Impact of Coaching With a Shot Clock

How you coach the game with no shot clock is different than how you coach it with a shot clock. Patterns, continuity offenses and scripted actions can dominate when there’s no shot clock. On the flip side, when working with a shot clock, the pursuit of creating and exploiting advantages – both big and small – becomes the primary focus.

Mike MacKay (Canada Basketball’s Women’s High Performance Manager) illustrates this difference well:

“With no [shot] clock, if the pattern breaks down, one can always reset. With a short shot clock you must initiate and read. For basketball drills to transfer, the cues must give a clear mental representation of what will appear in the game. Cues must be associated with game. An action has a starting position, a cue to signal its start, anticipated reads as to how it may be defended, what to do next if no advantage is gained. [Patterned actions typically] present one solution. This is now ‘fixed’ in the mind [of players as] the only possible solution. Players need to see a variety of options.”

Let’s unpack this a bit more…

IMPACT OF NO SHOT CLOCK vs LONG CLOCK vs SHORT SHOT CLOCK

When considering the merits of competing with a shot clock versus without shot clock, it’s crucial to recognize the ripple effect that less time has on: (1) game flow, (2) who controls decision making, and (3) the speed in which players must own the read-decide-execute habit loop.

  • No shot clock = delay between actions
  • Long shot clock = linked actions
  • Shot shot clock = concurrent or simultaneous action (with multi-player recognition of advantage/disadvantage)
Visual of how the flow of a basketball game changes based on the length of the shot clock.
(Source: @MichalMartisek)

NO SHOT CLOCK

With no shot clock, a coach has the ability to control – potentially – all the actions in the flow of the game. Players can often become dependent on a coach (to rescue or bail the players out of bad situations) by calling the next action or play. And, any one action can exist in isolation from the last. The ball can freeze or stick as players wait for the next action to unfold or be called out. Without the pressure of a time limitation, the offense can ‘set it up’ again and get another attempt. Defensively, teams aren’t rewarded to the same extent for neutralizing offensive actions, forcing deflections or other missteps.

There is no urgency (constraint) presented without a time limit to shoot. It’s this nuance that has a major impact on game flow (i.e. how closely linked actions are in a sequence); as well as, the demand put on players to read the cues (affordances) when they present themselves.

LONG SHOT CLOCK

With a long shot clock (e.g. 45s, 35s, 30s), there’s a greater need to have actions take place with shorter pauses in between. A coach can still call the initial action, however, with a time constraint provided by the shot clock, there’s some more urgency to link the actions more closely.

SHORT SHOT CLOCK

With a short shot clock (i.e. 24s and 14s on an offensive rebound in the NBA, WNBA, and FIBA), a coach can still call out the first action. And, due to limited time, the responsibility now shifts to players to be opportunistic in exploiting any advantage gained or to flow seamlessly into the next action in order to find or create an advantage.

Players must be coached to perceive non-patterned cues.

How A Shot Clock Impacts Practice Planning

Coaching with a shot clock requires one to tweak how they teach – both in practice and in games. How a coach structures their practice design will need to evolve. Why? Actions need to be linked and flow together (ever more) seamlessly.

The “fundamentals” are similar regardless of the length of the clock. Yet, what makes it different is the speed at which players, in a shot clock game, players must recognize (perceive) and decide (execute) faster. They cannot be coach-dependent. So, instead of catch-read-attack, the perception-action cadence needs to be read-catch-attack. That subtlety, in itself, is the linchpin habit—dare I say fundamental skill that must be taught.

The essence of what good coaches do doesn’t change demonstrably. How one does it will need to adapt. Moments where players are doing the cognitive heavy lifting become the centerpiece of one’s practice design.

By example…

  • In a no shot clock environment, you’ll see more jab series and rocker-step drills. Static 1on1. With a shot clock, you’ll see more flow into dynamic 1on1 situations – with a shot, pass, drive decision needing to be done in 1-second or less 🎥. Initial actions need to create a situation for a player to use a small advantage; and, if not, to find or create an advantage for a teammate—with minimal delay (flow).
  • In a no shot clock environment, you’ll often see more blocked instruction rather than random or variable skill development 🎥. With a shot clock environment, you need flow, collective (and connected) decision making.
  • In a no shot clock environment, “reads” can be taught in isolation. With a shot clock, cues and counters are optimally developed together.

