Great coaching requires a certain degree of imagination and improvisation. It requires the necessary experience to teach how things are best done, while also giving room to the player to figure out how things are best done by him.
It's a difficult balance, but one that I constantly try to be aware of and encourage others to be aware of. Too often, coaches think there is a right way and a wrong way to implement a certain skill. In some instances like shooting, they are correct. But in many other situations, there isn't right or wrong. The best way is the way that works. And that way is often best discovered by the player himself.
A couple of examples come to mind. The first one I will address today is the lay-up.
Think about how we typically teach lay-ups. A simple progression on one-step, then two-steps onto the dribble. Right hand lay-up with right knee up. That's the way.
Well, it's one way. But it certainly isn't the only way. It's not a bad progression. I have taught many a young player that way as it is often the quickest way to teach them how to dribble into lay-ups.
But is it the only way? And should we focus only on that way? Do you want your players having the ability to make lay-ups in a variety of ways? Double-pump. Reverse. Scoop right. Scoop left. Off the right leg. Off the left leg. Left-hand. Right-hand. Take the contact, etc.?
The answer should be an obvious yes. The higher you progress in basketball, the less you will have the opportunity to use the basic, run-of-the-mill lay-up. Defenses get better, so you better have more options or you won't score?
If that is true, than what is the best way to teach the lay-up? Is there a best way at all? Or is there just a variety of things we can expose younger players to that will set them on the track to self-discovery? To a way that works best for them.
The lay-up doesn't happen in a vacuum. Even at the college level, players miss lay-ups all the time. Not because they haven't practiced lay-ups, but because they haven't practiced enough game-like lay-ups. And because they haven't developed enough lay-up creativity to make them in the game.
One of the issues I am discovering with players today is that they often lack imagination and creativity and the freedom to discover new ways to make shots. Even worse, they are not encouraged by coaches to try those new ways. Consequently, they think they can make lay-ups, but not the kind of game-like lay-ups they really need. Their options are too limited. They only know one way.
Because of this, I think it is essential to introduce different ways of shooting a lay-up as early as possible and to create the kind of environments where missing those lay-ups are encouraged. After all, if you want to learn these different ways, you will fail. Miss. Over and over again. It's the only way to learn.
By way of application, I have started to work with the youngest of kids at ages 5-7 on low hoops. All I tell them to do is to get a knee up when they shoot. And to try lifting both the left and then the right knees. The younger they are, the more points they get for making such a shot. I want to encourage their creativity.
As they get older, you can simply do a drill. But you may be surprised how poorly older players look when you introduce different finishes to them. If they stick with it, however, they will learn much faster than you and they may think. Not only that, introducing such new possibilities will open them up to finding their own possibilities. And that's when things really get good.
What's the best way to shoot a lay-up? The way it goes in. And depending on the situation and the player and the defender, there is no telling which way that may be. So at the very least, let's be a little more creative in our teaching. Let's use our imagination and encourage players of all ages to do the same.