If you want your players to succeed you should get them to do what they do best, in practice, in games, again and again. Specialization is the secret to Don Kelbick’s coaching philosophy “Attack and Counter” Basketball. According to him, this is the secret to succeeding in the NBA. Today, we analyzed the unique insights Don Kelbick has on coaching College, International and professional players to present his 7 steps in developing a star player:
1. Stick to a player’s strengths
2. Teach a shoot first mentality
3. Use fewer drills, run higher repetitions
4. Teaching counters starts with footwork
5. Keep workouts short
6. Simulate game shots
7. Demand high effort
Stick to a player’s strengths
Don Kelbick is a great believer in coaching for the individual, rather than the position. “I’ve always believed that the essence of coaching is not for me to get you what I want you to do. The essence of coaching is for me to get you to do what it is that you do best, to the best of your ability…. Jerry West once said that there are no extraordinary players. There are ordinary players that do one or two things extraordinarily well.” He applies this principle whether he’s coaching an NBA level player or a middle school kid at one of his many coaching clinics, and the benefits are apparent. Players become more confident on attack, and coaches know that they can rely on that player to perform that role well.
However, that’s not to say that a coach shouldn’t work on a player’s weaknesses. Don Kelbick notes that
1. It is very rare that a weakness becomes a point of strength, rather improving to the point to where a weakness doesn’t become a net minus for a team and continuing to focus on strengths is a more effective use of time
2. Most coaches have the wrong philosophy when correcting a player. “The role of a coach”, says Don Kelbick, “is to convince a player that the change the coach thinks that he should make is the best thing for him to succeed”. However this requires a high level of trust between the player and coaches that they both genuinely want to improve the player’s game. Check out the video below for more on this great discussion and a conversation Don Kelbick had with Mike D’antoni about working with Steve Nash.
Teach a shoot first mentality
Don Kelbick is staunchly against the traditional “triple threat” stance and it’s “read and react” mentality. “How many points do you get from passing the basketball? What about dribbling it?”, he asked us rhetorically in the interview. Instead, he tells his players that their mentality should be “think shot!- Shooting is “A” in my basketball alphabet”.
The reason why shooting is so fundamental to his Attack and Counter philosophy is that it simplifies the game for his players. Coach Kelbick raises the example of coaches who get made at players for being indecisive on offense: “Well that’s what you’ve taught them to do,” he says “you’ve given him too many options and he’s going through his basketball database trying to figure out what’s the best one. I have one option in my database: shot.” He goes on to note that when players are in a ready to shoot stance, their footwork and balance gets better, they’re able to pass or drive. In addition, because they’re looking at the rim their head is up and they can see the full court. If your players are catching the ball in places they can’t shoot the ball from, then you need to move them to places where they can be a threat to the defense from the moment they catch the ball.
Use fewer drills, run higher repetitions
Unlike many coaches, Coach Kelbick only uses 4-5 different drills for an entire hour’s workout. This reinforces his philosophy by allowing players to repeatedly do what they do best. In fact, they get to do what they do best A LOT in one session- Coach Kelbick aims to run 400-450 reps of a drill in an hour’s workout. Coach Kelbick is able to run so many repetitions by keeping the drills simple. Each workout is just a progression, starting with one core move that players drill to progression. For example, a player working on high post skills would practice attacking the basket the same way for the entire session- by catching the ball off a pin down from the baseline and taking a jumpshot.
Teaching counters starts with footwork
After perfecting the core move, Coach Kelbick teaches counters so players can attack when the defense defends the first option well. So the same high post player would then practice shot faking and driving middle, shot faking and spinning the other way, back door cuts, etc. Don Kelbick’s philosophy is that players prioritize footwork in counters. This is because if the first option, shooting is a threat, defenders have to guard the player closely, leaving them vulnerable to being beaten by a quick first step, cuts and spin moves. Hence, footwork is needed to ensure that the player can beat the defender comprehensively and get an open shot.
Keep Workouts Short
Don Kelbick’s workouts with NBA players only ever last between 1 hour to an hour and 15 minutes. The reasons he outlined for us were both mental and physiological. Mentally he says, the short period of each workout helps players practice with a higher effort and intensity. Physiologically, packing in a high number of repetitions in a short amount of time accelerates certain bodily functions, helping players transfer their skills to a game.
Simulate Game Shots by Attacking Off the Ball
One thing we learnt watching Coach Kelbick’s practices was that they are never static; players are constantly moving off cuts and screens to catch the ball. One unique insight about cutting was that players can “attack” even without the ball. He explains: “Attacking is a mentality, it’s about forcing the other player to do something that he doesn’t want to do.” By teaching players correct footwork for cuts and getting them to repeat it hundreds of times, he turns the cut itself into a potent weapon.
Demand High Effort
“The one thing that sets NBA players apart from the rest is their effort”, says Coach Kelbick, “they may get exhausted, but when it’s time to work- they work. Their capacity for work is so far beyond other players that it’s staggering.” Regardless of what skill level your players are at, they must be prepared to give 100% to each of your sessions if they want to improve.
These are just 7 of the great insights that Don Kelbick had for us when we interviewed him. For more, check out the full interview here. Regardless of what age group you’re coaching there’s always something you can learn from Don Kelbick’s holistic basketball philosophy, so do try out his theories next time you step on the court!
Sample workout practice plan – perimeter player workout progression
All the drills are here, they are consensed to just a few repetitions of each drill. Foul shots (not shown) are taken in between the drills
|Turn Out Layups||Make 15 in a row|
|Turn Out Jump Shots||Make 7 in a row|
|Turn Out/Rip/1 Dribble||Make 15 in a row|
|Free throws (break)||7 in a row|
|Turn Out 2nd Dribble Change||Make 20 in 3 minutes|
|Turn Out/ 2nd Dribble Change/Crossover||Make 20 in total|
|Turn Out/Double Change/ Jump Shot||Make 7 in a row|
|Free throws (break)||Make 20 total|
|Sweep/One Dribble/Jump Shot||Make 10|
|2 Dribble Jump Shot||Make 5 in a row|
|2 Dribble/Change/Jump Shot||Make 10|
|Free throws (break)||10 points. +1 per make, -2 per miss.|