Category: Human Interest- Olympics

The Champaign Flyers:
by Dr. Jeffrey G. Bettger, Alice B. McGinty, Brendan M. McGinty

Chapter 3: Drills

Alice: Brendan, Jeff, and I realized from our experiences during the first season that practice in "real game" situations was the best teacher for the athletes. Brendan and Jeff wanted their teams to get as much hands-on experience as possible in game situations so that when they were confronted with the anxiety and unpredictability which comes with real competition, they would be prepared to perform well. During our second season, Brendan and Jeff concentrated on making their drills more like situations encountered during games and used much more of their practice time for scrimmage games.

Basic Skills - Orange Team
Brendan: Going into the season, I did not know exactly what to expect from my team. I had seen them play several times the year before, so I had some idea of their strengths and weaknesses. I knew that they had a tendency to battle each other during tough times, so I knew that I needed to find a way to bring them together as a team.
My plan early in the season was to bring the players together as a team while increasing their aggressiveness during games. Too many times I noticed they did not get tough when the tough got going late in a game. They failed to box out, they fumbled passes, and they did not run the fast break when it was available. Therefore, I decided to stress improving these areas through drills during practices.
I had noticed that we were a very slow starting team. Our first quarter of a game was normally horrible, followed by a good second quarter. After halftime, our third quarter was also very slow, followed by a good fourth quarter. This pattern told me that we were not warming up properly. One drill that I used before the start of an actual game was my "hot box" drill. The team would form two circles, one ball in each circle, and then they would make chest passes or bounce passes to each other without telling each other who they were going to pass to. I wanted the passes to be firm, so they would get their hand-eye coordination worked out before starting a game. We did this at the start of practice to warm up the hands, and we did it before each game. It worked like a charm.
A drill we worked on from the outset of the season was our "rebounding drill." This drill killed two birds with one stone. We had one player shoot ten free throws while the other players stood in their normal spaces around the lane. Upon release of the free throw, I had the players box each other out. I stressed that they should not use their arms but rather should have quick feet and use their back side and legs to establish position under the boards. I wanted the players to toughen up under the boards, and they learned to be aggressive in time. After one player had shot ten, everybody rotated clockwise one place. Our rebounding slowly improved throughout the season as did our free throw shooting.
The last drill we worked on to a great extent was our "four corners" or "keepaway" drill. This drill was included because of a loss in our first season due to turning over the ball at the end of a close game. This season we wanted to be able to preserve a lead at the end of a game by simply passing the ball around to use up the clock. If we had a wide-open layup, we would take it. Otherwise, the players should keep moving the ball around with good chest passes or bounce passes. At first, we did not do well with it, but we kept practicing, and we finally got to use it during the final game of our season (described in the Paducah chapter).

Individual Adjustments - Orange Team
Brendan: Each drill my team went through during a practice had a specific team purpose. I thought we turned the ball over too much, especially early in games, so we did our "hot box" drill, where we threw chest or bounce passes to each other randomly and quickly. It kept everybody on their toes. Our rebounding drill helped us to establish position underneath the hoop and taught some of my less aggressive players that it was not necessarily bad to throw their weight around.
Aside from the team drills, some additional instruction was necessary on an individual basis to help a player's performance in a particular aspect of the game. For example, Marvin was a very strong inside player who got fouled a lot after grabbing an offensive rebound. Many times, he would get fouled trying to put the rebound back in. That's where the trouble started. He was not a very good free throw shooter, and he lacked confidence at the line.
To remedy this situation, I pulled Marvin and Richard aside during practices and had Richard help Marvin with his free throws. If you had ever seen Richard shoot free throws, you would know why he was recruited. He claims to have hit 200 in a row righthanded AND lefthanded. I have even see him hit 10 in a row underhanded ("granny style"). The extra work with Marvin paid off as the season progressed. He no longer got down on himself when he got fouled. His confidence at the line increased and his free throw percentage did as well.
Jeff: I think that the idea of asking Richard to help Marvin was a particularly good one. Richard is very calm, easy-going, and well-respected by the other players, without necessarily being an authority figure. Therefore, I believe that it was easier for Marvin to relax and listen to what Richard had to say. Of course, this experience also made Richard feel proud. Once Richard convinced Marvin to keep his shooting elbow underneath the ball (instead of out at an angle), to mentally picture the ball going into the basket, and to follow-through the shot with his hand, Marvin was a new and improved free throw shooter.

