Coaching Corner: Keep the ball

As I said before, when the ball comes your way you have two jobs: Job one is to keep the ball. Job two is to create good balls.

I went backwards on this for a reason. Ultimately, good balls win games. We have to create them. We have to see them. They are important.

But, if we always try to create good balls, we will turn the ball over more than we should, which will hurt us. Sometimes, maybe more of the time, we need to play it safer and do job one and keep the ball so we can improve our team’s chances of creating a good ball in a few more moments.

Keeping the ball, and creating good balls, has several levels.

First is your ball mastery — first touch, dribbling & passing. You will be a big minus for your team if you can’t do these well, nor will you be able to advance to the next levels if you can’t do these. The idea is to be good enough that you can be making your decision on what’s next as the ball is coming your way, without losing the ball.

Second is moving to get open. We want teammates with the ball to have as many passing options as possible, so we all need to be moving to make that happen. You may not always get the pass, but if you’re moving, you may be drawing coverage, which might open space for another teammate, which increases our chances of keeping the ball.

A lot of teams break down here and never know it. They too often have only one passing option, the most obvious one. Everybody sees it, including the other team, which leads to a turnover.

The third level of keeping the ball is communication, which conveys direction of options. Words like trail, square, through, switch can give a teammate lots of info to make a good decision. Timing is also important. It’s much better to convey that option about a second before they get the ball than when they already have it. That will increase quality of decisions and speed of play.

The fourth level of keeping the ball is understanding passing and attacking patterns/combinations. To do this, you need high effectiveness on the previous three levels. There are lots of patterns. Common patterns are switching through the back, give-and-go, overlap and a cross, but there are many more.

The fifth level is creating your own patterns and combinations. It’s good to learn the common patterns of the game, but your competition will learn those too, as well as ways to shut them down. So, to stay ahead of your competition, you also need to create your own unique patterns. This takes creativity, knowledge of the game and understanding of yours’ and your teammates’ abilities. These will sometimes be discovered by accident and improvisation in the play of the game, but they can also be thought about while brushing your teeth.

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