• BJ Mumford, B.S.S

“The 5-Skill Practice Priority Checklist”

You took the week off to spend time with your kids during school vacation, weather is warm(ish) for February, and gym spaces are open all day during the week. You and your player plan to hit the court for an hour every day, motivated to put that extra time to good use and prepare for their spring AAU season.


When you get to the court, you realize that you don’t know what to work on!

Basketball is a game of 1000 skills with nearly infinite combinations of those skills that can be applied in a variety of complex situations. All of that contributes to feeling a bit overwhelmed, and defaulting to “getting shots up” at a leisurely pace, running some sprints, maybe doing some defensive slides, and shooting some free throws.

If you planned out everything in advance, counted shots taken/ made, timed each sprint, and set an objective for free throw percentage made - congratulations! You are in the top 10 % of all parents (and coaches) that help their player practice.

If you didn’t do any of that, but your player still worked up a sweat and left the court feeling good, then you can still count that as worthwhile practice. But what if you weren’t satisfied with that outcome? What would you do to improve the next time you had a similar opportunity?

What if you had a simple checklist that you could use to guide your player on what to practice every week and feel that the basics were covered?

Here is our prioritized list, based on statistical evidence of both the frequency of skills used in games, and the highest value skills for scoring efficiency. All of these assume access to a driveway hoop, a half court space, and an unskilled training partner (no offense - if you are skilled, even better!)

  1. 5-Angle Finishing

  2. Precision Free Throws

  3. Stride Stop Shooting

  4. Crossover Attack Footwork

  5. Rebounding Eyes

5-Angle Finishing

The standard layup from a 45 degree angle is only 1 of 5 basic attack approaches to the rim that a player will experience in a game. Start with no dribble, just 2 step attack and jump, progress to 1 dribble and 3 steps from all angles

  • Rim Line - most frequently attempted and missed on a fast break in games (attack from center FT line with no dribble, inside shoulder under rim for outside hand finish)

  • Wing outside hand - standard 45 degree angle layup for outside hand (attack from right wing to finish right hand on right side)

  • Wing inside hand - hook finish for inside hand nearest middle of the court (attack from left wing with right hand to finish across the backboard on right side)

  • Baseline inside hand - using near side of rim for push finish or floater, or hook finish across the rim (attack from left baseline corner using right hand toward middle of the court)

  • Baseline outside hand - using floater on near side or right hand reverse layup on far side of the rim (attack from right baseline corner using right hand toward baseline)

Precision Free Throws

Free Throw Golf (NBA 2K reference) is a precision scoring system to incentivize not just making, but swishing free throws, and placing a shot precisely enough to get an exact point value needed to win.

  • Swish = 3 points

  • Rim touch (stays inside rim) = 2 points

  • Rim or backboard bounce (made shot) = 1 point

  • Miss = 0 points

2 ways to play

  • 10 shot challenge - 10 tries to score as many points as possible. 30 is a perfect score - our current player record is 28!

  • Precision or Bust - choose a number (7, 11, 15, 21 work well). The player must hit that score exactly, any points over the target score results in a “bust’ back to 0. Make it a race with 2+ players!

Stride Stop Shooting

Statistics show the best percentage made shots are those taken in rhythm when catching a pass. Most players do not have consistent footwork when catching a pass, and are not ready to shoot when they catch, leading to poor quality shots or missed opportunities!

  • Stride Stop - 1 step, then 2nd step landing. Non-dominant foot first (becomes pivot foot), so that dominant is free to attack. Making this a habit is the single biggest factor in avoiding traveling!

  • Rhythm - use a bounce pass as a timing mechanism. Bounce means go! Patience is required to not move too early, waiting for the bounce creates a “late but quick” foot rhythm that maximizes power into a jump exactly in time with the hands and ball movement to shoot.

  • No shot fake required - doing this consistently puts the player's body and ball in position to shoot every time they catch a pass. When they move and look like a shooter (and make shots!) their defender already expects a shot, so no shot fake is needed - if the defender overplays to stop a shot - drive!

Crossover Attack Footwork

Stationary ball handling does not translate to a use in games. Players get good at moving the ball side to side, without synchronizing their body’s weight shifts or footwork. To be effective we need the ball and body in sync, and we need to put every crossover to use by practicing the transition from side to side movement into attack step!

  • Create a 2 step, 2 dribble L shape - sideways with front crossover dribble, forward with attack dribble

  • Start slow motion - move outside foot sideways in sync with a front crossover (ball and foot hit the floor at the same time), then pause standing on 1 leg, before attacking with inside foot and outside hand dribble - again with ball and foot hitting the floor at the same time

  • Between the legs - same concept, but outside foot goes diagonal (player will tend to step straight forward like scissor position). Most movement should be sideways, 1 shoe length forward to create space and angle for the ball to go through the leg. “Chest over knee” of the leg the ball goes through is the best cue to get the player’s body positioned effectively.

  • Behind the back - I prefer using a wrap-behind the back. Timing is the same as above (If wrapping from left hand to right, ball should bounce with weight on right foot). The key cue here is to rotate hips toward the sideline to allow the path of the ball to go toward the basket as it wraps behind the back.

Rebounding Eyes

Training a rebounder’s eyes to predict and enable them to anticipate where the ball will go after it hits the rim is the biggest point of leverage for improving rebounding. Most players are looking at their opponents feet, then at the basket - waiting for the ball to bounce on the rim before they have any information on where it may go. Here is our 4-step progression for training your player’s Rebounding Eyes:

  • Offensive rebounding - player starts facing the basket, the same distance from the basket as the shooter (8-10 feet to start, progressing to 3pt line over time), with their eyes on the ball. Partner shoots to miss, player watches flight of ball and attempts to catch the ball with 2 hands before it hits the floor - if successful, they score the ball back in the basket.

  • Defensive rebounding - player faces shooter, and executes a “Bump and Chase” maneuver - stopping shooter/ offensive rebounder before pursuing the ball. The goal is to make contact, placing their body between offense and ball, but unlike boxing out, they are not trying to hold the offensive player back, but rather racing to get the ball as soon as possible. Again using eyes to track the ball and anticipate - both the angle they need to put their body between their opponent and the ball, and the spot they need to reach before the ball does.

  • Tip: Encourage the player to make their first step side to side - first predicting and acting on which side of the court the ball will land, then closing in toward the ball. A common error is for the player's first step to be toward the basket, and the ball will bounce over head out of reach.

Want to find out more about prioritizing practice?

Join us for a parent webinar Saturday March 13@ 6pm:

"How to help your player develop a high school skill set for the lowest possible cost!"

Sign up here>>

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