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Ideas and concepts to help with your athlete's skill development

PICTURE: Working out with a combination of pros and upcoming junior guys.

All the content in this article is based on the recent High Performance Hoops Network Skill Development podcast series.

Like many ideas and initiatives at HPHN this one started off with a simple idea followed by action. From these actions results and outcomes are delivered to our stakeholders and supporters. It started with a brief conversation with Gab Saldavia who contacted me to get some insights on skill development. Gab is a student of the game and I am certain he is picking the brains of a range of people to get these kinds of insights.

During the conversation with Gab we decided to setup a podcast for our conversations in the hope that we could help parents and athletes run their own skill development sessions, build and grow this market segment and also help develop the quality and expertise of skill development coaches throughout our city and the world.

By helping the basketball community understand this growing product and service segment we can enrich the quality of service delivery in the market, ensure upcoming athletes invest more time into their own development. This will all lead to growing talent pools and levels within the sport, particularly out of South Australia.

We also found some great engagement and input from many listeners out there which added to our own development, and also understanding of what the audience wanted from our podcast. We hope we adapted and continued to improve our delivery and content through the 3 episodes.

With so much great content in the first 3 episodes with Gab we hope that this provides a quick summary of all 3 episodes that athletes, their parents, coaches and skill development coaches will be able to utilise for decision making, selecting skill development coaches, being able to improve their own skill development sessions and activities too.

Through this article, we give many examples. Please recognise most of the examples we give are concepts. It is up to you to figure out how to chain these concepts together and/or implement parts or bits of the concepts we discuss to meet your player(s) needs.

Podcast video adverts and thankyous

For each episode we released we put a video out with a soundbite from the episode. Aside from promoting the episode, this was a way to recognise and shoutout to many of the guys that entrust me to provide them with skill development sessions. It is great to work with, and also mutually learn from, some of South Australia's best young prospects. A crop of talent on the boy's side that is probably without historic precedent out of South Australia.

For those reading from out of town the athletes in the videos include some of our top young college prospects and also guys that went to Div 1 NCAA colleges in the Big 10, WAC, Ohio Valley, Big East, Mountain West, Pac 12, WCC, Big 12, D2 NCAA, Junior Colleges, NAIA

Checkout the videos here and see if you can recognise any of the guys:

In addition to the athletes that allow me to work with them, I also want to thank Joey Wright. The opportunity to work under Joey for the past two seasons, at the Adelaide 36ers, with pro athletes was a great learning process. There is no doubt Joey is one of the greatest player developers of professionals this country has seen. Really excited to now be continuing our with my involvement as a coach in Joey's Basketball Academy, Transition Sports - Adelaide.

VIDEO: Post workout with Joey and the fellas. I spot a King, a 36er, a Bullet and a Hawk here.

Gab Saldavia of Lab46 also has many great clients he works with. These clients are often the upcomers, the youngsters willing to do that extra work, with great support from their parents, in order to achieve as much as they can from their game.

VIDEO: Footage showcasing Gab's Lab46 clients at one of his sessions. Gab is one of those people that just energise you which is an important trait for skill development coaches to have.

Questions from listeners

For episode 2 we posed the opportunity for listeners and followers to submit questions for the episode via Instagram. We had a few questions come through but we chose 3 to answer that we felt would be really worthwhile.

What resource do you use to come up with new and different drills?

Youtube is always a great one with lots of great sources of information and videos of workouts. Instagram is also a gold mine in this space, Drew Hanlen and Gannon Baker being 2 examples of great information sources.

VIDEO: Great video example put out by Drew Hanlen

Youtube content such as Gannon Baker and Drew Hanlen, Instagram videos are great for new drills.

Our own coaches we had as players (EG: Curtis Scipio for Gab, Matt Dodson for Janx), watching NBA or pros making moves and taking moves you see them do. Often players coming back from college or the pros will come in with suggestions for new drills.

Seeking out opportunities to work with other coaches in holiday camps and academies are also great learning opportunities. By taking direction, working under others you are able to also fast track your own learning too in the process.

Having a set of base drills is very useful, but being able to tweak and adjust these drills to specific athlete needs and on the run as you like, or as is needed, is a great way to keep sessions dynamic and specific. As we tinker and tweak our base drills over the years we innovate through trial and error too.

What are the main things you should focus on to be a lights shooter?

Our philosophy is similar, but interestingly the things we believe are keys to being a light out shooter are not taught and actually discouraged by coaches.  Toes should not be pointing at the rim as is often taught. For right-handers toes should be pointing at 11 o'clock and for left-handers 1 o'clock. The other component to this is the sweep and sway. The sweep and sway entails sweeping your feet out and swaying your shoulders back. There is also a natural rotation in the hips when you shoot. Watch the best shooters in the world shoot, that is how they consistently do it. This action and style is constantly discouraged by coaches and in doing so they are simply holding back their players from being elite shooters. This action helps develop a better arc, a more relaxed shot and releases tension in the shoulders by aligning the perpendicular elbow-wrist arm segment to the ring.

VIDEO: Pro Shot has many, many videos that break down the world's best shooters shooting tecniques and key secrets on their shooting mechanics. These secrets are definately not taught regularly and not well understood.

Good shooter's shooting looks effortless because of these techniques. 

Also, the dip is fine in most situations. It is just that the dip should not be below the hip or so far down that elbow sticks out.

Too many coaches mislead shooters by teaching fake fundamentals without studying what the world-class shooters do and their technique.

VIDEO: A great drill for developing a good shooting action is 1 hand shooting. This will ensure you are working on a number of characteristics of an elite shooting technique.

VIDEO: Turnout shooting is one of our base drills. There are so many tweaks and improvisations to this to include BDT, contested shooting (see below) and passing. It is great for teaching spacing on penetration, rapid decision making and kickouts and shooting on the move. Whilst watching this video also not the sweep and sway and the dip these athletes use.

What do you look for in terms of an ideal player as a team coach or trainer?

