Teaching Players to
Make Correct Decisions
by Sidney Goldstein
Copyright © 2001
When you think about teaching a player
how to make the correct decision in each situation each time
down court, you can readily feel overwhelmed because players
make so many decisions. Whether you like it or not, a player's instinct, rather than prudence determines the outcome.
So, effective teaching dictates two things:
1. break things down into simple doable tasks (Cardinal Rule 1):
this develops the instincts you want.
2. don't teach everything at once (Cardinal Sin 1): this allows
Let's discuss Cardinal
Sin 1 first because too often this is the case.
If you try to teach everything at once via a game or scrimmage
players lack repetitive practice making decisions. A player reacts
one way one time, then another way the next time based on the
defense and offensive movement. It's easy not to make the correct
decision, and it's easy as well for the coach to miss the mistake,
because so many things go on at the same time. Try closely watching
one single player for mistakes, let alone five players simultaneously!
A player also does not make decisions in a vacuum without other
players. What one player does directly affects what others do;
much coordination and timing are needed.
If you want players to make better decisions you must:
1. teach specifics;
2. watch each player like a hawk;
3. give each player the opportunity to make each decision possible;
4. arrange repetitive situations;
5. coordinate movements of each player and all players.
This latter skill called timing is the sole purpose of teaching
Another problem teaching everything at once is that you are attempting
to synthesize material that players have not learned. It you
teach each part, and players eventually understand the parts,
they do the synthesizing. Now you will see effective offense.
Cardinal Rule 1 is break things down into simple
So, before I give some
simple exercises, I need to be specific about what decisions
I am talking about.
Here are a few.
1. Player with ball on periphery:
the first option is to hit someone inside.
2. Players with ball inside:
Shoot, make a move to the basket, or pass to someone inside in
a better situation.
3. Players without the ball:
we want an inside player to flash to an open space inside and/or
cut out for the ball. Peripheral players either cut through lane
and come back out or just go away, then come back to the ball.
A Practice Schema
Over 200 lessons or drills in my books focus on specifics. However,
coaches must understand that the point of these specifics: the
whole. You teach each little skill and then let the players put
them together. I've never seen a coach fail because he tried
too hard to work on specifics or fundamentals. However, I've
seen many teams not play up to potential because too much practice
time involved scrimmages.
Here's two brief examples of how to
effect good decisions:
One is similar to what I call Play 2 in the coach's manual.
The directions are very detailed, so I'm just going to give a
few steps. It's okay if you don't follow every movement because
the idea is more important.
A Setup: 3 players needed: one in low post left side(2);
one low post right(3); one, with the ball, slightly to the right
of top of the key(1).
B Step 1: (1) the player with the ball
holds it overhead, then fakes an overhead pass to each inside
player. This signals (2) to fake inside and come out. (3) fakes
in preparation to flash to the low post left side.
C Step 2: (2) gets hit with a pass as he
cuts out to the left side. The passer then cuts to left side.
More general directions for the rest of the play: The ball goes
inside to (3). Both peripheral players time cuts to the basket.
After a few quick short passes, all players eventually end up
under the basket for the rebound and then the transition.
In this exercise above, Play 2, each player coordinates and times
movements based on what other players do. Each passer fakes,
then looks to each passing lane. Cutters fake away when signaled
and/or cut to the ball. Then each meet the ball, slowing down
only after catching. It takes time to coordinate the faking,
cutting and passing and to make it look real. You don't want
to add defense till everything is coordinated. And the defense
can not play 100% because they know what the offense is doing.
Remember, this exercise gives players the opportunity to look,
coordinate, and make decisions. Teach 8-10 other simple patterns
putting players in the decision making situations that you want.
When players have seen enough situations and executed enough
right decisions they naturally put things together. Please note
that you could teach 6 year olds to run this pattern in about
10 minutes. However, it might take them 6 years to run it correctly.
Another most important exercise is this simple faking and cutting
Setup: Put as many players as you like
on the midcourt line. The coach with the ball in the lane.
Step 1: When the coach starts counting "one thousand one,
one thousand two, go" players jog straight down the court
away from the coach.
Step 2: On "go," they quickly turn and sprint for the
coach with arms extended, hands and fingers ready to catch the
ball. The coach passes the ball to one player, who catches the
ball running full steam, then slows down. All other players mimic
catching and slowing down.
Most players, at all levels including even pros, would have difficulty
executing this exercise correctly. This is a key to effective
The main point: if players slow down on a cut before
catching the ball, a smart defensive player will steal the ball.
Ninety-nine percent (99%) of stolen passes result from a catcher
not properly coming to the ball.
In summary, basketball
is a game of fundamentals, not for some theoretical reason, but
because working on basics gives each player the background needed,
eventually the instinct, to succeed both individually and as
Your comments are welcome.
Sidney Goldstein, author of
The Basketball Coach's Bible and The Basketball Player's Bible,
has successfully coached both men's and women's teams over a
period of 15 years.