Teaching Players to Shoot Layups

Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at sjordan@alaskalife.net.

Do you think learning how to teach layups is just for coaches that have very young teams? If you do, think again. If you are coaching anything less than high school varsity ball, you will probably spend time teaching basketball's most fundamental shot. What else can you do when the perfect but inexperienced basketball body ducks under your door one day? It isn't at all unusual to see promising high school kids that never took the time to develop their off hand for shooting. Decent layup form can be learned in just a few weeks, even using the player's weak hand, if the student is diligent and practices often.

If you are coaching a very young team, then this article should be of help as I will assume your player knows nothing at all about shooting a layup. There are links to four diagrammed drills at the end of the article and a couple more drills described in the text below.

PHASE I

Put the basketballs on the rack because you won't need them. Even though the hoop is ten feet over the floor, learning layups must start at floor level. Proper footwork is absolutely essential for this skill. Whether the player is a 3rd grade novice or a 9th grade athlete that can only shoot right handed, build this skill from the ground up. Basketballs are far to distractive at this point.

The first thing we want to do is make sure the kids can jump off either foot.

  1. Mark a spot on the floor and have them take turns taking a few steps and jumping as high as they can off that spot. Make a mental note of which foot they use for launching. Most kids will have a dominant foot. If the player is very inexperienced athletically, its possible that neither foot will be dominant and it won't matter which one is used to jump with as both will seem awkward.
  2. Now ask the players to jump using only their left foot. The right-handed kids will do this easily and the left-handed kids will struggle. In fact, some of the left-handed kids will use their right foot every time no matter what you say.
  3. Repeat the exercise only this time have the kids jump off the right foot. All of a sudden, the left handers will be soaring and the right handers will be fumbling at the take off point.
  4. If after a few turns using each foot it is obvious that some can't jump off either foot, its OK to break the drill down. The kids can get in line and jump off the left foot (straight up and down) and then the right foot, changing feet at your command. This will help build muscle memory and coordination.
  5. Now ask the kids to take one step and jump off the left foot. Explain that they push the left foot out, plant it, transfer their weight, then jump. Go as slow as you need to. Do the same exercise stepping forward and jumping off the right foot.

TAKE A BREAK

When you need to build a complex process (and the layup really is a fairly complex process from start to finish), teach one phase at a time. Let the kids practice other basketball skills and then go home and sleep on it. If they can't practice for a few days, tell them to do their basketball home and practice jumping at home, especially off their weak foot.

If you don't over-teach, you may be surprised by how much better the kids do the next practice. If you try to teach the whole process in one practice, it is too much for their bodies to learn, and they may not be much better at all the next you get together.

PHASE II

The basketballs stay on the rack.

For phase II, we want the kids to be able to run to a given point and jump off either foot as they are told. Put a marker on the floor as a target. Line the kids up and assign them a foot to jump off of. At first, the distance should be short, perhaps two or three step. They'll need to figure out which foot to step out with first (or you can help them). Back the line up a couple steps. With more distance, the kids will subconsciously adjust their stride so they launch properly. Well, with practice they will be able to do that.

If things are going well, its time to add a new element, height. You want the kids to get up as high as they possibly can. To get more height, have them:

  1. Accelerate as they near the jump spot
  2. Crouch low on the last two steps
  3. Throw both arms up in the air as they leap
  4. land on both feet at the same time

To motivate them, kneel close to where they are jumping. Hold out a clipboard or ruler after each jump to give the jumper a clue about how high they want off the ground. Make them laugh by holding the indicator much higher or lower than the jumper achieved (or play this joke on your assistant!).

As a drill, ask the kids to take two steps, jump of the left foot, two steps, jump the right, repeating as much as needed to go all the way down the court. Then they can line up on the baseline and do it again on the way back.

Another necessary drill is to have the kids line up about a third the way down the court and approach the basket on the run. From the left hand side of the basket, they should jump off the right foot and from the right side of the basket, off the left foot. It will be necessary to place a mark on the floor to show where the should begin the jump. For young kids, the block is OK, for older kids move the launch point back as their speed and leaping ability permits. They should try and jump up to touch the net as a target. If they can actually grab the net, have them go for the rim. You do not want them grabbing the net as they may get hurt.

What you are looking for is a launch point 5 to 10 feet from the basket. The kids should be able to jump up towards the basket and release the ball before they start coming down. If they are too far away, they will show a pronounced forward lean and shoot the ball too soon and too hard. If they get too close to the basket (a very common fault), they will slow dow before they jump and their shot trajectory is so vertical that they can efficiently bank the ball of the backboard. The take off distance is critical.

PHASE III

OK, we can use the balls now.