Basic Skills - Blue Team
Jeff: For my team, I learned that a successful practice consisted of doing many simple drills for a short amount of time each, rather than doing one complicated drill for a long time. A coach wants to make sure that boredom does not become a factor. That is, if my players were asked to do one drill for too long a period of time or if they had too much unoccupied time during a drill, their attention would begin to drift. I found that if a drill was too complicated, the players would have to spend more effort remembering where their specific place in line was rather than learning the more general basketball skill I was trying to teach. The following are some of the drills which I used to develop the fundamental basketball skills of the athletes on my team.
As a warmup, the players would divide into two lines and begin the lay-up drill. The head person in the right-most line dribbles to the basket and shoots a layup, as the first person in the left-most line runs towards the basket for the rebound. After the rebounder passes the ball to the new front man in the right line, the rebounder goes to the end of the shooting line and the shooter goes to the end of the rebounding line. After a few minutes, the ball is switched to the left line, thus the player must dribble and shoot from the left side of the basket, while the first person in the right lane awaits the rebound. After a few more minutes, the left-most line moves to the center of the court, thus forcing a player to dribble straight towards the basket and then to lay the ball up over the front part of the basket.
The lay-up drill was performed to perfection by Brendan's team after the first week of practice. Most of my team members could dribble and shoot well, but it took some time for them to learn to alternate lines. As the season progressed, two variations were added to the layup drill. The first variation is simply called the defensive layup drill. As its name implies, a coach stands near the basket and plays passive defense as the shooter approaches. The goals of this drill are to teach the athletes to dribble low so that an opponent cannot easily steal the ball, to keep their heads up as they dribble (i.e., not watch the ball), and to use head fakes to get by a defensive player. To execute a successful head fake, the eyes, head, and body posture of the offensive player are all used to convince a defender that the offensive player is going one direction, before that player actually cuts in the other direction.
The second variation of the layup drill is called the fast break drill. The purpose of this drill is to promote quick passes and cooperation between two players. A fast break refers to the situation in which the offensive team is dribbling towards its own basket and has at least one more player on that half of the court than does the defensive team. This usually occurs after a rebound from an opponent's missed shot or after a steal. The goal of a fast break is to score with a layup or another high percentage shot as quickly as possible. The first key to running a successful fast break is to make sure that the offensive players stay spread out, thus each defensive player can only guard one offensive player. Because there are fewer defensive players than offensive players, there will always be one unguarded offensive player if the fast break is run properly. The second key to completing a successful fast break is to run it quickly. The offensive advantage will be lost as other members of the defensive team are able to get to their defensive positions.
To simulate a fast break, we had the players form two lines at half court, as in the layup drill. However, in this drill both the first person in the right line and the first person in the left line play offense. One coach stands underneath the basket to play defense. The ball starts in either line and both players head for the basket as quickly as they can. If the coach makes a commitment to guard the player dribbling the ball, then that player must make a good pass to the open teammate, who can then shoot a layup. If the coach does not commit to stopping the dribbler, then the dribbler is free to shoot a layup or a short jumpshot. A second coach who plays mild defense was often added to this drill to demonstrate the importance of making a good pass. As you can see, the pass must not only be out of the reach of the defender, but also must be far enough in front of the oncoming offensive player so as to not disrupt the momentum of that player as he or she catches the pass.
Alice: I really enjoyed watching the creative drills Jeff used during practices. They were fast paced and kept the players moving physically while also holding their interest. Each of the drills simulated a game situation.
Jeff: To improve defensive skills, I used the defensive stance drill. When playing defense, it is critical that the knees are bent, the back is straight, and the head and hands are up. To begin the drill, the team is placed in three or four rows facing the coach. Next, the team is instructed to assume the proper defensive stance and to begin moving their feet up and down very quickly. The coach then points to the left, right, front, or back in a random order every three seconds. While continuing to face the coach, the players shuffle in the direction in which the coach has just pointed. This drill/exercise develops agility, quickness, cardiovascular endurance, and strengthens the thigh muscles. We ran the drill for one minute, then a short rest, and then another one minute repetition.
