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Are We Teaching Closeouts The Best Way
- contributed by Lee Taft

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
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Lee Taft, known to most simply as "The Speed Guy", is highly respected as an athletic movement specialist. The last 29 years he has devoted the majority of his time training multi-directional speed to all ages and ability levels, teaching his multi-directional speed methods to top performance coaches and fitness professionals worldwide. Lee has also dedicated countless hours mentoring up-and- coming sports performance trainers, many who have gone into the profession and made a big impact themselves.

His innovative approach to training has impacted how many coaches teach athletic movement. Lee brought to light the importance and fine points of the innate quality of repositioning- "Plyo Step", "Hip Turn", "Directional Step" and connection to fight or flight. According to Lee, "Speed and agility done right is about making sure we marry the natural movements athletes have with effective and efficient body control to maximize speed and quickness".

Lee has been a speaker at numerous strength and conditioning and sports performance events across the world and has produced many instructional videos in the area of multi-directional speed and movement training. In addition, Lee has written several eBooks specifically on movement techniques and speed development. Lee and his wife Jennifer have 3 children, Jae, Bailee and Brennen and currently reside in Indiana.

Lee Taft
Lee Taft

Regardless of if I am working with a professional or collegiate basketball team, an AAU club, or a high school basketball team I see the same methods being taught to players making a closeout on a potential jump shooter.

Let's examine what I see

The first thing that is typically taught is the athlete must take a couple big strong acceleration steps to reduce the gap quickly. The more powerful steps are followed by shorter choppy gather steps to regain control and body awareness, so the player does not lose orientation of where the shooter might go if he or she shot fakes and drives.

The second thing I see being taught is the use of a slightly angled attack in order to influence the shooter if he or she does attempt to drive. The defender wants to limit the player's options and force towards help. To perform this angled attack the defender must perform the power steps to close the gap quickly but then immediately, during the shorter gather step, off-set his or her footwork to have one foot slightly higher and off-center from the middle of the shooters body. Players must be careful not to open the gate too much, so the offensive player has little resistance if he/she does drive.

Thirdly, I watch coaches teach their players to throw both hands high. As a matter of fact, the saying is "closeout with hands high". So, as the defender is getting out of his or her power steps and entering into the choppy gather steps both hands are being thrown high above the head.

Two-hands high close-out

Now, let's examine what is really happening in regards to biomechanics and movement principles.

Yes! The strong power acceleration steps to shorten the gap between the defender and shooter are important - have to get there quickly. I also agree there should be shorter choppy gather steps to regain control of the defender's momentum and to prepare to get in an athletic defensive stance. What I have struggled with for years though is the strategy to raise both hands high during the closeout. Let me explain my thoughts.

From an athletic movement standpoint, when the hands raise up above the head the center of mass rises, the hips get pulled under the shoulders more, and the athlete isn't able to load joints such as the ankles and hips as effectively. This causes a big problem. The problem is if the shooter shot fakes and drives, while the defender's hands are high, the defender is much slower in moving laterally to cut off drive angles. Certainly the defender will react by lowering the hands quickly while regaining the athletic defensive stance - problem is it is often too late.

You see, with both hands being held high - it really doesn't hold merit. What I always taught my team was to closeout with one hand high and the other hand in a defensive digging or bounce pass deflecting position where the ball could be traced (the hand being held high was determined by which direction the defender closed out on the shooter). This served a couple important things. The first is the defender, only having one hand high, could sit his or her hips down, shoulders moved slightly more forward - which loaded the hips better and gave greater body balance and movement possibilities.

The second is by only having one hand high the defender could still have a hand in the high passing lane should there be a high pass into the post, and the player could still get a hand up once the shooter rises-up to shoot. And finally, the down hand is in a great position to dig at the ball should the shooter bring it down, and is also in position to get in the bounce-pass lane.

I guess my point is this, is having two hands high really doing what coaches want? A player would never defend a jump shooter by raising up with two hands in the shooter's face on a shot - he/she would use one. The defender only needs one hand in the high passing lane to defend a straight-line pass into the post. This allows the defender to still stay athletic enough to defend the drive or a quick wrap around bounce pass by having one hand down (remember, the defender should be angled slightly and off-set so the bounce pass entry will be to the open side of the defender - hence, that hand being down).

One-hand high close-out

In certain situations, like those in the NBA where players are having to closeout from great distance due to the depth of the 3-point line, the defender is attempting to run the shooter off the line by flying by the shooting hand side. This is a different strategy and not one discussed in this article. In most cases, I feel it is imperative to closeout quickly and stay down in order to take up the shooter's space, while also being able to deflect a direct drive angle by the shooter. I used to tell my players, close out low and contest the shot by getting high late. I did this because I didn't want them jumping on a shot fake and allowing an easy drive, and I didn't want to foul jump shooters.

As someone who has spent my professional adult life studying on-court speed and movement I can see the benefits and limitations of certain postures as it relates to defensive, or offensive, strategies. The goal should always be to maximize movement speed and effectiveness in your players.

The "both hands high when closing out" strategy has caused many players to be out of position and causes a breakdown in the integrity of team defense.

Basketball coaches are not movement specialists but having a fundamental basic idea of how certain postures and positions affect efficient movement is important.

Don't change your philosophy and strategies on closeout technique because I said you should. Take the time to understand it and then you make your decision based on what is most important to your athletes, your defensive system, and what you're trying to accomplish in a closeout.

Yours in Speed,
Lee Taft

Close-Out technique and drill from Mike Jones, DeMatha Catholic High School Head Coach
From DVD "Building the DeMatha Team Defense"

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