Indecision with the ball

A friend sent me an email with the following drill:

How to develop an explosive dribble

Only allow one dribble to get to the hoop after grabbing the ball off the chair to develop an explosive, fast first step.

Why use it

Too often players look indecisive with the ball in a game – give them a lot of first–step repetitions in practice so they are better prepared to attack in game situations.

Set up

Place a chair near the 3–point line at the top of the key. Place a ball on the chair facing the player. The player is in a basketball position with knees bent and hands ready to grab the ball.

How to play

Snatch the ball off the chair and attack the basket. The player is allowed one dribble. If the dribble isn’t explosive enough, then the player isn’t close enough to the basket to shoot the layup.

When the dribble is explosive, the player plants off the left foot and surges toward the hoop completing a power layup.


Players quickly learn they must explode with the only dribble they are allowed or be forced to shoot 10 feet from the basket. Institute a penalty for a missed shot, which makes getting to the basket and creating a higher percentage shot all more worthwhile.

Drills such as this one are the reason that I wrote Fake Fundamentals. The coach obviously believes in this drill, and by the look of the diagrams included, it appeared to be a drill circulating through email newsletters or websites. Parents see the drill, and it looks organized and appears to practice an important skill: Driving to the basket.

The instruction says to use the drill because players are indecisive in games and need more repetitions. That is not entirely false; if players are indecisive in games, more repetitions in those situations that cause indecision may help to alleviate the indecision. Of course, there is also a very real possibility that the coach causes the indecision with conflicting messages: For instance, practicing a drill like this, but following it with 5v0 offense where the player holds the ball rather than driving. In a game, does he drive or run the play? How should he make the decision? I don’t know, and he probably doesn’t know either because he’s practiced primarily in unopposed situations.

The indecision that the coach attempts to correct likely has more to do with the presence of a defender than a lack of repetitions in a 1v0 drill. The chair provides no information; the player is told to penetrate every time in the drill, so there is no decision-making. There is nothing to make the player indecisive in the drill because the instructions are explicit. Pick up the ball and go to the basket using only one dribble. There is no room in the instructions for any debate, thinking, alternatives, etc.

Is the situation in the game the same? Of course not, as chairs are not allowed on the court during a game. Beyond the ridiculousness of the chair, is the situation the same? When the player receives a pass, are the instructions explicit? Is he told to do one thing and one thing only? Is he told to drive to the basket with one dribble?

Funny story, but when I coached a women’s team in Europe, I gave those instructions to my 17-year-old defensive stopper. She had worked from being a non-player in the previous season to earning playing time because of her defense, but teams did not guard her because she was a poor shooter. I told her that on the first possession that she received a pass, she had to drive as hard as she could to the front of the rim. Every game: First time that she caught a pass. Why? Because I wanted to establish her as a threat so that the defense would have to devote some attention to her and could not double-team my best player. I did not care if she traveled, was called for a charge, drew a foul, scored, etc. It did not matter. It was one possession that was potentially wasted simply to convince the other team that they had to guard her or she was going to drive to the basket.

Maybe the coach tells these players that every time they receive a pass, they have one dribble to get to the basket. Of course, which direction do they drive? Does it matter where their defenders are? What if their defenders move, unlike the chair? Maybe these questions have something to do with their indecision, because they are not practicing in a situation that presents these questions. In practice, the instructions are explicit. In games, the decision is ambiguous. How do they learn to play in these ambiguous situations when they only practice in a simple drill with explicit instructions?

Beyond the chair and lack of opposed practice, why punish the players when they are unable to make the shot? Players make mistakes for three reasons: lack of skill, lack of understanding, and lack of effort. Which one deserves a punishment? Should players be punished because they aren’t good enough? Isn’t that why they come to practice? To improve their skills? While they’re doing the punishment, are they improving the skill that they were unable to do?

There are other problems with the instructions. For example, I wold never refer to a layup shot off one foot a “power layup.” Second, it appears that they are only practicing in one direction if they plan to shoot layups off of their left foot every time. What about the other direction? What about their left hands? I suppose this limits their indecision in games if they are only able to drive in one direction, but it probably makes them easy to defend too.

