5 Drills Every Child Should Be Doing
Let me paint a picture. I grew up on the reservation, and basketball is the official game of the rez (inside joke). Most of us reading this likely went to school, and at recess we played a game of 21 with our friends. For those of you who don't know what 21 is. 21 is a game that is played everyone against everyone.
He/she who rebounds the basketball has to clear the ball behind the 3-point line. Once cleared, you have to play "1 vs everyone." If you happen to score, you go to the free line or three point line - depends on where you grew up. While you're at the line, you can make up to three free throws or three pointers before you have to check ball and play "1 vs everyone" again. Now, there is another version some call, "All Day", whereas the player gets to continue making free throws until he/she misses.
This game is played at morning recess, lunch hour, afternoon recess and in some cases after school before the bus comes. While at home, most kids head back to the court and play 21 until the street lights come on.
Across town, or across the country you will find another group of players playing 2 on 2, 3 on 3 or even 5 on 5 with friends, relatives or others at the rec center (YMCA).
For most of us, this is how we learned how to play the game.
Pros and Cons of Free Play
Let's cover the benefits, first. First, we are actually playing the game of basketball. We are beating our defenders with one or two moves, we are taking shots under pressure, and in some cases scoring with contact. This is great if you have the fundamentals covered. If we're playing 3 on 3 with friends, we are playing with space, have ability to be creative and use teammates to help our teams win. Again, this is great if you have the fundamentals covered.
Let's cover the cons, next. If you're practicing bad habits, you're imprinting those bad habits into the very fabric of your being. The most common habit with younger athletes is getting a rebound, and immediately bringing the ball out to the three point line. In an actual game, coach would want you to go up with the ball, get contact and get to the line for a three point play. If you have a strong hand, you're likely to only use your strong hand and practice how to create space, get to space, or get open with one hand. Something that is easy to coach against.
SUMMARIZING FREE PLAY
Free play is a great way for athletes to learn the game, and learn to read, and react to aspects of the game you cannot learn while doing just drills. However, without proper guidance poor habits are practices and drilled over and over again, making it very difficult to break when school ball or travel ball comes around.
WHY DRILLS ARE IMPORTANT
Up until my Junior year in high school, I was playing 21 roughly 4-5 hours a day. I was playing against my hockey player friends, wrestlers, and other high level athletes. My senior year, I was turned on to skill sessions. 45-60 minute skill sessions. They included 10-12 very specific drills I would do for 5-6 minutes each. This was the one thing that helped me perform at a much higher level and ultimately play at the collegiate level. That Iverson crossover I was doing during a game of 21 became more effective, that UTEP 2-Step I did during Gus Macker 3-on-3 tournaments was much more effective to beat my defender.
I became addicted. I took to YouTube and bought Championship Production videos focused on skill development. I bought the Gannon Baker Advanced 2-Ball Drills video. I bought the Fran Fraschilla individual skills DVD, and the Dave Hoopla basketball shooting DVD. I put these drills into a structured 60 minute session that included advance 2-ball dribbling drills, shooting drills, and attacking the rim drills.
I did these duct-taped workouts every single day. I would take 2-3 drills from each DVD and do a workout that day. The next day, another 2-3 drills from each DVD and do that workout, and so on. This was the turning point in my ability to be an effective player.
THE NEW AGE OF SKILL SESSIONS
As I got older and moved onto the collegiate level, I found that these drills were great, but now the athletes could run faster, jump higher, were stronger, quicker, taller, and probably prettier. They weren't as effective because I was going through my drills like a checklist. Mikan drills...check. 2-ball...check. Ankle circles...check.
What I was missing was intensity.
When I started stacking my drills without any breaks, and timing my drills, I found myself trying to beat my previous time. I created an artificial form of accountability and self-improvement.
Today, I teach athletes from all walks of life to train. How to properly train for improvement. Once we understand the drill and can do it with fluidity, I place a timer on them, and they have to beat the timer. We see athletes improving at levels they have never seen before. Athletes are handling the ball with more control and eyes up, athletes finishing at the rim with finesse and strength, and athletes shooting with balance and consistency.
WHAT 20 FORMER ATHLETES HAD SAID
I reached out to 20 former basketball players, whether they were highly decorated high school players, college athletes that excelled, or athletes that had the opportunity to compete professionally. I asked them all if they were to go back in time and do just 5 drills to help them advance their game much quicker - what would those drills be?
