How to Practice Getting Steals

Previously, I wrote about improving the fast fast break by enhancing the net-effect of steal attempts. Among the key implications were:

  1. Stealing is a skill that can be improved by practice.
  2. To enhance the net-effect of steal attempts, learn to limit the amount of gambling involved.

This brought about questions on how stealing can be practiced in praxis. Here are some ideas.

1) Run relevant closed drills

In other words, put in dummy offense and have a defender steal the ball in a pre-determined fashion. Say, the offensive player is dribbling. When he goes behind his back, the defender goes for a steal.

Some coaches may object to this kind of practice because there is a closed drill involved. They do have a point. Because basketball is mainly an open-skill sport, skills should be mainly learnt in open drills or scrimmages.

However, this doesn’t imply that no closed drills should be used at all. Closed drills are an important tool for any coach. When properly used, they are an efficient way to help the players learn proven solutions to problems that tend to arise in basketball.

It has taken a lot of players and a lot of coaches a lot of time to come up with those solutions. If we only set up open drills with certain constraints and wait for those solutions to emerge, we are wasting time.

2) Present many different types of steals

The next time you watch a game, pay attention to how steals happen. There will be a lot of different types of steals. And in the next game, a lot of whole new types of steals. And so.

Out of this wide variety, which types of steals should you then choose for your players to work on?

As wide a variety as possible. Using closed drills doesn’t imply that you should work on the same type of a steal for a long time. Rather the idea is to very quickly put in new types of steals. Using closed drills makes this possible.

3) Put together a clip collection

So, you should be continuously implementing new types of steals into drills. A time-efficient way to do this is to show video clips of relevant steals. This saves time because you don’t need to either explain or demonstrate them.

However, you need to take time to put together a collection of video clips where different types of steals take place. This can be done while you watch games. Using the screen recording takes some time but may be worthwhile.

Obviously, it’s not just clips of steals you can collect, but clips of any types of actions: set plays, pick-and-roll defense, transition offense.

4) Manipulate drills

As a way to practice stealing, Kerryn Mitchell or @KLM_74 suggested on Twitter: “I worked on this last season, O & D on the 45, I make a bad pass of varying degrees, D steals it, goes 4 layup other end, O chases, sometimes make it so O can get it & D has to recover & still contest, then vary starting spots.”

The same principle can be used in a lot of drills. Meaning, offensive players can be made to give the defenders extra opportunities to get steals. This can be done in two ways:

  • Instruct the dummy offensive players or assisting coaches to give the defenders extra stealing opportunities on purpose (as in the example above).
  • Restrict the offensive players actions so that stealing becomes easier.

An example of the point two might be this. Players play 1-on-1 full court. The offensive player is restricted to changing hands using only a cross-over dribble in front of the body.

5) Make stealing a part of your defensive tactics

Excluding pressing and trapping defenses, stealing is usually not considered a to-be-expected outcome of the defense, but rather a randomly occurring exception. Consequently, getting steals is usually not made a part of the regular tactical defense practice.

Maybe it should be made. In any type of defense there are certain re-occurring situations where the probability of steals rises. Maybe those situations should be emphasized and practiced.

An example might be keeping an eye on the dribbler whenever he’s dribbling away from you. If he starts spinning back towards you, that’s when you may go for a steal – not as an impromptu decision but as a part the team’s defensive scheme.

6) Get deflections

If the passer’s defender touches the ball while it’s airborne, a steal becomes more likely. Also, getting deflections can be done in a rather risk-free fashion, or without getting out of balance. That is why deflections are a good thing.

The more often you go for deflections, the more often you get them. So, going for deflections should become a habit. It will become a habit only if the players to do it consistently at practices.

This is difficult to make happen because when players go for a deflection, most of the time they will not get it.

7) Pressure the pass to the side

Getting deflections is not just a habit but also a skill. The most common mistake players make is that they wave their hands randomly. It is more efficient and effective to meticulously track the ball with one hand or two hands.

It is one thing to do this and stay in balance when the offensive player is passing forward – in other words “through” the defender. It much more difficult to get a deflection when the passer is passing to his side, for example from the right wing to the top of the key. Usually the on-the-ball defender doesn’t put pressure on those passes. But he could put.

8) Consider steals in game plans and walk-throughs

In all opponents’ offensive play there are risky parts – re-occurring situations where there is an enhanced risk of a turnover. When preparing for a game, it is the coach’s job to prepare his team to take advantage of those risks – to get steals, that is.

These risky parts may be due to:

  • Inherent features of an offensive system.
  • Individual players’ capabilities and tendencies.

Relevant features of the offensive system may include:

  • Making guard-to-guard pass.
  • Making entry pass to the post.
  • Making long outlet passes after defensive rebound.

Individual tendencies to be considered may include:

  • Using cross-over dribble to change hands.
  • Habitually spinning to right after driving left.
  • Passing exclusively into the direction where his shoulders point.

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