Player Development Coaches Need To Evolve

I’ve been a player development coach for over 17 years. In that time basketball skill trainers have increased in demand and popularity in grassroots basketball. One of my best friends Dave Hopla was the first player development coach that I came in contact with when I was 10 at Championship Basketball School in Buzzards Bay,Massachusetts.

Dave didn’t call himself a player development coach as he worked as a shooting instructor and performed clinics all over the country. I know there were others that performed similar clinics than Dave, but he was the first that I’ve ever seen up close do what he did. He was simple in his teaching as he developed player’s shooting form and technique.

Dave’s work evolved from shooting instructor to high school players to being hired by NBA player agents to work with their client’s in the off season as well as preparing for the NBA draft. He was and still is a master at his craft because everything that he taught and still teaches are all game oriented. Everything that he preaches are skill sets that players can actually use in games.

Dave was the first person that I’ve ever heard of that would train college players before the NBA draft. One of his first clients was a young high school kid named Kobe Bryant. Dave used to tell me that they would work out at 6AM in Los Angeles and Kobe would beat him to the gym, which was rare as no one beat Dave to the gym…. ever. The knowledge that I have gained form watching and working along side Dave Hopla is second to none. His attention to detain is second to none. Every player that works with him are held accountable not only in effort but the information retained from the shooting sessions. If anyone has reading this has never heard of Dave Hopla Google him or go to his website (, you will be amazed at what you see. Dave is one of the best in the business as well as one of my closest friends.

Since the 1990′s basketball skill development coaches(aka workout guys, gurus, trainers) have spread just as summer club teams have. There are hundreds of people throughout the country that work in the field of player development. It’s easier to start a player development business than get into coaching as there is no hiring process in being a player development coach. There are certification classes, but those classes aren’t run by any association as the ones running them are skill trainers themselves. Those classes are only as good as the people running them and any certificate issued are only proof that you took a class and aren’t weighed by any type of committee. No one has to be certified (unfortunately) to be a basketball skill trainer just need a place to work with players as well as clients to work with.

Since I am in the industry as well this is not a bashing of people in the industry at all. This is a message to everyone that works in the field including myself to raise the bar in the industry. People’s view of skill trainers these days aren’t as flattering as they used to be. Sure there are some that are highly respected, but many people including high school and college coaches cringe at the idea of players working with individual instructors.

This article is something that I’ve been thinking about for a while and wanted to put together for fellow player development coaches, high school/college coaches, players and parents. Our game is struggling right now not in the upper class but the extinct middle class. We need to clean up every layer of this game to improve the product. Skill coaches need to hold themselves to the highest standard to improve the product in which we produce. I hope this post is useful as it is just observation and nothing more

Game Relevance

This is something that needs to be addressed the most. Everything that we teach needs to be attributes that can be used in games. We work with players to not only improve their individual game, but also to increase their value to the team in which they play for. We may be watching a college,NBA, or FIBA game and see a player make a move that intrigues us.

The first question that you need to ask yourself is what skill level does a player need to have to make a move like the one that you just saw on film. I dont think that crossover 2 dribble stepback fade away is a good move to teach that 14 year old that has a hard time even crossing over. Just like a comedian you need to know your audience that is crucial in our industry. Knowing your audience is the difference between being a skill instructor and A REALLY GOOD skill instructor.

I see so many workouts where players, especially young ones are going through these moves that are way over their head. I know we are excited in getting to introduce new things to our clients, but you have to ask yourself some questions.

1.) Will they actually use this move and be effective with it?

2.) In the offense in which their team runs is this something that would help them?

3.) Knowing their coach is this something that they would be happy with their player using or them?

Don’t Be Afraid of Being Simple

We all want to standout in our field, but it is important not to want to standout just for the sake of doing so. Our job is to make our players better and develop their value. I’ve never been one to teach advanced moves that were spectacular moves used at the pro level. Even when working with 200 + NBA players, most of the workouts I put them through are very basic.

