In basketball, much attention is paid to the players, and rightfully so. But watching a good coaching duel develop can be like watching a work of art being created in front of you.
TheDribbleDrop has always appreciated all facets of the game and will be linking with a distinguished high school basketball coaches every week to discuss the ins and outs of the game and what happens in-between the lines.
This week, Bergen Catholic head coach Billy Armstrong discusses the blueprint to a successful offense, the importance of live game simulation drills in practice, his four coaching objectives that will lead you to success and more.
By Christian Mordi / @thedribbledrop on IG and Twitter
TheDribbleDrop: Coach for those who don’t know, tell us a little bit about your coaching background.
Coach Billy Armstrong: I started out coaching AAU basketball. I run my own program called Hoop Dreamz. I coached there solely for about 5 years. After that I joined Bergen Catholic as the JV coach for 3 years. I later became the head coach at BC. I have been the head coach there for 7 years now.
TheDribbleDrop: If you were use one word to describe your coaching style, what would it be and why?
Coach Armstrong: I would use the term decision maker. The way I was raised and taught was that basketball was a game of decision making. At times you can compare basketball to driving a taxi in New York City, as you have to make tough choices fast on the fly. You don’t have all day to make up your mind. I teach my players to make the right decision at a fast pace.
TheDribbleDrop: How do you prepare the team for you style of play in early season practices?
Coach Armstrong: Our practices are live. It goes back to the decision making part of it. We don’t do any drills that aren’t based around live game simulation. It’s like in school where kids memorize the drill or a play in a certain way and they can’t execute it in a crisis. Once a kid starts memorizing in school the learning stops. They aren’t focused on the process of getting better. It took me awhile as a coach to learn to deal with a somewhat messy practice. I always tell the kids that “learning is messy.” The practices are ugly at first but they get better because the players have to make reads and decisions.
TheDribbleDrop: Interesting. Can you give us an example of one drill you do everyday?
Coach Armstrong: We do one drill called “Read the coach.” Basically you have three lines out there. Two coaches guarding two of the lines. We will tell the players to dribble from the corner to the wing. The opposite wing will cut to the top. From there we read what the coach does and use the right basketball play at the moment. Does he back cut? Pop out? We just teach them how to play on the fly.
I feel like basketball is a game of advantages. You focus on finding the advantage and utilizing it as much as possible.
TheDribbleDrop: Offensively, what is your ideal style of play? Do you prefer a free flowing, fast paced transition game, or a more detailed and structured offensive approach.
Coach Armstrong: We’re a full court, running-attacking offense. We’re not run and gun but we do run. The kids have tremendous freedom, but with the freedom comes a certain level of discipline. We have five rules on offense and as long as they are using those rules we are good to go. The first is the foundation which is “attack in space.” If they do that then they are ok.
TheDribbleDrop: In the half court, do you prefer a "less structure is more" approach, or do you prefer a more layered offensive approach?
Coach Armstrong: Well I played at Davidson for coach Bob Mckillop. I got inspiration from most of my stuff offensively from him. He’s a great resource and like a second father to me. We run their secondary break and their offense.
TheDribbleDrop: You have a dynamic frontcourt duo of Zachary Freemantle and Matt Zona. Tell us a bit about his game. What are some things you do to free them up?
Coach Armstrong: Well I teach the players how to play and I focus on creating a synergy between the perimeter and the post. In general I feel kids are great at dribbling the ball these days but they are not great at passing. They also struggle with post-feeding because there aren’t a lot of posts. We have two of them. We spend a lot of time working on feeding the post. We teach our players to get underneath our defenders and not just to get in front of them.
TheDribbleDrop: What piece of advice would you give a new coach?
Coach Armstrong: Well I would give two. One is to be true to yourself. People are always going to try to micromanage you but you have to be true to yourself.
The second one is to coach what you know. You can’t try to coach someone else’s offense. If you don’t believe in it the kids will smell it. You have to know it inside and out. You will have kids that are really smart and they will call you out on stuff. You have to have answers.
TheDribbleDrop: How do you gauge success at Bergen Catholic?
Coach Armstrong: We have four daily objectives. We focus on those things everyday. The first one is “getting better.” My players hear me say that constantly during timeouts. We need to focus on getting better and not performance. Second thing is we want to “have fun.” Fun isn’t like joking with the guys everyday, fun is helping a teammate, setting a good screen, taking a charge, fighting for loose balls, etc.
Third is “play to win.” It’s not as simple as playing to win, which we are. Playing to win is playing without fear. We stand in the center of the ring and throw punches we aren’t running on our heels. The final objective is “to make every play count.” Getting young players to understand that every rep in practice counts is hard, but we work on those teams everyday.
I think if we focus on those things the winning and success takes care of itself.