The Spacing Challenge
Issuing six challenges to coaches around spacing, positioning and more!
A group of coaches from the great state of Maine recently invited me to speak in an online clinic event. In this presentation, entitled Spacing Concepts and Coaching Challenges, I issued six “challenges” to the attendees.
In each of the challenges I ask them to change a viewpoint, stop or start doing something or adopt new priorities as it pertains to offensive spacing, positioning and coaching in general. I want to issue these six challenges to you all here.
Coach’s Challenge #1
Make the mental shift from viewing “basketball coaching” as coaching technique and actions to viewing it as creating favorable spacing conditions for players to apply skills.
This challenge is not meant to be dismissive of technique or the finer points of the offensive actions you use. But what good is knowing 17 ways to counter the defense in a ball screen, if the three players outside of that action are poorly spaced?
When your offense sputters, what is your knee-jerk reaction? To look for an 18th way to counter ball screen defense? Perhaps the spacing around the action(s) is at fault.
Listen to the coaching interjections you utter in practice. Are technical corrections and edge case “what-ifs” pertaining to offensive actions dominating the conversation? Are we hearing “higher” or “wider” or “deeper” enough?
Too often coaches teach actions and expect spacing. You view your job as teaching screens, plays, fundamental techniques and expect players to “understand” spacing.
My challenge to you is to view your job as creating and maintaining favorable environments for scoring. That means prioritizing spacing and spacing corrections.
Resource: Offensive Spacing Principles
Coach’s Challenge #2
Coach a “94-Foot” offense - teach offense beginning with the transition game.
When asked where I start when teaching an offensive system to a team, my answer is always the same: Transition Offense.
Before we dwell on the details of the half court offense, we must decide how we are going to enter the offense after rebounding and/or getting scored upon. This phase cannot go ignored.
We want to begin creating space in transition by seeking width then depth. Ideally, our players “arrive” in the front court in the alignment we want to play from (i.e. Four-Out, Five-Out) and they show up well-spaced. The transition phase connects directly to the half court offense phase. And that takes us to the next challenge…
Resource: #TransitionOffenseTips on Twitter!
Coach’s Challenge #3
The Seamless Challenge - No calls in live ball changes of possession
Here are some assumptions:
Our transition offense “ends” in the same spots our half court offense begins
Our players can execute our half court offense
If the above bullet points are true and the two phases seamlessly connect, there is little reason for the coach to interject themselves from the sideline and call a play when there is a a live ball change of possession (after an opponent FGM, a defensive rebound, a steal are examples of live ball changes of possession). You have taught players what they need to know to self-organize and execute through these two phases.
Simply rebound/inbound and run to your alignment and execute from that alignment.
With the “Seamless Challenge” I am challenging you to refrain from grabbing players attention and calling a play during live ball changes of possession.
Limit your calls for sets, quick-hitters, ATOs to “dead ball starts” — possessions beginning from a dead ball (i.e. after an opponent’s dead ball turnover or violation, after a time out, coming out of quarter or halftime).
Coach’s Challenge #4
Begin to view cutting as a means to open gap space or collapse the defense, and less as a means to score.
Cutting into space can lead to good shots and there is nothing more beautiful in the game than a give-and-go layup or a backdoor cut for an easy hoop.
But solely depending upon cutting as a means to score is a tough way to manufacture shots. A lot has to go right (timing, accuracy of pass) for it to result in a hoop. Often, cuts resulting in baskets are the result of defensive mistakes.
What if you change your view of cutting? Yes, we want ball movement and player movement, but what if you viewed the purpose of player movement differently?
View cutting as primarily a means to improve and increase space. Cuts can be used to compress and expand space. When analyzing your offense ask:
Does the cut increase or decrease space?
If it increases the space are we using the space well?
Resource: Gap Creating Cuts
Coach’s Challenge #5
Stop yelling “MOVE!!!”
This may be more of a challenge to the fans in the stands! However, there are certainly coaches who are guilty of this.
As mentioned in Coach’s Challenge #4, we want player movement, but we do not want movement that sabotages our offense. The goal is purposeful player movement that creates and maintains space.
When a player feels like “MOVE!” is directed at them, they often cut in the way, or crowd the ball, or close space or disrupt floor balance. They are unable to stay out of the action when they are not in the action.
This may sound sacrilegious in some coaching circles, but there are times when no movement is the right movement. When a player is standing, we want them standing in a good place. If you are providing space with your positioning, keep providing it.
Coach’s Challenge #6
Work on penetration reactions this season so much that your players get to the point where on any drive to the basket they know where their teammates will be.
Penetration reactions are the offense behind the offense. Unfortunately, we often see a player attack the rim (good) but the defense defends the drive. The player then looks for teammates only to find themselves stranded (bad).
My challenge to you is to teach and teach and teach penetration reactions, especially if your offense is based on the drive-and-kick game. My prediction is that your offensive efficiency would improve if penetration reactions existed behind whatever offense you run.
There are different penetration reactions out there (i.e. circle movement) and Dribble Drive Motion is pretty much just one big penetration reaction! There are subtle differences in some of the reactions different coaches teach. I would not dwell on that.
Whatever you decide to go with, get your team to the point where when a player drives the ball he/she knows exactly where his/her four teammates will be.
Take up all or some of these six challenges. For some, this may not be a departure from the way you already see and present the game to your team. If you do undertake the challenges, let me know how it goes!
Continue the conversation:
I’ve helped a lot of coaches tackle all or some of these challenges in their own programs over the years.
For help with practice planning and implementation of these challenges and other offensive elements for finding, using and creating offensive advantages please reach out and join our community for basketball coaches!
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