This week’s Tribe Spotlight feature Read & React coach Joe Opperman.

I’ve been coaching Middle School boys and girls teams for the past five years, and have been actively involved in assisting my son’s team (now 5th grade) as they’ve been led by our Varsity Girls coach who also has a son on the team.

Our girls varsity program has been running the Read & React for several years. However, I’ll admit I was VERY skeptical and resistant to it the first several years it was suggested to me. This skepticism, I can honestly say, was basically driven by my initial assumptions about running a 5-out based offense, and not doing my homework early to give it a real look. My assumptions were that it was ridiculous to operate without a post presence and it would put you in bad shape to rebound. I didn’t like it because I hadn’t given it a fair shot.

I’ve watched now for three years as our varsity coach, Mark Wester, has craftily and carefully worked to develop a promising young group starting in 3rd grade. More time was spent on fundamentals from the very beginning than even I would have expected, and we’ve been slowly teaching and adding layers to the Read & React.

Despite my initial skepticism and unwillingness to run the Read & React, I could see from the beginning how effective it was with our 3rd grade boys. I would offer as highlights the following observances

  1. The Read & React forces great floor spacing from the very beginning. This is of utmost importance for more reasons than I can describe. Watching our 3rd graders operate pretty fluently in space compared to the jumbled bunches and repeated ball screens we were seeing from our competition set our kids up to learn and grow from the onset. Because 3rd graders have a hard time fully understanding team defensive concepts, this set all of our kids up with great scoring opportunities on read line cuts and 1-on-1 penetration. The read line cuts also teach vision, so the whole team learns great lessons.
  1. The Read & React teaches the importance of passing from the beginning. While other teams were setting ball screens and trying to get their best player a chance to shoot and score, the Read & React was teaching our players the give and go cut and emphasizing team play and movement.
  1. The Read & React allows all players the chance to develop guard skills. Maybe the most important aspect of the Read & React in my opinion is that it doesn’t stick kids in ‘less skilled’ roles during the crucial early developmental years. Our biggest kids (kids that would be posting up repeatedly on many other teams) are developing the same ability and confidence to penetrate and handle the ball as everyone else. This is setting them up for much more opportunities down the road.
  1. The Read & React is very versatile. We’ve been very thoughtful and slow to add different layers, making sure the team as a whole understands what we are trying to accomplish and why, before moving on to new layers. As a result, we can easily change tactics against any opponent style we see. Draft drives may be very available in one game, whereas post touches and Laker cuts are the key the next. Defenses simply can’t stop or anticipate our movements and we are eventually able to expose weaknesses.

I would add to all of this that because this system helped allow early success for our kids, they developed confidence and have been able to, for the most part, stay a step or more ahead of the competition running more conventional things. In any given game, our kids get the opportunity to recognize so many more things than our opponents. Read line cuts, drafting, back screens, post touches, and other layers are all happening in any given game motion and without rigid rules, allowing for very creative play and growth.

Thinking bigger scale, I’d also like to think this presents greater opportunity to improve the game in general. We are not only teaching our kids good skills, but the opponents are seeing things they haven’t seen before, and that’s teaching them new lessons as well.

This group I’m describing is now in 5th grade, and in three long seasons, have only lost three games total. Most of the games are incredibly lopsided as our kids are simply playing at a higher level with better understanding than other area teams.

After watching how the first season went, I made the commitment to study as much information as I could regarding the Read & React, and quickly made the transition for my Middle School teams also. At this point, I think you’d have to be crazy to know about and understand this offense and consider doing anything else. It just provides too many advantages for your team and players not to use.

6 Responses

  1. Hi Coach Joe,

    I also coach a 5th grade boys team. I’ve been trying to teach them the R&R system for the past year with mixed results.

    Just wondering what drills you use to teach the basic layers. Do you use the drills from the videos or do you have other ones?

    I’m a big fan of this system too, but I’m just having a hard time teaching it to the kids. This team practices year round but only once a week for 1 1/2 hours.



    1. Rich-We have passed your question along to Joe via email. Thank for reading. What areas are you finding a gap in your teachings and the players learning curve?

      1. Thank you Kyle for passing the question along to Coach Joe.

        I try to use the teaching methods shown in the videos. I’ve used both the 5vs0 and 3vs0 drills. I’ve also incorporated defenders, 5vs5, 3vs3 and sometimes 2vs1, 3vs2 etc.. just to give the offense some advantage.

        The kids don’t always cut after the pass and they still at times don’t space out properly.

        I think the biggest issue I face is the lack of practice time. Only practicing once a week doesn’t allow the offense to become a habit for the kids. I’ll probably have to try to get some extra gym time during the season.

        Also – 5th grade is when they allow full court pressure – my team does not have a lot of good ball handlers, we’ve been focusing a lot time to learning how to press break.

        1. Rich-With the limited practice time I would focus on Layer 1 passing & cutting as much as you can. Our high school team has run the R&R for 4 years now and even some of our best players don’t run it perfectly on a consistent basis. That is unfortunate that they are allowing such young players to full-court press, that is a major flaw in youth basketball in my opinion. Just remember that you are teaching the kids all the right things and long term, they will become better players because of it.

    2. Rich – Below is Joe’s response to your questions:

      We use drills from the videos primarily, and in my opinions the most effective in teaching the offense is 5-0. We spend time at each practice with 5-0 and give the kids various instructions such as “give me 4 pass and cuts, 3 dribble ats, and 2 post ups, finish with a laker cut for the score.” We have the kids verbalized what they are doing to encourage communication, so the ball handler will be yelling “at at” during a dribble at. We also run 5-0 during pregame warmups to constantly reinforce the system. The orchestrator is also a great drill but for us 5-0 is the most effective.

      Most of our players are 3+ sport athletes so we are very mindful of not over practicing. We run 2 practices a week throughout the season, none longer than 75 mins. Most of the kids get additional gym time with parents/siblings/etc.

  2. Rich, I have been coaching the r&r for 4 years with youth (grades 4-8). I have started out teaching it different ways. The best way I have learned to teach it is the same way Rick teaches it in the Youth Video. We also do a lot of the 3 player drills. In the 3 player drills we continuosly remind the kids to keep their spacing, and explain to them why it is important. We have only taught the first 3 layers and just recently started teaching screening actions to our more experienced group (6/7 grade boys). In between r&r we teach ball handling, shooting and defense along with rebounding. Try and keep it simple with the short amount of time. We found with having a workable offense we are able to work more on the fundamentals. In the 3 player drills we are able to work on triple threat, different passes, pivoting, lay ups, etc. During the season we get a feel for what our team is good at, such as post play or driving the ball and we change our formations to give us advantages (3out, 4out, 5out). We also teach our kids the language so that in games they know what we want them to execute. I am always surprised how fast kids pick up on the language/terminology.
    On another note, I recently met and had a great talk with coach Wester. A great coach who was willing to listen and share his experience.

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