This week, like most weeks, Steve and I played 1 on 1 (games to 21). Part fitness, part skill work, part lab experiment, the focus of our 1 on 1 games changes day to day, week to week, but we keep coming back to it.
This was our third game of the day. The first two games we played full court, which is something we throw in when we have the luxury of both baskets. (fyi when we play full court, the defender has to go back and meet the offensive player just above the 3 point line).
While at a Wheelchair Basketball Canada training camp this past week, I asked a few teammates to answer a quick question...
I learned to juggle in first grade. A young woman came from Japan to visit my elementary school, and she taught us how to juggle and how to make origami. I suspect she was in teachers college or something, but at the time we thought, "man, the Queen of Japan is one talented lady".
Anyway, one of those two skills stuck with me.
In my early 30's I rediscovered juggling and spent some long hours with rolled up socks getting my hands and brain to cooperate to perform a simple shower (juggling term). My wife bought me a book of tricks. I even took a couple of classes.
By the time I came out of international retirement for the 2012 Games in London, juggling had become a hobby and part of my pre-game warmup .
These days, my interest in it comes and goes, but it's still part of my pre-game locker routine (fyi with smaller juggling balls, not with basketballs). It wakes up my mind and body. I recommend it.
But it was never a means to an end. I didn't work on juggling to improve my handle, or feel for the ball, or to develop an effective pre-game routine. Those might be good reasons to learn. For me though, it was a rather fun and pointless challenge, and kind of all the more fun for being pointless.
This week I took something I do often, and put a little spin on it.
When I was a teenager, I had coaches who never tired of throwing new challenges at me. More often than not, it would come in the form of a variation on something I was starting to get comfortable with.
It takes a dedicated coach to keep an eye on you, and know when you need that next challenge, one who lets you enjoy your successes... but not for too long.
These days when I practice, I try to find a balance between drilling basic fundamentals and exploring ways of making the old new.
Longer video this week. Show & tell on the subject of left handed dribbling, and specifically bounce stopping.
A bounce stop is a very wheelchair basketball-specific term and skill, but it corresponds to picking up your dribble. It's one of the keys to unlocking the mystery of how to move a wheelchair and play basketball at the same time with only two hands (or less in some cases...shout out to my man in Argentina).
So it's an important skill, but perhaps an underutilized one. A strong weak hand bounce stop, with a confident gather, can open up your offensive game.
Next level is to take the bounce stop and work it into a wheelchair step-back jumper. I'll leave that one to the next generation...
The game can be complex. It gets complicated sometimes. That's ok. It shows we're working hard and thinking creatively, trying to wring out every last drop.
But sometimes the game comes down to which team makes the most layups. The easy ones. Make your bunnies, as Coach Bowesy used to stay. (Still does I'm sure)
It pays to focus on this building block, whether young or old, rookie or veteran, tall or short, class 1 or class whatever.
Here's a drill you can use and adapt in any number of ways.
- work on your personal best time
- race a teammate head-to-head
- specify the type of layup eg. left handed scoop, underhand reverse, bounce stop, etc.
- full stops at each sideline
- make it 5 layups, or 10 layups
- interval training - 10 sets (of 3 makes) with free throws between each set
Personally, I like this last approach - treat it as an anaerobic workout and practice these skills at game speed (...ball pickups, ball handling, accelerating with the ball, layups, rebounding...it's all in there).
Quick hitter today.
Catching and passing with one hand are fundamental wheelchair basketball skills. This is a timed testing drill we use within Wheelchair Basketball Canada to track our progress.
The coordination and timing required to decelerate with two hands, then catch, gather, and pass with one hand is a real challenge.
It's also a challenge for the passer. In able-bodied basketball, a cutter can raise a hand to give the passer a target. In wheelchair ball, our hands are busy on our wheels - sometimes pushing, sometimes stopping, sometimes holding our position - so the passer has to visualize the passing target.
How quickly can you execute this drill well?
You need options when it gets tight in the key.
Zero in on any one one of these finishing moves, and you can add to your game. Practice, refine, experiment.
Some of these shots are more common and useful than others. (thanks captain obvious!). I was trying to catalogue all the options. Can you think of any that I missed?
