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If you read my blog you know that I started with my original 12U players as 8 kids that I randomly drafted in a local Boys & Girls Club recreational league as a volunteer coach. I worked really hard with the kids and we eventually won the league championship this past winter. I know "rec ball" is nothing to brag about but as far as these kids were concerned, it was the NBA Finals.

After the season the parents of the team asked me if I would keep the kids together and form a travel team. Being that I coach for a living as a personal basketball trainer, I was thrilled to start coaching my own youth team program. I entered them in a 14U rec league for this past Spring. We lost all our games but it was a valuable experience for the kids. "Playing up" against 14 year olds really toughened up my kids. Our practices got harder and more frequent. The players have been steadily improving. I have the best group of parents and kids I could ask for. The parents are all super supportive and all my kids hang on my every word in practice.

As Summer came along my program started to grow. What started as a 12U team had grown into a 12U, 11U and 8U program due to word spreading around the community about our team. We entered another rec league. We absolutely dominate it. So I began scheduling scrimmages against local AAU clubs. My kids are no longer getting a challenge at the rec level.

Initially we got spanked by the AAU teams. My kids were not ready for the speed or physicality of the games. But they kept working at it and kept fighting. Slowly but surely we started to play better and better. Then we entered our first AAU tournament and the results were not pretty. In our first games, we looked shell shocked and intimidated. By the end of the weekend my kids evolved and we nearly beat one of the established AAU clubs. My kids are over achievers. But it isnt via some magical luck. They simply work their tails off. They are a bunch of kids that no AAU program would have touched 6 months ago but I've believed in them since day one. Each one of them brings a certain intangible to the table and has the potential to be great. 

We hold 4 two-hour practices per week and have been doing so since the winter and the kids were even asking for more practices so I started offering what I called "Pro Camp". It was for all the kids who have dreams of playing at "the next level". It's from 5:50am to 7:30am every morning. 6 days a week. To my shock over half my team started showing up. Lately the kids are practicing in the gym with me for a total of up to 17 hours per week! It's a pretty intense schedule for 10 & 12 year olds. 

But here in lies the hurdle I face today and the impetus for this blog post. 

My kids are ready for AAU ball. From a technical standpoint we have worked ourselves into having the talent to run with most anyone. From a schematic's standpoint, there isnt a offense or defense that my kids arent prepared to face. We have 6 defenses we run and close to 20 variations of our offensive system that they run at the call of my bark. The problem though is that we have lapses in effort that lead to massive momentum swings in games. For example, I'll explain last Friday's match....

We were going up against a championship winning NJB All-Net team from the area. Not top flight AAU quality but just a minor step below. All of the 12 year olds on their team were close to 6 feet tall or taller (some were probably 13 years old). My kids were definitely overmatched in the size department. But unlike during the last AAU style tournament we entered, we werent fazed by it. We went out and blitzed the other team and for the first 5 minutes of the game the other team never got the ball across half court. In fact, for the duration of the game their team never once got comfortable in their offense. And every time we ran our offensive plays, we got good looks at the hoop.

We were up 8-0 after 5 minutes (could have easily been 20+ point lead had we made our fast break layups and not had careless turnovers of our own). But nonetheless, we are up 8-0 and are dominating the other team on all fronts. Then out of nowhere it all gets lost in 30 seconds. On one play we dont close out hard on the perimeter for some reason and they get their first clean look. Wide open 3 pointer. Score now 8-3. On the ensuing inbounds my kids decide to all of a sudden jog on the press break and the inbounder has no one open, throws a errant pass, pass is stolen, layup plus a foul. 3 point play. Score now 8-6. All in less than 5 seconds. Now I see my kids start to get rattled. The next time down the court the other team catches our weakside defender jogging half-ass down the court. Layup. Score now 8-8. Our 5 minutes of domination are all for not. All wasted in about 30 seconds of horrendous play/effort.

And from their we start trading baskets. But every 5 minutes or so we have these odd lapses in effort and the other team pounces. A series of random 6-8 point runs by the other team due to careless mistakes by us and before we know it we are down by 20. Every basket they got was a result of a lazy turnover or blatant poor defensive effort. Not one of their baskets came from beating our press or against our half court defense when we actually put the effort in.

This is an issue we have been battling since we started playing AAU clubs. We are currently 0-12 against legitimate club teams. In only 4 of those 12 matches did I feel that we didnt belong on the court. In those 4 matches the other teams were just flat out more talented and better coached. But in the other 8 games, they have all been against teams we should beat or at least compete with. When we give it 100% and match the opposition's intensity, we can compete with almost anyone.