These are those drills. Without further adieu, 5 drills every child should do
5 Drills Every Child Should Do
1. Mikan Drill
The Mikan Drill is a simple drill that mimics the footwork, technique and finish of a layup. For a right hand Mikan finish, the athlete will use their left foot (plant foot), while swinging up their right foot, and finish with their right hand. This is the same exact movement of a right hand layup. For a left hand Mikan finish, the athlete will use their right foot (plant foot) while swinging up their left foot, and finish with their left hand. This, again, is the same exact movement of a left hand layup. One the athlete gets the footwork and technique down, we speed up the drill with continuous right and left finishes until they make a predetermined number of finishes.
Example: 30 finishes in 60 seconds, the athlete is placed on a timer and is asked to work as quickly and efficiently as possible to complete 30 scores/finishes alternative both right and left hand Mikan drill finishes.
Benefits of the Mikan Drill
The Mikan Drill teaches the athlete to become fluid with both the right and left hand at the rim, teaches proper footwork, and if the athlete is going for speed, they start to focus on a particular spot to place the ball on the backboard for the cleanest finish through the next - helping speed up the drill.
Advanced Mikan Movements
I have all of my athletes from 8 years old to 18 years old perform the reverse Mikan immediately after a traditional Mikan set. This allows the athletes to become familiar with finishing using either hand, where to place the ball on the backboard, which spin to use (if any), and keeping proper footwork.
Pointers and Keys
The biggest pointer is fluidity and speed. Have the athlete focus on continued speed without resetting, time the ball through the next so they can prepare for the next Mikan finish, and keep the ball high. Younger athletes tend to bring the ball below their waist, which is okay for beginners, but older athletes risk getting the ball swiped away or stripped at the waist level.
2. Cone Drills
In my humble and honest opinion, any player on the roster should be able to handle the basketball, whether they're 4'11 or 6'11. The cone drills can be done 1000 different ways with 1000 different drills. Let me simplify this for everyone. I start every athlete with the basic crossover. This is done by hitting three checkpoints; (1) Low, (2) Slow, and in (3) Control. Crossovers are done low, knee to knee, and footwork is slow but quick. Let me explain. Footwork is slow, but quick, as in quick baby steps navigating your way through the cones and keeping the ball in control. We advance the players into a between the legs dribble, behind the back dribble, and then combo moves. These are as basic as we can get to ensure our athletes are developing the foundational skill of handling the basketball.
Benefits of Cone Drills
The primary benefit of the cone drill is ensuring the player can handle the ball with control in tight spaces with vision (eyes up), and getting comfortable using both right and left hand performing the crossover. This isn't just a great conditioning drill, but also teaches players to perform moves in tight spaces, while protecting the ball and skilled with either hand.
Advanced Cone Drills
During our advanced perimeter camps, we incorporate two basketballs and perform crossover moves, or have the athlete perform a triple combo (between the legs, behind the back, crossover) before moving the to the cone. Other considerations include moving laterally through the cones. Example: facing the wall, and cones are lined up to your left in a straight line, I have the athletes go through the cones facing forward doing an escape dribble (backpedal), then explosion dribble to the next cone, and so on. You can add in 2-ball drills to this as well.
Pointers and Keys
In the cone series, I focus on giving points to keep the ball at hip height, with butts down and chest up. All of the drills are performed an in athletic stance. Keep an eye on athletes dropping their heads lower than their butts, which is not an athletic position and will not help the athlete transfer these skills to the game
3. Form Shooting
Form shooting can be a very loose term, if not properly defined. In this instance, I am going to define "Form Shooting" as a series of methods to ensure that we're focusing on form, technique and function, together. My absolute favorite drill to teach form shooting is to have the athlete work their way around the "paint." Let me explain. Every court has a free throw lane (aka the "paint"), and the paint has hash marks or blocks that identify where players can line up during a free throw shot. Those hash marks are going to be used as our markers. First, we shoot from the block. Using proper form, whether you use B.E.E.F. or F.O.R.E.S.T. or any other commonly used method, I ask each athlete to make 5 shots at each hash mark/block. There are a total of 5 blocks on each side of the "paint." That equals 40 made shots focused on form, technique, and function while emphasizing the follow through.
Benefits of Form Shooting
Form shooting is a great way to get the athletes warmed up for more advanced shooting drills. They get the opportunity to see the ball go through the net to help them build confidence, and ultimately find their groove between the mechanics of setting the ball on their shelf, bending the knees, ensuring the elbow is under the ball, and eyes are fixed on the target. The target can be front of the rim, back of the rim, the net loops, or any other target you use to teach shooting. Before you start any workout, the athlete has already made 40 shots and found the rhythm that gets them the most successful makes.