Practice should prepare you for the game, right? — Let’s play this thought out… Assume for a moment that the average high school basketball coach has practice time in the range of 1-2 hours per session. Now, imagine spending 95% of that time with your players standing in the corners of the half court and only being allowed to shoot the ball once every 7-10 minutes. (In a worst-case scenario, in a no shot clock game, that can and does happen.)

If you’re only going to have a 4-20 offensive possessions in a game, your practice should mirror the game: ‘Hold it. Spread out. Set it up. Waiiiiiiit. And, go!’

Absurd, right? But, that’s what many games are like by many accounts and other’s own admission (C’mon…fans…really? It’s called strategy. or “Fans aren’t required to attend.”)

Of course, you’re not going to design a practice like that. Kids wouldn’t show up for that. Yet, that’s what many in the Anti-Shot Clock Coalition are opining.

More from Yoda Master MacKay…

Back in 2006, a then 28-ish year old Spanish rookie, Jorge Garbajosa, joined our Toronto Raptors squad. Like most teams in the NBA, we had ‘Horns’ action in our playbook with about 4-5 plays out of it. Each action, had a name (e.g. Horns Up, Horns Out, etc).

I remember Jorge asking one day why each had a separate name; saying something to the effect: ‘Just call it Horns… if the defenders does this… I’ll do this… If the defender does that, I’ll do this…’.

(I remember him being almost perplexed and amused at that silliness of having a different name for it all. 😆 Sharp dude!)

You see, to him, you didn’t need to name for whether you’d ‘pop’ on the screen or ‘roll’. You decided based on how you were being defended (the cues). And accordingly, all five players reacted (‘collective decision making’) off of the cues accordingly. That was how he was taught the game.

I share this story only because I don’t think he’d mind and I think it highlights the subtle – yet significant – nuance of how players, being coached with a (short) shot clock, are taught differently.

It’s the speed of perceiving-deciding that’s the most fundamental, fundamental. With the incentive (ergo: constraint) of a shot clock (and the inability within FIBA rules to call a timeout during live action), nudges coaches to think about what they do differently.

Look, I get why a coach might assume that “fundamentals are fundamentals”. On the surface, I wouldn’t raise a massive red flag. Yet, holding on to this belief without going deeper reveals a significant blindspot that: (1) limits one’s development as a coach, (2) hampers the development of the players under their charge, and (3) hampers the validity of any anti-shot clock argument.

The Shot Clock Is Not A Cure All

Don’t get me wrong, a shot clock, by itself, doesn’t automatically mean players will get better. There is no cure all for bad coaching – or the youth coach that is hell bent on winning at all costs. That coach will find a way to exploit opportunities – to their benefit and at times at the expense of the players (insert: enjoyment, physical and/or mental welfare, etc).

That’s not a shot clock issue, it’s often a misalignment between coaching style and coaching context.

A shot clock means there’s an opportunity for more touches, more passes, more movement, more end of clock situations, more player-led decisions. (Take a look at the numbers of possessions with or without a shot clock.)

It’s not that you have to necessarily change what you do offensively. You do have to work to minimize the lag or ‘gaps’ between the actions in what you do.

If a coach likes isolation basketball, they can still play iso ball in a shot clock game. If they like zones, ball screens, slowing it down, full court pressure, pack line, dribble drive, post up, mid-range, etc… You name it. You can still do all of that in a game with a shot clock. (Geez… with a shot clock, you’ll have ~40-50 more possessions to run what you like to run! 😉)

What you don’t get to do with a shot clock is to tout: Our high school [stalled] to start every game. It was not uncommon for us to be up 2-0 at the end of the first quarter.”

(To be direct, in a game of this style, neither coach or player is getting better. The real W-L is not on the final scoreboard. 😖)

Lets sweeten the pie some more…

If you’re an X’s and O’s, strategy and tactics chessmaster-of-a-coach, you’ll love coaching with a shot clock – especially against a team that only has one go-to player or runs the same action all the time at the end of the clock.

You’ll be at your best and stand out from the rest. Your players will benefit from and love all the nuance and wrinkles you’ll have the opportunity to add. This will be even more true if you’re able to play with FIBA rules and aren’t able to call live-ball timeouts.

When you can’t stop the action on the fly, the best coaches shine. Why? Good coaches do their work early. They coach up their kids and allow them to shine by shifting some of the decision making to them. That coach will be salivating – 🤤 – ready to dance with all comers in a shot clock game.

“But Coach…”, some will say. “We have to slow it down to give our kids a chance…”

Stop. Don’t finish that thought… What you’re highlighting isn’t a valid anti-shot clock argument. You’re bringing attention to competitive disparity. That’s a scheduling… seeding… planning… zoning… classification… planning… administrative… (someone-just-not-the-player’s) ego… issue.

