The Easy Way to Teach Basketball Offense

Coaches constantly complain that they can’t get their players to remember their plays. They want an easy basketball offense.

Over and over again I hear, “My guys are thick. I can’t get them to remember anything.” Once in a while I might hear, “How can I teach my offense better?”, but I don’t hear it often enough.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do have an opinion. Since this is my space, here is my opinion.

Lack of Background

First and foremost, if you continuously have trouble getting your team to remember their offense, the first thing you should think is that it is too complex or you have TOO MANY PLAYS. I know that it is difficult for a coach to look at himself that way, but he has to.

You have to remember two things…

First, your players don’t have the background that you do. Your past experience will allow you to be much more adaptable than your players.

The second thing is that you came up with the basketball plays. They have to be second nature to you before you bring it to the court. You will know all the positions and all the adjustments long before your players are comfortable with even one aspect.

To draw an analogy, I teach players that a “good pass” is a pass that your teammate can catch. It doesn’t matter where or how you throw a pass if your teammate can’t catch it. Passes that one player can catch, another one can’t. You have to make allowances for that when you pass the ball. When you teach a basketball offense, it doesn’t matter how simple you think it is. If your players don’t get it, it is too complex. It is not important what you think, it is important if they get it.

Drills, Progressions, Dummy

These are the three magic words of teaching offenses…


When you decide on the drill you are going to use in practice, what criteria do you use?  Do you run drills that you think are expected of you (such as three-man weave) that really have no purpose — or do you select drills that have relevance to your team?

TIP:  I believe that the best way to construct basketball drills for your team is to take pieces of your offense and turn those one or two passes and one or two cuts and make them drills. If you are running the “Flex,” the back screen is one drill, the lane duck-in is another drill, and the weakside down screen is another drill. You can work these every day. It will not only make your players’ skills better but it will help them recognize situations.


Before you run, you have to know how to walk. Before you walk, you have to know how to crawl. Those are progressions. As you construct your drills as pieces of your offense you drill first cut, second cut, third cut. Once you are comfortable with how your team runs the drills, start putting the drills together. Your first drill is now first cut, second cut. The next drill is third cut, fourth cut. When you are comfortable with that. Your first drill becomes first cut, second cut, and third cut. Before you know it, you’ve practiced your offense.

That doesn’t mean you can’t run single cut drills as well, but players learn better in pieces.


No, I don’t mean your players. Dummy refers to running your offense without defense. Again I ask you, “what do you do to get your players warmed up?” Do you just run up and down in a useless drill or do you do something relevant?

TIP:  Might I suggest that you run “dummy offense” as a warm-up drill instead of 3-man weave and lay-up drills? And I don’t mean just the half court stuff either. Dummy your fastbreak and your press breakers as well. You will work up a sweat, get in some relevant shooting, some ball handling, conditioning and most importantly, you will be running your offense and reinforcing its principles and philosophy over and over again.

I am a firm believer that you have to remove competition from teaching. When in competition, players’ thoughts are to perform and survive, not learn. Remove the competition, people learn better. Once you are comfortable that your players know what is expected of them, you can introduce competition. They can then go back to their drills, progressions and dummy for reinforcement.

In order to learn more about teaching the motion offense, Don Kelbick also authored Basketball Motion Offense – How to Develop a High Scoring Motion Offense.

33 thoughts on “The Easy Way to Teach Basketball Offense”

  1. Excellent article. I often see coaches intro an offense with all it’s options in a 10 minute window then put defense on the floor and expect kids to run it. It takes them many practices just to get to the level of knowing where to go, but they still don’t know why or how. This is a good outline of how offense should be taught.


  2. Excellent advise for all coaches, using the simple to complex progession method to teach offensive basketball. Of course the same method can be used to teach the defensive system.

  3. GREAT!! Tip. We teach fundamental skills through progression , why not offense and defense? I will use this immediately.

  4. coach john s.

