The guard is the most common position in basketball – there are shooting guards, point guards (which is another subject), and then just plain old “guard.” The standard number used for the point guard is “1” – the shooting guard is “2” – and the guard is “3” (which is also the number for the small forward if you go big). Being a guard is pretty automatic if you are in the 5’ to 5’8” height range – just like being a forward or center is automatic if you are 5’9” or taller. It is safe to say that there are more guards out there than forwards / centers – that’s just the way it is. Since there are more guards out there, this means that there is more competition for a spot on the team or a starting position. Is the guard position easy to play? Not at all, in fact it is one of the hardest positions to play well. It’s easy to be an “average” guard, but very hard to be a “great” guard.
The skills needed to play the guard position
1. Ball Handling / Dribbling – In order for any guard to be successful, they must be able to handle the ball well.
2. Passing / Catching - Passing and catching are one of the basic skills needed for any player. A team cannot execute an offense if any player is struggling with their passing / catching skills.
3. Shooting – Lay ups, jump shots, free throws, 3-pointers, etc. To become a good shooter a player must spend countless hours in the gym. To become a great shooter – you will have to live in the gym.
4. Rebounding / Boxing Out. It is every players responsibility to rebound and box out – Not just the post players!
5. Defense – Be aggressive, always hustling, make plays (steals, jump balls, etc). A coach cannot teach aggressiveness and hustle – it has to come from the player. The saying is “Defense wins basketball games” is absolutely correct.
6. Offense – Be smart, run plays, drive, shoot, dish the ball off the dribble, etc. A guard must understand the game as a whole – limit the turnovers, drive to the basket, find the open teammate, and take good shots…
7. Must be physically strong, athletic, and in great condition. Being strong means being fast, being quick, and lasting longer in the game…
8. Triple Threat Position. Every player must be taught the triple threat position – a player is able to shoot, drive, and pass out of this very valuable offensive technique.
9. Footwork – Jumping skills, quick side to side movement, etc. Good footwork is a must for all basketball players, but sometimes neglected in practices…
10. Must be Fast – Which includes running fast, as well as having quick hands. Basketball is running, lots of running – if you don’t like running, then you will need to find another sport. Having quick hands is equally important…
If you don’t fall into the category of Point Guard or Shooting Guard then you may want to take a look at the skills mentioned above to see where you need to improve. You don’t have to be “perfect” at all the skills, but you will need to be good enough at each of these skills to help the team be successful. A regular guard position (the “3” position) can be used to meet the teams needs. Do you want to go big, then the 3 can be a “small forward” position. Do you want two “shooters” on the court, then the 3 can be another shooter. Or if your team really doesn’t have another “shooter” and wants to stay small and fast, use a guard at this position. The 3 is one of those positions that is used best to meet the teams needs – kind of a situational position. An average guard will be good at 3 or 4 of the skills mentioned above, but a great guard will work hard to be good at all of them…
The Point Guard
There is so much to cover regarding the point guard position that we had to create a section for it – so we will not go into detail here. I will mention this – the Point Guard is like a second “coach” on the floor, like the quarterback of a football team. A true point guard is the team leader, best ball handler, smartest player, and makes plays when the team needs it the most.
The Shooting Guard
The Shooting Guard will be the best shooter on the team, the player that will make a high percentage of shots. Shooting is every player’s favorite thing to do, but most players don’t understand what it takes to a “real” shooter. It takes thousands and thousands of practice shots to get to the point where the mind – memorization effect takes place.
What is Mind-Memorization?
Let’s use the “Free Throw” as an example. A player stands at the same spot, the same distance from the basket, does the same routine, sets, focuses on the rim, and shoots. This whole process, when done is excess, is memorized in your mind. That’s why the Free Throw is such a high percentage shot. Now think about taking thousands of shots from all around the court – eventually mind-memorization will take place also, especially if you practice perfectly. This is why great shooters can hit shots everywhere on the court, it’s not because they were born great shooters, it’s because they worked hard to become a great shooter. Hence the saying “great shooters are made, not born.”
Types of Shots to work on…
1. Jump Shots - Use proper form, balance, and focus.
2. Free Throws – Use the same routine, practice shooting so many free throws that it becomes automatic. If you are in high school you should be shooting around 75-80%.
3. Lay-Ups – The lay up is called the easiest shot in basketball. Just because it is an easy shot, doesn’t mean you don’t have to practice lay ups. A great guard can make lay ups with both the left hand and the right hand without any problems, and you should never, ever miss a lay up!
4. Three Point Shots – There seems to be a lot of glory in making a 3-point shot, but it is very hard to develop the accuracy needed to make a high percentage. Since this shot takes more arm strength, push, and extension – be careful not to shoot too many 3-point shots, I have seen players develop “tennis elbow” from over shooting this shot…
If you need work on your shooting form, or just want more information on the basics of shooting – take a look at our shooting basics section…
How to Become a Great Shooter
To become a great shooter you must have a consistent routine in place to consistently shoot 200-300 shots per day (which equates to thousands of shots over a few months time). The best time to work on becoming a great shooter is during the off-season (the summer months). The method I used with my players (and daughters) was the “Free Throw” theory (this method is used in stages).
Note – The most important aspect of becoming a great shooter is having someone “rebound” for you. Without a rebounder you will spend more time chasing the basketball around than shooting. With a rebounder you can take a good amount of shots in a very short period of time.
The Free Throw Theory Method
* Stage One – This is where you designate spots on the court, and take 15 shots (in a row) at each of the spots. It works best if you shoot at the same spots, and track your progress.
* Stage Two – This is where you are now making a very high percentage of the shots from the designated spots (Stage One), and are ready to move on. Stage two adds movement to the routine. Instead of just standing there building mind-memorization skills, you will now use what you have moving to different spots on the court. The best way to do this is to go back and forth from one spot to the next. For example: Wing to Corner / Corner to Wing, Block to Block for one minute (with someone getting your rebounds).
* Stage Three – “Game Shots” This is the stage where you put what you have learned to the test. This routine is where you are now moving to different spots on the court and taking game like shots. The drill is for one minute, and you will definitely need a rebounder (or two). When the drill starts you want to shoot, move to a different spot, call for the ball, and shoot – consistently for one minute. Having someone track how many shots you make will be very beneficial to monitoring your progress.
Last on the guard position…
It is very important for any player that falls into the category of “guard” to evaluate their skill level as early in their basketball career as possible. This way the player will have the opportunity to improve and work towards the “guard” skill that best suites their level of talent. If you want to be a point guard, a shooter, or just a regular guard, it will still be a lot of hard work. The bottom line is always the same – how hard are you willing to work to improve and develop your skills? Coaches must help players reach their full potential and be willing to work with each player to get them where they need to be.