The Jr. High Curse for Advanced Players

No Handle Fix It Now

I’ve had some interesting conversations with various town and league directors about their programs. A recurring theme is that these towns all have a few very advanced Jr. High players in their system. When I ask what advanced means, I get a combination of two answers: 1) We have a couple of “big” kids that pose matchup problems or 2) we have some good athletes whose skills are advanced for 7th/8th graders.  The sentence usually ends with ” and we win most of our games by a significant margin, so we worry that our kids won’t continue to improve”

There is good reason to worry. The Jr. High Curse is right in front of you. The problem with judging most talent at this level is the disparity in growth rates and development rates for young athletes, both boys and girls. Kids that start to grow early can dominate at this level by sheer size or athleticism. BUT, if there skills are not being developed, they can quickly become irrelevant to the program by their sophomore year when everyone else has caught up. It’s a curse, because its hard to communicate with kids at this age – 8th graders in particular have a tendency to not listen.

This is where objective measurement can be of enormous value. It is our strong belief that every player at this level, EVERY player, be treated as if they will play guard in high school. Even if you have an 8th grade boy who is 6’3″ or 6’4″. The reason is simple. If they never grow another inch – they will still be very good or great players in your system at their current height. If they continue to grow, you will have a special player in your system that will be extremely versatile. Every player needs to develop their ball handling skills. Period.

So the trick is communicating this to coaches, parents and the players. It’s not easy. But think how powerful it would be if you could focus their attention on improving their greatest weaknesses? What if…..without giving you a sales pitch, I think you know our answer to this question.

We know this works, just look at the European system as an example. The number of Europeans entering the NBA has quintupled in the past 15 years. Most European programs make every player, regardless of height, work on their ball handling starting very early. It shows.

Whatever system you use to motivate players – make it your town’s mission to develop all youth talent as if they will play the guard position. Food for thought.

Compelling Michael Jordan Hall of Fame Induction

The Ball Don_t Lie

During Michael Jordan’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he made a comment that every basketball player, perhaps every athlete, should really consider. He commented that as a young player and as a professional, even after he had won multiple championships at the NBA level, he always worked on his game. He always found ways to improve.

This is the guy who was THE top player in the world, without exception. Yet he still had the drive to improve. His lesson to the rest of the basketball world, obviously, is that every player, even the most elite, should find and work on their weaknesses. Every player has them.

If you think you are a great ball handler, we can virtually guarantee you that there are better ball handlers out there. We find them all the time. If you think you are a great shooter, there is someone right now taking those extra 200 shots a day.

What Michael Jordan said is simple. Never be satisfied. Find new goals for your game. Especially, probably most importantly, when you think you are at the top.

Very compelling.

How to Spot a Good Handle During Games

Basketball Shooting

A lot of people ask us…and by a lot, I mean nearly every coach we speak with…whether the drills in the app translate to the court. The answer is not black and white. In most cases, those who score higher with the 94Fifty basketball and app have the skills to be effective with the ball on the court, which means they can simply play well whether its shooting, ball handling, etc.

But what about the players in game situations? What is it that the great ball handlers do that translate to the drills and skills 94Fifty can measure? We had the opportunity to watch a number of the NBA’s top players over the years. Its pretty obvious that the guys with a great handle do two things very consistently on the court.

They rarely pick up their dribble when faced with pressure. In fact, pressure is a relative word here, because the defensive pressure they face on a normal play would freak out most high school players. But in any case, even under this pressure, they simply back out of the pressure zone and find a new place to attack, or continue to dribble through traffic with strength.

They nearly all have the ability to move the ball quickly with their hands while attacking defenders. In fact, they are so good at doing this, it looks pretty easy. But after watching a lot of ballhandling over the past year, the force and reaction time that they can use to handle the ball with either hand is pretty impressive.