But when we let off the gas for even a brief moment, the results get ugly in a hurry. My "rec ballers" still dont understand how to keep up the intensity at this AAU level. Maybe they never will. Or maybe Im doing something wrong coaching them. Or maybe they will get it in time. All I know is that we have hit a wall and everything Ive tried has failed to get them over this hump. It's been 3 months of battling the same issue and we arent getting better in this regard. It's the only thing holding us back. 

As the days have gone by I've struggled to try and solve this issue. How will I get these kids to permanently "flip the switch" and keep it pinned until the final buzzer sounds? How do I build this teams swagger and fortitude so that they can develop a killer instinct and just step on the throats of the opposition that we are clearly better than? 

A win last Friday would have been the most impressive win in the teams history. And for the first 5 minutes of the game we saw how good we can and should be. It was spectacular. And it spoiled me. Now that I've finally seen all the work Ive put into these kids come to fruition (if only for a brief 5 minutes) I cant rest until we put together a complete game of that intensity.

I've called former coaches of mine, coaching colleagues, spoke to parents, and stewed on this for the better part of 48 hours. Ive taken notes on my thoughts and the advice given to me. I've gone over the notes several times and re-written them. I'll probably re-write it again before the next practice. Here are the notes Ive been jotting down...in no particular order....welcome to the inner thoughts of a (neurotic) hyper-competitive basketball coach.....

  • Don't forget why I started doing this.
  • Keep things in perspective. We are doing the impossible. Taking 12 year old "rec ballers" and turning them into competitive AAU players is unheard of. Doing it in less than a year is considered crazy talk.
  • I need to do a better job of coaching players up. Showing my frustration in the form of impulsive anger or yelling will not net results. Everything must be calculated and premeditated.
  • During games I must do a better job with substitutions. I must manage my players stamina. Develop packages and a steady rotation.
  • Speak to the players about their potential. They are so close to being great. I can't lose them now.
  • When disciplining, be matter-of-fact. And when praising them, bring back the heavy enthusiasm.
  • Run more "soft" scrimmages. Call out the slackers. Punishment will be swift and harsh. Apply the pressure to perform so that the practices are tougher than the games.
  • Talk to the parents and let them know my agenda. Some tough practices and disciplines are ahead. Let them know that this is all calculated and part of a master plan.
  • This is a battle of psychological warfare. My wits & will versus the human nature of a bunch of 10 & 12 year olds.
  • I need to have the "patience to communicate". Patience. Patience. Patience. They are only kids. If I can weather this storm, I'll help them break through to the other side.
  • Have the kids watch some Michael Jordan inspirational videos. His Nike commercials are like mini motivational seminars.
  • The players must TALK more out on the court. It is a sign of intensity and enthusiasm. We go silent for long stretches for some reason. This is a major red flag.
  • Define "coachable" and ask the kids if they want to be coachable? (Coachable doesnt mean you are nice or respectful to the coach. It means you listen. And by listen I mean follow orders. And by follow orders I mean that when I say that you need to run a sprint and touch the baseline, you actually touch the baseline and dont have to be told again. Ever. Follow orders. My job is to teach, not to motivate.)
  • The player Ive been the hardest on, Aziz, is the player playing the best right now. He's heads and shoulders above the level of anyone else in my program. I've put Aziz through mental bootcamp. Ive pushed him harder than anyone ever has. Ive put the weight of the team on his back and while it's nearly cracked him, he never buckled. More importantly, he "bought in". And never once has he second guessed himself about that choice. He asked me to go hard on him and Ive pushed him harder than any athlete Ive ever worked with. Now he is seeing the fruits of his mental strength and loyalty to my program. He's battle hardened. Mentally tough. So that when he gets in a AAU game he's the one kid who isnt wilting under the pressure. He looks calm. He plays aggressive. He has the pedal to the metal at all times.
  • Not every kid has the mental strength Aziz does. I cannot put them all through the "Bobby Knight" treatment. How do I reach every kid individually to raise their level to match Aziz?
  • Practices must get tougher. So tough that someone quits voluntarily.
  • Whoever survives the next few weeks will then feel the joy of victory.
  • My kids have a ton of heart. We have no "cancers" on the team. But we have a lot of players that are "soft". Only Aziz and 2 others are mentally tough enough at this time to handle what is coming. The rest need the "Irvine washed out of them". Softness is as contagious as being a Cancer. Must find a remedy.
  • August is the last month we will ever be playing against rec teams. From then on out it is AAU tournament ball all the time. The clock is ticking. Get to work coach. 
 
