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  • Jack Fleming

Damian Cotter - Skill Development

Damian Cotter is a current coach in the NBA G-League, an ex- junior National Team head coach for the U19 Australian Emu’s (2010–13), assistant coach of the Australian Opal’s (2013–16) and head coach of the 2010 Australian team who won a gold medal at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament in Germany.

Just to name a few of his accolades. Damian has had international experience providing clinics across all of Europe and provides a wealth of knowledge that we can be fortunate enough to learn from. Here are my notes from a clinic in 2016 at Diamond Valley (Melbourne, Australia) on skill development.


  • As a coach, you must provide thought to what is your philosophy?

  • How do you attack the basics? They are the most perishable when pressure comes.

  • Keeping things simple, this is very hard. Complexity leads to excuses.

  • Find ways to be creative.

  • The following concepts are nothing but food for thought. There are no right answers, it is simply to stimulate your thinking.

Elements to a Great Drill (Mike Dunlap)

1. Time/Score

2. Rotation: maximise your time and be efficient

3. Element of confusion

4. Competition

5. Where/what to teach and correct — what will you emphasise?

6. Language/cues

  • Where are you going to stand when you coach? Example: coach lay ups underneath the basket — so you can see eyes and feet. Coach shell drill from the baseline so you can see off the ball.

Rule of Three

This rule has provided me with great discipline in my teaching.

  • 3 minutes to teach a skill

  • 3 days to learn

  • 3 weeks to understand a skill

  • 3 months to apply

Pressure Lay Up Drill

  • 1v1 from the wing, player attacks basket off the dribble to make a lay up. Defender stands on the side of the offence, pushing into their hip with their basketball all the way to the rim.

  • We shoot lay ups with our eyes, look up early.

  • Big steps then quick steps.

  • Progression = allow the defender to have a swipe at blocking the shot.

  • Offence protect the ball, get it up out and away.

Pressure Reads Shooting

  • Same set up, defence on the outside so the drive is attacking the elbows. Offence makes the read.

(a) Offence breaks hip = score a lay up.

(b) Offence is cut off by defence = spin dribble and score.

© Defence stays in front but lays off = step back and shot.

Offensive Reads Drill

  • Defence on the block with ball, offence on the wing.

(a) Defence closes out, provides a clear lead foot. Work catch and go game, play low and attack lead foot.

(b) Defence provides cue — hands out or hands up. Hands up = attack with the dribble, hands out = catch and shoot.

Types of Shooting

  • You might work on 1–2 of these within a given practice session, but not all.

  • Study and give thought to your time blocks, what are you working at?

  1. Long = 3pt shots

  2. Mid Range

  3. Lay Ups

  4. Cutting

  5. Off the dribble


  • What is your philosophy on teaching feet?

  • Preferred foot or inside foot?

  • I have seen Opals and NBL guys step out of bounds in the corner, what is your policy? You have to take that personally, are you teaching footwork?

  • When it is 1v1, I like to teach to attack the elbows.

Starting Your Offence

  • What is your philosophy on free throw box outs, inbounding and outlet passes?

  • Hold a high standard to where the ball is inbounded.

  • Good coaches have good starting alignments.

  • If you count how many times the ball hits the floor after a make, and create a sense of urgency — you will reduce your turnovers as a group.

  • Example: 4 inbound the ball, 2 and 3 swing wide, 5 runs screening interference to get 1 open. 1 Catches on the sweep above the foul line.

  • No kick ahead pass for the point guard = get a piece of the centre circle.

  • When players get tired late in quarters, their catches start getting closer to the baseline. That becomes an extra length of the floor throughout the game.

Phases of Offence

  • Brendan Joyce great at teaching offence in = 1st side, 2nd side, 3rd side.

  • Spacing = I like guys in the corners, point guard attacks through the elbows, first big runs to the rim.

  • Opals: when we won bronze we were the best team in the first 8 seconds, all about discipline and spacing. Dellavedova would put a foot outside the baseline, that’s the dead corner.

  • Know what the weaknesses are of your alignment, spacing and system.

  • Do you have counters and pressure releases when your entries get taken away? Give it some thought.

  • How do you finish your offence? What is your finish point?

  • U/19 Emu’s = we would designate ball screen and slip guys, where everybody else needs to be on the floor. Ball screen = wing and middle of the floor, everybody else MAXIMAL spacing.


  • On the rise of the shot — what does your team do?

  • Send 2 to the rim? Everybody get back?

  • Positionally? Or whoever is closest?

  • My philosophy: send 3 back when you shoot a 3, to when you shoot a 2.

  • We spend a lot of time on 5v0, use the 6 seconds afterwards to work on your defensive transition.

Shell Drill

  • Components: ball pressure, close outs, communication, filling gaps, move on flight time, rebounding.

  • How do you teach hand pressure? Idea: Inside hand up, contain. No middle penetration.

  • Jab = jump back, above head = pressure and deny off the ball.

  • When coaching on the bench, you can watch two things

Ending Thoughts

  • Time blocks: no longer than 10–12 minutes. Some will only take 5 minutes.

  • For every drill: have your cues and language, have your standing point where you can see and communicate with your players.

  • Coach from top down: time with Adelaide Crows they discussed how Andrew Macleod was so far ahead that he wasn’t getting coached. Coach your best kids, challenge and hold them accountable. Best players want to be coached.

  • If you want to help players get better, coach their eyes and coach their feet.

  • Coach eyes = they can make decisions.

  • Coach feet = they can have great balance, and apply skills.

  • Persistently address the basics.

  • Stick together as coaches, go and help each other.

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