As a skill trainer, the performance and development of your athletes can be your greatest advertisement. Work ethic is paramount in the guys you work with and invest in because if they have that, are willing to put in extra, they will get better and the skills will come.

For Featured Athletes at HPHN the number 1 quality we look for in an athlete or coach is trustworthiness. Can they be trusted in that they are going to constantly do everything they can to improve, also to be coachable and a great teammate? Can they be trusted by their coaches that when the game is on the line they will put team success above their own individual success? We speak for and on behalf of Featured Athletes providing these insights on them to college coaches. We must trust that when they get there they will continue to deliver for their new programs as they have done so in our teams.

Key themes and topics

The importance of skill development vs club training

Club practices should include the majority of random practice whereas skill development can include more blocked practice.  Game sense, gameplay, decision making development is typically the focus of club training.  Skill development sessions are an opportunity to practice a greater level of blocked practice and develop motor skills through repetition.  Levels of decision making should still be involved in skill development sessions, environmental context to stimulate learning using other players or apparatus can be included, but these sessions can lean more to block practice, rather than entirely random. Club practices have large numbers of participants compared to what skill development sessions have.  Typically you would have 15+ athletes at a club practice, whereas at skill development trainings you might have 3 to 5 guys per ring.  Skill development sessions should contain far more personalised training drills and development whilst team practice will be more focussed on team concepts and game development.  The opportunity to do individualised benchmark drills (see the section below) are far greater in skill development sessions.  These types of drills referred to a lot during the podcasts.  You cannot do individually scored benchmark drills in team practice because there are too many players and too few rims to get the number of repetitions needed to get intense, focussed skill development that develops motor skills.

Skill development sessions must lead to greater confidence

Previously I provided an article on skill development. This past article does not go into as much detail as this one here but I did put forward, in the previous article, that the conversations in the skill development sessions are more important than the drills, and in the podcast Gab discusses confidence building conversations with the athlete too. Skill development sessions should build a player's mental confidence, and the conversations you have with the athletes in these sessions are really important to achieve that. Here is the previous article:

Through goal setting, and subsequent goal achievement athletes build confidence. The skill developer must provide conversations and insights that are uplifting and inspiring for the athlete. Be enthusiastic with the athlete. But you must also hold them accountable and measure their progress, because the best way for them to build confidence is by having goals, measures to reach those goals and achieving them. The notion of relationship overriding niche (see below) can also contribute to the athlete's confidence, they trust their skills coach which has been built over the years, they know they are being well-coached, and this leads to self-confidence too.

Youth development happens through practice much more than games

Parents that value their child's basketball growth and development need to consider the level and quality of team practice, and the number of hours and quality of their skill development sessions.  They should not be overly concerned with game time or division they play in.

It is important for parents to note; Players do not develop much through playing games for their teams.  Why? Average court time for games is around 20 minutes per week whereas team practice time is around 3.5 hours.  Plus school practices and in addition players can choose/elect to undertake skill development practices, say 3 hours per week.  The approximately 8 - 10 hours a week of practice time vs 20 minutes of playing time suggest that the athlete's training environment is MUCH more important than the games on a Friday night (in our city). 

I would go further to say Division 1 district games in South Australia are largely irrelevant to player development or elite talent identification. The competition is just not sufficient nor is the depth of talent. Take my teams for example; they typically win games by 30 - 50 points on Friday nights, consist of division 1 and 2 college and pro prospects, and I doubt my guys get much development in that context as opposed to all the high, intense practice gameplay they get against each other and our division 2s, where you have significant talent competing at each practice against each other.  Then you can add in the 2-3 hours of skill development most guys in my teams do in their own time, with me or with other skill development coaches.  And these skill development sessions are often done with pros and/or high-level college players in my networks involved too for my guys to participate with.

Parents and athletes concerned about court time are really probably arguing over, say, 10-15 mins of time in an environment that is quite a low-level competition.  It is the quality and level of their 3.5 hours of team practice per week they should be considering when choosing a club team and also all the additional skill development hours they can fit in.  That is where development happens.  The game is a test.  Players experience success or failure through court time, performance, and outcomes and then can use those outcomes to make assessments on their progress and continue to invest in their development outside of games. 

Outside the quality of club practices, the other most important thing is skill development sessions outside of the team environment.

Athlete needs analysis

Every player is unique, their size, their skillset, their bodytype, their mindset. Part of the benefit of skill development sessions is the opportunity to focus on each individual athlete's needs. In order to understand those needs, some analysis is needed.

An open dialogue should be encouraged between skill development coaches and the athlete's club coaches. This can be a formal athlete needs analysis process that we advocate for in the podcasts.

Skill development coaches must work with club coaches to identify player needs, the skill development coach can even attend their games and look at their strengths and weaknesses.  We worked through a goal-setting process that informs a player needs analysis. Player development needs should be based on their current level to relative to other peers across the country, as well as, their goals and aspirations.  This information will help establish the player's strengths and weaknesses.  These can be developed through a workshop with key coaches involved, as well as the player's parent(s).  Of high importance is to ensure the athlete drives and owns the goals that they develop.

The pic of the whiteboard below shows the needs analysis of the athlete. The process we use is:

  1. Ascertain the dream goal for the athlete.

  2. Breakdown the steps a typical Aussie athlete takes to achieve that dream goal.

  3. Identify the numbers of athletes at each level for their age group in Australia.

  4. Workout where the athlete feels they sit in the nation, compared to their peers. You can do this by position and/or age group if it helps. In the screenshot below the athlete believes they are in the top 20 players in the nation, in their age group. Most of the guys I work with are normally up there with the best in the nation. I typically ask them at that point if given where they are positioned now if they feel their dream goal is realistically achievable. Most of the time they feel it is. I then ask them how much work are they now willing to do to get there if they feel it is possible to do so.

