• BJ Mumford, B.S.S

Prioritizing Practice: Passing

I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on basketball training with a group of youth recreation basketball coaches, and one of the main points of discussion was how to prioritize practice. Here is the second video in the series, where we talk about making the decision to pass, how to decide what to do when receiving a pass, and the cues that players should use for each.

Quotable Kobe

One of my favorite quotes about basketball decision making comes from Kobe Bryant talking to a group of kids at a clinic in China. Talking about how many moves he has, he said:

“I have two. On the perimeter, two moves. In the post, two moves. That’s it…. On the perimeter, I pull up right, shoot. Pull up left, shoot. In the post, turn left shoulder, fadeaway. Turn right, fadeaway. Stop it? Now if I go right and you want to try and block it, I’ll pump fake…. I pump fake, and you jump. You make the game very simple.” https://youtu.be/u4hdCnQ_3Dw Watch starting at 1:40.

I like this philosophy because of the simplicity and clarity it provides to players. Helping players to focus on developing a primary skill that the defense must try to stop is something all coaches can benefit from. If we can teach players one move and one counter move, and then create a practice environment in which they can focus on the cue needed to decide between the two, the player’s successful attempts can dramatically increase.

Catching a Pass

In the video I talk about practicing 1on1 from the catch using a scissor step, where we remove distracting cues and narrow the decision – making the execution of the skill automatic. Once a player knows how to perform the technical skill of a scissor step into an attack dribble, they can focus on the cue of the defender closing out from an angle. Their reaction time can become significantly faster as they gain experience in processing the visual information of the defender’s position, ultimately increasing the advantage for their team every time they catch a pass.

Throwing a pass

Throwing passes is best practiced in movement situations. I have completely done away with stationary passing drills, and instead focus on using passes in 3 movement situations: Pass and cut, Drive and kick, and Back cut. My experience has shown that players that learn passing within the context of actual game movements, are more likely to:

A) Understand the cues for pass/ don’t pass,B) Be aware of which pass is appropriate in a specific situation and why,C) Be more motivated to make great passes when they see the results of an advantage gained for themselves or a teammate, andD) Understand the timing for a pass based on the position of teammates and defenders

Don’t be boring… and then contradict yourself

Stationary passing is incredibly boring, and in the end it is not that useful. Many coaches spend a lot of time training passing in the traditional “da-mental” way (missing the fun), and then immediately contradict themselves during game play when the skill of throwing a pass to a stationary target becomes useless.

Teammates standing still constantly have the pass stolen before it reaches them, and throwing a two-handed pass when guarded by a defender who has their chest between the passer and their target is quite difficult. This can lead to a lot of frustration for young players, and may result in them “turtling” over the ball in a fetal position when faced with aggressive defense.

Simplicity and consistency

Simplicity is essential in passing. I have 2 general rules. A pass should:

Create an advantage for your team (otherwise, don’t throw a pass)Be thrown after you have a visual target (avoid no-look passes, or throwing to a voice)

Having a consistent standard for what qualifies as a good pass is essential during practice. I don’t allow passes in practice that would not work in a game (e.g. be easily stolen, put a teammate at a disadvantage on the catch, etc), as I believe consistent reinforcement is the best method of building great habits. Players will occasionally throw a sloppy pass that was just not on target (even when they are capable of throwing it on target). If thrown to me I usually throw it right back to them and ask them to repeat that, please. If thrown to another player, I may or may not ask for a “replay” to allow them to figure out what went wrong. Live play in 2v2 and 3v3 works out a lot of passing bugs with the natural consequence of steals and turnovers from poor passes.

I still pull out an analogy from one of the first coaches I worked for once in while, Kevin Nunley of Networks Basketball in North Carolina said:

“You are UPS, your job as a passer is to deliver the ball to your shooter’s front door. NOT the back door, not the garage, not the mailbox. The FRONT door”.

Stay tuned for our next video segment next week when we will be discussing shooting! If you like what we are doing at Play>Practice, hit us up by email or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram

See you on the court,

Coach BJ

P.S. If you haven’t heard, we are now at The Rim in Hampton with programs 4 days per week! Find our full schedule of options here

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