Game Understanding


Game Understanding

The decision is harder to learn than the skill. I believe this, and this directs my approach to coaching basketball. For you as a youth coach the most important thing to understand is that no form of practice is more basketball specific than playing basketball. Have you ever done a tag drill to learn how to play tag? You don’t break down tag, you play tag. You learn to drive to a car by driving, not by doing driving drills. Why do we do some many break down drills and isolated skill training drills to learn basketball? 

Here is why I feel you should use these drills more than any other drills to develop basketball skills and tactics.

In a basketball game no skill is executed two times the same way. Basketball technique is tactically and context specific. So practicing skills in isolation, out of the context of a game, does not lead to transfer of skills and decisions to the game because essentially a learner has to re-learn the skill within the ever changing context of the game. Each time you teach a skill or tactic in a isolated or drill that is not game-like, and then put it into use in a game context, the learner is clueless about how to use it or apply because it was trained out of the context of the situation you wanted them to apply it in.

Here is another reason to use these drills to develop game understanding, most drills encourage coach driven expectations that have to be imitated by players. I want to encourage self-discovery in decision-making. I want players to have freedom to make mistakes, process those mistakes, and come to conclusions about those mistakes. Players learn by doing, and by practicing the game in the context that it is played, players will become more free in their decisions and skill execution.

Developing your Understanding of Game Understanding

These three blogs will help you better understand the methodology behind how I would develop youth players to better understand the game of basketball.

How to Increase Player Learning by Creating Game-Like Situations

Why Messy Learning Should be a Part of your Coaching Philosophy

A Practical Guide to 3-on-3 Small-Sided Games in Basketball

Teaching Open Court Advantage and Disadvantage Situations

Italian 3-on-3

Italian 3-on-3 is a small-sided game that creates advantage/disadvantage situations naturally out of chaos. Both offensive and defensive situations can be coached using a games approach. Most 3-on-2 drills or 2-on-1 drills are too scripted. The game does not happen that way so the chaos of the Italian 3-on-3 better replicates game conditions.

3-on-1 Transition

This drill works on full court passing, running, passing ahead, reading advantage situations, scoring vs. a defender at the rim and many other things.

Teaching Advantage and Disadvantage Situations

2-on-1 Shooting

I use 2-on-1 Shooting with added constraints in every individual group workout I do, and in just about every practice I run. The drill applies our Zero Seconds philosophy and skills, and our Basketball Decision Training advantage-disadvantage reads. Learn more about the four reads we use How to Teach Players to Read Advantage and Disadvantage

3-on-2/4-on-3 Shooting

Most good offensive basketball, against good defense, results in an advantage on the weak side of the floor. The offense runs an initial action. The defense takes away that initial action. The offense tries to move the ball as quickly as possible to create an advantage out of that action to counter the defensive coverage of the initial action.

4-on-3 Shooting with Constraints

I wanted to provide you with an understanding of how we teach with constraints to emphasize an aspect of learning. In this example we add the constraint that there must be dribble penetration prior to a shot.

Other constraints we add to 3-on-2 and 4-on-3 shooting are:

  • No dribble
  • No cuts
  • No offensive rebounding
  • Extra pass prior to a shot
  • Penetration on the first catch

You can create your own constraints that help influence the learning necessary for your players and team to improve.

3-on-3 Series to Develop Half-Court Offense and Defense Game Understanding

3-on-3 Closeouts

3-on-3 Closeouts develops offensive and defensive reactions and game understand. This small-sided game can be used in many different ways to develop specific offensive and defensive game situations you need. In this basic version, the ball is live on a reversal. 

3-on-3 Closeouts from Half-Court

Any drill you traditionally use close to the basket can easily be extended to make it a half-court or full-court drill. Any situation you want developed can be incorporated into this half-court version. Running the drill from half-court increases the game-like nature of the drill.

3-on-3 Closeouts with a Weak Side Post

We add a fourth player to 3-on-3 closeouts to simulate certain offensive situations and defensive coverage. In this example a fourth player steps into the weak side low post position after the ball is passed past them along the baseline. This allows us to work on help at the rim situations on wing and top dribble penetrations.

How to Progress these Drills

If you are still doing the same drills exactly the same way at the end of the season, as you did at the beginning or middle of the season, then players are not developing, they are staying the same. After initial learning, start to mix the different versions or actions together in a more random drill.

3-on-3 Closeouts Mix Drill

To make our small-sided games more random we mix what actions the offense must execute, and what coverage the defense must use to counter what the offense runs. In this example the movement of the ball cues the offense to run certain actions. A skip pass cues an up screen from the fourth player. A reversal through the top player cues a dribble hand-off. After any cue the action is live. There are many possible actions to cue so choose ones that work on specific situations you need to develop.