If Jeffrey Glasbrenner is reading this, please make a video someday of how to you trained to become such an incredibly consistent finisher. You know, between mountain summits and trips to the moon, or wherever you're going next ;)
In this video, I share a few tips for practicing reverse layups.
Some of my earliest wheelchair basketball memories are ones in which I'm sitting under the hoop, trying to hit as many in a row as possible.
There's something fun and flashy about hitting a reverse layup, which is something my first coach Jeff Penner displayed as a player, and made no attempt to discourage as a coach.
But underneath the flash, it's a workman's tool, and he made me put the hours in too.
It's an especially useful skill for low pointers and/or shorter players who don't often have the option of pivoting to square up and/or post up. At the international level, it seems like there's more defensive height and length than ever. Windows of opportunity in the paint are shrinking. If you want to finish inside, you want to hone this skill.
Just a reminder this week that it's not so much the team that makes the most great plays that wins, but the team that makes the most good ones.
In this video, I pull a couple of clips from a recent Canada vs. Japan exhibition game to talk about good rebounding habits.
If I were to sum it up? Put a chair on someone and go after the ball. Hard.
Sometimes that means grabbing the ball with both hands, sometimes tilting, sometimes pushing towards the ball, sometimes reestablishing chair position on the player or players you're boxing out. It depends on the play.
But if you have plans for that ball, you better make sure you secure it first.
Not that there's isn't a place for finesse rebounding - tipping the ball to yourself or a teammate for example. But as a recovering finesse rebounder, I believe that strong/hard rebounding is fundamental skill not to be overlooked.
This a good one to do on your own, but also it's also fun to go head to head against a teammate at the same basket.
I'll also mix it up sometimes by shooting post up shots around the edge of the key, rather than 15 foot jumpers.
Keep in mind that any drill that lasts 10 minutes is going to involve a mental challenge; it's hard to shoot with focus for that long without a break. What can I say? That's part of the drill!
This week, I open a late Christmas present.
Every 18 months or so, a great big box arrives from Top End. It's always unwieldy and exciting.
I've been all over the map with ball chairs. Some would call it getting lost. I call it exploring.
When I started using Top End chairs in 2011 I was in a small frame - 16" rear seat height, 25" wheels, 20 degrees of camber - a black Ferrari. This was the sports career that signaled a mid-career crisis, or so some thought.
In truth, it was my way of paying homage to a dying breed of wheelchair basketball player - the small, speedy high pointer - which was disappearing via retirement and/or the drift towards everyone sitting in taller chairs. Steve Welch. Gertjan van der Linden. Jeff Dennis. Denis Lapalme. Pat Griffin. Mo Philips. Lee Montgomery. James Joseph Treuer (James was better overall sitting big, but man could fly in a little chair).
I drove that sports car as fast and furiously as I could for a couple of years. But with London 2012 just around the corner, I couldn't justify giving up that much height, so with a tear in my eye, I handed over the keys and traded it in for a minivan.
I went big again, but I didn't stop exploring. Since then, I've experimented with 27" wheels, a bucket seat, a hard back, a solid knee plate to replace my straps, 15 degree camber, and even a hybrid chair that tried to split the different between big and little, hoping to capture the best of both (unfortunately, like many such efforts, I ended up with the best of neither).
These days I'm less inclined to make drastic changes. I'm still tweaking though; there are always opportunities to improve on the margins.
"Once upon a time, in a tiny, distant wheelchair basketball kingdom called Whitewater, there coached a wise and powerful Frog..."
This week I talk about tilting and try to recreate - in word and deed - how I learned to tilt.
Tilting is a fun party trick, but it's more than that. The vertical and horizontal reach that you gain from tilting comes in handy all over the court, on offense and defense.
Control, quickness, and timing are key, but it all starts with the basics of getting off the ground, and then getting back up when you fall to the floor. (Getting up is a valuable skill in its own right...you get to work on two skills for the price of one.)
Real risk involved. Don't (do!) try this at home.
Here's a shooting drill for those lonely days when it's just you and your hoop dreams.
Drill is perhaps too strong a term. It's just me chasing two balls around the gym, putting up shots. But the chasing keeps you moving and the two balls adds randomness and variety to keep your brain involved.