To improve ball-handling skills, coaching manuals suggest having players dribble alternately around a series of pylons. In order to make this drill more like a game situation and to reduce the amount of time other players had to stand around, I modified the drill such that the pylons were replaced by defensive players. The defensive players are lined-up and told that they must keep their feet planted at all times. The player at the end of the row is the first offensive player. This player must alternately dribble the ball around each of the defensive players. As the offensive player dribbles, the defensive players try to reach for the ball. To avoid having the ball stolen, the offensive player must switch hands when dribbling (i.e., keeping his body between the ball and the defensive player), and must keep his or her head up (i.e., not watch the ball). Upon reaching the end of the line, the offensive player passes the ball to the next person in line, and then joins the line as a defensive player.
Another drill that improves dribbling and defense is to have one player dribble the length of half of the court while another player plays defense. Upon reaching half-court, the players switch positions. This drill teaches the offensive player to dribble low and to keep the ball out of the reach of the defensive player. It teaches the defensive player to stay low, with knees bent and head up. Both athletes learn how much distance should be allowed between the offensive and defensive players. As the season progressed, I noticed that the team members were being called for many reaching-in fouls on defense. I used this drill increasingly during the season to provide feedback to the players concerning what contact was legal when attempting to steal the ball from a dribbling offensive player.
The last defensive drill that I used was a version of the old school yard game "keep away". The team members formed a small circle. One player is selected as the defensive player and must enter the circle. The idea of the drill is to pass the ball across the circle without letting the defensive player intercept the ball. After a minute, a new defensive player is selected. The defensive player must keep his/her legs bent, head up, and hands moving for the entire minute. This drill is also excellent for teaching the players on the outside of the circle to use head fakes when passing the ball (i.e., looking at one player but passing to another player).
To improve concentration, lateral mobility, and passing skills, I often employed the "Shuffle and Pass Drill". The players form two lines facing each other. The first two players, one from each line, shuffle sideways the width of the court, passing the ball between them as they proceed. Upon reaching the other end of the court, they remain on the same side of the court and return. Therefore, if a player is shuffling to the left on the way down the court, he or she will be shuffling to the right on the way back up the court. Each player does the drill twice: once with chest passes and once with bounce passes. For variety, the two players may be placed three feet apart to develop short, quick passes, or ten feet apart to develop skill at passing the ball sufficiently in front of a moving target.
To improve agility, hand-eye coordination, and rebounding skills, I extensively used the "Over-The-Top Drill". In this drill, all players form a single line on one side of the basket beginning ten feet away from the basket. A coach is positioned on the other side of the basket. On command, the first person in line approaches the basket. Simultaneously, the coach shoots the ball at the basket such that the ball hits the backboard and bounces to the other side, without hitting the rim. The approaching player must jump up and catch the rebound in the air, return to the ground while chinning the ball (i.e., holding the ball with both hands at chin level with the elbows extended), and then shoot the ball back up at the basket until the ball goes in the basket.
With our exceptional amount of coaching help, the team could be divided up into three groups and sent to one of the three baskets on our half of the court. At one of the baskets, Jaime and Joanne worked on outside shooting, at the other basket Max ran the Over-the-Top Drill, and I supervised a Two-on-Two scrimmage at the third basket. After a few minutes, each group was sent to a different skill station. This multiple-event scheme increased the amount of individual attention received by each player and greatly reduced boredom caused by standing around.
Most practices concluded with free throw shooting. The players lined up around the free throw lane with one player shooting two free throws, while the other players clapped on every made free throw. After the second shot, the players rotated in a clock-wise manner around the lane so that a new person was shooting. I saved free throw shooting for the end of practices to ensure that the players would be tired. During a game, a free throw is shot after running up and down the court several times. To compensate for being tired and out of breath, a player must concentrate on using more leg strength to power the shot.
By the second half of the season, I felt that many of the players had gained a reasonable command of the fundamentals. As was evident in our early games, however, they still lacked knowledge of when to shoot or to pass, and how to play good defense. Therefore, more practice time during the second half of the season was devoted to playing scrimmages.
Mrs. Whittle: Practices were particularly good because the coaches did the running and drills with the athletes. They encouraged the athletes to take responsibility for fitness and skill improvement. A drill which was particularly memorable and helpful for Brad was the warm ups where the athletes were responsible for leading the exercises. Another important drill was the zone defense drill which was very effective in giving Brad a sense of which area on the court was his responsibility to guard. Since returning to our home in Edmonton, Canada, I have become involved in Special Olympics and have shared Jeff and Brendan's ideas and drills with the coaches here. Basketball is slowly taking hold here and was the demonstration sport at last year's programs. We do not have the participant base that you have in the States, but it is coming!