 
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Boxing Out in Basketball is Controversial 

Whether you're a coach or a fan, there will be times that you'll find that you don't agree with what the referees have called in a particular situation. Of course, the same can be said about the 'no-calls' in sports, as well. Regardless of the sport, there will always be a certain level of disagreement, as they're not always going to get it right. Baseball seems to be the worst in this - however - basketball can sometimes be just as bad in this, especially at the youth level.

In all of the missed calls, it does seem as if the 'over the back' call is one that's generally missed more than many. I watched a NBA playoff game on cable.tv the other day and in my opinion counted 20 ‘over the back’ situations and only 3 were actually called by the refs, which resulted in a foul. They are better at referring games than I am and I’m watching it from the television, but the ‘over the back’ call isn't a subjective call nor is it difficult to see happen as it occurs. These plays happen right in plain sight. They aren't "missed calls", they are blatant "no-calls".

The Controversy

One of the most infuriating things about the no call is that it's flying in the face of the fundamentals. It's extremely important to teach young players how to be fundamentally sound, especially when we're on the defensive side. Boxing out is imperative to properly crashing the boards - a trait that all players should have - regardless of the position that they play. 

One of the worst things about the controversy is that there's a chance that the players would be hesitant in game time situations because they may have a player climb all over their back to grab the ball. Not only is it something that can lead them to some level of injury, but it may stop them from making a bigger impact on the glass going forward. If they know that there's a chance that they'll have another player jumping all over them, they may simply choose not to exert the effort.

The Problem

There are a few theories as to why referees don't call over the back as much as they should. For one thing, coaches may assume that their player has better inside positioning than the other - often taller - player, however he doesn't quite get the rebound because of sheer size. The referees generally won't call it because - while there may be a little contact - that's what they assume is supposed to happen. It's the law of nature. It's not often that you'd expect a 6-foot guy to get a rebound over a player who outweighs them by 50 and has 6 inches on them.

This doesn't excuse them, but the point is to give a bit of perspective into the mind of the referee. Either way, its a slap in the face to the game of basketball for those of us who are purists.

Make no mistake about it; the over the back call is one of the most under-utilized call in basketball. Unfortunately, this is something that's the case in basketball at basically all levels. Coaches do everything they can to assure that their players have the technique down to a T, even if they're going against a much taller player going for a rebound.

There may not be a time where fundamentally-sound athletes are rewarded for doing what they should do in this case, but it's important that young athletes continue to exert the effort even if they don't get rewarded for all of their hard work. 

Author: Lamar Hull is a former NCAA basketball player for Davidson College. He also played overseas professionally. Lamar loves writing about sports and teaching young kids how to play basketball. You can follow Lamar @lamarhull20 and then be sure to check out his website @ www.inspirationalbasketball.com

Lamar's Youth Basketball Site
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Here are my basic rules for playing post defense:

1. FRONT - Whether the defender is the smaller player or the bigger player, I never want my kids to invite the pass into the post. I teach them to fight for position and get in front of the offensive post player so that the entry pass can only be made via a "drop pass". This requires a low center of gravity and quick footwork. If the defender is the smaller player, then he has the advantage of having quicker feet. If the defender is the bigger player, then he will have a huge advantage once into position because passing over him will be most difficult.

2. PUSH THE OPPONENT DOWN LOW - Once the defender is executing the front, his goal now is to get as low as possible and start to push the offense to the baseline with his backside. Low man will have the leverage, and as I teach my kids, "low man always wins". This should be easy to accomplish because the offensive player at this point will be trying to usually abandon the front and will play tall in an effort to invite the lob pass from his teammate on the perimeter. This plays into the defenders hand perfectly. At this point, even a much smaller defender should have no trouble picking up valuable real estate in his attempt to box out his man under the hoop. Even just a foot or two gained by the defender makes the target zone of the lob pass that much smaller as well as that much closer to the help defense. The difficult part about this step is that their is not much time to execute the push down low. The opportunity will only last for a moment or two...

3. FORCE THE "DROP PASS" - Most offensive perimeter players at this point will not be able to pass up the opportunity to try and lob in a soft pass over the fronting defender. This "drop pass" might be the most difficult pass in the game to make. Despite appearing like a makeable pass, it has little to no success of making its target. First of all, it must be thrown is considerable touch and arc, this allows for the help defense to almost always have a shot at breaking up the pass. 

