Developing young players by exposing them to elite advanced technical and tactical basketball from day one.
Recently I was discussing the merits of 5-out pass, cut and replace as an offence for the development of youth players with accomplished youth development coach and zicocoronel.com reader Josh Reeves of Elite Pathways Basketball, of New Plymouth, New Zealand.
Without doubt there are some merits to the above offence. The 5-out pass, cut and replace offence can be used to drill transferring the ball (when a player catches the ball on one side of their body and passes it from the other side of their body), the concurrent footwork, high rips versus low hands (Tim Duncan mastered this), low rips versus an upright stance and high hands, and passing with your non-dominant hand.
You may argue it also teaches players how to cut to the basket but I have reservations that this is the case. The short intervals between the concurrent cuts inhibit the speed of each cut as players instinctively resist cramping their spacing by running up the back of the previous cutter. This is especially true if you don’t do a great job of teaching your players to sprint the re-spaces back out to the perimeter. Subconsciously the players will make sub-maximal speed cuts. This effect is present in 5-on-0 and becomes even more magnified when defence is added.
You rarely, if ever, see a repetitive sequence of compelled robotic cuts at the highest levels of basketball (professional and international). The fundamental skills above can be developed in a multitude of contexts that I believe to be more efficient and relevant to the ultimate outcome of a youth development program, which is to produce elite advanced basketball players.
At the elite advanced level there are more techniques your players will be required to execute and more tactics they’ll be required to understand and apply than you’ll have time to develop into habitually excellent instincts - that’s part of what makes basketball so great, you can’t clock the game! Therefore you don’t have time to waste on teaching and developing skills and tactics that they ultimately will not be required to have at an elite advanced level. I firmly believe that on day one, regardless of the player’s age, you should begin to teach them skills and tactics that you’d want them to retain and utilise if they go on to play in the NBA. 5-out pass, cut and replace is bangers and mash. We need to be serving caviar and saffron risotto!
Beginners can learn to make the purposeful cuts based on reading the ball handler’s readiness to deliver a pass, the space created by the positioning of their team mates and on the positioning, readiness and awareness of the defence that you do see at an elite advanced level.
In a New Zealand context the popular primary school (K-8) playground game Bullrush provides a treasure trove of prior knowledge that extremely young players will already possess (if they don’t play it as an experiential learning warm up activity prior to a session focusing on purposeful off ball cuts) that will greatly assist you with teaching them how to cut with purpose when they are off the ball.
For readers who may be unfamiliar with Bullrush (unfortunately video evidence is hard to come by) the game usually starts with one tackler (or tagger) in the middle of a rectangular field, with the remainder of the players (the runners) lined up across one end of the field (the baseline if you like). The tackler calls out the name of one of the runners. This runner tries to run to the opposite end without being tackled by the tackler. If the runner is tackled they become a tackler and a new runner is called. But if the runner avoids being tackled and makes it to the other end of the field this triggers a “Bullrush!” as all the runners madly dash to the opposite end of the field as the tackler tries to tackle as many of them as they can. This process continues until there are no runners left. The last remaining runner is the winner. I am sure that non-Kiwi readers can think of a similar game that is played by young children in their country.
Needless to say, no one wants to get tackled in Bullrush. So at a young age runners learn to read the tackler and when he or she is distracted (perhaps they move away from them or lose sight of them) by the movement of their fellow runners, they seize the opportunity for safe passage to the opposite end and sprint as fast as they can while the tackler is occupied elsewhere.
This has a high level of positive transfer with making purposeful off ball cuts on the basketball court, as I’m sure you recognised as you read the previous paragraph. The young player waits behind the (3-point) line - a high value position on court, ready (athletic body position like a crouching tiger ready to pounce), and watching their defender. They’re waiting for their opportunity, and when their defender is distracted by the movement of their team mates - a pick and pop that elicits a tag for example or at a younger level perhaps a pass to the post or a baseline drive - they sprint to another high value area of the court, the rim, where they should be open to receive a pass for an easier shot, just like sprinting to the safety of the other end in Bullrush.
You do have to be so careful with your language. I once experimented with using the terminology “sneak behind your defender” and although this proved very effective in getting young players to read their defender and make accurate choices about when to cut, they cut in a slow, quiet, tippy-toe like manner, similar to Sylvester trying to surprise Tweety Bird. Perhaps “sprint past your defender when they’re not looking... like Bullrush” would be more effective?
I wholeheartedly believe that with quality teaching that utilises the right metaphors that connect with young people’s prior knowledge you absolutely can teach them to apply elite advanced techniques and tactics even when they are beginners.
Watch out in the coming days for Part 2 of this discussion where we will cover the value of “Snipers” over “Infantry,” how to teach young players the value of their gravity and how to leverage it to advantage their team, my opinion on what the best offensive spacing is for all levels of basketball, and what techniques and tactics you DO need to be teaching your players from day one to prepare them for elite advanced basketball.