What comes first: lack of footwork or lack of calls?

In my volleyball game last week, the opposing setter used a “deep dish” set for the entire first set. Between sets, I asked the lead official if this was now legal. He replied that the setter did the same thing every time. I asked if that meant that my setter could catch the ball and toss it underhanded to our hitters if he did the same thing every time. He told me not to ask stupid questions. I told him that stupid answers beget stupid follow-ups.

The same conversation could occur in basketball. A coach asks the official about a traveling violation, and the official replies that the players travel every time, so he cannot call every one. This line of thinking begs the question: which comes first, the lack of footwork or the lack of calls?

I watched a college basketball game this season where one player traveled more than 20 times without being whistled for a violation. Officials at every level appear to have adopted the more liberal NBA rules rather than enforcing NCAA or NFHS rules. Players catching a pass on the run are allowed 3-4 steps to stop; players regularly switch pivot feet on the catch, catching the pass right-left, but then using the left foot as the pivot foot; they make a two-count jump stop but then use a pivot foot; they take off of one foot and land 1-2 rather than with two feet at the same time, etc. These plays are ignored by officials. However, are they taught by coaches? Do we teach proper footwork in practice?

Officials argue that players travel every time down the court, and parents and coaches argue when they call repeated violations. My friend was docked on his official’s evaluation because he whistled seven consecutive traveling violations. His evaluator did not dock him for missing calls; he was docked for making the right call too many times!

Unfortunately, how do we teach proper footwork to players if it is not enforced in a game? If the opposing setter is never called for a lift or a double, why should he learn to set the ball correctly? If a player is not whistled for traveling, why not switch pivot feet when it is advantageous?

I think officials have to be more rigid in their interpretation of the rules. This will make for some ugly games, as when my friend whistled 7 straight travels. However, if officials do not enforce the rules more consistently, footwork will deteriorate further. We are at the point where people celebrate Kobe Bryant – the best player in the world – for the ability to do a simple step-through that I learned when I was in 5th grade because such examples of proper footwork are so rare.

To improve the level of play at all levels, coaches must spend more time teaching the proper footwork and ensuring that their players understand the difference between a legal move and a traveling violation, and officials need to be more strict in their interpretation of the rules, even when it means an ugly game or angry parents. At some point, players have to learn the right way to play, and the more that we allow the rules to degrade, the harder it will be to maintain any sense of order on the court.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

6 thoughts on “What comes first: lack of footwork or lack of calls?

  • I agree with what youre saying, but isn’t the game changing? If more and more HS refs are calling it with the lax NBA rules then it seems THAT is the new game. Im not judging it, but it just seems like a reality.

    Im always preaching at my kids that they need to be watching basketball on tv. Check out the different moves (really easy to do with DVR now days) and go practice them in your driveway or at the park. No matter if the move is actually travelling, or if you try it in a game, and get a whistle everytime…..bu bu but Kobe does it!

    Whats really confusing is that every ref in the league either calls it loose (NBA), calls it correctly, or calls any somewhat flashy move at all a travel (this is insane, but its like they try to overcorrect). I dont bother arguing with refs, but I do feel bad for the guys and girls who have a couple of “go to” moves that are traveling one night, and not the next. Guess we all just have to adjust.

  • The game isn’t changing. The rules remain the same. A travel is a travel. Players need to learn the rules and learn the proper footwork to play within the rules and officials need to enforce the rules. Otherwise, as per my example, where does the slippery slope stop? If a “deep dish” is legal, why not allow us to catch and toss the ball? If switching pivot feet is legal, why not a full running start, something like team handball? If three steps is legal when catching the ball, why not four? Imagine a high school player catching the ball near half court in stride and making a lay-up without ever having to dribble. Why not? If we’re not going to enforce the rules as presently written, where does the slippery slope stop?

  • I realize that once you cross the line it is impossible to draw a new one, but what Im trying to say is that the refs are changing and DO change the game. Yes the rules are the rules, but even in your volleyball game the rules for that particular game were obviously a little different. I had a girl this year has a great shot fake and drive. About 50% of the time it was called a travel, (sometimes she probably did, but mostly it was a legit move that we practiced). Each game for her was different, even though the rules were technically the same. Basketball is the same, but each game within the game of basketball is different when you’re dealing with human refs who all seem to have different definitions of violations, or at least differing theories of enforcement.

  • I always teach players to master moves per the rules first. If they want to enhance (or degrade) those moves beyond the rules, then they assume the risk. They may get away with it, but the more they do..the more it becomes habit of play and they lose the ability to do the move correctly (unless they train both ways). Eventually they will be in a big game at a critical point and a good official will make the correct call with a smile…or not.

    Rick Allison
    LoneStar Basketball Academy
    [[[ C2E ]]]

  • CoachLittleJohn: The difference, I guess, is that I am not talking about judgment calls. This isn’t a block/charge that could go either way. This is choosing to ignore the rules of the game. Our volleyball official ignored the rules of the game (the down officials who was the more experienced official finally admitted as much after the game). When officials blatantly ignore traveling violations because their superiors do not want too many calls or because they do not want parents and coaches complaining that they blow the whistle too much, they are ignoring the rules. When a player catches the ball and takes three steps, that is not an interpretation of a rule: that is a travel. Sure, officials are bound to miss some calls here and there. However, I am talking about a systematic elimination of the traveling violation. I agree that players have to adjust to calls and that each official calls the game slightly differently. However, a travel is a travel. If I dribble, pick up my dribble, step and jump and land, I cannot use a pivot foot. If I do, that is a travel. In a JC game, I had three officials explain this exact rule in three different ways: one was correct, one said that the action was a travel and the third said that it was a legal move and the player could use either foot as a pivot foot. They were not interpreting wrong – they did not know the rule. I had a high school official who blew an over-and-back call and he could not explain the rule correctly. He explained what he saw – which was a violation – and said that it was not. He did not know the rule.

    I’m not upset about close call travels on a player’s first step where he may have lifted his pivot foot slightly ahead of the dribble. That’s more of a judgment call. However, when players catch and take 3-4 steps or catch right-left and use a left-foot pivot or they jab with their right foot and step with their left foot, these are easy calls to make and the lack of calls leads directly to lazy habits by players (of course, the argument is that lazy habits by players lead to too many violations to call; it’s an ugly cycle in my opinion).

    As for the advantage, which some officials play, if a player catches the ball right-left and uses a left-foot pivot foot, the player gains an advantage by using the preferential foot. If the player takes three steps to stop after catching a pass, the player gains an advantage because he is a step closer to the basket and has his dribble available – he can shot fake and go, which gives an advantage that he should not have, either because he should be three steps further back or he should have used his dribble.

  • If refs call it strictly, you get a couple weeks’ or a month’s worth of ugly games in a league. And then players adjust, and you start to have good basketball. No muss.

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