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The Shell Drill: 3 Tips to Boost Defensive Training

Many elite defensive coaches refer to the shell drill as the holy grail to defensive coaching. Although there has been some pushback in recent years on social media regarding the shell drill, there is no doubt that it has been the backbone to many great defensive teams and coaches. Today I wanted to briefly go over 3 tips to improve your shell drill. This topic could easily be it’s own clinic (maybe that’s not such a bad idea), we will keep it brief today with some basic additions or tips to elevate the shell drill.

1. Freedom to Backdoor - Awareness

Often times defensive awareness can be a difficult thing to develop in a defender. The shell drill has the potential to improve awareness but so often falls short of doing so. The reason it so often falls short is because the movements or actions are precisely scripted. Although this can be an important aspect of the shell drill to hammer home perfection and execution, it also has the potential to neglect defensive awareness. One easy rule to add is for the offense, ‘if you see the back of your defender’s head, back cut to the basket.’ This simple rule forces your defenders to be aware of ball and man, something so often forgotten during shell positioning. Trust me, when you put this concept in, there will be more backdoors than you expect. But this is good, we have found a challenge for the defenders and this will greatly prepare us in games. Plus, it is a good concept for offensive players to practice as well - what coach doesn’t want more open cuts?

2. Measure Decibel Level - Communication

This is a concept I’ve stolen from Luke Yaklich. Simply download an app on your phone that measures decibel levels and have an assistant hold it under the basket during your shell drill. He makes it a competition for the loudest team, but you can use it however you’d like; minimal threshold, count the number of dips, reward the loudest, etc. I must also mention that I don’t love talking for the sake of talking. I do want our defensive communication to be purposeful. If your players struggle in what to say on defense, here are my 5 priorities: where are you, what is your help, do you see offensive movement or action, the coverage to execute, and encouragement or hype for a teammate. There is plenty to talk about and there should never be a quiet gym on defense. The decibel level game is a fun one to introduce to get your team out of their comfort zone with talking and does so in a way that is measurable.

3. Baseball Closeouts - Anticipation

Another key we always talk about on defense is beating the ball. We want to arrive on the catch and not be stuck in constant closeouts. This however is extremely tough to teach and hard to practice. Often times the shell drill is not risking scoring and because of that defenders have to penalty for arriving late to a catch. Baseball closeouts add a level of fun and competition to this principle. To iron down this point, we can put each offensive player on a taped down base. Note that the base is quite larger than the offensive player and is an area bordering on where we want our on-ball defender to be; be in their bubble. Now, as the offense moves the ball around the perimeter, it is a race to arrive on the catch. The defense gets 3 out to see how long they can defend in the shell. Every time the defender arrives to base after the catch, the defense gets an out; tie goes to the runner/defender. This is a great way to instill this concept of arriving on the catch. We’ve also given the offense the ability to catch and shoot in the shell drill with a point going to the defense for each miss and the offense having a time limit to make a shot through passing.

While these tips only scratch the surface of the possibilities for improving the shell drill, they provide a starting point to elevate its effectiveness for your players. The shell drill remains a fundamental tool for defensive coaching. While it may have its limitations, with the right modifications and additions, it can significantly enhance defensive awareness, communication, anticipation and so much more.

As Ron Adams says, “it all comes back to the shell.”

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