So the short of it is this: In game situations, when we see players that continue to dribble and use the court when under pressure, and that also can re-direct the ball when attacking defenders with great speed, then these players almost always score higher. Watch for these two ball handling keys during games a little more closely, and you’ll see what we see.

The Daily Dozen by Coach Burson

Aristotle Quote by Burson

I’d like to welcome Coach Jim Burson this week as a guest contributor to the 94Fifty Blog.  Coach B was the past President of the NABC and brings an enormous amount of basketball knowledge. He is perhaps best known for being featured by Sports Illustrated as the only coach outside of the Princeton system to have deciphered the Princeton motion offense. In basketball terms, its equivalent to deciphering the Rosetta stone.  With that, please extend a warm welcome to Coach B!

How important is teaching the fundamentals of the game? Fundamentals are the basis for all of your coaching. That’s how important it is.

I coached at the Division III level for nearly forty years and won over 540 games in my career. At that level, my fundamentals development program was essential. In other words, the players needed to get better each practice, each day and each year.

I developed the Basic Daily Dozen Dribbling Drills and the Basic Daily Dozen Passing Drills. We did all these plus form shooting every day before practice. Repetition was the key – at least, I thought it was. The truth was and remains today:  players have to want to get better themselves regardless of what their coach or personal skill trainer tells them to do.

And that was my most compelling job – to get the players to want to do the drills – those endless, repetitive drills.

My own experience with the power of drill work was pretty compelling. I started my son, Jay, on the Daily Dozen Drills when he was just 6 years old. He did them for years, even before he knew how to play the game.

One summer, I spoke at Coach Charlie Huggins’ camp, and I brought Jay along. I spoke at noon, and Jay wanted to play in the pick-up games that began that evening around 9:00 PM. Jay was a skinny high school freshman, 5 feet 4 inches and 125 pounds. His head accounted for half that weight.  But even then he had averaged 19 points a game his Freshman year in high school and thought he was a superstar. I tried to tell him that he wasn’t ready to play with the college players. I admired his courage, but doubted his intelligence.

Finally, at about 10:30 PM after someone had called “last game,” Jay was picked to play. He took one shot and it was blocked; the ball was stolen from him twice and his team was beaten 10-2.

We headed home. Jay pouted, showing a full case of Lower Lip Syndrome, and complained all the way about getting fouled. We arrived home around midnight. As my wife asked me how our day had gone, the light went on over the patio at the back of the house and we heard the distinctive sound of a bouncing basketball.

I ran outside and there was Jay, practicing. I asked him what he was doing. He replied, “For nearly ten years I’ve done the Daily Dozen Drills because you told me to. Tonight I’m doing them for me. Next year I’m going back to Huggins’ camp ready to play.”

The next year Jay led the nation in scoring, averaging 40.1 points per game as a high school sophomore, and he still was only about 5’10 and maybe 140 pounds, and went on to become a an all Big 10 guard at Ohio State where he still holds multiple season and career records to this day.  Jay had two things that led to his success: he could handle the ball without thinking about it, and he had a very accurate, lightning fast release.  Both skills developed through repetition.

You don’t have to wait and hope for a “eureka moment” like Jay’s.  This game is about repetition, and improvement can begin as soon as a player decides that he or she wants it.  It helps even more if you can measure those results, (which is why I like 94Fifty so much).

Committing to the repetitive drills can make any player, regardless of athletic skills, become a fantastic player.  And as I have seen both in my own home and with my many college teams, you are never too young or too old to develop a high level of muscle memory skills.  It just takes your commitment to be the best you can.

We become what we repeatedly do.

Improve Wrist Strength – The Secret to Confidence with the Ball

Two Ball V Dribble Drill

As a follow up to our post on the key to having a great handle, I want to expand a bit on why wrist strength is so important and how we can see when a player doesn’t have it. Wrist strength is often forgotten as the secret to having a great handle – its hard to take it from a player with strong wrists because he/she dribbles with more force, and can use it to break a defender down or control the ball under pressure.

