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