Here are some things that I think about when working with players at all levels.

1.) What position/positions will this player play?

2.) What is the athletic ability and/or skill level of this player?

3.) What is the system in which this player will play?

4.) What are the skill sets that a player of their position/skill level/size/athletic ability need to develop to get them in a game.

5.) How am I going to develop a workout routine that will incorporate game shots,movements/cuts, and flow of their team’s offensive system

Question 4 is one of the most important one in which I need to answer. How am I going to help this player get in a game and be effective for their team. If they are already a starter then how are you going to develop skill sets that will help their team win games.

Workouts in the most part should be simple. Take game shots that they will be taking and make that dominate the workout that you put them through. Whatever you want to incorporate in their routine should be something that they will use in a game. Don’t just teach things that look good to YOU, teach things that will benefit THEM.

Training sessions are about developing a routine that will challenge your client(s) on a daily basis as well as improve their skill sets and value to their team. However you decide to develop this plan is up to you. The workouts that you develop don’t have to be futuristic and game changing. They just have to get your players better and develop their value.

Incorporate Team Concepts With Your Workouts

The biggest knock from coaches about player development coaches is that what we teach is only good for 1-on-1 and don’t teach players to play in a 5-on-5 setting. As skill development coaches a lot of what we do is working with players individually. I think it is very important to get that trust and relationship with the players that we work with first. The biggest way to develop these things is to spend a lot of time 1-on-1 with them.

When we work with players it is all about getting them fundamentally sound with their routine and the game shots that they take. We need do develop a connection with the player and have them trust us to get them better. Whatever we are teaching our players on a 1-on-1 basis needs to be tested by not only our workouts but in a team setting as well. I’ve faced the same criticism as others in my field about only being able to teach “dance steps” or “working players out against a chair” as well as others.

I’ve self evaluated the way I teach many times over the years and try to perfect my craft. The biggest change that I’ve made over the past couple of years is to work more with small groups of 5-6 rather than just only individual workouts. It does take some of the individual attention out of it, but you can teach a lot more to players when it is done in groups. The best way to do this is by playing a lot of 3-on-3. What is the benefit of playing 3-on3?

1.)Players learn what good spacing is offensively

2.)Players learn the concepts of help defenders and weak side of the floor

3.)You can incorporate cutting and how it impacts the game to cut/roll hard to the rim

4.)Teach not only offensive concepts, but defensive as well.

5.)You can put players in real situations (coming off pin down,cross screen,pick and roll,wide pin down, and back screen) while playing 3-on-3

6.) Unlike 1-on-1/ 2-on-2 where physicality can dominate the games, it is taken out of it because of the 3rd(help) defender.

As skill development coaches I think it is important to incorporate team play with our work. Players should take a lot of shots and individual play in their workouts, but also put them in situations where they can read not only their defender but help defenders as well. By playing live 3-on-3 it gives both the player(s) and yourself an idea of what works against defenders and what doesn’t.

Game situations is very important and all skill development coaches should dedicate part of your player’s workout routine to this. It will not only make your players better, but you a better coach.

These are just a few things that player development coaches should incorporate in their work. Everyone will face criticism at one point(usually more) in their lives. Don’t automatically be defensive about it and dismiss what is said about you and your work. Some of it could be jealousy of others, but criticism should motivate you to be better.

Our game is in need of fixing. There is only so much you can blame on club basketball. Believe it or not, skill trainers are part of the problem. Getting players better isn’t brain surgery, but shouldn’t be taken lightly. Our goal is to develop the value in the players that we work with. We have a lot of people out there teaching things to players that are above their skill level and shouldn’t be used in games. Just because you se Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, or Kevin Durant make a move in a game doesn’t mean that average skilled 14 year old can do the same move. Know your audience and understand their limitations.

We all need to hold ourselves to highest of standards for the betterment of the game and society. As skill development coaches we re only as good as the product that we produce. Take pride in your work and understand that we owe it to the players that we work with to give them the best possible service that will help them, not us.


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