The two ball V dribble test with the 94Fifty ball and the app is very difficult to do. It shows you if your wrist strength isn’t up to speed. This is a clear indication that wrist strength is a problem.

Another indication in the same drill occurs when a player has good control of the ball, but has to use too much shoulder to keep the speed up. Those with strong wrists and hands have very little movement in their shoulders when doing the two ball V dribble, it’s all in their wrists. Too much shoulder movement is a signal to us that wrist strength is a problem. The sensors pick this up as well because the ball stays in the hand a lot longer when players rely on their shoulders to move the ball.

Finally, poor strength really affects the figure 8 drill. To get a great score on this drill you have to get a lot of dribbles in, and the ONLY way to do that is to have a strong wrist/finger tip combination. Remember, power is generated from the wrist through the thumb, index, and middle fingers. Consistent dribble speed is sustained through these three fingers in the figure 8.

Finger tip pushups and specific two-ball drills with the 94Fifty basketball can solve this deficiency in about 2 months.

Key to Having a Great Handle

Exam Keys Show Examination Exams Or Test Online

I’ve been asked by a number of coaches across the country to explain what it is we see visually that the 94Fifty basketball confirms. Here are a couple of key thoughts about technique and muscle memory that are very relevant to having a great handle.

Repetition

Players must understand that muscle memory is only improved by one thing: repetition. The only way you can develop a handle is by dribbling a lot, all of the time. We can see immediately when a player works on muscle memory because they don’t lose the ball even when dribbling at high speeds.

We have asked players with high scores if they do ball handling drills regularly. EVERY single player say they practice at least 30 minutes a day. Some much more.  When a player loses the ball, we can tell a lot about their handle.

Depth

You can see how deep the ball gets into the hand. Many players allow the ball to roll too far into the palm. A big no no if you want to sustain control. There are far fewer nerve endings in the palm then there are on the pads and fingertips. Also, letting the ball get too deep causes an inconsistent dribble that our system can pick up. Players with this problem generally have trouble breaking a player down off the dribble.

Speed

Finally, hand speed has a huge impact. Low hand speed tells us that there is a strength problem in one or both hands. Most players and some coaches don’t realize that the muscles on the top of the wrist actually create power in the fingers and hands, so those are very important to develop.

To summarize, control, speed, and technique can be seen visually, and now understood precisely with the 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball.

The Secret to Playing Your Best Basketball

Basketball

The answer to this question will not be to do more drills, practice more, play more games, or to play against better competition.  Surprise! These are all important, but none of them are the most important thing to know. Now that I have your attention, read on.

We have had the opportunity to work with many promising young players who possess loads of skill and potential. During the years we have also seen a few of those same players struggle in game situations, seemingly unable to match their skill potential to game production. Sometimes, the on-court struggle becomes so bad that the player finds themselves riding the pine, only to play more awful every time they see the court.

This scenario is also one of the most widely asked questions we get from coaches: that possessing skill does not necessarily guarantee success on the court or in a game.  This question is usually followed up with the quote “I have this one player who is a gym rat and can do all the drills, but….”  You can guess the rest.  The scenario they point out can be very true.

It doesn’t make logical sense to extrapolate that to all basketball players – more skill generally means better production. But, there is a common cause for this particular situation, and today’s post provides a secret to any player to escape this scenario should they encounter it.  And guess what – most of you have a high probability of encountering it as you continue to play against better and better competition.

The Cause

The primary cause of mental lock up – which prevents a player from playing “free” of distractions during a game, with perfect focus, and amazing production – is a disconnect between a player’s expectations of themselves and the team’s needs to win.

Let me be more precise.   Every time I see a player struggle over a long period of time, when their skill says they should not be struggling,  EVERY TIME, it is due to the player entering a season or a game with a pre-set expectation of what should happen.

