Friday, November 9, 2012

Teaching Basketball On A Triangle: Fundamentals/Defense/Discipline

I advocate the teaching of basketball as a philosophy utilizing fundamentals, defense and discipline as though three legs of a teaching triangle.  The side legs of the triangle are formed by the words, “Fundamentals” and “Defense”—the base being “Discipline”.  
To be the best we can be in this game, we need the balance of all three sides of the triangle.  One aspect can’t be ignored or underplayed and result in success—neither by a coach nor a player.  It is my strong opinion, that to be really successful in this game, all three aspects of the triangle are necessary.
My philosophy of teaching on this triangle has served my players and teams well over the years.  There wasn’t always great talent.  In fact, most of my teams consisted of average players.  The 70+ percent winning record for my coaching career attests to the fact that we paid attention to details other coaches weren’t teaching effectively.
I always told my players at the beginning of each season, that whatever the outcome, they would be in great condition; they would be disciplined; they would execute good fundamental play; and they would play sound, aggressive defense.

To become the complete teaching-coach, or a complete player, one can’t ignore any aspect of development, lest one’s development be ‘incomplete’.  If we don’t teach or play defense well, we’re only teaching or playing half the game.  If we don’t teach offensive skills and rebounding correctly, how can we expect a player to play at their highest potential?  As teaching-coaches we have to be able to recognize even the smallest skill weakness and be able to break down the skill for the player to better understand and execute.  Everything about successful teaching is about paying attention to the details!
It’s the little things which are a part of discipline for both the teacher and player. Discipline is the key to success.  Discipline is the base of the structure the coach is trying to build.  For players, discipline determines their growth in the game.
Getting it right from the start requires that a player be taught fundamental skills correctly in the first years of playing.   A lot of habits have already been set by the time a player is a teenager.   If they are incorrect, they can be very difficult to change.
I believe that every player needs and deserves a teaching-coach in the early years.  Each skill needs to be broken down into building blocks, where the level of difficulty can be raised as the individual grasps and possesses the skill before moving on.  A coach can make a big mistake thinking that all players are capable of grasping the same lesson at the same pace as every other player.  It doesn’t happen in the classroom so why would we assume the playing floor is somehow different?  Skill teaching takes time and patience.
I am passionate about skill building for coaches and players. Too many high school players have weak fundamentals that go unchecked.  If a player has some weak skills, but is athletic, coaches may let a lot of skill mistakes slide.  But, think what strong skill fundamentals could be enabled when combined with athleticism.  The most talented players are more easily recognized, while those less talented need to be strong in their skills in order to gain similar recognition.  Players who don’t recognize, and work to develop their own short-comings, only short-change themselves because they aren’t being all that they could be.  The teaching-coach will always try to bring a player to their highest level.
Coaches need discipline to teach the fundamentals.  Players need discipline to teach and practice the fundamentals correctly.  The premise for teaching in the triangle is that each thing is being taught correctly at an early age, and then using the building block method, these teachings are built upon as a player progresses.  The discipline to teach and the discipline to practice correctly are vital to the learning process.
In the book, “Think And Grow Rich”, by Napoleon Hill, the author defines insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”.
We have often heard that ‘practice makes perfect’.  What really happens is that practice makes permanent!  So, if we perform a skill thousands of times incorrectly, we can become very good at doing it incorrectly – but it’s still incorrect! The incorrect repetition has permanent-‘ized’ the skill in muscle memory. We have probably met Napoleon Hill’s definition at this point.  Correcting the muscle memory of doing the skill incorrectly can sometimes be harder than the original learning of it. This is possibly why many coaches choose to ignore this.  Perhaps they don’t want to take the time, or just don’t know how, to undo and re-teach the skill.
Discipline.  It’s the common denominator for playing success.  A player must have self-discipline to take instruction and critiquing, to train and increase their skills both during practices and outside of practices.  This self-discipline should enable game play with restraint, composure and confidence.  In order to be a strong and cohesive unit, the team must be disciplined to perform as a unit, where each individual complements the others.  The teaching-coach must be disciplined in creating the practice sessions and the environment in which they are conducted.  The discipline required for practices must be fluid, organized and meaningful, and the discipline required to direct game activity effectively, comes from the coach.  It’s taught.  It’s drilled.  It’s sets of rules.  It’s a “do as I have taught you to do” discipline that demands respect for the teaching-coach. It builds into the players the desired responses for any given game situation.  All this is taught; not caught!  We coaches cannot assume everything will just happen and fall into place.  The reactions and responses we desire from our players are taught first through fundamental breakdown drills and later through application of game situation drills.  The latter might include drills for changing or stunting defenses, changing offensive sets and movements, time of game or score in the game, etc.
Without discipline, we have chaos when the pressure is on.  This is a teaching responsibility. The teaching-coach must build discipline for oneself first. The players will judge the leader’s character early on.  We build respect first by earning it, through being firm but fair, from not playing favorites, and by recognizing the humanity in each player as an individual.  We must be organized, good teachers and truly care about each player in our charge.
Fundamentals.  It does no good to teach 5-on-5 if our players can’t execute good individual fundamentals.  By working at plateaus of development, the teaching-coach can guide the player, directing skill learning from the first day and throughout the season, and even into the off-season.
We begin by teaching movement and body control.  We then move to ball handling, passing, dribbling, shooting, rebounding, individual moves, and individual defense before we even get to 1-on-1.  We follow-up the individual skills by incorporating them into 1-on-1, then 2-on-2, etc., until we’ve worked up to 5-on-5 team play.
All the while we must have rules--discipline again-- practice rules, shooting rules, rebounding rules, etc., including bringing in the rules of the game. An orderly progression of learning must take place or else we end up with players who can’t function under the most elementary of game situations.
Alan Lambert, President of “The Basketball Highway”, wrote about (Tex Winter’s) the, “Triangle Offense”, saying, “All offenses are specifically designed to open good scoring opportunities.  Any coach, worth his weight in gold, will understand, however, that it is the execution of fundamentals and the system, which produces the best scoring chances. You cannot teach…any offense…successfully if your players cannot master and execute basic offensive skills.  As your players’ skill levels increase, the more they can be integrated into team play and the greater flexibility your offense will have to generate high percentage scoring chances.  To be most effective, every team concept, including offense, has definite roles which players must understand and accept.  When players acknowledge their roles and execute them, you are on your way to a successful season.”
In a game, if two teams are evenly matched, half the game will be played on defense.  We must teach defense fundamentals and have the discipline to make that half of the game as solid as possible, because defense stops the score and gets the ball.
On offense, if a player is not handling the ball, our job as coaches is to make sure they know how to move well without the ball.   We teach good fundamentals to accomplish ball handling skills and player movement, floor spacing, etc.  If a player can’t execute good, purposeful movement off the ball, how will they ever get the ball so they can enjoy this time with the ball?
I once explained to a player and her mother, that if I was a college scout looking for prospects, I’d take a player who could move well without the ball and play good, tough defense over a fancy ball handling individual.  Discipline, fundamentals and defense will get the job done for team players that individuals out for themselves will never see happen.
Defense.  Well, it is half the game!

