This is the first of a series of mental performance blogs I will be writing specifically for coaches in the upcoming weeks. Each blog will address a major mental challenge or problem coaches frequently encounter. The provided solutions will be tangible, hands-on drills and exercises coaches can implement to help their players and teams not only meet but exceed their perceived potential—no fluff, no psycho-babble, only difference-making strategies.
The major problem solved in today’s blog is a lingering lack of alertness amongst players. Alertness has been defined as being “quick to perceive and act” (Merriam Webster Dictionary)—qualities that players at all levels struggle to develop in a coaching culture that typically creates dependent robots rather than aware individuals. What I mean by that is that players too frequently become accustomed to being told what to do by their coaches. A typical example is that of a young center who will catch the ball on the block and is so intent on sticking with the play the point guard called that he looks for his cutter while failing to realize that he has a wide-open layup. Another player might overplay his man to his right three possessions in a row giving up a layup every time, not realizing that the offensive player is a lefty. This is a major issue amongst high school and lower-level college and professional players and teams in particular because the extensive advance scouting done at the NBA level is not available to protect players from their own inability to think and adjust.
If you want your players to develop a high level of awareness and pro’s pro perception skills, implement the Boston Celtics Attack Alertness Drill. This is a unique drill utilized by the Celtics, and taken to the next level here, that challenges the defense to make quick reads on the offense’s attack tendencies and make adjustments accordingly without relying on coaches’ instructions.
1. Put your players in 1 on 1, then 2 on 2 situations, eventually working your way up to 5 on 5 situations.
2. Tell the offense their goal simply is to score; tell the defense their goal is to make appropriate reads and adjustments, depending on tendencies of the offense, to get defensive stops.
3. Give the offensive player/team 2 to 3 limitations on a notecard prior to the start of the drill (not to be seen by the defense). These could include: Player can only go left and can take no more than three dribbles from the top of the key; team cannot set ball screens and can only shoot threes off of penetration and pitch. The possibilities are endless and can be tailored for upcoming opponents or player strengths or weaknesses.
4. Give the offensive player/team 3 to 5 possessions depending on the complexity of the limitations to try and score.
5. Debrief with the defensive player/team: What offensive tendencies/limitations did they pick up on? What defensive adjustments did they make and how quickly? How did they communicate (for multiple-player situations)? What was most challenging about the drill? What did they learn about their alertness? How will the drill translate to live-game situations?
You should do this drill in some shape or form every day in practice and experiment with variations that suit your team and elevate the teaching potential of the drill (e.g., players watching from the sideline could assist the defensive player/team in making reads and adjustments). The drill can also be modified so as to provide the defense with limitations or principles (e.g., no penetration to the middle, no switches on pick and roll) that the offense has to pick up on take advantage of within 3 to 5 possessions.
Remember that while most coaches preach the importance of awareness, few have the courage or wisdom to move away from traditional coaching methods that foster player dependency on constant instruction and feedback. Make Attack Alertness Drills an integral part of your program, anticipate short-term struggles by your players, and expect long-term benefits that will push your program past your highest expectations to this point! Stay tuned for more!