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How to Improve Basketball Guard Play:
Tips, Secrets, Drills, and Fundamentals for Point Guards & Off Guards

- By

When discussing guard play, we enter probably the most complex area of basketball. Your team's guards fill such a variety of roles that is difficult to cover all the changing responsibilities -- not only from game to game, but sometimes from play to play. None of the other positions have to make as many adjustments and changes as your guards do. No other position has to be as instantly adaptable as your guards have to be. However, some principles of guard play are consistent regardless of the situation, and those are the ones we will cover here.

Obviously, your guards should be able to shoot and handle the ball. They should have the ability to pass and play defense. But that is what we want of all our players. We will go over some drills that might improve your players in these common areas.

What is it that sets our guards apart from other players?

For your team to be successful, your guards have to do more than shoot and have to be more than good dribblers, ball handlers, and passers.


Here are some things that set your guards apart from other players -- and some of the secrets related to developing great guards:

Responsibility

More than any other position, your guards must be willing to take responsibility. All plays flow though your guards. They must be able to handle the ups and downs of the game and be able to stand up and say, "I will take the responsibility!"

Your guards must learn not only their positions, but all positions. You must teach them not only what to do, but why to do it and what the objectives are. When the game starts, the coach cannot be on the court. The guards must be an extension of the coach's philosophy.

You would be hard pressed to find a successful team where the guards and the coach are not on the same page!

Pace of the Game

Your guards are the gas and the break pedals of your team. They must understand the pace that you need to play to be successful, the pace of the game as it is being played, and any adjustments that need to be made. They must have a feel for situations related to time and score, scoring runs, and scoring droughts. Reacting properly will go a long way toward your team being successful.

Teammate's Abilities

Your guards must know the abilities of their teammates. If they give a post player the ball 20 feet from the basket and the post player turns the ball over, it might be recorded as the post player's turnover, but it is the guard's mistake. They never should have put their teammate in that position. By the same token, if there is a shooter open in the corner, it is the guards' responsibility to hit the open shooter with a well placed pass. Your guards have to play traffic cop, only giving the ball up to players who are in position to do something positive with it.

Spacing

The most valuable commodity on the basketball floor is space. Proper spacing allows players to have room to operate, to slash to the basket, and makes your team more difficult to defend. Your guards are in charge of space!

They should not destroy space with their dribble or decisions; they should CREATE it. For example, if there are three players on one side of the floor and your guards goes to their dribble, they should take the ball away from the crowd, allow the other players to adjust toward the ball, and, thereby, create better spacing on the floor.

Leadership

Because your guards always have the ball, the entire team looks to them and will take on their personality. They can be fiery and emotional, but they have to funnel that energy in a positive direction. They cannot get down on their teammates or show their frustration when things don't go right. They always have to remain in control of themselves and the team.

Your team will look to your guards for direction and calmness. They cannot lead if the team does not trust them!

The Coach's Role: How to Develop these Traits and Great Guards

Because guards are an extension of the coach, the coach must spend more time with his guards off the court.

While they are on the court, players must be treated equally. Good play should be rewarded; while poor play must be corrected. However, the coach must be careful not to send mixed messages. Wanting your guards to remain positive while often correcting their play could undermine your overall objective.

The coach should encourage his guards (and all players for that matter) to sit with him after practice and should teach them what goes into the decision-making process.

With guards, teaching is always the priority. It cannot always be done in practice because there is too much going on. Teaching them before and after practice and correcting them during practice will help your players understand the big picture and will make it easier for the coach to trust them during the intense atmosphere of a game.

More Guard Play Tips and Articles

Executing The Basketball Pick and Roll

The Importance of the Back Up Dribble and How It Reduces Turnovers Against Pressure


Guard Development Drills for Coaches

Time and Score Scrimmage

For years coaches have been practicing situation plays. Putting time on the clock and a score on the board (20 seconds on the clock, red up 2) and saying, "Here is what we do now," has been used since Naismith. It is great for execution and it is easy to isolate the situation during a game by calling a time out.

HOWEVER, I was never comfortable that I was able to teach key strategic principles between the beginning of the game and the end. There comes a time when the opponent ceases to be the other team and becomes the clock. For instance, there are shots that are fine (even encouraged) in the body of the game, but not when you are up 4 points with 45 seconds to go. That doesn't mean it can't be done, just that I was not comfortable with it.

The Solution:

We then came up with the "Time and Score" scrimmage. I am not a genius, and I am sure that I am not the first person to come up with it; however, we came up with it while trying to solve some problems, and, aside from a full game scrimmage, I now don't conduct scrimmages any other way.

Here is how it works:

The coach decides what time frame he wants to work on (1 minute, 2 minutes, 4 minutes, 15 seconds, etc). He also decides how much regular scrimmage work he wants and translates that to points (for example, if it is mostly going to be a situation scrimmage, you might choose 4 points; if it is going to be an execution scrimmage, you might choose 10 points).

Let's say you want to run a 2-minute situation. You might choose to run a "6 and 2." Here is the way it would work: You put 2 minutes on the clock. You then run a regular scrimmage (fouls, violations, etc.). As soon as one team gets to 6 points, the clock starts. Regular time is kept. Wherever you are, that is your situation. It could be 6-5 with 2 minutes left, it could be 6-0 with 2 minutes left, or it could be anywhere in between. Most importantly, the scrimmage does not stop when the clock starts. You just play through. You might want to announce that the clock is on, or you might choose to let the players notice on their own. Just don't stop the scrimmage to announce what the situation is. Let them learn to keep track of the clock.

During the score portion of the scrimmage, you can work on whatever you like. You work on a particular play or play package, work on your zone defense or offense, work on pressures, etc., or just play. Once the clock starts, you coach to win the game. Adjust your defense and offense to do exactly what you would do in a game. Call time outs, strategically foul, make substitutions based on roles, put on or take off pressures. You can "reset" your situation (1 timeout left, both teams in the bonus, postmen have 4 fouls, etc.). Whatever you want to do, set it up before you start the scrimmage.

You can run any combination you feel you need work on. Run a "10 and 4" for a longer scrimmage. Try a "3 and 1" for short end-of-games. I have found no better tool for teaching your players, especially your guards, how to manage a game.

This is the only effective way that I have found to teach the difference in the strategic principles for early in the game compared to the end of the game, especially for guards. There may be others that work just as well, but this has worked great for me.


Guard Development Drills for Players and Coaches

Below are a few drills for players to work on their guard skills.

Two up - Two back

Dribble Screens

Post Feed / Spot Up

Pick and Roll Drills


It's very important that you practice your ball handling and guard play in competitive, game-like situations with defenders present.

In the DVD 30 Competitive Skill Development Drills, you will find 20+ drills that are specific to improving your guard play and ball handling in game-like situations. The other drills are also great for improving your all-around game. (more info)



More Drills

Coaches, go here for more Basketball Drills

Players, go here for more Basketball Drills