Stop Drilling and Start Playing with Parameters by John Mietus


Written by Coach Peterman

I have coached at the NCAA Division 2 (Southwestern Oklahoma State University), NAIA (USAO), and JUCO Levels (Blinn College and Carl Albert State College) as well as high school. I just felt that fellow coaches especially young coaches need to constantly work on their “game”. Just like the basketball players that we coach. We as coaches need to improve ourselves. That is my story and why I do this blog.

October 27, 2016

Stop Drilling and Start Playing with Parameters

I watched a high school practice recently where the coach spent the first 20 minutes attempting to organize and execute a defensive positioning drill. It was Block practice at its worst. The reps were not game-like and the players were not improving at basketball. Players were learning, but they were learning how to beat the drill by developing little cheats. A foot of space here, a quick lean there. These tiny cheats were removing the decision-making from the players’ minds and destroying any value the drill might have provided. The drill simply lacked the game conditions necessary to make it effective. You need to play with parameters.

Afterwards, the coach was frustrated that the players’ intensity was not high enough for the drill, but how could it be? They weren’t actually competing at basketball. In fact, they weren’t actually competing at anything other than how to best cheat a drill by positioning themselves in ways requiring less thought and physical effort to provide help defense than a real game would require.


If we want our teams to be good at basketball, we have to commit to playing basketball, period. The only way to get good at something is to do that thing, not do something that resembles a part of that thing. This does not mean that we must scrimmage for two hours every basketball practice. It means we must work our lessons and teaching into game-like situations that, in every possible way, reflect the conditions players must operate under during games. Small-sided half court games are an exceptional way to teach basketball because they are still whole basketball, not portions of basketball. Small-sided games with parameters put on the teams are even more effective because they allow the game to teach the game. The coach installs the parameters he wants to work on, and the players learn to operate under those parameters. Not only does this remove the need for Block practice, it has a much higher retention and transfer rate for skill development.

Imagine the daily emphasis in practice is improved rebounding. Instead of putting four players on the perimeter, four players on the inside, and then having a coach shoot a jump shot (a common drill in millions of basketball practices), let’s take a look at a better way to get what we actually want. We want players to be able to rebound under game conditions, to make decisions regarding their position, jump, timing, and box out responsibilities all at game speed.

Have the players play basketball in small-sided half court games, but reward offensive rebounding (or oppositely, punish poor defensive rebounding). If the offense gets its own rebound, give them a point. Every single time the offensive team gets its own rebound give them a point. The defensive team, in order to win at this slightly different game, must adapt their methods to include more intense focus on rebounding. What if one point isn’t enough to make a change? Two points to the offense. Or three. Or however many points it takes until the defense realizes, “We cannot win this game if we do not rebound the basketball, so whatever we have to do to rebound the ball is what we must do.” If you force them to adapt, they will adapt.

This reshaped game will shift the emphasis of your practice in a way that causes players to make their own game speed decisions in favor of rebounding. Again, if four points to the offense isn’t enough, give them four points plus the ball back even if they miss their follow up shot. There is literally no limit to the amount of penalty you can enforce on a poor rebounding defense. And if you consistently hold to these principles, your team will adapt. If players cannot win in practice without rebounding, they will move heaven and earth to win in practice via improved rebounding. As the coach, you will learn who your best rebounders are under game conditions because those teams will be winning the practice games. You won’t have to ask for harder work, more energy, or more effort. The game will teach what you need it to teach through the addition of specific (and changeable) parameters. You can coach box out form in between possessions if players are struggling to execute the box out. But even better if they figure it out on their own what needs doing. Form ultimately follows function.

If you practice this way, you will shape your team’s emphasis and allow players to find ways to make the right plays. If you simply do “rebounding drills”, you take all the decision-making away from the players and put them in situations that they will never encounter in actual competition. The skill of rebounding is not about boxing out or jumping. The skill of rebounding is about decision-making: how much do you value the ball, how do you gauge the trajectory of the shot and the position of your man in real time. Players need plenty of practice making these decisions and they will not get that experience if all the decisions are made for them: i.e. here’s your man, he’s going to try for the rebound, the coach is going to shoot, etc.

Shaping practice is so much more effective than Block practice drills. Your team will improve its own basketball IQ and surprise you with how much it can adapt when the adaptation is necessary to win in practice.

Click on the pdf link to download the Stop Basketball Drills and Start Playing with Parameters by John Mietus

Stop Basketball Drills and Start Playing with Parameters by John Mietus

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