Developing, evolving, and improving a drill

For years, 1v2 was my favorite dribbling drill to overload an offensive player’s skill. The drill is simple: There is one offensive player and two defenders. The offensive player attempts to dribble to the basket at the opposite end and score, and the defenders attempt to trap and steal the ball. 

When I initially used the drill, it was strictly a dribbling drill. I oftentimes instructed the defender’s on the proper way to trap the ball or the two options when trapping the ball, but I generally allowed the defense to choose its method of defense, provided that both players attempted to put pressure on the ball.

Initially, I started with the offensive player in possession of the ball on the baseline, and the two defenders ready to defend. That, of course, is not how ball possessions start in a game. I changed the drill, and I inbounded the ball to the offensive player. The two defenders could prevent the offensive player from receiving the inbound pass or work to force the player to receive the pass in the corners. Once the player received the pass, it was the same drill: Offensive player trying to score, and defenders trying to trap and steal the ball. I used this to teach players how and where to get open.

When I used this drill, I noticed that the offensive player often sulked after turning over the ball. This is not the behavior that I wanted, as sulking in a game leads to a double negative: The first negative is the turnover, and the second negative, and the one that is unforgivable, is sulking and not sprinting back on defense.

Therefore, I turned the drill into 1v2/2v1: Now, when the defense gained possession of the ball, whether through a steal, rebound, or after a made basket, the two defenders became the attackers, and the original offensive player became the lone defender. When an offensive player made a mistake and turned over the ball or missed a shot, he or she could not stop and sulk; the player had to sprint back on defense.

As I played this game, I noticed that the worst dribblers tended to receive the least amount of practice; they quickly turned over the ball. I also noticed that the offensive players in the 2v1 would finish and run off the court, oftentimes before the shot was made.

I changed the drill again. This time, after the offense scored in the 2v1, I grabbed the ball out of the net and inbounded to the first offensive player for a second offensive possession. Rather than playing one possession, or playing one possession of offense and one possession of defense, the group played until I decided that they were done. When the offensive player was successful on his or her first turn, the group might play one possession; when the offensive player struggles, he or she may get three or four chances. In this way, I could ensure that the worst players received more practice rather than falling further and further behind their peers.

This improved the drill, but there were still flaws. The behaviors that the offensive players used in 1v2 were not the behaviors that I would want the player to use in a game. The drill was designed to practice dribbling, and to overload the dribbling skill, but I did not want to encourage bad habits in the process. When dribbling by oneself, a player’s posture changes. Ball protection and advancement is the only concern; in a game, finding an open teammate or an open shot is the primary concern. The change in objectives change the body posture. When dribbling in a 1v2 drill, there is no penalty for dribbling with one’s head down, as the player knows that there are two defenders attempting to trap the ball. In a game, dribbling with one’s head down invites pressure and traps.

To improve the drill, I stepped in as a passing option. If the offensive player attacked and was cut off or dribbled into trouble, rather than trying a risky move, the player could pass back to me trailing the play. After passing to me, the player had to get open again, receive the pass, and continue.

After using the drill in this way, I realized that it made no sense for me to be in the drill. Players need practice making inbound passes, and this was time that players could practice this skill in contested situations. If every player practices contested inbound passes in a practice setting, we have more options in a game, and players can rotate more freely to different positions without having to worry who is the one player allowed to inbound the ball.

Additionally, once the player inbounds the ball, it made more sense for the player to be involved in the drill. However, that would create a 2v2 situation and would decrease the overload on the player’s dribbling. Therefore, rather than go 2v2, I changed the 1v2 drill to a 2v3/3v2 drill. This is more game-like, as there is defensive pressure and a realistic passing target. On a pass, the defenders attempt to trap the new dribbler. This makes the drill game-like and adds the overload to the dribbling skill as desired. Players practice their dribbling under pressure, but they use more realistic behaviors because they have a passing option.

As an alternative to 2v3, I started to play 1v2 into 3v3. This drill started with 1v2 (O1 vs D1 and D2). O2 inbounds the ball, but does not participate after the inbound pass. On the offensive end of the court, an offensive and defensive player started on each wing (O3/D3 and O4/D4). On a turnover in the backcourt, the two defenders attack 2v1 as before. Rather than trying to score, O1’s objective is to advance the ball past mid-court. Once past mid-court, O3 and O4 are live. Once O1 dribbles past half-court, D2 drops off, and O1, O3, and O4 play 3v3 against D1, D3, and D4. To make it more difficult, I have constrained the space in which the offense can receive the initial pass. If O1 has an advantage, and nobody stops the ball, O1 can continue to the basket. Otherwise, on a pass, the game is 3v3 full-court live until one team scores.

This is my process for evolving a simple, but difficult drill (see 21st Century Guide to Individual Skill Development if you do not understand how something can be simple and difficult), into a more complex drill that retains a skill overload with a more game-like quality or specificity. Each step along the evolution is a valid drill, and I often use previous versions of the drill, whether due to space, time, or skill. But as the drill has evolved, it has become more specific and more complex, and consequently, the transfer to game performance is likely to be greater.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice & 21st Century Guide to Individual Skill Development

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