  5. We then break down their goals

  6. Given their current situation, their goals we then break down their strengths and areas to improve.

  7. This can easily be provided to other stakeholders in the athlete's journey, such as skill development coaches, and can greatly assist in personalised skill development session plans for the athlete.

I am certain this process can be applied by club coaches at all levels and will help all the stakeholders in the athlete's journey get an understanding on the athlete, their goals and what the athlete feels their developmental needs are going forward.

PICTURE: Actual example of a whiteboard of information captured during an athlete's personal evaluation and needs analysis session.

Using benchmark drills scores as goals in goal setting is useful because it is something the athlete has more control over than making a team or winning an accolade.

For more information on these sessions please check out a past article we did called; Player Development Planning Workshops

I feel that benchmark drills (see below) can be a great component to goal setting. Often many of the goals an athlete sets are outcome goals, out of their own control largely and success is often based on the competency of those making selection decisions. Goals to make this team or program should NOT be the sole type of goal an athlete sets. Benchmark drill scores are more in the athlete's field of control and can be targeted at anytime to test where the athlete is at in respect to the attainment of the benchmark score goal.

Injury management

Warm-ups are critical for every session. They set standards for athletes and ensure that they are able to maximise daily workloads without their bodies breaking down. Balance drills aka proprioceptive feedback drills are great to incorporate into warm-ups. If you're a coach, skills coach, or parent and don't understand what proprioception means then you should do some research.

VIDEO: Examples of simple propioceptive feedback drills we will do during our sessions. In this instance this one is typically done at the end of our sessions as athletes are coming out of their cool down routine.

Out of the 100s and 100s of skill development sessions I've done with athletes I can't recall any athlete having an injury in the sessions that has caused them to then miss out on regular basketball team activities. Every effort must be taken to design drills to mitigate risk of injury, typically session. There are many creative ways to do do this. BDT and contested shooting drills (see below) can develop game-ready skills whilst minimising body contact and risk.

VIDEO: Warm-ups from our workouts with many of our city's best young players as basketball was returning from COVID. Warm-ups are super important. For older athletes, they can lead warmups in collaboration with coaching staff.

How can team coaches at club level stimulate skill development

Developing a team culture based around intense training and players wanting to additional work through team culture and goal setting is important.

Over the years I've noted teams in various clubs, under various coaches develop a great culture when it comes to player and skill development. This culture encourages players to become intrinsically motivated to do additional work and harder practices.  By developing this culture the extra sessions and harder practices is often player-driven as teammates drive each other to improve, invest more time into their own development for mutual success.

Coaches can help stimulate culture this in a number of ways including:

  • Leading workouts

  • Setting up competitions amongst team members to measure each other's scores in benchmarking drills

  • Encouraging individual goal setting

  • Formerly developing a team vision, values that include values and vision that will stimulate the athlete's desire to invest more time into their development

  • Rewarding players that do additional work outside of formal team practices

Here's an article I wrote a few years ago on establishing team's vision, values and mission (aka KPIs) etc:

In addition to developing this culture, it is important to develop a playing style that does not put players into boxes.  Coaches must put in a style of play that encourages the player to risk-taking, stepping outside the confines of the boundaries of their positional role in order help them see the value in skill development.  Players that are allowed to take risks, not boxed into a role will see the benefit of doing additional skill development because they are able to apply their growing and emerging skills into game situations.  Risk-averse playing styles that put players into strict roles actually discourage skill development because it is a challenge to be motiviated to invest countless additional hours into skills growth if you are not going to be allowed to apply this in game situations.

Choosing a skill development trainer

The skill development trainer needs to understand how certain skills and drills can be applied into the game. Also understand how the skills specific athletes need to work on will apply at the highest levels. Trainers should be enthusiastic and passionate in making their clients better and seeing them improve.  Experience helps as they have continually learned and observed to add to their drills and key teaching points.  Experience at the level of athletes they are coaching will provide comparisons and benchmarks for other athletes at various levels.  Try to find the skill developer's niche.  This niche could include any of the following areas to consider:

  • Age group

  • Positional

  • Previous experience as a coach or player

  • Proven outcomes with athletes he/she has worked with

  • Feedback from previous clients

  • Price point per session

  • How will they boost confidence and be uplifting?

  • Athlete's needs

  • Athlete's goals

  • Skill focus

  • Positional focus

  • Geographic area

  • Equipment

When selecting a skill development coaches, parents and athletes can use the above points as a bit of a checklist to formulate their questions to the skill development coach.

Skill development is as much about the conversations the coach has with the athletes as it is about the drills. Confidence building conversations during the workouts are really important. The Skill Development Coach needs to relate well to kids they work with, stimulate their enjoyment in the sessions. In having a good relationship they are then able to hold the athletes very accountable for their performance and effort throughout the sessions.

The only other thing to consider is the relationship with the athlete. We feel that relationship overrides niche. This means that players will get more value out of long term relationships with their skills trainer no matter the level of the athlete.  If the athlete trusts what they are working on their confidence will grow as they believe what they are working invaluable for their development.  The skills trainer will know the athlete's likes and dislikes from over the years, have stories and benchmarks the athlete has reached for the drills in past years, and help set score goals using that information.

Where and when to workout

Getting access to court space for workouts is a constant challenge.  Also squeezing in workouts in player's busy school lives is a challenge.  How do you get access to court space and find time to workout?

COVID presents many challenges but we've also found opportunities.  One of the opportunities has been the use of outdoor courts.  I've had guys from the pros, top college players, leading local college/pro bound athletes used to playing in big venues in front of 1000s of specators working out outdoors during COVID.  I would have never thought we could provide quality sessions outdoors pre-COVID but sure enough we've found ways to get quality workouts in outdoors.  There are some great courts around and this is something I plan to keep doing, especially in summer as court availability is easier to get and cheaper.

PICTURED: Anyang Garang's current college's venue. Pretty impressive.

VIDEO: Anyang working out on an outdoor court at a primary school during COVID restrictions.

