It’s every coach’s dream to see their players working on their game outside of practice. All the great players arrive early and stay late. Coach Vara of Vision Hoops shares how his drills are so fun, he sees his players gather and do them outside of practice! Coach Vara is a skills development expert and in this interview he will share:
- How he designs FUN drills inspired by streetball mixtapes and NBA players
- What he wants to teach and how he designs drills to teach those skills
- How to organize during the pre-season for a school team
- When and how to step in to give players feedback
- What his past coaches taught him about mental toughness
Coach Vara first caught my eye when Vision Hoop’s Chris Paul screen series video was viewed by you guys over 4,000 times. It was clear that there was something special about his drills that could be seen by the sheer fun his players were having.
Streetball mixtapes- Coach Vara’s Inspiration for Drills
Growing up in Oklahoma, Coach Vara’s first sport was not basketball, but wrestling. He credited a major influence in him making that switch in high school was in fact the excitement of basketball shown in AND1 streetball mix tapes. Imagine how great your team would be if you could inspire athletes who’s never played basketball in your school program to make a switch to basketball? Remember Tim Duncan started out as a swimmer and only began playing basketball in ninth grade after a hurricane destroyed the only pool in the area.
It’s flashy moves such as the shamgod, nutmeg, behind the back between the legs has made several AND1 players internet sensations such as “The Professor”, “Hot sauce” and drawn thousands of young players to basketball. Whilst some coaches bemoan AND1 and streetball for bringing about the rise of young players who are lacking “fundamentals”, Coach Vara recognises the immense influence that exciting style of play had on him and has made creativity a core tenant of his basketball philosophy. If you look at Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving, arguably the 2 best ball handlers in the league, you’ll see them using streetball moves like the shamgod move.
How Coach Vara encourages creativity is best exemplified by how he teaches the Chris Paul Dribbling Drill. For those of you that haven’t seen it yet, the Chris Paul drill is set up with three chairs at the top of the key, in a triangle, each about a player width apart. The purpose of the drill is to teach young players how to use and attack the defender off a ball screen. Coach Vara and his team first run through the drill to show his players how it’s done, then they demonstrate different dribble moves that players can do. Some of these include:
- The push dribble, where you push the ball out in one direction but fake with the body in another.
- The crossover dribble, between the legs or behind the back, to attack the other side of the screen.
- The retreat dribble, where you almost go past the screen, then hesitate and pull back.
- The snake dribble, where you attack one side of the screen then immediately crossover after using it to attack the basket from the other side.
Although these aren’t AND1 moves (because some of the AND1 moves do involve carrying or travelling), Coach Vara gets his players into that AND1 streetball spirit with a freestyle session of dribbling. He does this for players of all ages, even the young ones, and his reasoning is this: “it teaches players to be shifty, to get their body low as they dribble, and most importantly, it teaches them to get creative, and think for themselves. A lot of my players have really fallen in love with this drill this summer.”
If you want your players to be crafty then drills like this which encourage them to be creative from a young age are where to start.
Old School- Building mental toughness“Think - Every shot is a game winning shot in practice” Click To Tweet
We all remember game winning shots. But what about the 30-40 shots that preceded it? In fact, every shot taken in a game is equally important. Coach Vara constantly reminds himself of this with a quote from the first coach he worked under as an assistant: “Every shot is a game winning shot.” If your players take 150 shots in practice, they’re practicing 150 game winning shots. It’s an important mindset to have to avoid complacency and something often neglected by our culture’s love for the big “clutch” moment.
One drill that Coach Vara brought up that can teach players mental toughness and how to value each shot is called the Celtic drill. In this drill, players have to make shots from predetermined spots on the floor, for example, at 5 different spots around the perimeter. The shooter has to make 2 or more shots in a row from one spot to move to the next. What’s great about this drill is that your players learn to deal with pressure as they shoot- every shot is essentially a game clincher. Your players will find it initially tough to cope but learning to adapt will almost certainly raise their shooting percentages in game, even if they were great practice shooters to begin with.
New School- How to organize during the preseason
As the head coach of the West Florida Baptist Academy varsity team, Coach Vara mixes in new ideas with traditional methods to make sure the best squad of 15 is selected after tryouts. At the start of season, Coach Vara holds tryouts for all the new kids, which is kicked off a by a talk where he explains his expectations to them upfront. What’s unique about his approach is that all his prospective players fill out a player info sheet with their details, in particular, with all their social media handles. As a young millennial himself, Coach Vara knows that social media is where his players’ hangout, and he isn’t afraid to use it to communicate and keep an eye on his team. Later, he also talks to his final team about the power of social media, knowing of the numerous mistakes committed by sports stars whilst on it. Coach Vara’s approach of embracing social media to improve communication is something that we could all learn from.
Another key part of the player info sheet are two questions that Coach Vara asks each of his players: what do you bring to the team and why do you want to be part of it? These questions help get his players thinking “team” from the outset and how they can contribute to it.
As part of being transparent about his expectations for players, Coach Vara and his assistants watch and grade each player based on 12 pre-determined criteria- dribbling, passing, shooting, rebounding, speed, quickness, IQ, effort, selflessness, attitude, coachability, and grit. These areas are observed in individual and team drills, as well as scrimmages. What’s great about setting these standard is that players realize that there 50% of what coaches are looking for have absolutely nothing to do with their physical talents, but the way their attitude and approach to the game on the floor. Too often the last 6 criteria get overlooked but they are just as important in making a team.
Old School- When and how to give players feedback
When giving feedback to players at his Vision Hoops training camps, Coach Vara uses the tried and tested “sandwich” method. In case you’re not familiar with it, it’s when you give a piece of criticism and suggest improvement “sandwiched” by two compliments about their play.
An example Coach Vara raised was with a young player whom he noticed did a great crossover move but was afraid of contact and tried to layup 7 feet away from the rim, resulting in a miss. His idea was to pull the player out of the drill and tell him, “look, that was a great move that you did just now, but you need to get your body into your defender and finish closer to the rim. But good job out there, keep playing hard and you’ll make those shots.” The last thing Coach Vara always does before sending players back is to look them in the eye and give them a high five. It’s a small gesture, but one that can make a world of difference in letting your player know that you’ve got their back and looking out for them to get better.