For example, a player thinks that they are a 25 point per game scorer before the season begins, but during the first three games, they score only 5, 10 and 8 points.  Soon, the player starts to panic.  He or she hears the voices from a parent, from friends, from imaginary scouts in the gym.   “What’s wrong ?”  “Why aren’t you scoring more – you should be scoring more”   “Your not going to earn your scholarship, all-conference, etc.”

Then, the spiral starts to happen.  The player starts to compete with other players on the team who might be scoring more, fearful that another player is going to get that scholarship, or get noticed.  Now, instead of playing to beat the other team, the player starts to try to beat their own teammates in games.  They begin to press their game, almost as if in a panic.

Now in an attempt to do even more,  they take chances on defense, and get burned.  They make more turnovers, their shot gets a little stiff and stops going in, and the basket shrinks so that it looks like it’s only 2 inches in diameter.   Now, the coach starts to look at the stat sheet and notices that the player who was supposed to be a top contributor is shooting only 20% from the field and turning it over 6 times a game.  Worse – they are making mistakes on defense and bringing the team down.

When this happens, the coach has no choice but to find other players who might be less skilled but more focused, and bench time ensues. Because of this, the player starts to blame the coach for the struggles, and the coach senses this and gives up on the player, relegating the player to mop up minutes.

Sound familiar?  Have you seen this happen?   I have and it happened to me once.  It’s a very frustrating cycle that can spiral into a complete collapse of confidence and a miserable basketball experience.  I don’t wish it on anyone, but I see it happen all too often. Thankfully, there is a simple, powerful cure to stop this cycle.

The Cure

When I see players enter this cycle and I hear the blame moving towards teammates or coaches, I dedicate an entire session to talking about the only thing that matters. If players can grasp the only thing that matters, and understand the importance of it, then the player magically starts to play free again within a matter of a few games, finally matching their potential.  The secret has nothing to do with physical skill.

What is the only thing that matters? Focusing on the rim more?  Nope. Playing better defense? Not really. More practice time?  Not even close.

The only thing that matters, and the only thing a player should focus on during a game, is the scoreboard. More importantly, focus on the score. At every point in the game the player should only ask themselves questions surrounding the score. Are we winning?  Are we winning by enough?  What can I do to help us win.  Period. That is it. Think of nothing else.

When you put all of your energy into a simple goal that says I am going to do whatever it takes to win, then what happens is that you free your mind to focus on only one thing.  And the more focus your mind has will have a direct effect on how well you make decisions (fewer turnovers, better defense) how confidently you make them (better shooting, penetration) and how well your energy transfers to your teammates (better chemistry).  Magically, your coach starts to notice your production and his or her confidence builds in you.  You get more playing time and start to produce even more. And soon, your team is on a winning streak.

In the end, the best players ever in the game knew this secret. They were winners and focused everything on winning.  Period.   Don’t believe me?   Ask Bill Russell who was awarded the Medal of Freedom this week for being one of the greatest winners of all time.  Funny thing – he wasn’t much of a scorer.  He seemed to do everything in his power and to his skill to win.  And he won at every level.  I guarantee you that Bill Russell focused his mind on winning games.   There are countless other examples just like him.

The answer, the secret, may seem too simple, but clearing the voices from your head is very tough.  The best way to do it is to focus.  By far the most effective, productive, focus point for you mind that will lead to wild success for you is to focus it on the scoreboard, and to always ask yourself what do I need to be doing right now to win this game.

Release Arc and Follow Through in Shooting

Shot Arc

In the post on release mechanics and the focus on energy during shooting, we shared the basketball drill Up and Outs. It’s a simple drill you can do to get the timing of the lift using your core muscles in sync with the upward lift of the ball and its rotation into a shooting position. If you do the drill correctly, your hands are always placed correctly on the ball, the shooting elbow is always in, and you are low, knees bent, before you receive the ball for the next shot.

But what about the part when you shoot?  How do you release the energy into the ball so that it does what you want it to do, which is go in the basket?   Great question.