I strongly advocate athletes work closely with their schools for gym access.  Schools are starting to see the value in committing to developing high level, international basketball players.  High performing High School Basketball teams provide great recognition and branding benefits for the schools. State school championships, national school championships, inter-col success often leads to branding and recognition opportunities for schools that can lead to more enrollments.

We often see schools and organisations "jump on board" and claim their involvement when athletes "make an achievement" and that's fine but it is important these organisations provide value of substance to the athlete's journey in order to help them get there. To schools, clubs and organisations; Don't claim an athlete as being one of yours without making a meaningful investment into their journeys, that is just not fair on the athletes that need your facilities and support. If you've made a meaningful investment and contribution THEN it is fine. Supporting with access to your facilities for workouts is a great way to support your athlete's journey.

Player's high schools are sometimes mentioned on ESPN during games, their bios, and many young perspective enrollments in the school, and their parents, are often aware of which High School athletes attended and how that school might have contributed to the athlete's journey.  Helping the schools understand the value of supporting the athlete with critical access to training facilities for their development is important.  Letting a school know of the athlete's goals and helping the school understand how critical access to facilities are to enable that development is important.

PICTURED: Early morning workouts are great for very busy athletes. This pic was taken just before a 6 AM work a school gym with current Adelaide 36er, Alex Mudronja, when he was 16 yo.

Early morning workouts, given the workloads and time commitments of athletes, is ideal.  It is something we did a lot in my previous club with access to the gym and also the athletes were able to organise keys to their school gyms.  This is absolutely critical because early mornings are the best available timeslots to undertake workouts during busy times for athletes.   

Another thing is to book court space at places locally like the Lights, St Clair, STARplex, Marions Leisure Centre, the ARC and other venues around town.  I prefer booking a court so there are no challenges with casual hirees.  By getting enough athletes into the workouts I've found that we can spread the costs for court hire.   Basketball SA (the state's peak basketball body) venues offer a fantastic casual hire arrangement during holidays and during the day. This is invaluable and amazingly court space is often not highly utilised.

If an athlete wants it less than parents and parents have to drive athlete development how can we encourage the athlete to be more intrinsically motivated?

Skill development sessions must be engaging and skill development coaches should be trying different approaches to align the athletes to the sessions. Don't make sessions too repetitive, keep them fun. Holding kids accountable and measuring their improvements also helps make the sessions fun and challenging. Keeping sessions fun, engaging, and uplifting is useful to inspire athletes to believe in themselves, and when we believe we are good at something we enjoy investing more time into it.

Helping kids deal with failure and using failure in the right way can lead to improving motivation.  Most athletes succeeding out of South Australia are failing at some point often through no fault of their own. There are differing capabilities in assessing basketball talent in our state of SA. Not to be overly negative, but often coaches with limited capabilities, experience in player Talent ID are charged with these roles, they themselves are often developing, or sometimes they are just not capable, for various reasons, and we see it time and time again. Also, with the disparity of games in the local competition (I won't go into the reasons why here) talent ID and evaluation is tough because there so many games are massive margins.  This leads to very interesting selection decisions, only to see those same players make national teams, division 1 college teams, the AIS and pros only a year or 2 later when they move beyond the individuals that made those decisions and their field of influence.

I've found where this happens athletes can go 2 ways.  They can be the victim and give up investing into their basketball, pursuing excellence, even the game all together (and this happened with kids that are now considered top players in the AFL by the way) or they can be the aggressor.  How can they be the aggressor?  Take control, use the poor talent ID, player evaluation that led to them being overlooked to work even harder, invest more.  Prove them wrong.  I've found athletes "with a chip on their shoulder" ultimately rise to the top. They work harder and where they have been omitted due to the poor capabilities of these people, the prove them wrong time and time again.  Again, that is not to be harsh on well-meaning volunteers in these roles it is just how I use these mistakes to motivate athletes mis-evaluated and it has worked time and time again.

I am certain team coaches and club coaches considering their athlete circumstances having awareness of the talent ID challenges out there can use adversity to infact motivate their athletes to "prove people wrong". I know it has worked with my guys time and time again.

PICTURE: Yes, even Michael Jordan got cut. It galvanised and committed to his journey. He was definately not the victim.

This process can be a complicated, one with lots of variables os in the past I've written an article to help guide parents and athletes through this process:

The ideas highlighted in the athlete needs analysis section above, especially as it pertains to goal setting, can certainly help with the motivation of athletes too.

Associated with goals is redefining fun. Fun does not necessarily have to be relaxing, lacking structure and challenge. Fun can be setting goals, having a big challenge to achieve the goal, working hard to achieve the goals, and then achieving them. And doing it with other like-minded peers can be a definition of fun.

Youtube is a good tool to assist with helping athletes develop a vision and a dream for their journey. NBA highlight clips, college clips can inspire athletes. At HPHN we have a massive bank of highlghts from top players that have progressed through national championships and Australian juniors. Showing young upcomers this footage and telling them "this could be you one day" can definitely inspire.

VIDEO: Inspirational video (non HPHN) for young athletes (note some explicit lyrics so need to ensure right age group ).

Our skill development session emphasis

During the podcast episodes, we both referred to things we emphasise in our sessions. One of the things Gab mentioned was angle, footwork, and follow-through. I mentioned the things I emphasise creating shots and making plays, making shots with limited time and space, and being dynamic and quick.

Angles, footwork and follow-through


It has been said by many that basketball is a game of angles. Some examples include shooting, reactive/dynamic moves, angles out of pick and rolls.

Shooting: For shooting the angle of the shot from 3 pt range should be between 47-52 degrees. For shots in the paint that are contested, such as floaters the angle should be around 60 degrees or even more.

Reactive/dynamic moves: Seeing angles at which your defenders are running at you from, or where the defender is on your downhill approach will help when to make a move and what type.

Angles out of pick and rolls: Being able to create angles out of pick and rolls for passes back to the popping/diving screener is really important.

