Coming down to the end of another season preparing for what hopefully becomes a long tourney run, but like most coaches, I am beginning to plan for the most important season, the Off-Season Skills Program. I didn’t always emphasize the importance of the off-season but have come to believe that it is the off-season that separates programs. Great programs have great off-seasons, especially those with program specific skills training.
Exploring methods to skills train in the off-season can be overwhelming, particularly when working with 15-18-year-old girls. There are so many skills that we need to work on and time is a limiting factor as we mainly deal with multi-sport athletes with many commitments. So within our program, we focus mainly on the three primary offensive skills of shooting, passing, and ball handling, incorporating footwork in many drills. We also pattern the training of those skills to meet the needs of our offensive philosophy. We don’t work on flaring off down screens for shots, or working on a lot of back to the basket post moves (unless Tim Duncan has a daughter that wants to play for us) because those skills do not fit our offensive philosophy.
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By forming a Off-Season Skills Program to emphasize the skills that fit our philosophy the off-season becomes much more manageable. It becomes especially manageable when you have a simplified offensive philosophy. We try to focus on being really good at a few things that we feel we can be really good at. For instance this past season we contemplated being really good at taking care of the ball. After some deliberation, taking care of the ball was something we thought we could improve, but we weren’t confident it was something we could be really good at. In the end, we agreed to get really good at shot selection. As the program continues to develop we see tangible benefits in simplicity. Offensive and defensive simplicity have made off-season skill training develop less overwhelming.
Within the framework of offensive simplicity and the three primary offensive skills (shooting, passing, and ball handling) the off-season skills training program can take shape. Offensively we like to space the floor and attack with the dribble. We don’t do a lot of off the ball screening or strong side posting. We will use the ball screen to create advantages within the offense. With our primary focus offensively on beating 1 v 1 situations, we really focus skills training on attacking on the ball defenders, reviewing and practicing dribble drive reads, finishing in the paint, passing off the dribble, shooting catch and shoot threes, using ball screens, and reading ball screen coverage. We believe the skills required for our offensive philosophy translates to other parts of the game, ie. transition, and handling pressure. This again gives us less to think about in off-season skills training.
It has taken us a few seasons to fully develop our Off-Season Skills Program – program philosophy. Each coach brings their own ideas into the programs, but we feel that we have a template that now best utilizes our current and future athletes. With the development of a focused off-season skills training program, we are hopeful to turn our good program into a great program. In coming articles, I will continue to discuss the building of our off-season skills program and drills specific to our program philosophy and the three primary offensive skills (shooting, passing, and ball handling).