Advanced Form Shooting Drills
One of my favorite drills I love to progress into from catch-and-shoot spot shooting is to shuffle elbow-to-elbow. In order to increase the difficulty and mimic game-like conditions is to have the player shuffle to the opposite elbow, staying low and hands wide, catch and shoot, touch the elbow and shuffle low back to the starting elbow. This continues until the athlete makes 10 shots. You can mimic game like conditions with having the athlete come off of pindowns and curl into a shot, backpedal into a flare cut, or sprint full court into a full court transition jumper. There are 1000s of different ways to shoot 1000s of different shots.
Pointers and Keys
Butt down and hand targets. Every shot should have the athlete in an athletic stance with butt down, chest up, and hands showing a target. This target is what I call the "Shot Pocket." On the catch, in the pocket, I ask the player to put the ball on the "shelf." The shelf is where the athlete puts the ball to gain the most power out of their shot. For most athletes, this is at the chin-level. If we want Steph Curry, Trey Young or Damian Lilliard; athletes who shoot with exceptional range at small statures, they all shoot from the chin-level. That is their shelf. Lastly, the pointer and middle fingers go through the center of the basketball, and point to the rim until the ball goes through the net. The follow through is something most athletes neglect, but can have built in accountability and self-improvement mechanisms.
4. 2-Ball Moving
2-ball moving is something very few athletes perform. 2-ball moving drills help develop coordination, ball control, and essentially attack the old adage, "Make practice hard so the game is easy." Putting two basketballs into the hands of an athlete creates an entirely different feel and mode of thinking, the eyes immediately go down to look at the basketballs.
Benefits of 2-Ball Moving
The obvious benefit is that you're cutting the workout session is half while simultaneously developing both right and left hands. Additionally, the off-hand is in a protective position that naturally teaches the athlete to protect the ball while performing a dribble movement. The most difficult aspect to learn is the coordination aspect. You have to retrain your brain to handle two basketballs at the same time. This tends to be the skill drill that helps a player keep their eyes up to read the court versus eyes down to look and feel for the ball. Instead of coach yelling, "Look up, look up!", your guards can keep their head up and make those reads because they're equipped with the right skill set.
Advanced 2-Ball Moving Drills
Instead of the basic, two-ball same while walking, we have athletes perform a two-ball crossover while going through cones or walking down the court. To progress that movement, we speed up the athlete to a jog then eventually a sprint. Further progressions include between the legs while moving, behind the back while moving, then ultimately doing combo moves (between the legs and behind the back) while moving.
Pointers and Keys
Please ensure that the athlete is comfortable with two ball drills in a stationary position before having them move up and down the court. The key here is both coordination and eyes up. The eyes must be up during the drill.
5. Attacking the Rim
This is a must to help athletes become the total triple threat. if the athlete can shoot and pass, the ability to beat the defense and attack the rim makes any player that much more dangerous. Attack moves always start with a ball sweep. This is the most important part of attacking the rim. I teach, "Shoe Tops" on every attack drill. The athlete must brush the ball across their shoe tops while in an athletic stance. Beginners start with layups. I have a "Super 7" layup series, that I teach every athlete. This layup series teaches athletes to finish 7 different ways at the rim.
Benefits of Attacking the Rim drills
The ability to attack the rim makes athletes much more effective scorers. If the athlete can score at the rim, they put pressure on the defense, draw fouls, and get to the line, in addition to scoring easy buckets. Athletes that attack the rim make defenses shift and rotate, creating mismatches and missed assignments. This action creates open shots for teammates, and gets athletes into a position to score with a high percentage shot.
Advanced Attacking the Rim Drills
When I think of scoring and attacking the rim, I think of Kyrie Irving or Allen Iverson. Someone who can get to the rim and use either hand equally as effective to score. Our athletes focus on attacking the rim from all 5 three-point spots and finishing with a layup, reverse layup, inside hand layup, inside hand reverse layup, power slide, floater, Iverson hop step, or eurostep. All of these options are acceptable forms of attacking the rim.
Pointers and Keys
I always teach the "Attack the Back" concept, whereas the athlete attacks the high foot of the defender, to get to the defenders backside. This creates an immediate 5 on 4 advantage for the offense. Cut of the recovery. Once you beat the defender, close off the recovery lane, and get the defender on your back. Learn the backboard angles. Score from various angles using the backboard. Lastly, teach the athlete to initiate contact first with the big man. Even the big man with the 40" vertical cannot jump when you initiative contact, first.
Interviews with 20 former athletes have indicated these were the top 5 drills that every child should do right now to advance their game to the next level. These five drills are very simple, but can be made more challenging depending on the skill level of the athlete. These can be used as a warm-up, or as a workout.
The core concept is finding a foundation of basic skills and mastering those basic skills before advancing into the fancy TikTok or YouTube drills. Those are all great, but our focus is to establish a strong foundation of being an effective athlete for in-game performance.
Rising Stars Basketball