There are too many turnovers in women’s basketball, and it kills our credibility.
I loved sitting in on the marketing symposium at this year’s WBCA convention. “It’s Our Game!” was all about creative ways to promote women’s basketball. Giving away free bacon, coaches dribbling through city streets, and hosting Halloween carnivals (think players in the dunk tank) were some of the ideas shared. But as I listened, I just kept thinking our game would have more appeal if women would quit turning the ball over so much.
There are some great things that distinguish women’s college basketball from the men’s game–purity of play, fundamentals, family atmostphere, 4-year players, etc. Unfortunately, turnovers are another strong distinction.
Turnover Trends in NCAA Women’s Basketball
To be clear, I’m not trying to make this all about girls vs. boys. But the men’s statistics are the best available standard of comparison. As you can see in the stats above, both women and men have decreased turnovers in the last nine seasons. However, the women’s national averages are still not stellar at 15.9 (DI), 16.8 (DII), and a whopping 18.0 (DIII) TOs per game. In my humble coaching opinion, this is a glaring statistic that everyone working to grow the women’s game should give more attention to. It’s only one column on a box score but TOs impact our overall credibility. In everyday life, we use the expression, “dropped the ball,” to describe someone who made a careless error. And if that happens too often, it’s hard to take that person seriously. For women’s basketball, the parallel is literal. We need to hang on to the ball in order to improve both the fan and participant experience. It’s no fun to watch or play sloppy games. How exciting is a game that almost guarantees over 30 turnovers per contest?
The obvious question here is, “Why do women turn the ball over more?” If someone asks why women don’t play above the rim as much as men do, the answer is simple: we’re not as tall. But when you ask why women turn the ball over more than men, the answer is… I’m not sure. We could attribute it to the idea that young girls don’t grow up developing basic passing and catching skills. For instance, when a group of girls gets together to play, they generally don’t go out and throw a football as often as boys do. Along the same lines, young female basketball players don’t opt to play as much competitive 1-on-1, thus they don’t develop a consistent comfort level with possession of the ball. Do women’s turnovers have anything to do with style of play? Up-tempo, running teams can be successful while getting away with more TOs, but I don’t believe this factors into the men vs. women debate. Can women’s TOs be blamed on great defense? Honest, hard-working, fundamental defense is a strength of the women’s game, after all. Officiating is certainly a factor. If defenders are allowed to clobber the ball handler, it’s no wonder why they come up with a steal. Doug Bruno’s call for “ONE CHANGE” addresses this issue, and NCAA officiating rules have been adapted to protect the ball handler, shooter and offensive post player. This led to a general increase in foul calls last season, and only time will tell if it decreases our game’s turnover totals.
Unfortunately, I can’t offer you a magic formula to clean up your team’s TOs. There are any number of ways you can emphasize regard for the basketball and the value of a possession. But the most important thing is simply that you do emphasize it. Find a way to fight the unforced error epidemic in our game. Andy Landers says players will do what you tolerate. So when your team hits the floor for practice, outlaw turnovers with no defense. Even though it requires more effort, work turnovers into your charting records in practice, all the time. Passing drills are good, but they don’t always create the pressure of a game situation. Analyze the errors that occur within your competitive drills. Take the time, especially early in the year, to listen to your players and make sure everyone understands why TOs happen, which TOs are acceptable and which are not. While you want your kids to treat the basketball like it’s precious, you don’t want them to be so afraid to turn it over that they hold back. Add game-like defenders in every drill you can. How beneficial is dummy defense, really? Make your girls play 1-on-1 regularly (especially high school and youth coaches), because otherwise they probably won’t. When it comes to postgame review, don’t assume that your players are paying attention to turnovers on the stat sheet, or that they understand how that stat fits into the big picture. Make time to discuss it. Analyze team TOs in your film sessions. And lastly, let each individual player know your turnover expectations according to their position and playing time. Your point guards probably understand this already and your experienced players may pay attention to it, but you might be surprised how many players are clueless in this area. Let’s say your freshman forward is the second one off the bench and she feels pretty good about the 9 points and 7 rebounds she gave you one night. But she may not understand how much impact her 3 turnovers had (or the fact that she is not “allowed” to commit 3 TOs in a game).
Val Ackerman’s White Paper (2013) united the Women’s Basketball community’s discussion of how to improve our game. Debbie Antonelli’s 100-shots-a-day challenge reinforces the Paper’s emphasis on the need for more scoring and higher shooting percentages. I agree with Ackerman and Antonelli that putting more points on the board will lead to a better overall product on the floor. But players can’t put the ball in the basket if they throw it away first. Clean up the turnovers!
Listen, I’d be the first in line for free bacon, but I just think the beauty of women’s basketball is in the game itself, not the gimmicks.