How to Handle Missed Lay-Ups as a Coach

QUESTION via David Fields:

I coach 6th grade boys basketball. We lost 2 games by 3 points and we missed 4 or 5 lay-ups in each game. I work hard in including lay-ups in practice. We do a chase drill where a man with the basketball starts at the free-throw line and a chaser is four feet behind them. I clap my hands and they race down to the other end. We do the drill but we still miss layups in the game. How do I handle missed lay-ups?


Missed lay-ups happen at all levels of basketball. The amount of missed lay-ups that happen in a game varies by skill level, age and situations but they definitely happen. Check out this description of a loss by the Houston Rockets.

ESPN Lay-Ups

Two missed lay-ups by highly paid professional basketball players. Missed lay-ups are a part of the game so a coach needs to know how to handle missed lay-ups.

We know the problem. So what is the solution? My lay-up teaching points are:

  • Get lower in the lane.
  • Pick the ball up with a pop (Hand to Ball or Ball to Hand)
  • Lift the ball from outside hip to chin to avoid swinging the ball.
  • Initiate contact where possible. First contact creates better balance so be the first to hit, rather than be hit.

I want to focus on three additional concepts to help you understand how to handle missed lay-ups as a coach.

1. Teach Players to Follow Through with Their Eyes

Coaches talk about having a target when we teach shooting. Indeed there are many theories on what you should focus your eyes on when you shoot. I personally don’t care which theory one of my player chooses. They can look at the front of the rim, the back of the rim or an imaginary dot in the middle of rim. Having a target is about focus. The target is a cue to concentrate.

The same cue to concentrate is required to successfully make lay-ups. I want players to follow through with their eyes when they shoot a lay-up. This means that they keep their eyes on the target (backboard or basket) until the ball is released. Beyond just a concentration cue a player should keep their eyes on the target on a lay-up to keep their head up. In my observations of players at different levels it appears that lay-ups are often missed because the player’s head drops prior to the release of the ball. Many times this is because the shooter is focusing on nearby defenders rather than the shot.

There are many other reasons why players miss lay-ups. Some of these include:

  • Putting too much spin on the ball.
  • Having the ball slip out of a player’s hands.
  • Expecting contact that doesn’t happen.
  • Getting bumped or fouled with no call.
  • Trying to be too fancy.

2. Practice More Randomly

There is nothing wrong with the chase drill. Most competitive lay-up drills that create an offense vs. defense situations are effective in creating a situation to develop lay-up technique. I suggest you make them as game-like and realistic as possible. I watch many practices and pre-game warm-up drills where players practice lay-ups from 45 degrees to the rim only. Stereotypical lay-up lines work on lay-ups from one angle only. The other thing I observe is blocked practice drills. Repetitive lay-ups over and over again from one place on the floor. 

We do two things to counter this:

  • We make all our lay-up drills random. In this example we change the common Mikan Drill into a random and variable drill. The player will shoot the lay-up wherever the ball falls. They go up as quickly as possible and must change the release position, hand or angle on each shot.

  • We end every individual workout and team drill we do with a lay-up or shot. The argument that players miss lay-ups because they don’t practice shooting them enough is valid. So create situations where your players shoot more lay-ups. I watch many drills that never lead to the most fun part of the game…shooting!

3. Don’t Over React

I had a player once who frequently air balled their first shot in a game. She was one of the best players on my varsity girls basketball team. She went on to play college basketball. But she would get so excited before a game that she took a while to calm down.

At first my reaction as a young coach was frustration. It started internally and eventually became external. Clearly that was the wrong reaction. Stress can directly affect a player’s physiology by increasing the muscle tension. Tight muscles lead to impaired performance. So getting player’s to relax when they play is important. Getting players to relax after they have made a mistake is even more important as mistakes and misses can multiple.

Eventually I decided to just relax when my player missed her first shot. If she missed I started to tell her, “OK, now we can start the game.” The less attention we paid to it the more we relaxed into the whole situation. Eventually she even started to relax more.

The End Result is That Players Will Miss Lay-Ups

No matter what we do as coaches, and how much players practice, they will miss lay-ups. The goal for a coach is to not overreact, simulate game conditions when practicing lay-ups and focus on techniques and cues that will help player’s to improve their success rate.

Want to create layup opportunities for your players?

Run these plays that work. Remember lob plays become layup plays for players that cannot attack with a lob pass.

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