A player can do everything we have discussed to this point correctly, and so much to a shot’s mechanics can go right just about to when the ball is released, then the wheels can fly off the truck if this last part is missing.    Here is what you MUST know.

  1. The ball must be in the power point of your shooting hand when you shoot.
  2. Your shooting elbow should NOT flare out, but don’t tuck it in too far to the body.
  3. We strongly recommend shooting from the eyebrow, going up and out at about 50 degrees.
  4. You Must generate power from your ONE wrist to provide touch and backspin to the ball.
  5. You MUST follow through to the rim – pointing to your target after the ball is released.

If you can execute these last five steps, then the Up (ball rotating up to the eyebrow with the hands cocked back, ready to release) and Out (the release angle and follow through) will be complete and correct.  Let’s discuss.

Remember, the final release ultimately should be a ONE handed shot. The off-hand, or balance hand, should be used for just that – to balance the ball in the shooting hand.  DO NOT use the off-hand thumb to add power to the ball.

“Thumbers” as we call them, generate power from the off-hand and this can many times (not all the time) cause misses to the left or right, low backspin, or sidespin.  But as Reggie Miller (a famous “Thumber”) would quickly point out, thumbing the ball does not always mean that you will miss. He had an ridiculous use of both hands on his shot, but the results spoke for themselves.) Still, so that you learn to effectively bring all that leg power to the right spot and to maximize accuracy, we recommend you learn to release the shot without thumbing.

When you can maintain the ball in the “power point” of your shooting hand than the power you generate from your legs and transfer through the core will be waiting for you to release it through the wrist.  So, it’s very important when you practice to get used to how the proper technique feels. If you are not used to it, the motion may feel very weird at first.

Now that you have the ball at your eyebrow with your elbow in line with the basket, and the off-hand balancing the ball but not thumbing it, the release towards the rim can begin. With the ball in the “power point”, you have maximum control and power ready and waiting at your disposal.  Now all that work to get the ball to the rim is worth it because you have harnessed it to this one point in time.

As your wrist starts to move out towards your target, the goal is to snap the wrist towards the target at an approximately 50 degree angle.  We say approximate because that release arc can change depending on your height or distance to the rim. Generally a 50 degree release will give the ball a chance to enter the basket at 45 degrees, its optimal entry arc.

When you snap the wrist, the off-hand should have left the ball at this point, and the very last finger to touch the ball is the index finger which should be pointing straight at the target (the front of the rim). If the ball is pointing anywhere else, this indicates a shooter has weak wrists.

We know that excellent shooters can generate about 135 spins per minute onto the ball, so if your wrists are too weak to do this, spend time doing some Flicker work against the backboard.  I credit my college scholarship to this drill, so it is a very good one to do every day.

Flicker Drill: Stand straight up, isolate your wrists high, and just flick the ball up with your wrists, emphasizing the release point to the target.   After awhile you will feel your wrist muscles start to hurt and this should tell you that you are doing the drill correctly.

That’s it.  Pretty simple, right?  Just take a ball, chuck it up there, and in it goes.  What the kinetic shooting series should highlight is that shooting is an EXTREMELY complex series of movements that require as much timing, coordination, and repetition to become proficient. Anyone can be a great shooter, but to do so you must be prepared to commit to many repetitions of the correct way to shoot.

We have shared many basketball skills and drills on our YouTube channel, and plan to share even more on the blog in the future. In the meantime, do your best to stay disciplined and focused during your shooting workouts.  Remember, the three point line is not your friend if you don’t have your mechanics right. The risk that you will learn to shoot incorrectly is very high.   Stay close, stay focused, create little games that keep your attention on the right mechanics, use your 94Fifty basketball and app, and improve that shot.