From the Twitterverse…

  • “Some teams need to limit the amount of possessions to have a chance.” [source]
  • “Adding a shot clock hurts teams with less talent that need a slower pace to have any chance in some games.” [source]
  • “I had my team hold the ball for an entire quarter one time.” [source]
  • “Our high school did this to start every game. It was not uncommon for us to be up 2-0 at the end of the first quarter.” [source]

Look, anytime you have a big gap between skill and the task at hand, you’re going to have an issue. This is an issue that’s not overcome with or without a shot clock.

When…

CHALLENGE > SKILL = FRUSTRATION
CHALLENGE < SKILL = BOREDOM

If a match up is too simple, top players disengage and pick and choose their moments (mentally). If it’s too challenging it overwhelms inexperienced players.

Whether you lose by 15 without a shot clock or 30 with a shot clock, you still lost. Period. And, if we’re being honest with each other, you were no ‘closer’ to winning the game. The skill disparity was just too big.

If the optics of losing by 15 instead of 30 makes you feel better, then you’re attention is misplaced. You’re either protecting your ego (🤦🏾‍♂️…!) or theirs. If it’s yours, you’re failing them. If it’s theirs, your failing them.

Figuring out what need gets met is one of the greatest coaching and administrative challenges when you have big disparity between ability levels of two teams. Whose needs get met? Who decides? How is it communicated?

Here’s Why I Take The ‘Why Do We Need A Shot Clock’ Discussion Personally

I truly believe, at their core, the vast majority of coaches enter the craft with the goal of helping to support kids develop and grow through the sport – both as basketball players and people. And, if asked, most would also assert that they’d like to see the kids in their charge play this beautiful game as long as they can and/or at the highest level possible (for them).

With that as our unifying purpose, I studied the issue. Traveled globally. Asked a lot of questions. Was around Canada Basketball when they dug in, researched the issue in order to produce the evidence to justify their claim to make the move to FIBA rules. Attended or been a part of World Championships (men’s, women’s, U17 to senior), European championships, national team practices and training camps (men’s, women’s, U16 through senior), Americas qualifiers, clubs internationally, from China to Australia, Argentina to Serbia, etc.

This issue is deeply personal for me. It’s not a flippant… by the gut… my personal feeling… frog in the bottom of the well… this-is-what-I-know… type of thing.

Grasping the implications is both my passion and my livelihood. Like most in North America, I didn’t grow up playing or coaching with a shot clock. I had to do my homework—and break a lot of limiting habits of thought.

Yet, what you encounter when the vocal minority circle the wagon over having a shot clock versus not have a shot clock, is mudslinging or one dimensional points of view based on a limited breadth of experience.

My leaning now is clear: Coaching and playing with a shot clock can improve player development. And, ultimately, selfishly and unselfishly, all that matters to me is creating a an environment that increases the possibility for players to get as good as they can be as quickly as they can be.

We’ve shown that left to our own devices our (adult) interests supersede those of young people. There’s a time and place for that. In this case, I think most are missing the point.

RELATED — Here are some other posts I’ve written on how the shot clock impacts our coaching:

📖 How The Shot Clock Improves Player Development

📖 3 Phases Of Offense When Playing With A Shot Clock

Buckle Up: It’s Not About Me… Or, You.

Wearing a seat belt is one of the most important factors in saving a life in a car accident. And still there are people who can’t be bothered to buckle up – for themselves and even their kids.

Seems crazy to most of us, right? Well, seat belts weren’t even offered in automobiles until the mid-1950’s, automobile makers weren’t required to offer them until 1968, and wearing your seat belt didn’t become a law in the United States until about the mid-1980’s (😬…!).

At the time, the arguments against were many. Varying from inconvenience, to violation of constitutional liberties, costs to manufacturers, that’s the way it’s always been since the advent of the car, right to the fact that the law has enabled increased racial profiling of people of color in some states. (In the end, a deal was made with the automakers. If they helped pass seat belt laws, policymakers would back off requiring manufacturers to install air bags. Bingo. It worked – with a bit of financial incentive – ahem, of course.)

My point isn’t to equate the use of a shot clock to life and liberty; perhaps, instead, the pursuit of happiness… Theirs, not (y-)ours, Coach!

Stay with me a bit longer… This is the crux of it.