Many players undervalue defense, preferring to shine on offense.  Sadly, many coaches still undervalue, and thus undersell, defense to their charges.
Everywhere now, in the higher levels of basketball play, you see an increased amount of attention paid to executing good defense.
Teaching defense is easier than teaching offense.  A player can be less skilled offensively and yet play a decisive role in the team’s success if they will learn how to play defense well.
There are only two ways we get the ball: (1) It goes through the net after the other team has scored; (2) We stop the score and take the ball away.  Defense gets the ball!
Teach the proper stance.  Teach how to slide, moving right, left, forward and back.  Get this down well before you put a player on the ball.  Teach how to play on the dribbler and stay between the ball and the basket.  Teach how to influence the dribbler to where you want them to go and away from where they want to go.  Teach how to play on a player who doesn’t have the ball and how to keep them from getting the ball.  Go 2-on-2, 3-on-3, 4-on-4 and then 5-on-5.  Lots of breakdown drills.  Lots of repetitions.  Lots of hard work.  Build pride in the individual defender to shut down the offensive player and you’ll be building pride in a team defense that can carry you to success—especially on those nights when your offense sputters.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Breaking Down The Court For Calling Defenses

Coaching is like a chess match between opposing coaches - moving players like chess pieces. A good coach will have an arsenal of moves to make and be ready to counter opponents' counter-measures. What I devised in 1973 was my way of dealing with other coaches' teaching methods.