    Dear coach , very good article and tips. however, you seem to criticize 3 man weave which itself a progression. you have passing running, shooting and conditioning and teamwork all in one drill. I agree that breaking down and building the offense block by block is the only way to coach. also most of the coaches who read your material have limited gym time. the block by block works fine when you can practice 5 days a week. the best is to select the offense with most options and practice . we all have too many plays. KISS
    Thanks for your insight.

    Coach John S

  5. Bernad Nkejabega

    Thanks a lot for the article. Je suis totalement d’accord avec votre manière de mettre en place un système offensif ou defensif d’ailleur. Je suis parfois pressé d’arriver là où je veux être que j’en oublie de poser un pied après l’autre…

  6. I think he’s suggesting using a transition offense drill rather than the 3 man weave at certain levels. The 3 man weave is a simple, effective drill at teaching passing and catching, while working on conditioning. However, if you could get the same work in, and practice your transition offense, why wouldn’t you. Good article.

  7. I am in thick of things forming an advocacy (no to smoking) youth basketball team. Your article reminds me to go slow and be more understanding in teaching the candidate-players. Indeed, coaches should value the different levels of the learning processes involved in teaching skills, etc. Thanks a lot.

  8. awesome, but could you show more illustration supporting the tips and guidlines of the drills like programe schedule what to do first training next,next and next….i believed in this kind of programe you can evaluate if youre really following the simple to complex training…. if any one has a schedule or program of training ill appriciate it uch.

  9. good morning coach i have a 12 year old daughter who is 5’1 and has all the tools she plays a32 guard position and 1 position . my issue is that she is having problems in the half court set. when i asked her coach on theissue he just says it will come in time but when she does not move in the half court set he yells at her. What can i do as aparent to help in the half court set.

  10. Hi James,

    I guess it depends on what type of offense the coach is running. If he is running a basic motion where players read the defense and make decisions on their own. My advice would be to make rules. For example, 1. Do not stand for more than 2 seconds. Either cut or set a screen.
    2. If the player drives baseline and you are on the side of the ball in the low post, cut to the high post.

    Through proper teaching and game experience, she and her teammates will learn what to do in certain situations.

    If the coach is running patterns, she just needs practice & game experience to learn the offense. After tons of research and personal experience, I’m not a big fan of patterned offenses for youth players.

    As for the coach yelling, I hope is just yelling so she can hear him. Otherwise, that will stress out youth players and inhibit their learning. He probably thinks he is doing the right thing. I’ve done it before coaching at that age level when I didn’t know any better.

  11. we have a game to play this coming week and we are facing a mostly tall and talented players. Can you pls give me an advice on what effective defense and offense we can use.

  12. This is a good artical. Now I know it is not the players but how I’m teaching the boys. I can reajust our drills to become more relevant to the playes I want the boys to learn.
    Thank you.

  13. Thank You very much sir.
    I also now realize what I can do to better my practices for my girls.
    They are a tuff group of girls but this will help them out so they can improve and be able to compete against the stronger teams.
    Thank you very much.

  14. I coach a youth basketball team. One of the things I have heard is that when players get to high school, how they handle the three man weave (among other things), will affect whether they make the team.

  15. Advice for Gloudy,

    I have Coached for several years against teams that were taller and more talented- however, we had heart solid defense and a will to win- instill confidence in your players- re-emphasize defense- blocking out is key – taller players they will go over there backs and the refs will call it. Get them in Foul trouble early by driving to the basket etc.

    Also, if their man is unable to get the ball they can not score. Take them out of their game while playing yours. All players including tall players hate to be touched and are bothered by players that play a swarming defense. Keep talking as a team on the floor and if you are quick press them if you can to interupt again their game plan.

    Finally, if there offense starts always with a pass in from their point guard I have also tried a box in one on their point guard making it difficult for them to get a easy pass into thier bigger players and then with the others in a zone type set we were able to box out better.

    Good Luck

  16. I like 3 man weave, I stress making a good “lead” pass to your teammate. What I also do is weave down and 2 on 1 back. The person who makes the last pass is on defense, the other two are on offense. Also, when playing bigger players, boxing out is huge, you cannot allow ANY second shot opportunities.