Since the ball is a major distraction, don't add another distraction by making them dribble it. What you want to teach is a progressive shooting skill.

  1. Standing near the ideal launch point, have the kids simply bank the ball in using the square over the rim. Be adamant that they use the proper shooting hand - left hand from left side and right hand from the right side. After about 20-25 shots, have them take a giant step backward.

    Use standard shooting form. The basketball is in the triple threat position. Bring the ball up to the shoulder, aside the cheek, extend the shooting arm, flick the wrist forward and down as a follow through. Eyes should be on the upper corner of the square. Strength for shooting comes from the legs. Their knees should be bent to start the shot and then straighten to give the shot power.

  2. Its time to start using the footwork skills. From the left side of the basket, they should take one step forward with the right foot, plant it, transfer weight and shoot the ball with the left hand. Its just the opposite on the right side of the basket. Take one step forward with the left foot, plant it, transfer weight and shoot the ball with the right hand.

    The only real difference in form is the leg work. Instead of having both legs together, the back leg will be swinging forward then up. From the right hand side of the basket, step forward with the left leg, plant it, and to add impetus to the shot, as the left leg straightens, the right leg comes forward and up. The right leg is on the same side as your shooting arm. Some coaches describe it as having a string tied from your shooting elbow to your knee. As the arm rises to shoot, the knee on that side rises as well.

    Emphasize maximum jumping height on every shot.

  3. Gradually move the starting distances back a couple steps at a time. When the kids are comfortable doing this, you can move to phase IV where we actually dribble the basketball!

PHASE IV

The idea in this phase is to allow the players to add the dribbling skill. Introduce dribbling as simply as you can. If the kids simply cannot handle the dribbling skill, then it will be best to practice dribbling separately and stick to the layups as a shooting only drill.

  1. Start a two lines layup drill, but keep the lines about 10 feet from the basket. At this range, the shooters need only take a step, one dribble, jump and shoot. From the right side, the shooter pushes off with the right foot and steps forward with the left. At this time the single dribble is made. The ball should bounce back to the shooter's hands as the left foot is being planted. The ball is caught, brought from waist level to the right shoulder as the shooter begins the jump. As the shooter rises, the right arm is extended and the ball released near the apex of the jump.
  2. Make sure the players do not watch the ball as they dribble. Their chins should be up and their eyes fixed on their target, which is the spot on the square where they want to bounce the ball off the backboard.
  3. The shooter's eyes maintain sight of the ball for as it goes through the basket.
  4. As the players become more comfortable with the single dribble, move the lines back to require multiple dribbles.
  5. Concentrate on form more than anything. A basket made with poor form actually has a negative value as it reinforces a bad habit.

OK, here is another drill that will help the players improve their approach.

Move out to the free throw line. Drive to the basket from the right side of the free throw line, dribbling with the right hand, jumping off the left foot and shooting with the right hand. Get your rebound and dribble right hand to the other side of the free throw line. Reverse direction to the basket and switch the ball to the left hand. Dribble left handed to the basket, jump off the right foot and get your rebound and dribble left handed back to the other side of the free throw line. Reverse direction to the basket and switch the ball to the right hand. Repeat over and over. This is called the X drill and it is very good for conditioning and consistency. As you get closer to the basket, try to increase your speed as much as you can and still be in control. Increasing your speed will help you jump higher. Always try to jump as high as you can when shooting layups. The most common mistake is kids go too slow. Pretend you are in a game.

PHASE V

Once the players have the basic layup down fairly well, it is time to add challenges and complexity. You can also introduce layup drills. There are several on this site to get you started. The drills add various related skills and add interest. Don't beat a layup drill to death by demanding long durations of the same drill over and over.

  1. Ask the shooters to add as much height as they can when shooting.
  2. Have the shooters approach the basket as fast as possible (without losing control of the ball!).
  3. Mark a starting spot on the floor to lengthen the jump. Watch out for kids trying to shoot directly under the basket. Being too close drastically reduces the chances of making the layup.
  4. Challenge the players to make a certain number of consecutive shots or have them establish a team record and try to beat it every practice.
  5. See how many layups can be made in a set period of time. Again, chart the totals for motivation.
  6. Put a coach in the layup path as a distraction. Don't block the shot. Just be there.
  7. The players need to learn to maintain their concentration throughout the entire shot.
  8. Gradually add to the distraction by talking or waving your arms.
  9. Escalate the distraction by gently bumping the shooter. Do this only when you think the players are skilled and emotionally prepared to deal with the physical contact. You do not want anyone hurt or upset. This is supposed to be fun.
  10. At the advanced level, try and block the shot without fouling. Watch for player's changing their form (they shouldn't).
  11. At the shooting line, add elements such as catching a pass, triple threat position, head fake, and then drive to the basket.
  12. Add an obstacle to drive around prior to shooting.
  13. Try these ideas from both sides of the basket, not just the strong hand side. In fact, attack the basket from all angles, including the corners.