Individual Adjustments - Blue Team
Jeff: As I mentioned during the beginning of the book, all basketball books suggest drills. One of a coach's hardest jobs is to adjust a drill to meet the specific needs of a player. Through experience, a coach learns that if a player has difficulty performing a drill, then that drill must be divided into its components or presented in a new way. Because each player presents unique coaching challenges, a coach never stops learning. As examples of how I modified drills for individual players, I will next describe how I helped Charles Brinegar with his shooting and Mike Kearney with his defense.
As with most of the team members, Charles Brinegar is one of the finest people you could ever hope to meet. His kindness, modesty, positive attitude, and diligence make him a winner on and off the court. I unofficially gave him the nickname "Sir Charles" because of the noble grace in which he conducts his life.
Of all the fundamental basketball skills, Charles had most difficulty with shooting. In particular, he usually shot too hard. During the free shooting period before practices began, I started to analyze his shooting form. I noticed that Charles was not using his legs to bolster his shot. By not bending the knees, a player is forced to use a throwing motion to generate the power needed to propel the ball to the basket. Consequently, shots are either too hard or too soft, and usually off to the left or right side because the arms were not used solely for guiding the ball.
The most common errors in players' shooting form are: 1) not using the legs, 2) not keeping the elbows close to the body, and 3) not following through with their wrists, thus failing to put the needed backspin on the ball. In Charles' case, I broke up the shooting motion into components. As I stood beside him, we went through the shooting motions without a ball: bend knees, elbows in, shoot, and follow through. After many repetitions, I was satisfied. The next step was to add in a basketball and shoot up against the wall. The drill was repeated many more times: bend knees, elbows in, shoot against the wall, and follow through. Finally we moved to a hoop and repeated the sequence.
I used the intermediate step of shooting against the wall because I had found that if players were not immediately successful with a new technique that I had taught them, they would quickly revert to their old styles. By using the wall as a target, Charles became comfortable with the correct technique while receiving only positive feedback from me instead of the negative feedback associated with missing a shot. When we moved to the basket, he made a reasonably high percentage of his shots. To make sure that this correct shooting technique became a permanent skill, I gave Charles a one minute refresher course during the beginning of the next several practices.
Alice: When playing in games, Charles seemed to become nervous and had a hard time controlling his shots and passes. Jeff saw that Charles needed more confidence in order to make him less nervous during games. He used praise and encouragement, along with constructive criticism to help Charles both improve his skills and to develop more confidence. During scrimmages and practice games, Jeff encouraged the other players to give the ball to Charles when Charles was in scoring position. When Charles had the ball at these times, Jeff again used praise and encouragement, giving him suggestions and reminding him of things he had learned during practices. Charles worked hard at improving and spent much time practicing his shot.
After Charles scored his first basket in a game that season, he appeared much more confident during games and at practices. It seems that the first basket had "broken the ice" for Charles and that he could both play and practice as a more relaxed and confident athlete. Jeff used flexibility and patience in figuring out which ways of coaching worked best with Charles. He spent a large amount of time and thought in helping Charles improve as a player.
Jeff: During the free-shooting time before practices officially started, I would take a ball and challenge different players to stop me from scoring. I noticed that Mike Kearney was a good defensive player because of his hustle and determination. However, I noticed that he would try to steal the ball too often. Basically, he needed to learn to stay between his man and the basket. He often lunged in at me attempting to steal the ball, but when he missed, it was easy for me to make a small side-step and then dribble the ball to the basket for an uncontested lay up.
Therefore during the free-shooting period before each practice, I showed him why it was important not to get too close to the offensive player when the player was far from the basket. If he felt that he had a clean shot at a steal, then he should go for it. However, I tried to convince him that in most circumstances, it would be better for him to stay back in good defensive position and force his opponent to take a long shot. During the course of the season, Mike was called for fewer and fewer "reaching-in" fouls.