  17. I used the 3 man weave , which I think can be very affective when it comes to open court fast break. Leading your teammate with good passing enabling him to keep his strive to the basket, without breaking his momentum .also as jeff mention the last person to touch the ball plays defense, which in my opinion creates defense awareness, totally alert of what happen on the court.

  18. This is something I saw Kevin O’Neal do when he was at Northwestern… he had 3 groups – they ran everyone of their sets without a D at the beginning of practice, everyone got a rep on every set. I used that after that… kids do get to understand things when they get enough reps.
    GREAT article Don – good advice for all levels.

  19. I could use some advice..I coach 6th grade girls basketball and when we do the offense without defense they run the play perfectly but as soon as I put the defense on they all run to the point guard to get the ball instead of running the play. It’s like the forwards can’t seem to get open so they run to the ball instead of getting open. I think that they are not quick enough to get open and that’s the problem but not sure..Anyone have any good advice for me???

  20. Your issue is not unusual. You are dealing with kids who do not have much background or experience. The have not had time to develop instincts or decision making hierarchy based on the limited perceptions that they have. In addition, they are still developing life skills such as space and time relationships. They cannot yet figure out how long it takes for players or the ball to move from one place to another, the effects of spacing and what the results might be. The issue is not how quick they are, but how quickly they process information. That only comes with experience.

    First, you need to have patience. It takes a long time to develop the experience needed to act on those perceptions. But more importantly, this is a major reason I don’t like set plays for younger kids. As a coach, you want to teach they to play, not learn plays. It might take longer, but at this age, you have to allow them to experiment and discover things on their own. Once they have that experience, they can adapt to anything.

    Compare this to your own kids. How long did it take them to learn to walk, to ride a bike, to play an instrument or to learn the alphabet or count? Why do you think basketball is different? No one was defending them when they were learning to count.

  21. Thank you Don, I have asked alot of people for advice and this is the best I’ve heard. Alot of my players don’t have older brothers or sisters so they don’t have the background of basketball and it’s all so new to them. I do make sure that I have patience with the players because I don’t want to discourage any of them and I always keep positive and encourage them to do the best that they can do.

  22. it’s very good article ,ihad been a player before 3years .now i would like to be a coach these things r in my mind and i give more concentrate to defence,i don’t want to know how my players take basket i just want the counted basket

  23. Don, do you consider the Flex offense a motion offense? I have been digging into this site and love the information I am finding. I have seen multiple places where you or Joe or Jeff speak very highly of running a motion offense. I also see the Flex offense being encouraged. Do you consider them in the same category or different categories of offense?

    Thanks much!

  24. Mike – The Flex offense is a “continuity” offense (pattern offense). It’s based on a pattern that repeats over and over. Once the pattern is learned you teach players how to execute the screens and make “reads”. Don Kelbick teaches a hybrid approach that has a variety of options, which provides some motion characteristics. However at it’s core, it’s still a continuity offense and not a motion.

    A true motion is free form where players have choices regarding cuts and screens the make. There are no prescribed cuts or patterns. Only rules that give the motion it’s identity and a certain level of structure.

  25. Pingback: Across the Wire Weekend (Sunday, Nov, 3rd) | 5 State Hoops

  26. Excellent advice. At our HS girls program we do this every practice. Every drill we use is directly a useful part of our offense and fast break. Doing this all season makes a huge difference in the quality of play at the end of the year.

  27. I have been digging into this site and love the information I am finding. I have seen multiple places where you or Joe or Jeff speak very highly of running a motion offense. I also see the Flex offense being encouraged. Do you consider them in the same category or different categories of offense?

  28. I’ve realised that my kids are clueless and have little experience with basketball. I’ve decided to give each player a role and they are meant to do exactly what I tell them to do. We were getting spanked by the good teams but come the second round we only went down by a few points. Sorry to say this but we ran a zone defence, transitioning into a fast break. With zone they learned the concept of help and gap defence. They’re now more confident against the good teams, we’ve taken the thinking out of the equation for now. Thoughts?

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