PHASE VI

As players get more advanced, they will add their own special styles to their layups. A lot of this is developed on the playground where no real fouls are called and the shooters must alter their shot to avoid a block. Some of this natural adaptation is fine, but often you will see an older player that is so conditioned to changing the shot to avoid a block that the shot becomes too difficult to make at all. The problem with block avoidance is that it is also foul avoidance. The shooter drives, twists and turns and throws up a circus shot. Sure, the shot wasn't blocked, but it didn't go in the basket either. Where you once had a decent shot, now you essentially get a turnover.

What is a coach to do? First, you must convince the players not to change their form as they shoot. If you do the contact layup drill (number 8 on the list above), your shot changers will be exposed at once. Sometimes the mere hint of a block attempt will make an aerial gymnast out of them. Promise them you won't block the shot and challenge them to have the courage to maintain their form. In time, with discipline, they will be able to concentrate through the contact and still score.

Another skill you will want to teach your advanced drivers is to protect the ball after they jump towards the hoop. The launch is the same, but as the shooter rises and passes the defender(s), the ball is tucked tight to the body as if it were a football. At the peak of the jump, the player unfolds and extends the arms to make a normal basket. This method protects the ball from being slapped away.

Big players, especially, should perfect the power layup. What I mean by power layup is when the player is positioned very close to the hoop, jumps high and, holding the ball in both hands, banks the ball in. The hands may even be above the rim. This shot is nearly impossible to block and almost sure to score. If your big man can jam the ball, too, that's great, but make sure the shot goes in. I have seen many, many more missed dunks than missed power layups.

Another shot experienced players start using is the finger roll style layup. The shooter holds the ball well out in front with the palm facing the ceiling. The ball rolls off the fingertips and can either be shot over the rim or be banked in. This shot has advantages, especially if the defender is trailing the shooter. The problem is if the shooter shoots exclusively with the finger roll style. If the defender is in front or alongside the shooter, the ball is very exposed for a block. Make sure your players are comfortable with shooting layups with the palm facing the backboard. This style is more forceful and more accurate when banking the ball off the back board. The finger rolls style is the one that sometimes produces that lazy layup that rolls around the rim a time or two before falling off. After mastering both styles, your player will have options to fit the situation at hand.

TROUBLESHOOTING

Here are some common faults to watch for regarding layup form:

  1. Player closes eyes when shooting. Yes, some do. Watch for this, especially if they are under pressure.
  2. Jumping off the incorrect foot. They should jump off the left foot from the right side and off the right foot from the left side of the basket. That said, advanced player with good leaping ability can jump off either foot and get high enough to decide what hand to shoot with while up in the air. For your team, though, get them grounded in the fundamental approach to the layup.
  3. Twisted bodies. Some player look fine from one side of the basket, but have a serious twist in their mechanics from the other side. To correct this, go back to phase I if necessary to learn the shot properly.
  4. Altered Shots. Get your kids out of the habit of gymnastic block avoidance. Block shot attempts put you on the free throw line more often than not. Blocked shots are usually recovered by the offense (most go out of bounds). Maintain form and make the shot.
  5. Players drives too close to the basket before shooting. They should have about a 45 degree angle as they jump up. When they are jumping vertically, they're too close and it is very difficult to bank the ball off the backboard.
  6. Player does not follow through. As they finish the layup, the players should be so focused on the shot that they turn as they come down annd see the ball go through the hoop. Some players will have a serious break in concentration, toss the ball in the air, and have no clue of it went in or not.
  7. Players should practice layups as if they were in a game. If your player trots in to shoot layups during warm ups or in practice, correct them immediately. They are wasting their time and creating a bad habit otherwise.

The layup is the most common shot in the game. Winning teams master the common events and do them better than their opponents. If you are quicker to get back on defense (happens 80 times a high school game), box out on rebounds (happens 30 times a game) and make your layups (happens 20 times a game) you will be very tough to beat.

If all this seems too basic, remember this. The NBA players that are so good at making layups now had to start by practicing the basic elements first. It doesn't matter if you are 10 years old or 20 years old. If you don't stop and practice the elements, you will never - ever - be accurate at shooting layups. If you are having trouble, don't skip to step PHASE IV and start there. Start at PHASE I and work your way up. There are no shortcuts.

My favorite saying is "Learn to do the simple things perfectly".

Here are some diagrammed drills you can use to practice layups.

Layup Drill 1
Layup Drill 2
Layup Drill 3
Layup Drill 4