Considering angles in all of these situations in workouts is really important.


Footwork is the foundation of developing a great player. Footwork from triple threat, footwork on shooting, going downhill attacking the basket, footwork is the key to all. Pivoting is prevalent to ensure you protect the ball from the defense and improve your passing angles.

Ladders are great apparatus to work on footwork as are 2 foot stop, spin move finishes in the paint, all of which are discussed later in the article. Skill development coaches can come up with many great drills to develop pivoting footwork etc.


Follow through on the shot is important. Rotate palm, middle finger pointing towards the rim and not out to the side, wrist rotation should happen at the top of the release point to ensure maximum arc of the shot. The middle finger should be last part of the hand the ball touches as it rolls out of the shooting hand on the shot.

Create shots and make plays, shoot the ball with limited time and space, dynamic and quick

Create shots and make plays

One of the things to emphasise is the ability to make individual plays. Ultimately a player that can consistently make plays in the final 8 seconds of an offense is of immense value. This is 1 on 1 scoring ability or 2 on 2 out of a pick and roll. Athletes need to then have the skillset to just find a way to score.

One example of how I like to emphasise this concept is in first step drills. Athletes that can shoot the lights out will be at an even bigger advantage if they get good at attacking long, hard closeouts. This takes a quick reaction to what defence is doing, in this case closing out long and hard, then a long and quick first step. Once they do that if they force a rotation then they need to get good at decision making. Do they attack the rotating player or make a kick out. There are many variables to this but practicing this as much as possible helps athletes see and understand how to make these decisions.

VIDEO: here is a first step drill where athletes take a quick, long first step attacking the closeout then make a spin move on the help rotation (in this case a coach with a punch bag) on the ring.

VIDEO: Example on 3 on 3 decision making, building on the previous drill. Rather than the rotator being a punch bag it is another player. Other player's need to work on court spacing and the player with the ball needs to figure out to score it or make a kick-out.

Shoot the ball with limited time and space

The fact is most junior coaches do not develop players to play at higher levels. If you analyse high level basketball time and space to shoot the 3 ball becomes much much less than at the junior level. Yet I often hear junior coaches complain about their athlete's shot selection without helping them develop the capability to help them achieve higher levels which is shooting with limited time and space.

In modern, high level basketball coaches are constantly looking for ways to stretch the floor. A lights out shooter that can get it off quickly means that defence will find it harder to pack up the paint, creating better driving lanes. There are many ways to emphasise this concept including contested shooting drills and having various constraints on how the shot can be contested.

VIDEO: Shooting workouts should include decision making, contested, game-like shooting. Here the guy coming off the screen (chair) must come off at pace and evaluate the angle to come off the screen at. They are also working on shooting with limited time and space. These shooters in games will cause havoc as they come off pin-downs as teams have to switch or show so they can't get a shot off, also they create long hard closeouts that they can then attack.

VIDEO: 3 man quick shooting. one of my base drills. Simple but effective to encourage speed, quickness and footwork. Many, many tweaks and variations to this to encourage different moves into the shot, speed, BDT, contested shooting.

Dynamic and quick

Skill development should make players quick. There's a difference between quickness and speed. Speed is how fast you can move without any decision components, eg: sprinting up and down the floor. Quickness is about the time between stimuli which might be something you see, processing the stimuli, and making a reflex decision based on that stimuli. Chris Oliver a worldwide eminent provider of content to coaches espouses the idea of Basketball Decision Training (or BDT) and we try to apply these concepts to most drills.

Using small balls as the stimuli, punch bags, other players with constraints, or just playing small-sided games at a roaring pace are ways to emphasise this concept. Here are some more examples:

VIDEO: With some our cities' top young prospects we work on decision making quickness in games. We do this drill a lot. A team has say, 8 seconds to score, and they MUST implement a certain action each time and then make any read or decision or action after that. They must demonstrate quick decision making and play making. 2 on 2 options games with seam/punch screen and wide pin-down options (in 2nd part). Note that the bigs, both of whom are highly skill 7 footers are involved in making the action but also small group games enables them to make plays off the dribble and shoot 3s in order to test and develop their already immense skill set.

VIDEO: More great prospects working on game decision making and execution in options games.

VIDEO: More top level young prospects working on 4 on 4 with coach stipulated actions as the constraint.

VIDEO: another core drill, with many variations is BDT shooting. BDT is more explained below. But here the shot is contested. However, depending on the hands signals by the athlete closing out the shooter must make the right read and reaction. This is BDT shooting.

VIDEO: Another example of our core drill, BDT shooting.

Moves on the rim

Teaching dynamic finishing is one of the key things athletes can get from workouts. We might teach moves but in games, if athletes cannot plan a move on the run, almost through reflex they will struggle to apply the move to games. They must learn to play through reaction and rapid reaction to defence. It's important to add plenty of moves and ways to score through workouts but ultimately they must be able to apply them dynamically, in reaction to their defence.

These are some moves we like to work on. You might notice in most of these videos we use a punch bag or an athlete to go against. The athlete will often be reacting to punch bag/defender movements and adjusting their moves accordingly.

This section is broken down into 4 subsections. This helps you consider key areas to consider for each drill. First section is concepts, 2nd section is approach into the move, 3rd section is gather ups, 4th section is finishing. You can use many permutations from each section when designing your drills and moves to practice.


Before we get started on specific moves I want to highlight a range of considerations and ideas when teaching moves on the rim. These can be considered as concepts you can utilise for drills and/or for most moves on the rim.

Follow the leader - I often will have athletes play follow the leader on their moves in a 1 on 0 situation. The leader goes and everyone must follow. I may tell them to make a throw down and/or rip through into anything. There are some benefits to teaching in this way; it is player-driven, sometimes players will teach the coach things and show their teammates move that may not be in the coaches' repertoire. Also if players can see a move and quickly copy it they can apply the same principle of seeing and copying moves they see on tv or live, helping them add more to their skill bag of tricks.