I do not see anything about this drill that will help with indecision (again, unless the instructions in a game are to drive right on every catch), but that is the stated objective (the WHY) of the drill.

When creating a drill, coaches must think more deeply about the drill to insure that it actually accomplishes its purpose. Otherwise, you’re wasting time with fake fundamentals.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

4 thoughts on “Indecision with the ball

  • This is a good example for when the purpose of the drill is defined incorrectly and thus ruins it. Sometimes it’s not the drill itself, but rather what you focus on. We ran a similar drill (despite including a catch, land on two feet and rip through element) some weeks ago, with the clear intention to show my kids that they are ABLE to finish from such situations with one dribble. Prior to doing this, most didn’t believe that they could do it, so in similar 1 on 1 setups, they used too many dribbles. After doing this drill a couple of minutes for 2 or 3 times, my players obviously were now aware of the possibilities this movement has to offer and slowly started to incorporate it into 1 on 1 or 2 on 2 drills.

    Personally, I still find it at times difficult, to make them use certain moves in 1 on 1 games without previously reminding them of certain aspects with such simple drills. I.e. if a player doesn’t feel comfortable doing a spin move they will, IMO, rarely use it in a competitive, decision based game. More often than not, these kids mostly will instead use what they do best and not experiment when in competitive situations. Therefore, I usually use drills similar to the one mentioned as “confidence builders” and to refine their basic technique. For only when they trust their abilities will they use the skill under stress. At least, that’s my impression.

  • Agree. I use the Extension Layup Drill to teach basic finishes and to get to the basket in one dribble, and we go from a self-pass typically:

    I will argue that often the constraints of the task force players to find different solutions that they would not have otherwise practiced. I know that a coach has emailed about one of his players using a behind the back dribble in a tag game although he was not sure that she could have done it in a gym by herself.

    When I was young, I never had a coach teach a spin layup, and I don’t remember practicing spin layups on my own. However, in pickup games, I almost always went to the spin because I was slow and not very big, so players would cut off my attack, and I could spin away from them and use my body to finish. On some courts, I was known for spinning although it was something that I never really practiced or thought about; it was something that I did as a natural reaction to the defense. I self-organized into the spin given the constraints of the task. In my upcoming book, I mention an NBA player doing essentially the same thing in an offseason workout; the presence of a defender enabled him to perform a move that he could not do by himself.

    I agree that young players need confidence builders occasionally. Just a matter of how you create them, when you use them, and how you transition out of them.

  • I’ve been going through this a couple of times over the weekend. Still haven’t come to an actual conclusion yet. I follow you on your spinmove example, I’ve been teaching the game to myself in a similar fashion for the most part as well. And for some players this seems to work fine. You open a door by demonstrating the move, correcting them when needed etc., and they take it from there, experimenting with it in (particularly small sided) games, where the setup calls for a certain type of move (help from the side, attacking from the corner etc.). But then there are these other kids I have in my practices. They seem very hesitant to experiment, adding new elements to their skill set is a pretty slow moving task. They execute what they know and what they have good control over. And it’s safe to say that we don’t have a culture of fear of failure in my practices. My boys know I actually like mistakes, as long as they are a result of somebody pushing their limits.
    Therefore I more often than I would like to, have to resort to block training when it comes to teaching certain individual skills. Setting up certain game situations and giving instructions so far doesn’t seem to be the teaching method of choice for all. Somehow it feels as if I mainly have to remind(!) this type of player that a certain move exists and that they are indeed able to execute it. Chances are then higher (in my experience) that we will see this move in a game situation. Also by the “non-creative” players.

  • Coach:
    There are so many different personalities and factors that there is never one way for everyone. However, to play devil’s advocate, what about constraints that force exploration? I’ve written about a layup drill that I did last year. I saw the players at the clinic, although they were not told where to start or how to finish, they all started from the same position and shot the same traditional layup. I stopped them and said that nobody could shoot the same shot. 8 players in line meant 8 different shots. Most of the shots ended up being crazy shots like 360s, through the legs, etc. So, I stopped and asked about more realistic options; shots that they have used in games. They listed off like 15 shots, and we tried again. Anyway, just a thought on how to create more opportunities to explore.

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