Check out the variations and invent a couple of your own. It's a rare athlete who can stay focused on the same task for 20 minutes. The mind wanders off, and the quality of practice follows.
But break it up into 4 variations of 5 minutes each, and you have yourself a focused 20 minutes.
Back with some tips on moving with the ball.
In this video I isolate 5 ways of approaching the task of 1) accelerating your chair while 2) handling the ball. Not easy when you only have two hands with which to work (or less!).
It's not an exhaustive list. There are other options, but these five will help you cover a lot of ground.
One clarification - when I discuss "not having a lap" I mean that because my knees are lower than my hips, the ball doesn't rest in my lap. It rolls off. This is an issue for some players, not for others.
With 1000 days to go until the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, it seemed like a good time to fly over there and introduce some new folks to wheelchair basketball!
Shout out to WOWOW for the footage (http://www.wowow.co.jp).
This is a straight forward ball handling warmup that I use often. It's also fun to get out a timer or to go head to head and race against a teammate.
I know that dribbling behind your back is fairly uncommon in wheelchair basketball. And for good reason. It's not the most useful skill - there are other things to work on.
That said, even if you never get proficient at dribbling behind your back, practicing it will make you more comfortable dribbling outside your field of vision. And this IS a useful skill. It will help you keep your body between the ball and the defender. I bet at least 50% of my career steals have come from reaching across the opponent's lap when he was dribbling the ball too far towards the front of his chair. Don't be my next victim! ;)
Also, as I mention in the video, you can substitute a power dribble over your lap for the behind the back dribble.
This video shows Steve Serio and I doing some simple partner passing and adding a couple variations as we go. Nothing dramatic, but just enough to avoid slipping into autopilot.
When it comes to practicing any skill, variation is your friend. Once you get comfortable and confident, it's time mix it up to make yourself uncomfortable and unsure. That's the path to growth.
So go ahead and mix it up. Add a fake. Add a series of fakes. Increase the distance. Pass on the roll to a moving target. Add a dribble move between passes. Use your imagination and enjoy.
When I drive left, I'm a threat to shoot at any time. But what about when I go right? Do I know how to put myself in a threat position, and quickly. What's my plan?
This is a skill gap for most players, so it's a good place to explore. Try out these strategies and see what works for you.
Thanks to Steve Serio for his camera work, token D, and more than token O.
Speaking of which, check out the difference between my bounce spin and Steve's. You'll notice that when I bounce spin (1:50) - option #4 - I do so almost on the spot. That's because I'm taller than Steve, who's defending me. I know I can get that shot off as long as I spin quickly enough. I'm not (too) worried about getting blocked.
When Steve does it though (1:54), he not only spins, but rolls deeper into the corner away from the basket to create space. He does that so he can get his shot off against me, a taller defender.
In either case, the key is to develop your ability to consistently, then quickly, bounce spin, find your balance, and shoot.
These look like passing drills, but this is about improving your handle and body/chair control.
There are many variations. Bounce a tennis ball or lacrosse ball back and forth. Use a football. Or as my friend Kai suggested, a rubber duck.
This past summer with Team Canada we warmed up for practice by playing ultimate frisbee where everyone had a basketball and had to keep their dribble alive (while throwing and catching the frisbee).
It's all fun and it all messes with your brain in a fantastic way!
Thx again to Steve Serio.
5 minutes a day is better than an hour once per week. Coaches tell you this. Music instructors beg you to remember it. Pastors exhort you. Dentists threaten you.
So here's 5 minutes of ball handling that your can knock out every day. Is it everything you need to work on? No. Is it annoying that the bouncing balls shake the camera? (sorry). It's something tho. And doing something every day, even a little something, towards your goals is one of the simplest but most precious bits of practical wisdom out there. Go get it, one day at a time.
Shooting reps are good, but reps with variation are better.
USA captain and Rio gold medallist Steve Serio and I demonstrate one approach to mixing up your shooting practice. On the dribble move, don't forget to go to your right as well - that's the tougher side to reset on imo (for R handed shooters).
Next week's video will be a ball handling and dribbling warmup/workout. For future installments, let me know if there's anything you'd like to see demonstrated or discussed.
Have fun and go get it :)