Different placements on the backboard - For some moves, we try to have the athletes place the ball off different parts of the backboard. As athletes get older they can often put a spin on the ball and help place the ball on the board and use the spin to spin it in. This is really useful for guards and wings because they can shoot higher shot releases at various angles to get away from the hands of defenders, at the point of release of the shot.

Range and reach - Very few shots in the paint are uncontested. You must be able to finish around the rim consistently over, around, on defenders. Using a punch bag or hands athletes need to work on finishing high over defender's hands. Finishing moves reaching high, reach-out and away from the body and all sorts of contortions are important. My favourite range to work on moves is not a layup, not a mid-range or floater. It is something in between. A high, or reaching out layup at the edge of the backboard, or just off a layup, whilst contested, is very prevalent and not something we work on enough. We are too busy working on 3 pt shots, and layups because that is what we think analytics say we need to work on. Analytics don't say that, unless it's a fast-break or kick out. When attacking the paint it is the contested shot between mid-range and a layup that is most important!

VIDEO: Coaches think it is layup or 3 pt shot. I advocate 3s or key. Getting into the key, through the elbows and pulling up is definately a good shot for a whole range of reasons (think of forcing defensive rotations). In games a layup on the rim is rare, especially at higher levels, so why work on it in workouts? What is the much more common than a layup or midrange for that matter is something that is almost a layup but not quite if that makes sense, they are also not floaters. Layups on edge of backboard range, spin moves or euros close to rim but not a layup help athletes work on this range of shot that is more common in games. It often looks like a layup but is slightly further out. Players need to be practicing these shots.

Approach to the rim

What you do before you start your attack can set up for a blow by. There are some things to consider throwing in including:

  • Throwdown - like a cross over dribble but from a stationary position. It is effective because it is low, below the defender's vision, quick because the ball mostly moves through the air, and you already have better momentum moving forward than with a rip through.

  • Rip Through - Ripping the ball in stance and leaning shoulders forward to create space. Rip low below knees or high above the head, hip to hip.

  • Jab Steps -Generally jab at defender's front foot to test for a reaction. If no reaction attack their front foot closest to you. Can also jab at defender in order to create space.

  • Multi dribbles - Catch the ball and put the defender to sleep and/or off-balance using different dribble moves such as through the legs, crossover, and behind the back.

  • Slide dribble - dribble on outside hand and slide away from defender that may be closing out too long and hard, jumping at your shot or lunging for a steal.

  • Retreat dribble - if you are drawing early help or defender is slow and you want to try and draw him further out you can retreat dribble and then go at him again.

  • Combinations- consider multiple throwdown, rip through, jab steps and various combinations. Use defence in the drill to work on reading the D and consider, with you athlete, when and why to use these moves. It is vital to consider cue-based decision making and reads for these moves in workouts. Get creative with how you do it, players will develop super quick if you always apply everything you do the game.

Movement into the catch - There are lots of times where players must move into catch before making a move to the rim. Practice this. It might be off a pindown, wide pindown, UCLA Screen, Seam to wing screen, seam to seam screen, staggered down screen etc. Playing small group games and constraining defenders to which screen coverage options to use is also a way to make it more applicable to game situations, whilst making learning experiential.

Gather ups

As you gather the ball to make your move on the rim you often consider the following options, these are referred to as gather ups.:

  • Cradle - hold the ball tight to the body with both arms or one. This is useful if moving towards rim fast in traffic, and splitting defenders, as it is very hard to steal the ball if done properly.

  • Over - Rip ball overhead. Useful for Euro steps in particular, the elbow movement in itself can cause the defender to move out the way from being hit, thereby creating space.

  • Under - Also a good one for Euro steps is gathring ball from one knee and swinging it through to other side of the body.

  • Fake pass - as you step into your move fake a kickout pass to through defenders off balance.

  • Rondo - See video below, speaks for itself :)

Finishing moves

2 foot stop moves - These are some of the most effective, easy to learn moves of the lot. There are many variations to 2 stop move, for a workout it is an ideal move to teach with a punch bag and using BDT techniques. With the recent FIBA rule changes you can actually stride stop and still have either foot as a pivot foot. Once the 2 feet are on the ground together you can shoot it. Or if defence jumps you can step through. Or to create more space to the side too you can drop step. You can then work on combinations of these. For example, a combo could be Land on 2 feet, fake step through > pivot back to start > drop step move and finish. Using a punch bag you provide BDT by moving the punch bag to indicate a certain move or step to make.

Goofy finishes - Normally when you lay the ball up you take 2 steps and finish by lifting the knee on your shooting hand's side up. Goofy foot finishes are taking 1 step and lifting the knee opposite your shooting hand up to finish.

Pro hops - Pro hops are useful to cover lots of ground quickly, especially in traffic, in the paint. Pro hop must be exected ON the bounce Once you make the pro hop you can add in 2-foot series moves too. When working on these think about how to use defenders to simulate games better. I would typically have a defender meeting the guy attacking, pushing him to the middle, or some other area in the key, then another defender in the paint that cannot take more than 1 step. The offensive player must pro hop between the guy guarding him and the stationary defender.

Reverse layups - Like most of the items in this section use these as a concept. Throw in other concepts like using different parts of the backboard, reach and range etc. In games, there are many varied reverse layups so in workouts we should work on these too. Probably the most common would be reverse layups across the front of the ring and finishing with the outside hand and the shooting knee up IE if going from left-hand side to right-hand side and finnishing with right hand and right knee up. You can also work on going behind/under the backboard and finishing with your inside hand. Moves where you jump 1 side of the ring, get airborne, and finish with a reverse on the other side is another example.

Stepbacks - Step backs in the paint, where the guy penetrating is going through the elbows pushes in towards his defender then shifts weight backward, lunging backward to create space.

