. This is the reason for teaching the two step technique. However this simply does not match up with the evidence and fact that learning is a non-linear process.

It’s interesting to note in particular how many one step layups are taken by beginners. With the traditional model coaches would describe this as incorrect until the 1-2 step is supposedly mastered. Why is this incorrect if it solves the problem of being able to finish around a defender? The irony is that players get told not to do something, before a skill trainer tries to teach them this same technique explicitly when they become older! 

Manipulating Constraints  

As coaches we have a great opportunity to shape basketball of the future and what is considered “normal” coaching. At Immersion, we encourage you to do something like Smile 1-on-1 the next time you work with beginners or novice players as opposed to teaching traditional moves.

This approach does not just apply to beginners however. Many skill trainers have checklists of finishing moves to teach. By experimenting with the CLA, coaches will see how many of these moves happen naturally within the context rather than teaching them in isolation. This is where coaches must change the perception of their role, moving away from instructors to designers of task representative learning environments, exposing players to varied movement solutions. 

By all means, coaches can script certain solutions. Instead of doing this on-air, this can be done within the context of a small-sided game. For example, to develop two footed finishes, the coach may constrain the offense within a 1-on-1 to finish off two feet. But this cannot be done too frequently, as this then becomes over-constrained due to the fact players may start doing this in a situation which does not warrant it. It could be better to use scoring systems rather than coaching in absolutes (eg only two feet). This means players may choose to finish off two feet but also have the freedom to go off one based on what happens in that possession. 

This video shows how task constraints can be applied to the defender (aka guided defense) to develop repetition without repetition within finishing, keeping perception and action coupled.


Constraints can be manipulated from this base activity if working with beginners to lead to more skills emerging:

  • Giving the defender an opportunity to jump once. Eventually become live and can move anywhere inside or outside the smile 
  • Constraining how the offense finishes (eg using one or two dribbles). Example: finishing only using the net, high off the glass, with the non-dominant hand, and more. 
  • Add a passing option for when offense is stuck. This can then become more of an open SSG with other affordances than just finishing. This is then a more game-like form of practice. 
  • Applying a specific points system 

Using these constraints to develop basketball finishing skills helps reinforce that traditional on-air training is simply not needed. Players do not have to re-learn skills later because the perception-action coupling process remains integrated. Therefore, they develop an understanding of what techniques work in specific situations. 

Let’s bring modern thinking into how we teach and develop basketball finishing skills. Let’s ensure the next generation of players doesn’t have to endure the same monotonous layup lines that have been done for decades! 


Watch this all-access workout to see how the CLA is used to develop finishing skills

For more ways to teach finishing:
1-on-1 Perceptual Layups

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