Back to the basics: Free throws and layups

Make your free throws and layups and you will win a lot of games. I offer this simple piece of advice to my players every year, regardless of their age or skill level. As a coach, one would hope and expect players to practice these fundamentals on their own time. Unfortunately, the evidence is pretty clear throughout youth basketball — they just don’t do it.

To guarantee improvement, we must allocate practice time to work on these basic but crucial skills. Coaches should design a part of every practice to simulate game situations. Just making layups in a layup line does not really help the players who struggle to follow through at the basket when under pressure.

I have started making my players dribble approximately three-fourths of the court with a defensive player on them, providing pressure without blocking the shot. It quickly becomes a multi-skill drill, teaching them to speed dribble, focus on layups and defensively apply pressure without fouling.

The more I work with players, the more I am convinced of our First Easy Pass mantra: simplify the game. My good friend, Bill Winfrey (of, and I were talking recently about shooting, ball movement and game strategy. We both — not surprisingly — agreed that better shots are found when the team reversed the ball on offense at least twice. Changing sides of the court is another lost art in the game. I am determined next year to chart the number of times we score after reversing the ball. My bet is that it will show a significantly higher percentage of success.

Coaches, as the summer comes to a close and you begin to prepare for the upcoming season, I encourage you to think of ways to simplify the game for your team. First Easy Pass is here to help. I hope you will reach out with both your ideas and questions, and I look forward to an ongoing dialogue.

  • Bill Winfrey

    Ged, I certainly like your emphasis here (and thanks for the mention :). I tracked a team i coached and found that our shooting percentage improved by over 25% when we reversed the ball at least one time. It had everything to do with shot selection. I’m going to continue to track that as well as do my own research on college and NBA games. I’d be curious of any other teams have some thoughts or data on the subject.

    I don’t think this concept should be confused with slowing the pace down. You can be very much in an attack mode but looking to quickly find a defensive weak spot on the opposite side. You see that in teams like the Spurs and Warriors who move the ball well .. they do so while continuing to attack. Maybe it simply gets back to your overall emphasis … attack, but make the easy pass.