As I was wrestling with how I could – hopefully – add depth and broaden perspective on the ‘shot clock vs no shot clock’ discussion, my little guy (6 years old), asked me to get some shots up on his basketball hoop. (Scaled down to 6-feet – of course!😜) I happily obliged.

He was pretending he was Steph Curry. Shaking and baking, breaking the ankles of imaginary defenders and chucking the ball up at the rim. Then, I heard a familiar refrain from him… one that we’ve all chanted… whether you’re in small town Indiana or a secluded part of Serbia… whether you’re a weekend warrior or a working to win State… big kid or small… It goes like this:

參… 貳… 壹…!

Tatlo… dalawa… isa…!

три… два… један…!

Trois… deux… un…!

Tres… dos.. uno…!

3… 2… 1…!


You know what I’m talking about: The BUZZER BEATER. It’s exciting. We dream of it right from the moment we fall in love with the game.

3… 2… 1…! [Crowd goes wild!!!]

That’s what a shot clock gives you—and, lots of it!

HERE’S SOME HOMEWORK — Watch a bit of the Jr. NBA World Championship. 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls from around the world playing with a shot clock. These kids and their coach adapted. (So can you—I mean yours!)

In my humble opinion, having seen the un-athletic to inexperienced learn to play with the constraints of a shot clock all around the world, it’s not the kids who have a problem adjusting. It’s the coaches.

Far too often we ask of kids the very thing that we’re not willing to give them: a willingness to change.

Kids are wired to adapt. Us adults just need to be adult enough to be more childlike in this regard—for their benefit not our own.

Debunking The Anti- Shot Clock Chatter

The anti-shot clock rhetoric from the Twitterverse is both startling and disheartening.

In summary, none of it… none… talks about what’s exciting for kids. None of the “reasons” are focused on what kids love the most about playing the game. None of the chatter focuses on why kids play. There are a lot of adults asserting their “I want…” and “I don’t like…”. It’s all I… I… I. Or, bragging about winning this tournament (by stalling) or that [insert: conference, regional, state, AAU tournament] championship.

One of my favs (read: sarcasm) was this doozy: “So now we should let [high school basketball] kids have a say in this?” 🤯 And, “…[it] has nothing to do with making it enjoyable to others. We are trying to win.

Others go on: “Been to a game where they stood/dribbled for 5 min! The d-fence even sat down on the court!” And, “Fans aren’t required to attend.

“Why do kids need a shot clock?”

Why? To legislate what’s in their – the athlete’s – best interest.

I know, I know… this is offensive to the American-basketball sentimentality. Yet, sometimes we (read: adults) just can’t get out of our own way and do what’s in another’s best interest first. (Remember the backstory on seat belt legislation?)

Why do we need a shot clock? Because it’s fun—for them. Because when a player gets a taste of playing a style of basketball that matches how they’d play if adults were not involved, they’re hooked.

The evidence? Any pick-up game anywhere in the world… ballers, young and old, don’t stall the ball in pick up basketball games. If stalling was fun to do, people would do it during their self-led play!

No… a shot clock isn’t some magic pill. Pixie dust will not fall from the sky and magically transform a player’s – or coach’s – skill set.

It can though be a needed nudge to move things in a direction that sets players up for new possibilities because the constraints of limited time require the development of different skills to excel in that environment.

Remember, a player’s deepest memories in the sport revolve around how the coach made them feel, the connection between teammates, the obstacles overcome, bus rides, late nights, etc. Then, closely linked to that, is how they felt playing the game. Clutch moments. Buzzer beaters. Big blocks. Steals. Finishing in traffic. And-1’s.

Playing with a shot clock gives them more of that. Fun and competing to win are not mutually exclusive. Well, unless a coach’s “smart strategy” trumps it all.

Kids are wired to adapt. Us adults just need to be adult enough to be more childlike in this regard—for their benefit not our own.

We (can) know better. Let’s do better.

The Game Has Changed

Better said, the game has evolved—and will continue to evolve. Fact. Like it or not.

Case in point: The ‘carrying’, or palming, violation of yesteryear, hasn’t been a violation since Iverson christened its legality with a deadly AI crosser on MJ. “Stretch-4” wasn’t commonplace in basketball vernacular before Dirk. And, the old school in me cringes as I type this, but… what Harden is doing to footwork will not be undone.

The “fundamental” skills that we were taught back-in-the-day (e.g. chest pass, triple threat, right hand lay-up on the right side), are kinda fake fundamentals nowadays. A foul isn’t a foul anymore—or, in some cases is now a foul.

The game evolves.

