Re Jnr Girls - Tactical Tweaks to Beat VicM
Once again another interstate tournament has been run, with usual service prevailing, with VIC Metro Girls prevailing in almost all contests. And, once again we have observers attributing their success to a larger talent pool in Melbourne and a higher quality of club competition there. I do not disagree with these assessments and recognize they apply to country associations as well as associations in Tas and ACT. However, for too many non-Victorian observers, this is where thinking about performance improvement ends
The writer is a former player and regular club coach who has had a number of girls cycling through rep programs and national junior champs. I hold no position and do not offer official viewpoints on anything. That said, I have spectated interstate junior girls games for about a decade and have had girls in teams walloped by various Vic Metro teams over this time. I film a lot of games and enjoy reviewing games with the view to helping my girls develop. From that reviewing process I have narrowed down 4 game tactical attributes in which VicM girls dominate, which can be better addressed by smaller state associations, beyond the need for physical training and hours on court which is critical, but widely known.
Overarching each of these tweaks is the need to improve decision making of junior players. There are fashions in training ideas that don't warrant support when exposed to intense competition. Aside from the 4 specific tweaks offered below there has been excessive attention paid to ball handling skills in recent years and too little attention to valuing possession, passing skills, pre-positioning and ball security.
Players want to know - when is it a good time to shoot vs not shoot?; what is an acceptable mistake that won’t get me benched? These judgements are formed over many years playing at district club level, and can prove difficult for a state associations to adjust. So, for those state coaches located in a state associations desperate to better match VicM or for meddling parents like myself who take an active interest in your child’s BBall development, I offer 4 tactical tweaks for your consideration.
Tweak #1 – Reduce the fetish of ALWAYS finishing at the rim
Too many Non-Vic girl are obsessed with ALWAYS finishing a move at the rim. Of course layups have high scoring percentages, and that referees will often reward a drive with foul shots. This tactic works better in states such as NSW where referees are berated if they don’t call shooting fouls. It is less effective in Melbourne where the refs are far more tolerant of defender contact.
In contrast, VICM guards are trained to value open looks for close in set shots. They still finish well at the rim, but they are not as myopic as others. They are more inclined to drive with the view to draw a defender and create time and space for a team mate to hit a close in 2pt set shot. In contrast NSW and SA guards (hello Sturt) almost always drive from the perimeter, against a settled defence, with the intent of laying the ball up. This works better if the guard driving is an elite player; or when you are playing lower quality teams; or when you have refs that are happy to reward foul shots on minor contact. However, against higher quality defenders this tactic results in weak shots, distress passes, and shot clock pressure. Unfortunately, some district coaches exhibit cognitive biases and get very excited when there is scoring off the odd hero ball move while discounting the greater number of poorly formed shots that missed and gifted possession to the opposition. Basketball is a numbers game, yet some coaches – who are just humans after all – note the hits and ignore the misses.
Tweak #2 Stop Shirking Physical Contact – Get a Half Step Advantage and Protect Passing Lanes
Too many SA/NSW/ACT girls do not have skills to create and protect space through which a pass will travel. VICM guards tend to defend "higher" on their opponents; looking always to stick a hand in to disrupt a pass. To counter this, SA/NSW/ACT girls should look to step directly in front of their VICM defenders and use hand targets to signal for the ball. To this end they often need to make early physical contact with defenders using their hips and shoulders, combine this with a burst of pace, to generate a half step advantage. Alternatively, they can run off ball screens to move into open space. The failure of NSW, SA and ACT girls to gain a half step advantage against energetic VICM defenders is a common feature. Too often they fail to take advantage of ball screens; they often run in straight lines parallel with their defender; or run wide arcs, thinking that speed will be enough to get separation. Because they shirk early physical contact with defenders, they do not establish superior position before a pass is given. There is a psychological edge to this – VICM girls think their opponent’s lack physicality and positioning smarts. As a result, with seconds left on the shot clock VICM defenders move from a hedging mindset to hunt more aggressively for slow lob passes, or panicked bounce/skip passes that they know will come.
Tweak #3 Improve Sticky Screens
NonVic girls are chronically bad at setting screens that “collect” opposing guards. Or – from what little I saw of SA metro recently – they don’t set screens at all. I am old school about this – I find it quite satisfying to set a screen that stops an opponent dead in their tracks. For me, this is as good as a shot block. VICM girls –reflecting their more physical approach - are trained to slide past screens, and the weak quality of screens put up by NSW/SA/ACT make it too easy for them.
Tweak# 4 Develop high low play action
Unless you have extraordinarily gifted shooters in your team, there is little chance your state can beat VicM with a perimeter game based on 3 pointers. Rather your team needs to be capable of running high low action and this means being able to pass to your low post. Guards often think this should be easy, but it requires correctly reading the intention of the post player, confidence in their capacity to protect passing space.