Pivoting: The “Stepchild” of the Fundamentals of Basketball

Mention the word pivoting to many players and some coaches and they’re apt to give you a blank stare or look like they have a stick in their eye. When was the last time you saw a player practicing pivoting on his own or heard a coach lecture on pivoting at a clinic? Yet it is one of the most useful fundamentals of basketball.

Many treat pivoting like the proverbial stepchild, yet I would contend that the best teams and players at any level don’t take this fundamental for granted and are schooled and proficient in this area.

There isn’t a phase of the game that doesn’t utilize pivoting in some way (turning is used as an interchangeable term). Even a defensive player blocking out uses a front pivot or reverse pivot when he makes contact to keep his man on his back. Also, coaches who teach “opening out” on backdoor cuts are really teaching a pivot.

But, when players and coaches think pivoting, they usually think of offense with the ball. Before we discuss some pivoting situations and corresponding drills, let’s review the four pivoting methods-with or without the ball:

  • Right Foot Pivot-Front (Outside) Pivot.
  • Right Foot Pivot- Reverse (Inside) Pivot.
  • Left Foot Pivot-Front (Outside) Pivot.
  • Left Foot Pivot-Reverse (Inside) Pivot.

Keep in mind that many right-handed players try to use their left foot as their pivot whenever possible-and many left-handers want to use their right foot as much as possible. Regardless, it’s good experience to use either foot in practice for the times when a player can’t avoid using the non-preferred foot.

Whether you’re coaching beginners through college players or any age in-between, it’s not a bad idea to include some pivoting drills with other fundamentals of basketball in the pre-season and then periodically refresh a few times in the season.

The easiest way to teach these pivots to youngsters is at first without a ball. You can have all your players in a horizontal line- say at the baseline- facing you across the width of your gym. Have all of them in a basic athletic position to begin. Practice each of the 4 pivots by announcing which pivot you want. Then, you demonstrate the desired pivot. You are at the hash with a ball. When you slap the ball, and command, “break”, all 15 players move quickly move to the FT line extended and jump-stop. You make a pretend pass and command “catch”. All your players make a pretend catch. You pause two counts, and then command, “pivot”. (The pauses are important to eliminate rushing.) Your players all use the same pivot that you’ve reviewed. You pause again two counts and command, “shoot”. All your players take a pretend shot. Repeat for all pivots.

The key to the practice and then the live execution of these pivots in any situations is staying as low in the duration of the pivot as one started in the basic athletic position. This maximizes efficiency. Bobbing up and then back down is counter-productive. Players need to be “the same height” the entire pivot.

After practicing without the ball until your players get it, you can then organize your players into a couple of lines with players using balls- passing, catching, pivoting and shooting. It’s still the same pattern: break-catch-pause-pivot-pause-shoot.
With older players, you might want to start with this drill and skip the pantomime version.

If you wish, you can also duplicate this drill by having your players practice all 4 pivots from the low post. This is especially important for anyone who posts but it’s good experience for everyone.

Another very important drill is “Pivot Out of Trouble”. Pivoting away from the defense is one of the core fundamentals of basketball for pressure defenses and can be utilized by players of any age, ability and experience level . This drill can help players contend with one of the toughest situations they face.

As much as coaches tell players not to pick up their dribble until they can either pass or shoot, players still violate this principle. In “Pivot out of Trouble” you have the ball handler dribble at a defender and purposely pick up his dribble but in a flexed position. The defender then harasses the ball handler. The ball handler pivots away from the defender (not into) and keeps pivoting away as the defender tries to get to the ball. Again, the pivot is low and the ball is kept away from the defender. The coach counts the 5 seconds so the offensive player knows how much time he has. This drill teaches a player that he can buy time by pivoting away, that 5 seconds is a long time, and not to panic because teammates are on the way to help.

While not as sexy as shooting, dribbling and passing, pivoting certainly has its place in the checklist of fundamentals of basketball and while the rewards for teams/players who are grounded in pivoting aren’t always found in scorebooks and stat sheets, they do exist and have real importance.

If you are in basketball fundamentals mood here is some more reading for you.

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