Jeff: I believe that having scrimmages in practices is extremely important. As the saying goes, "you can't learn to swim without getting into the water." Scrimmages were especially important for my team for several reasons. First, my team needed to be reminded that the drills we practiced must to be used in game situations. The drills were not just something we did for fun. Second, I noticed that many players could perform a given skill adequately during a drill, but then reverted to old habits during game situations. In most cases, this was due to the player becoming nervous or overly excited during game situations. Third, a certain amount of standing around is part of every drill. However, players are in near-constant motion during a scrimmage. A player must learn that when they are huffing and puffing, it requires more leg push when shooting a basket. Last, scrimmages were the best way to teach the team to look around the court for open teammates.
We used two types of scrimmages: the Two-on-Two scrimmage and a full-court scrimmage. In the Two-on-Two scrimmage, two players are placed on one team and two players on the other team. One team is initially designated as being on offense and starts with the control of the ball at the free throw line. The drill continues until one of the teams scores five baskets. As with other half court scrimmages, a player must dribble the ball back to the free throw line after a defensive rebound. Because DB was the only player on the team that would drive to the basket, the Two-on-Two Drill was used to encourage the other players to drive to the basket for a lay-up if the defensive player was out of position. This drill is excellent for teaching players the importance of actively trying to get open on offense and the importance of maintaining good position when on defense (i.e., staying between the basket and the offensive player) .
Full-court scrimmages require much more running on the players' part. So that the players remember who is on their scrimmage team, yellow jerseys were passed out to one of the teams. Full-court scrimmages are also a good time to work on team defense. I had the teams work on zone defense for half of the time and then man-to-man defense for the other half of the time. When practicing zone defense, it was important to show each player at the beginning of the scrimmage exactly which zone he or she needed to guard. For man-to-man defense, it was important to make sure that all players knew exactly who they were guarding.
Another advantage to having four coaches became evident during scrimmages. By having coaches positioned around the court, players received instantaneous feedback on all aspects of their game. If we noticed that too many players were making the same mistake, we stopped the scrimmage and had the team work on that particular skill for five minutes before continuing with the scrimmage.
On nights when less than six players attended practice, the players formed one team and the coaches formed the other team for the scrimmage game. This game situation worked particularly well for three reasons. First, the coaches could adjust the level of play so as to keep the players working hard. Second, having all of the players on the same team gave them a chance to work together, as in a real game situation. Third, playing against the coaches seemed to promote team unity and developed a team spirit among the players.
I learned many important lessons about our offense during scrimmages. Early in the season, I had worked on some set offensive plays. For example, I wanted Zach to dribble the ball up the court, pass to Ed Cole, who was at the top of the key, and then have Ed throw the ball to Dick Blume, who was standing underneath the basket. Another play was to have Charles set a screen on (i.e., stand in the way of ) Ed's defensive player, so that Ed could break free across the middle. The players had some difficulty remembering these plays and became frustrated. However, I mistakenly persisted and eventually the plays could be run correctly during that practice.
Later, when I told the players to run these plays during a scrimmage, I saw my mistake. The players would try to make the required pass even if an opponent was standing directly in the way. At other times, players would be so occupied with trying to set a screen that they did not notice a pass coming to them. When I finally realized that set plays worked well for Brendan's team, but not for mine, I changed my emphasis.
Instead of wasting time teaching my players set plays, I spent this time teaching them to be good decision makers. For example, I tried to teach the players to keep their eyes open for opportunities. If nobody was guarding them, then they should call for the ball. If the other team was playing a tight man-to-man defense, Charles or Ed should try to set a screen. If a pass might be intercepted, do not throw it. If you have the ball and nobody is guarding you, drive for the basket. If you have the ball near the basket and you have an open shot, take it. These more general skills improved my team much more than forcing them to learn set plays.
Brendan: Because my team was not in the best of physical shape, we had to do some running. I did this in two different ways. One was through a drill where we ran wind sprints for each free throw missed. The players did not like that drill much, as you might imagine. However, this drill improved their abilities to shoot under pressure, to shoot when tired, and gave them a good workout at the same time.
The other way I tried to get the players into shape was simply through scrimmages against each other. I was always encouraging them to push the ball upcourt after a basket or rebound. Richard and Rodney, who were the point guards, were the keys. They had to push the ball up the court and get the guys to run. Guys like Marvin and Greg had to run with them to make it an effective fast break. We would run until we were exhausted. Scrimmages gave us a chance to use in "game" situations what we had practiced in the drills. The scrimmages definitely made us a better team.
We used scrimmages for at least half of the time of almost all of our practices. The key with scrimmages is to not waste time and to keep the players focused. As long as we kept the pace fast, the physical workout took care of itself.
Alice: As an observer during the practices and games, I was able to see the progress which was made during the course of the season. The individual athletes all showed remarkable growth as time went on. For example, Charles' shooting improved tremendously during the season, due to Jeff's extra time and effort in coaching him. I also saw Marvin's free throw shooting improve quite a bit. Each team came together and played with more teamwork, precision and confidence as well. Brendan's team improved their starts in games, beginning each game fired up and ready to play. As the season progressed, they became more and more efficient at throwing quick and accurate passes and running fast breaks down the court for an easy layup. I am sure these improvements were due to the drills which were repeated time and again during practices.
Jeff's team showed amazing progress throughout the season in their ability to play together. They went from a group of individual players to a team, playing together with confidence and teamwork. The drills helped the players improve their fundamental basketball skills. The scrimmages helped the players learn team offensive and defense.
As the athletes on both teams recognized these improvements in themselves and in their team, they became more confident in their ability to play. This increased confidence then allowed them to play even better. Soon all of the athletes felt successful in being an important part of the team, whether or not the game was won. I believe that this success affected the athletes lives both on and off the court in giving them something to be proud of and in improving their self esteem.

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