Seriously, I get it. It’ll be Bad Boys for life ☠️ for this guy if I had my druthers. I’ll reminisce on my Detroit Pistons ’til I’m six feet under. ✊🏾

And, at the same time, I can still acknowledge that today’s game is not the game of old—whatever ‘of old’ that means to the (self-anointed) purists-of-the-game. Fact is, the global “hoopscape” has changed. Yes, there are things from the old game that we must still carry forward. Yet, playing without a shot clock isn’t one of them.

Question: Are you going help or hurt your player’s development?

Are you going to be someone to adopt and adapt to accommodate where the game is headed? Or, are you going to hold steadfast to the convenience of times of old?

I mean, let’s keep it real… If you’re that much of a traditionalist, a True Believer so to speak, you should be screaming: ‘Do away with the three-point line!’‘Eliminate the jump from the jump shot and break out the step ladder and nail the peach basket against the wall again!’ You should be brandishing Naismith’s Original 13 Rules of ‘Basket Ball’ where ever you go and collecting petition signatures to have them reinstated…!

No? So, what you’re holding on to then is about what you know; rather than where the game has gone—and is going. Problem is, you’re not just holding on to your past, you’re holding your players back from their present, and for some, a future in this game. Sure, I’ll concede most kids won’t go on to play beyond high school. Point taken. Yet, your job is to equip your players with the skills needed to – at least – create the possibility for them to play beyond high school (if that’s something that they dream about).

Be a window, not a door. Or, as I heard someone so aptly put it, be a hinge. Why? Because hinges turn all walls into doors.

I like how athlete centered puts it: THEM > YOU. Let’s make that our northstar to guide decision making.

Miscellania…

ANTI- RATIONALIZATION: “24 sec? 30 sec? 35 sec? 40 or 45 sec. the pro- shot clock people can’t even decide or agree on that.” *

COUNTER: Untrue. There are 213 national federations governing basketball in the world, only one doesn’t play by FIBA rules: U-S-A! 😰 [per FIBA.basketball]. This assertion reveals a perspective that’s siloed (aka. head in the sand). This debate over the length of the shot clock exists primarily in North America.

ANTI- RATIONALIZATION: ‘Show me evidence… research… “FACTS!”… proof.’

COUNTER: It’s there. You’re just not looking and listening. If you’re in the US, look at your neighbours to the north. 👆🏽Yep… you got it. That hockey loving, back bacon eating, resource-deprived, massive chunk of earth above you.

If a tree falls in the forest and you don’t hear it, did it still make a sound? If you agree that it does, then understand that just because you haven’t been exposed to years of *research* that was done to build a body of evidence to justify a national movement towards FIBA rules (from some variant of no-shot-clock basketball), you haven’t been listening and watching.

Has it pain-free for the Canucks? Absolutely not. Some coaches have struggled to adapt. Not to the same extent for the kids.

What have been the benefits? In my estimation, the quality of player has improved tremendously – even for kids that aren’t going to play at ‘the next level’. Some of the benefits include improved domestic players (high school, college/university)… more players in NCAA than ever… men’s and women’s national teams with highest rankings… most number of NBA players outside of the American… and, improved quality of coaching plus coaching conversations.

You could also look to:

(1) USA Basketball – The rhetoric coming from decision influencers signals change.

(2) NBA – Jr. NBA World Championships (30-second shot clock).

(3) FIBA – U17 World Championships (24-sec shot clock) … 3×3 (12-second shot clock) + inclusion of 3on3 as an Olympic discipline in the 2020 Summer Olympics.

As the saying goes, where there’s smoke…

ANTI- RATIONALIZATION: “Not opposed to shot clock, but with so many small schools it is going to be tough to have enough trained people running the clock and understanding times to reset clock, etc.” *

COUNTER 1: This argument fails to put the athlete’s best interest first. Instead, it confuses the issue of funding, staffing and resource distribution/allocation with player and sport development.

It’s possible to say, ‘Yes! We’d love shot clocks. We see it’s benefits to player and sport development.’ And, concurrently, work to develop a plan to fund it.

COUNTER 2: Look, I’ve seen workarounds in countries around the world, with far fewer resources, who’ve come up with workable short-term solutions that work. They started with what was in the player’s best interest and/or what was mandated by their governing body, then figured it out. By example…

“In Europe we have 24 second clock from u14s. Most of the time the referees count it in their heads anyway with a 4 second warding. And we also have junior players as young as 12 that can table. They can fill a scorebook and operate the scoreboard/game clock.”@IshanHindocha

Where there’s a will…