The Benefits of Developing a Rebounding System

By Tony Miller

A rebounding analysis of where the ball actually lands, and how to ensure your players are grabbing as many boards as possible.

*Update: The latest episode of A Quick Timeout Podcast features Fran Fraschilla who discusses several rebounding points related to this article – click below to listen.

Remember watching players like Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman, and Ben Wallace dominate the boards in the 90s and 00s? Of course you do, because you still bring up their names multiple times a season to your players, despite the fact most of your athletes weren’t even alive when any of those guys were playing. But you don’t care. There was something about not just the way Rodman knew exactly where a ball was going the moment it left Steve Kerr’s fingertips, but also how Rodman could fight and worm his way precisely to the right spot on the floor.

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Where Does the Ball Go on Rebounds?

We all want rebounders like Rodman, but we’re just not sure how to teach a skill that’s so… random.

Random. That may have been the word you were expecting, especially if your team uses one of those rebounding domes (top 3 worst coaching inventions of all time, in my opinion). But is rebounding really that random?

“No,” you quickly think. “Long shot, long rebound. It’s physics.” You may be a bit surprised to read this NBA study from the Northwestern Sports Analytics Group, which found the average distance of a rebound has actually decreased in recent years. Study results aside, what does “long rebound” actually mean anyway?

“Ok, well, rebounds at least typically bounce towards the ‘opposite side’ of where the shot is taken.” True, but maybe not as much as you think. And what happens when the shot is taken from the top of the key or the upper portions of the wings where those “opposite side” rebounds would be a ricochet off the backboard?

A few years back, the team over at KenPom tracked the missed 3-point attempts (1,164 FGA) of 50 NCAA men’s basketball games. Here’s what they found:

Shot LocationSame SideCenterOpposite Side
Elbow Extended38%17%44%
Upper Wing32%30%38%

While there may not be an exact science to rebounding, we can all at least agree there are tendencies that certain types of missed shots will take. So now, how are you going to teach the actual skills of team rebounding to your players?

(FastModel got quite a few responses on both ends of the spectrum from this tweet back in November… Is this “team rebounding” or nah??)

Questions to Ask When Developing Your System

As with any area in the game of basketball, don’t let someone else decide what your philosophy will be. After all, it’s your team, and no one, including myself, knows your team, your system, and your individual players’ skills better than you.

Besides, poll a group of coaches, and you’re going to find they don’t agree on the perfect way to teach something, anyway.

  1. How many offensive rebounders will you send to the glass?
  2. Will defensive rebounders box out: i.e., “hit and hold,” “hit and pursue,” or some combination of those two techniques (with certain players “hitting and holding” and others “hitting and pursuing”)
  3. Should rebounders go to a predetermined spot on the floor (e.g., 4 and 5 go to blocks, point guard goes to the nail area, triangle rebounding, etc.) or the closest predictable area for a rebound (e.g., on a corner three, take position on the opposite side)?
  4. Will you teach rebounding through drills or through live gameplay?

Tips for Coaching Rebounding

Game-like rebounding drills can be tough to come by. After all, who wants to tell their players to purposely miss (for some, missing may not be a problem). Still, many of these drills result in some sort of “scriptedness” that fail to simulate game-like conditions.

These are a couple of our program’s favorite rebounding drills (click on the diagram to download to FastDraw):

Closeout Rebounding

Closeout rebounding drill

The drill begins with all five defensive players underneath the basket and the coach holding the basketball. On “Go!” the coach will throw the ball to any of the five offensive players. With the ball in the air, the five defensive players will move toward their men, into the appropriate defensive positions (e.g., closeout to the ball, gap, and help).

On the catch, the offensive player immediately shoots. Both defensive players and offensive rebounders pursue the basketball, depending on your rebounding system.

Scoring Option: 1 point for a defensive rebound, 3 points for an offensive rebound.

Defend, Rebound, Live

Defend, rebound, live

Offensive players line up in your team’s normal offense (in the example here, 4 out 1 in), while the coach begins with the basketball. Without a basketball, the offense will run a play or your team’s offense while the defense defends. At the coach’s discretion, the coach will shoot from various spots on the floor (spots based on where the offensive typically gets shots in that offensive action).

The play goes to live 5v5 on the rebound with the offense trying to score again or the defense transitioning to offense towards the other end.

Don’t wait to implement!

Like anything else, your group won’t become a great rebounding team by chance. First, do you have a rebounding system? Second, are you consistently emphasizing that system? After being out-rebounded most games for two-thirds of the season, our coaching staff had to look in the mirror. Our system was vague, and we didn’t emphasize rebounding technique or effort like we should. Since making some changes, we’ve slowly seen improvement. Your team can too. Don’t wait!

Additional Reading:

Offensive Rebounding Concepts

Competitive Team Rebounding

Rebounding Drills and Coverages

Circle the Wagons Rebounding

All Rebounding Drills on the FMS PlayBank

More from Tony Miller: Simple Suggestions for Improved Practice | Why You Need FastDraw for iPad NOW! | All Plays and Drills | All Blog Posts

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Tony Miller

Men's Assistant Basketball Coach at Bob Jones University Bruins
Dr. Tony Miller is the men's assistant basketball coach at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC. In addition, he serves as the director of BJU's sport management degree program.

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  1. Chad Allison said:

    I watched a team this year that was one of the best blockout teams I’ve ever seen. I asked their coach at the end of the season how he got his girls to block out so well. He said “we have not done a single block out drill all year. We post the player’s blockout % after each game. Players don’t want to have the worst % so they make more of an effort to block out.” Side note: I had my team do a lot of block out drills but we were not very good at it. Something worth thinking about.

    • Tony Miller said:

      I actually don’t believe EVERY player is best-suited to box out. We have a 6’5″ point guard who hasn’t boxed out in a game in 3 years. However, he’s our best rebounder because he’s a great “pursuer” of the basketball. It would be a waste of my time and his talents to force him to become a box out rebounder. I don’t know your team, so I don’t know if that is the solution to your team’s struggles, but just something to consider.

  2. Cameron Bruce said:

    Could you give a couple of different examples of “Systems” for rebounding. ‘How’ do I actually take the concepts you mention and then formulate a “System”? Is a “System” simply good individual fundamentals or a team concept much like an offense ‘reads’ a defense then ‘reacts’ to player movement, spacing, and ball movement?

    • Tony Miller said:

      Thanks for the questions, coach. “System” simply put is “what we do” as a team. To get a better sense of this for your team, I would ask your players, “What do you all do for rebounding?” If their answer is, “We go get the ball,” then that’s your system (not a very thorough system, but a system nonetheless). Practically speaking, I would list out in bullet points what you want to teach and regularly emphasize for rebounding. For example:
      – Rebound on the defensive end with 5 players. Everyone inside of 15 feet hit and hold (i.e., box out), outside of 15 feet hit and go get the ball.
      – Rebound on the offensive end with 3 players (forwards and center) while 2 players (the PG and SG) get back on defense.
      – The three offensive players triangle rebound (one on the weak side, one on the strong side, one at the nail)
      You could make it as in-depth (i.e., detailed) as you want, all the way down to how you teach “hit and go get.”
      Hope that help!