Euro steps - Shifting weight from side to side. As per footage below you can introduce BDT by moving the punch bag so the athlete has to decide which side to Eurostep towards. Can also use other concepts mentioned above EG: different placements on the backboard, and range and reach.

Spin moves - these are really effective moves on the rim to develop into your athlete's skills package. Again, you can use the punch bag for BDT. If coach with punch bag moves to the side of non-dribbling hand athlete cross the ball over leans that side but then spins back, away from the bag. If the coach steps to the side the athlete is dribbling the ball on they don't need to crossover, they just spin back away from the bag.

Pick and roll work

There is no doubt pick and roll basketball is a big part of the game today and that does not seem like changing anytime soon. Sessions should include some basic pick and roll concepts and work, considering different screening coverages and reads in pick and roll situations.

There are many ways to do this, the best being using players, but you can use cones or coaches and a punchbag to simulate various screening coverages too. This section shows just some of the ways we simulate pick and roll situations and reads, in this case using a combination of players and coach with a punch bag to simulate game situations.

Pick and roll reads are probably for a whole different article. And guess what? We've written one:

This article was predominantly on pick and roll concepts for game situations and was not focussed on how to teach it. We will look at that idea for an article down the track.

We tend to include pick and roll, with BDT drills in almost every single session.

Pick and roll is a core drill we have for our sessions, with many, many variations. Here are just some examples on how we teach these concepts in skill development sessions...

VIDEO: here the athlete guarding the ball must squeeze over the screen (another play), the guy with the ball can then turn the corner, freeze out his defender and make a move at the drop defender, punch bag in this case. You will notice the coach is using the BDT concept with this punch bag.

VIDEO: Working on drops coverage, using the athlete guarding the screener (chair) for BDT, if he takes away the snake movement then guy with ball cross back and makes move on rim where he find a punchbag. If the guy guarding the screener stays then guy with ball snakes around the screen and then face the punch bag.

VIDEO: Hard show. Defender on screener jumps out to show coach guy with ball split between the guy showing and the screener. To make even more game like you could put a defender on the ball chasing/squeezing over the screen.

VIDEO: Most teams work on coverages for the first screen but then struggle to cover the secondary actions. A lot of work on secondary actions is useful in workouts for both the screener and ball handler. Here, the guy guarding the ball slips under the screener. Screener then drops towards rim for rescreen which ball handler can use. Again, with all of these, we use a punch bag on the rim to simulate help and rotating defence. Here, coach is using BDT to constrain the side the athlete must finish on, as well as using the range and reach concept mentioned above so athletes are working on high finishes that are not quite a layup on the rim but also not a midrange. They are something in between and the most common shots on the rim.

VIDEO: Here defender on the ball handler slips under the screen or does a great job at neutralising the screen by jamming ball-handler and going over the screen. No advantage created yet so ball handler passes back to screener and goes into a gets action.

Benchmark drills

Benchmark drills are different drills we do and record scores for. These drills are repeatable and measurable and athletes can use these types of block drill scored tdrills

4 minutes of spot shooting

Gab developed this one based on the OKC drill and customised this one for his younger athletes. You have 4 minutes. You will shoot from 5 spots (short corner, '45, top of key). Make 1 from each spot. Then come back around and make 2 from the 5 spots. Then you make 5 on the move running elbow to elbow. Then you start scoring 1 pt per basket. Normally it is 3 pt shots but for much younger kids say U13 you can bring the scored shots in closer.

3 mins of shooting on the move

You have 3 mins. Start on the '45, run to short corner, catch and shoot. Then run back up to '45, and back towards baseline to 3 pt line, catch ball take 1 dribble and pullup. Run back to '45, catch ball, take 1 dribble pull up to middle. Run to top of 3 pt line catch and shoot. Same on other side. Count makes

VIDEO: Gab of Lab46 taking one of his young athletes through various bench marking drills he uses.

OKC Drill

The OKC drill is one of our favourite benchmark drills. It has become a mainstay in South Australian basketball due to our previous article on skill development and the shooting displays put on by Isaac White (Illawarra Hawks) and Joel Dyer (Huntington University) inspired many kids to take on the challenge to beat the scores these kids were able to put up.

You have 4 minutes. You will shoot from 5 spots being deep corner, wing, top, then wing and deep corner on the other side. First time round you must make 3x3s from all of 5 spots. Then next time round you must make 2x3s in a row from all 5 spots. Then you must make 5 shots in a row on the move, catch and shoot. Finally you shoot 3s and from that point on all made shots count as 1. This is a mentally challenging and intense block practice-type shooting drill.

VIDEO: Athlete hits an amazing 45 in the OKC drill. Try the drill. I guarantee no one in the world will hit this score.

55 seconds of shooting

This is actually a core drill. I use catch and shoot for bench-marking but you can vary this drill up in so many ways. Primarily you have 1 guy shooting with 2 rebounders and 2 balls. The idea is to get them shooting quickly and resetting quickly for the next shot. Elite scores are in the 20s. Clock doesn't stop. Each time player hits 55 seconds the players have 5 seconds to rotate to the next shooter.

VIDEO: Elite player in his age group shooting 55 seconds of catch and shoot. Prefer less rebounders as too many guys standing around but we only had access to 1 ring on that day.

VIDEO: Another elite player in his age group shooting 55 seconds of catch and shoot.

NBA 100 Drill

For NBA 100 drill you have 4 minutes. You will shoot from 5 spots being deep corner, wing, top, then wing and deep corner on the other side. At each spot you start by shooting 3s. Each 3 you make is worth 3 pts. When you miss a 3 you catch ball from same spot, outside 3 pt line. You then take mid range pull up shot off 1 bounce. Each of these is worth 2 points. You keep going until you miss then you catch ball outside 3 pt line and make a layup. The layup is worth 1 but whether you make or miss it you move to the next spot. Target score for top players is 100.

VIDEO: Athlete at a spot for NBA 100 showing him shooting 3s, mids and layups.


