Kobe Bryant’s Basketball Camp & Skill Development

Kobe Bryant apparently runs a hugely popular basketball camp in Santa Barbara, which is very commendable. However, after reading an article about the objectives, I am confused.

I must admit that I am biased against big camps. I run basketball camps, but even this week, while running a camp in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, I felt that we had too many players of disparate abilities to create a great camp. We made it work, the players improved and had fun, but it was far from my ideal learning environment.

With a young group, our focus this week was basic technical skills (dribbling, passing, pivoting, shooting, individual defense and lay-ups) and beginning tactical skills (give-and-gos and pick-and-rolls).

Kobe’s Camp, however, appears to focus on running different offenses:

The kids will be taught the flex offense, the Princeton offense, and of course, the famed triangle offense, among many other things. “It doesn’t really matter what age group they are, these kids can learn these things — especially at that age, because they’re sponges,” Bryant said.

Really? I agree that children are sponges and learn things quickly, especially when the instructions and skills are age-appropriate. However, I do not see how teaching the Flex offense to eight-year-olds is age-appropriate.

I worked a camp where every coach had to teach the same generic pass-and-screen away offense. It took all week to get players to follow directions and pass and screen away. Every team practice was spent memorizing the offense. However, if the players did not run the same offense with their teams at home, did all this practice time transfer to improved performance?

When I run camps, I teach general skills. Rather than learning the Flex offense or the Princeton offense, I teach players how to use a screen, how to make a backdoor cut or how to use a dribble hand-off. At my camp in Idaho two weeks ago, we learned all these skills. Through the six-week Playmakers Basketball Development League, players learn all these skills in general ways, not specific to one offense.

Now, this week, I used drills that I would use with a Flex offense team. Some of the girls at the camp run the Flex with their team, so I adjusted some of our general shooting drills to mimic cuts in the Flex, so they practiced the type of shots that they get with their team. However, the tactical instructions remained general: the goal was to learn how to read and use a screen in any offense, not in one specific offense.

When I was young, we ran the Flex. We set the cross screen and received the down screen to cut to the elbow. There was no deviation. Without a shot clock, we turned over the offense time after time until we got a lay-up or elbow jump shot.

When we moved to high school, we no longer ran the Flex. Now we memorized a new offense. Through these years of playing, we never learned to curl off a screen or flare off the screen or cut backdoor based on the defense; instead, we memorized where to run in a particular offense. If the shot was not open in the Flex, rather than flare because the defender went top-side, ball-side over the screen, we caught and waited for the next cutter or we re-screened if we were not open.

There is nothing wrong with the Flex offense or the Princeton offense, and there is nothing inherently wrong with teaching an offense at a camp. However, in the limited learning time available, how do you want to appropriate your time? Is teaching an offense that the players may never run again the best use of valuable time? Is it the most fun or inspiring use of time?

I try to teach to the age group. With younger players and beginners this week (10-14 primarily with a few 15 and 16-year-olds), the focus was fun and basics. We played dribble tag and speed tag every day. Why? The games are fun and with beginner players, these types of games improve their dribbling more than learning moves and doing more advanced drills. They learn naturally, one of Kobe’s emphases:

“Fun. I want them to have a good time,” Bryant said. “That’s where sports start. I want them to enjoy themselves, and not get bogged down by this or that. These kids are going to learn a lot of things at this camp — they’re going to learn them without knowing that they’re learning them, and they’re going to have a good time doing it.”

I agree completely with the attitude. We played tag because it kept the entire camp involved, is fun and develops skills without a lot of instruction.

We also spent time on lay-ups. We did speed lay-ups, power lay-ups, lay-ups off a pass, lay-ups off a catch, etc. We did a progression into the “Rondo,” and also learned the “Rondo Up-and-Under.” There was a 12-year-old who has never played in a competitive game before (from a remote town) who used the Rondo to create a shot in a 5v5 scrimmage on the last day to cheers from other campers.

We went through a defensive progression to learn to defend the ball and played lots of 1v1. We shot every day, going through the first three stages from 180 Shooter: 5 Steps to Shooting 90% from the Free Throw Line, 50% from the floor and 40% from the 3-pt line.

We played a lot of 3v3 and 4v4 half and full-court scrimmages to five baskets. I prefer short games with a definitive end to increase competitiveness. Also, short games allow you to change teams if the teams are unbalanced. When I worked bigger camps, each coach had a team of 8-10 players and the teams remained the same all week, even if the teams were unbalanced. We also played 30-minute games, which meant half the camp sat on the bench and watched (or sometimes more than half the camp if there were not enough courts to keep all the teams playing at once).

I usually play cut-throat at camp, so players are generally out for no more than 30 seconds in a half-court game and a minute or two in a full-court game. That keeps all the players engaged. Also, because no coach coaches a specific team or group of players, but assists everyone, the coach’s egos do not get in the way of helping the players. No coach is playing to win. Along the same lines, we did not spend time memorizing offenses. Instead, our goal is to teach general skills that players can apply to their teams at home regardless of the system that their coach employs.

Like all coaches, I have my biases. I am biased toward small-sided games, active drills and fun games that engage players while developing a number of basic, general skills. I dislike long lines and players sitting out.

While offenses taught properly can develop basic skills, is it the best way? Is playing 5v5 games with 8-10-year-old players the best way to develop their athletic, technical and tactical skills?

If you have more thoughts on camps and skill development, please join the discussion in the forum.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development

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