When working on ball handling at the youth level keep it simple. We emphasize equal hand symmetry, the ability to change speeds, create space with back up dribble, and 1-2 change of directions of moves. The ball handling video below shows these simple concepts in place at a high level.
Competitive vulnerability is the willingness or degree to which our players expose themselves to loss or embarrassment in a game or practice environment in order to further improve. Our desire for our teams and players is that they play with no fear regardless of the competition and are focused on the present moment with great attitude and effort versus being preoccupied with the outcome or looking bad in front of others. Looking back at my career I can recall two stories where I shut down to protect my ego and was not competitively vulnerable.
My first story involves my Sophomore year in high school. It was over Christmas break and we had a high level player from an out of state school come in to practice with our team. This player went on to play at Connecticut and won a National Championship as their starting point guard. He was very good and we all knew it. I was partnered with him during two one on one drills and I shut down. I did not play with great effort and I went through the motions. He crushed me in the drills and I just went through the motions pouting to protect my ego so I could say to myself that hey you got beat bad because of your effort not because you need to significantly improve. I was preoccupied with comparisons and outcomes. If I could go back to that moment I would scream compete with no fear and the more you do this the better you will become. I missed out on a great opportunity to get better and I was not competitively vulnerable.
The second story is from my Freshman or Sophomore year in college. We were playing Eastern Michigan who had a guard by the name of Earl Boykins who went on to have a long career in the NBA. Earl was 5’5” and the quickest player in the country in my opinion. I was sitting on the bench and Earl made a three in front of us and said I am going to score 40 on you guys. After some time went by my coach told me to check in to the game. As a point guard, Earl and I would be matched up against each other. I got into the game and Earl could smell the fear. He picked my pocket two straight possessions around half court. Again, I was not in the moment and was fearful of getting embarrassed. My thoughts centered around fear and embarrassment which ended up being the outcome. I was skilled and athletic enough to bring the ball up the floor and simply enter it to a teammate but I was not mentally tough in the moment and did not embrace the situation. I was not competitively vulnerable and missed a great opportunity to get better as a player.
The mental approach our players take to each practice and game plays a significant role in their growth and development. Encourage your teams and players to be competitively vulnerable and embrace challenges as an exciting opportunity to improve. With this mindset joy for the game improves and the results will take care of themselves.
“The tougher my opponents, the more they present me with an opportunity to live up to my full potential and play my best.” - Pete Carroll, Head NFL Coach
References: Bruce Brown, Proactive Coaching and Jack Bennett, Former Men's Head Basketball Coach University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
“Do Simple Better.” -Joe Maddon, Manager Chicago Cubs
“No matter the level, It’s all about basic. There’s no magic bullet. Even in the NBA, especially in the NBA, it’s all about fundamentals”. -Gregg Popovich, Head Coach San Antonio Spurs
“More NBA players need to work on the same things 4th graders are”. -Erik Spoelstra, Head Coach Miami Heat
“Kobe, you are the best player in the world. Why would you spend two hours on some of the most fundamental drills in the game and do them over and over again?” Kobe’s answer: “Why do you think I am the best player in the world?” -Alan Stein after observing a Kobe Bryant workout.
Before becoming advanced, elite, or select, we should master the basics. Fundamentals that are quickly executed in the correct manner with attention to detail. Do the simple things better than anyone else and you’ll develop the ability to be competitive and creative.
Before working on dribble combinations, hip swivels and floats, etc., I’d get great at the following:
1. The ability to go full speed with your off hand and finish.
2. Changing speeds.
3. Get great at one change of direction, either cross over or between the legs. We prefer between the legs. You are balanced, the ball is well protected, and you can still go by people.
4. Never fight pressure, be able to back the ball up and create space, get a new angle and attack.
Do you have a plan to master the above? I’d start building a ball handling program with one and two ball stationary drills. The younger the player the more time you need to spend on these drills. Constantly work to develop the ability to pound and become ball quick. Once you can do a drill ten times in a row, start to take thirty second timings. How quick can you cross the ball over? Get it between your legs? Behind the back? Stationary drills are crucial in building a base that allows you to start moving with the basketball.
I’ve always liked this teaching sequence I got from John Miller, the highly successful coach from Blackhawk High School in Pennsylvania. The offensive skills program he developed led to Blackhawk winning multiple state championships. He would teach a dribble move stationary first, then add one step, then attack on the move. He’d teach inside out by doing it stationary, first teaching players to circle the ball in the correct manner. He’d then add one step, teaching players to step hard with their left foot, selling left as they circled the ball with their right hand.
This allowed players to develop a great feel for the timing of the move. He would then have players work full speed for example, executing the commando drill for thirty seconds.
To become advanced, elite, or select-master the basics first. Do simple better.
Written by Forrest Larson, Take it to the Rim.