  • Small balls - Small balls are great for multi-tasking the brain and also providing rapid stimulus for athletes to react to.  A move will often be based on a stimulus for a movement from an opposition player. Small ball work creates a quick reaction to stimulus just like when a defender lunges for a steal for example. There's a myriad of small drills and variations, not all of which are in this footage:

VIDEO: younger athletes working on small ball work. Small ball work is a core drill and there are so many add ons and adaptions I've developed. Small balls are great for hand, mind and feet quickness.

  • Agility Ladders - Agility ladders are great for the development of footwork and speed.  Lateral movements in and out of the ladder, icky shuffle where you put 2 feet in the ladder and 2 feet out, bounding in each rung and skipping rungs to help with plyometric training, to name a few.  You can add a basketball using rungs as checkpoints of dribbling the ball ensuring good handling. 

VIDEO: A Lab46 client doing ladder work into moves on the rim. This is similar to how we do our workouts and ladder work often too.

  • Homecourt AI - This app records sessions for athletes and coaches to review.  I tended to use the shooting activity in Homecourt.AI that gives lots of shooting feedback such as the arc of shot, speed of release, and height of release.

VIDEO: Athlete using for a ball handling drill.

VIDEO: Athlete using for a ball handling drill again.

PICTURE: There is a vast array of data and information you can generate when you are using HomeCourt.AI in your workouts.

  • Cones - Are always great and flexible to use in workouts. I use them to indicate the boundaries of a certain drill.  I use cones to also indicate first step actions. Players need

  • Speakers - music through workouts create noise and help stimulate rhythm when making moves and enjoyment for the athletes, listening to their favorite music.   Note: always check for PG music.

  • Punch/contact bags - protect players and coaches from injury whilst simulating body contact.  Also using contact bags as a decision-making stimuli for BDT.

  • Other players - very useful for simulating game situations much better than stationary objects like cones.

Episode by episode breakdown

Ep3. Athlete's need analysis, style of play and culture at club level to encourage skill development, moves on the rim, benchmark drills and scores

We've had 100s of listeners from all over the country to episodes 1 and 2 and we hope we are building the skill development industry for athletes, as well as skill development and club coaches alike.  We also hope that parents are getting information for how to support their child's skill development.

In our third episode of our three-episode pilot, Coach Gabriel Saldavia of Lab46 joins Coach Janx of High-Performance Hoops Network to discuss:

  • An athlete's needs analysis. To provide personalised development for athletes it is vital that club coaches provide information directly, or through parents, to the skill development coach on athlete needs.  We break this down in detail.

  • Encouraging skill development through a style of play and team culture and the district, club, and rep team level.

  • Moves on the rim you should develop.  Different moves on the rim to learn and develop through skill development sessions.

  • Benchmark drills to measure your improvement.  We work through benchmark drills athletes can do.  Record their scores for to benchmark against themselves or peers in their age group.

We also answer listener questions from our Instagram survey including:

  • As a coach or trainer what, what do you look for in terms of an ideal player?

  • What are the main things to focus on in order to be a lights out shooter?

  • What's the main resource you use to come up with new/different drills?

Shoutouts in this episode to Tom Giles, Adam Cohen, Curtis Scipio, Jemma Saponari and Lat Mayen.

We look forward to all your thoughts and feedback. Please listen to this podcast, get value from it, build your athletes up, and grow and develop our GREAT SPORT!!!


Introduction to HPHN


Introduction to this episode


Questions from our listeners


Athlete's needs analysis


Encouraging skill development through a style of play and team culture and the district, club and rep team level


Moves on the rim to practice


Benchmark drills to measure your improvement


Conclusion and thanks

Ep2. Skill development training; access to facilities, motivating young athletes, equipment and aids you can use

Thanks to the 100s of people that listened to episode one.

In our second episode of our three-episode pilot, Coach Gabriel Saldavia of Lab46 joins Coach Janx of High-Performance Hoops Network to discuss:

  • When and where can I work out? (how to access facilities and how to fit it in)

  • If an athlete wants IT less than their parents, and parents are driving the workouts, how do we motivate the athlete?

  • What apparatus do you use in a workout? How and Why?

  • Shoutouts at the start, including updating listeners on the 2x2020 College commitments made since the last episode. And we also shout out and thank many of the people that provided feedback and ideas from the first episode.

  • At the start of the episode Gab and Janx also revisit some topics from episode 1, adding some more detail, focussing on:

    • The athlete's needs analysis for trainers and individualised development for athlete skill development

    • Development that youth players get through playing games vs team practices vs skill development sessions. What's important for player development?

    • The enthusiasm of trainers. Fake vs real enthusiasm.

    • Expanding on the idea that "relationship overrides niche" for how athletes should choose skill trainers

    • "Angles, Footwork and Follow through" what these points of emphasis mean and why they're important.

We look forward to all your thoughts and feedback. Please listen to this podcast, get value from it, build your athletes up, and grow and develop our GREAT SPORT!!!


Introduction to HPHN




Expanding on a few topics from Episode 1


When and where can I work out? (how to access facilities and how to fit it in)


If an athlete wants IT less than their parents, and parents are driving the workouts, how do we motivate the athlete?


What aparatus do you use in a workout? How and Why?


Episode close information and thankyous

Ep1. Intro to skill development training

In our first of our three-episode pilot, Gabriel Saldavia of Lab46 joins us to discuss an introduction to skill development training. 

This episode will help lay the groundwork for the next 3 as Gab and Janx discuss things such as why should athletes do skill development, what to look for in a skill development coach, and philosophies and emphasis they apply to each session.  

Using the sessions to develop player confidence, the importance of developing a plan for players with club coaches, how parents can run their own sessions are some other key topics discussed.


Intro to the High Performance Hoops Network


Intro to our cohost, Gabriel Saldavia


Why should athletes do skill development?


What should athletes look for in a skill developmnet trainer?


Skill development philosophy and what we emphasise in our sessions


What's in the next episode?


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