Ronn Wyckoff

Breaking Down The Court For Calling Defenses

When I look back forty years, it seems pretty innovative for the times that I was calling defense for high school basketball - things like: 50A, 12 B, 13C, or 21D.

In 1973, I was in my second year as head basketball coach and athletic director at a small California private boys boarding school. There were 200 boys in the school and nine of them were on the varsity.

I was still young and capable enough as a player, so most days it fell to me, my team manager or a borrowed JV player to be the 10th player.

We had 75 minutes to practice, before I had to dismiss the team, in order to shower and dress in coat and tie and be ready for dinner.

Because there was so little practice time, I began to institute a number of ideas for getting the most out of those 75 minutes each day. We used the JV practice time for conditioning outside the gym and later for watching film from our games. As soon as the jayvees vacated the floor, we immediately went into a series of Station Drills ( ) that utilized all six baskets in a variety of fundamental drills.

With a small team, in both numbers and stature (no one over 6 feet), and with the previous year’s experience, I knew that focus on fundamentals and defense was going to be crucial for our success. I also wanted to expand our challenge and scheduled early season matches against much larger schools - one with 3000 enrollment. I began to develop concepts and ideas that evolved into what I began calling our “Giant Killer Defense”, as we were actually beating teams with larger players and larger enrollments.

To read the entire article, go to:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Think Fast Break

Without the fast break, coaches must limit their teams to controlled movement up the floor to the offensive end. Doing this gives the advantage to the defense.

My preference, when on offense, was to seize the advantage by accelerating into a fast break from every offensive transition.

When combined breaking with my emphasis on defense, I felt I had a formidable recipe for fun and winning basketball. It proved me right for many years, winning over 75% of the time with US teams and 80% with international club teams.

I wanted my teams to break from any and every situation and take off running to the basket – from turnovers, interceptions, a rebound, jump ball, inbounds pass, etc. Every time we transitioned to offense, I wanted a break.

Read the entire article at

That's it for this month.

Coach Ronn Wyckoff

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Defending The Dribble Entry

When most offenses begin at the half court, it's the point guard who has to make it happen - passing, dribbling, penetrating.

Playing defense between the ball and the basket is only part of defending the ball.

Good position defense, coupled with influencing pressure, can help eliminate some of the dribbler's options. However, the first job of the defender is to buy time.

To read this article, go to .

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Thoughts On Teaching Shooting

There are so many different ways shooting is being taught and while there is no one best way to shoot a basketball, obviously the best way is the one that goes in the most. However, the bottom line is, it’s not the rest of the body so much as the shooting arm that directs the shot and any resultant accuracy.
So all the foot placement, focus, and other stuff that's being taught is for naught if the alignment of the shooting shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers is not correct.

To read more about this, go to

Saturday, April 30, 2011

3 Reasons Youth Coaches Should Stress Fundamentals Over Plays

by Keith Smith

Keith Smith is a youth basketball coach for boys and girls. He is the co-creator of “The Edge” and Best Youth Hoops. For more information, visit and receive FREE Special Report, "TOP PRIORITIES FOR A NEW YOUTH BASKETBALL COACH"

When I first thought about the title, a quick story came to mind which put this in proper perspective.

During my first year of coaching, my team was playing a lower seeded team in the playoffs. It was a close game going into the 4th quarter when the opposing coach yelled out a play to his point guard.

The guard shouted the play to her teammates while we were set in our 1-2-2 zone (that’s another story… none of my teams play zone anymore). The guard shouted the play again, nothing happened. The players looked at her as if she was speaking a foreign language.

To read the rest of the story, go to

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Basketball: Teaching Offensive Low Post Play

How I teach low post play doesn't change much between beginners and older players -whether they're boys or girls. They all need to know how to move through the post, avoiding 3-second counts, having good balance and gaining good position. Once they have these things, they can begin to maneuver to receive the ball and work their way to attacking and finishing at the basket.

What I do now is contained in my article at

I hope you find teaching points you can use.

See you next month.

Coach Ronn