Originally published in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter, Volume 4.
After the last issue, a father emailed and criticized my training, saying that I “messed up” his sons. When I trained his sons, they felt that I did not know what I was doing because I asked a right-handed shooter to step into his shot right-left. The father said that he tried the footwork the next day and it felt awkward.
Habits feel comfortable. Anything new feels different, awkward. If you shoot with your elbow flying out, and I suggest starting with your elbow under the ball, it feels awkward. However, your chances for success are lowered if you shoot with your elbow flying out. You have to make a choice: is the initial awkwardness worth an improved shot in the long term?
I teach the inside foot, which means that in some cases, a right-handed shooter steps into his shot right-left. When I played, my coaches taught a permanent pivot foot – I always used my left foot as a pivot foot. When I started to train players, I showed up early to workouts and practiced the drills beforehand because many were unnatural to me because they differed from my habits. I had to concentrate consciously when demonstrating a skill to ensure that I demonstrated what I meant to demonstrate, and not an old habit.
Not all coaches use an inside pivot foot. I would say it is an area with contentious debate and little consensus. I use the inside pivot foot for two primary reasons:
- I want players to develop both feet like they develop both hands. I ran a workout years ago with a team that taught the permanent pivot foot. When we scrimmaged during the workout, several times the timing was not perfect, and a player caught the pass with his right foot as his pivot foot. Invariably, he traveled. He had no confidence or skill with his right foot as his pivot foot.
- I play off the shot, not the jab. Most people who teach the permanent pivot foot concentrate on the jab step. Right-handed players who use their left foot as their pivot foot and jab with their right foot are more effective with the jab step, especially the jab-and-shoot move. My philosophy is that you are most open when you first receive the ball. You made a move to get open to receive the pass; why wait for a defender before making a move or shooting? The jab step is less important to my offensive philosophy than in the NBA where there are numerous isolation plays. I worked an elite girls’ basketball camp where the coaches spent a three-hour session on the jab step and 1v1 games using jab steps. That night, I watched the university’s players scrimmage the camp’s best players. In 40 minutes, with 12 different players, there was not a single jab-step move.
To teach the inside pivot foot, I often start with players moving in a straight line to the basket and stopping right-left. I use this to develop more comfort with the right-left stop at a sub-maximal speed before adding the curve of a curl cut and the added challenge of squaring to the basket.
Finally, I use the right-left step-in as a tool. I worked with several players who step too far with their right foot on a left-right step-in and turn their hips and shoulders away from their target. They fail to anticipate their stop. As they step with their left foot, their center of gravity continues moving forward of their left foot, as it would if they were to continue running. To stop, they take a bigger step with their right foot and turn the foot to the left to create a breaking mechanism. If you have players sprint to a line and return with a backpedal, many stop in the same way.
To stop with proper balance and keep one’s body squared to the basket (to whatever degree that means), the shooter must anticipate the stop and lower his hips to prevent his center of gravity from moving forward of his stance leg when he steps with his right foot. If players cannot make this change in body position, because their way feels normal, I switch the footwork to force the change (some people shoot with a wide open stance and their body turned at an angle to the hoop; I worked with a player whose dad was convinced that his son had watched a shooting DVD that advocated this open stance and explained his shooting technique. When he shot a free throw, he used a parallel stance and squared all ten toes to the rim. Why the difference? The player was not copying the methodology from the video; he did not know how to stop. At the free throw line, he set up with no need to decelerate).
When a player stops right-left, he subconsciously forces his body to decelerate with his right leg because he takes only a half-step with the left foot. He cannot take a full step and turn to the side to break, like with the left-right step-in. To shoot correctly, he must change. He anticipates the stop and drops his hips to decelerate on the first step (right foot) rather than the second. The player controls his center of gravity by dropping his hips and steps in to his shot with his left foot.
After feeling the difference, he moves back to the more common left-right step-in, but he has a reference for what his body should feel like as he decelerates with the left-foot step, not the right foot (second step).
As I told the father, I have specific reasons for doing drills and teaching certain things. Now, my way may not be correct – maybe a permanent pivot foot is the best method of footwork – but I have a reason and a philosophy. If players balked at things every time something felt weird or awkward, there would be nobody to train – players would do the same thing that they have done and get the same results. That is not training – that is maintaining. To improve and develop, sometimes a player must take a step back in the learning process and unlearn a habit or risk a step backward to take three steps forward.