My two grandsons play youth baseball so I watch a fair number of games at the 7 and 10 year- old levels. Watching those games, I’m constantly reminded of the undeniable importance of balance in any athletic endeavor. Invariably, the players who have an innate sense of balance and/or who have been schooled in that regard are usually way ahead of the game.
Transferring that thought to hoops, I couldn’t guess the number of times I said out loud at practice, games or video work, “you’re not on balance” or thought the same thing about an opponent or a player I was watching. Balance permeates every aspect of basketball-from plain, simple running to defensive sliding to all the various offensive fundamentals. As with any other phase of the game, ingraining balance at early ages is crucial. Likely, this article might be most applicable to youth coaches but it might also serve as a reminder that more mature players would be well served to review the importance of balance as they can get off track easily. With that said, let’s first look at the 3 non-ball fundamentals of running, sliding and pivoting:
- Running- As an example, I once had a gangly 6-8 HS player who had an inordinate amount of “east/west” action as he ran. His arms were all over the place and he wove left and right when he ran-in addition to bobbing up and down. He was perhaps the least efficient runner I had ever coached and maybe even seen. Coincidentally, the fall before his senior year I heard Arnie Kander, then the trainer for the Detroit Pistons, speak at a clinic and he addressed exactly that very malady. In short, he had players run sprints on a sideline and had them plant every single step on the line (theoretically they weren’t to miss by an inch). Then, he had each player exaggerate the pump of their arms in a true vertical or north/south action. I had my player work on these two features and within weeks there was dramatic improvement. In effect, my player was running off-balance.
- Sliding- At camps, one of the teaching points I would illustrate when teaching proper defensive stance and sliding was to first show a proper stance and have the campers do a few slides but then I would ask them to stand up straight and slide. Well, of course, you can’t slide when you’re standing up and they would awkwardly try to slide a few steps and then self-consciously give up because it felt and looked so awkward. The moment a player gets up out of his stance (unless he’s turning to run full speed) is the moment he’ll get beat off the dribble. We taught once you got in your stance, you were that “tall” the rest of the possession whether you were on or off the ball. Essentially, when you get up out of your stance, you are off-balance for defensive purposes. Reaching will also get a player off balance. Another indicator of good balance is the head position. Any time a defender’s head is “leaning” forward or to either side, that player’s balance is compromised.
- Pivoting- The more a player is grounded in sound pivoting, the more they will inherently understand balance and strive to maintain it. (For more on this, read a previous article on Hoop Coach, “Pivoting, Basketball’s ‘Stepchild’ Fundamental)”. All pivoting should be done with the same principles of basic athletic position or “stance” and maintain the same height through the entire pivot. Jump stops are particularly effective in achieving good balance after a hard drive and should probably be incorporated into youth practices daily.
- Passing, Shooting and Dribbling- If a player understands what is termed “a basic athletic position” or stance from sliding and pivoting, it is much easier to incorporate this fundamental once the ball is introduced to passing and shooting drills. If a young player gets into the habit of balance from running, sliding and pivoting, he’ll have a much better chance of passing, shooting and dribbling with balance. Now, a coach can further discuss good balance with the ball, after he has established the fundamentals in non-ball work
One might think that this approach might lead to tentative, slow motion, robotic play. At the beginning-yes but coaches should also be encouraging quickness and speed along the way. The goal then is to do everything as quickly as possible-on balance. The best words to describe the essence of this aspect were spoken by John Wooden when he said, “Be quick but don’t hurry.” Hurrying and ignoring fundamentals destroys balance and rehearsed muscle memory. Of course as your younger players progress, your better athletes will eventually surpass your non-athletes but in the end, everyone will have generally good balance in common.