4. INTERCEPT THE PASS - Once the pass is in the air, most offensive players will give everything they have to hold their ground and keep the fronting defender from pushing them off their spot. This is another moment that the defender must be instinctual in his timing. Once that pass is in the air and the push from the offensive post player comes, the defender can abandon fighting back, letting the offensive player actually fall away from where the pass is going. And that is when the defender must be quick with his feet and leap for the lob pass and try to break it up.

5. REBOUND POSITION - The one downside to the front, is that the defender gives up position for rebounding. Especially if he is on the weak side. This is a risk Im willing to take with my teams. If a front is executed to perfection, the offensive post player has been pushed close enough down low towards the baseline that his position for the rebound is minimized. 

Whether you are the smaller player or the bigger player, always discourage the post entry pass by fronting. Make things difficult on your opponents. Because once they get the ball into the post and they have you backed down low on the block, the defender really is at the offensive players mercy.
 
 
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One thing Ive been hearing coaches ask lately is how to get their kids to learn a offensive system quick and efficiently. First of all, make sure your kids are of the right age level to begin installing a system. Secondly, keep things basic.

Personally, I do not think kids are ready to start learning a basic system until they are at least 10 years old. Any younger and we should just try to keep things about having fun. If you are coaching kids that are 9 years old or younger and you can get them to fall in love with the game, learn a proper jump stop and a proper defensive stance, you have done wonders and will make the next coaches job a million times easier.

For my 10 & 11 year olds that I work with, I have a series of basic drills that teach proper cuts, how to set a screen, jump stopping, and all the other basics  of perimeter offensive play. What makes my system of drills effective is that EVERY single drill  is actually a small piece of our offense that I will be installing later. What I've done is take our offensive system and break it down into as many small parts as possible to form a series of simple drills. Each drill has the players specifically on the spot of the floor where they will be once they are running the more complex system.

Over the course of about 3-4 weeks, the kids should have all of the smaller drills down solid and they will naturally begin to get bored with them. And that is when you start to piece it all together. Instantly once they start to run your offense as a whole, they will recognize the relation to the drills they already have well versed. The transition will be extremely quick at this point and more importantly, it will be fun and engaging for the kids and will instantly re-energize their enthusiasm for practicing. The more small stages you can break down your drills and development, the better off you will be. It will be easier to teach, and on the flip side, the kids will feel like they are accomplishing more as the drills get more sophisticated.

Once they are able to run your offense as a unit, then they are ready to do it with a live "dummy" defense. There will be a slight regression and adjustment period when you do this. This should take about a week or two of practice before they are comfortable with all of their cuts & screens with the defense on the court.

Once they then get comfortable with that, they are then finally ready for what they've probably been begging for since day one, which is a live scrimmage. Make sure it is a controlled scrimmage. Stop play if they are not sticking to the offense. Make sure they understand how to reset a play/offensive possesion. Keep things slow and make sure they are boxing out and understand their roles on inbounds and outlet passes. 

The key is to be patient and take everything in logical steps. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will your team. They will not nor should not be expected to fully understand and run your offense the first half of the season in games. If you can have them fully up to speed by the mid to 3/4 point in the season, you have done a great job as a coach. And never forget to revisit all of the small drills you did in the beginning so you can re-enforce good habits and get even more specific in your critique and evaluation of their growth.

 
 
Hands down, their is no other rule in basketball more misunderstood than understanding position and what constitutes a charge or a blocking foul.

All too often you will hear people say that a player's feet were not "set" therefore it is not a charge but a blocking foul. This could not be further from the truth. Never does a defenders feet have to be "set" in order to take a charge. The rulebook clearly states that a defender  must "establish position", which means, you must be between the offensive player and the hoop. Establishing position can be done with either lateral movements or backpedalling. 

If the defender is in a position where he is backpedalling, it does not give the offensive player a right to lower a shoulder and bowl right over the defender if the defender has established his position between the ball and the hoop. A good defender plays defense with his feet. Shuffling from side to side and keeping the offensive player from a clear path to the hoop. If at any point the defender were to get his feet "set" in order to avoid a blocking foul called, it would make playing on-ball defense nearly impossible.

Now if a defender is late to establishing position, that is indeed a blocking foul. Late lateral movement will usually end with the defender illegally impeding the path of direction of the offensive player in order to regain position. If a defender is smart, he abandons his attempt at laterally sliding and turns and runs to beat his counterpart to "the spot" so he can regain a legal position and start from that point. 

All of the rules are written this way on purpose. They favor not the bigger player but the one that has the best technique. Basketball is not a game of size or height. It is a game of quick feet and technique.