Read the other posts in this series:

  1. Kinectic Energy and Basketball – What?
  2. Kinetic Shooting Energy: The Source of Power
  3. Shooting Energy: The Patience Of Energy Transfer
  4. Release Mechanics and the Focus of Energy

Release Mechanics and the Focus of Energy

Basketball Hand Shooting

To this point in the kinetic energy shooting series, we have covered the “what” of kinetic energy and basketball, the source of power, and how patience plays a role in energy transfer for shooting.  All of these mechanics are important with shooting and accuracy.

In the source of power, we talked about the importance of mental patience with the ball as energy transfers through the core muscles up towards the shoulders, at which point the shooter needs to begin hand rotation on the ball into a release position.  There are four parts to a release to consider including:

  1. Hand placement and rotation to begin the shot.
  2. Hand rotation and ball control in the hand during the shot.
  3. Shot release angle.
  4. Follow through to maximize how to put the perfect amount of energy (touch) into the ball.

Hand rotation is extremely important for energy transfer.  When the shot is in the holster (which is the starting position off the pass or dribble) hand placement is really important to make sure that the final release energy is maximized AND controlled.  Where should the hand be placed? Good question – we see many shooters who do a nice job of generating leg power start to fail right here.

The optimal hand position for shooting the basket is is to place the index (pointer finger) pointing 180 degrees from the body.  Take a ball and spread your fingers on it as if you are going to shoot, and put your index finger just under the needle hole.  The index finger should point straight out from the shooter and into that hole.  If your index finger starts at any other angle, your hands are already at a disadvantage when it will come time to release the ball.  But why?

Look at what happens to the elbow when the hand is too far to the outside of the ball and your index finger points “in” – the shooting elbow starts to flare.   When the elbow flies out, it is almost certain to lead to a push shot or a shot with funky backspin.  Too many times a shooter will start with their hands too far to the outside of the ball, immediately increasing the likelihood that power will be found in the wrong places when it comes time to release the ball.

The next point is to make sure that the ball is not held or rotated from the middle of the body.  While it might feel comfortable to put the ball at the belly button and raise it to the middle of the forehead, this shot line will make it difficult to release the ball accurately and efficiently.

We always teach shooters to release the ball at a line the runs up from their shooting knee to their eyebrow (right eyebrow for right hand shooters, left for left hand shooters).   It’s a straight, efficient line.  If you put the ball at the belly button or tuck it under the chin, your elbow flares and your eyes get obstructed (yes, you will need to use your eyes). Players run the risk of hitching the shot somewhere.

The other critical piece to hand placement is to consider where the ball rests on the hand.  There is a particular point on the hand that will generate the most power for a shooter by far, we call it the “power point.”   This point is the pad of the index finger that exists between the thumb and the middle finger.

We always teach the ball to rest across the upper pads of all the fingers, but the “power point” pad is particularly critical.   The thumb should be spread wide on the ball to create a small gap that you can see through.  Putting the ball too far into the fingertips, effectively cupping the ball in fingers will cause a huge loss of power at release, while putting the ball all the way into the palm of the hand will cause a loss of control.   The “power point” is the place to be so practice getting it to that spot quickly.

Our favorite drill for enforcing the discipline of receiving the ball and rotating it to the shooting position is called Up and Outs.  We start every shooter at 5 feet from the basket in a shooting stance with hands ready to receive the ball and “feed” the ball directly into their hands.  We make sure that the hand placement is correct during this process and that the player raises and rotates the ball in the line from the knee to the eyebrow and then the shot.  The player tries to swish every shot, and we repeat for 10 shots then again at 8 feet and 12 feet.  The next “feed’ is not done unless the player is ready to receive it.

Next week we will discuss the release arc and follow through. The 94Fifty basketball drills in the app help improve your skills, but understanding the purpose behind the mechanics is a good start to understanding why it’s so important.

Read the other posts in this series:

  1. Kinectic Energy and Basketball – What?
  2. Kinetic Shooting Energy: The Source of Power
  3. Shooting Energy: The Patience Of Energy Transfer