Ward Basketball’s Secret Weapon
February 1978

“Ward Basketball’s Secret Weapon,” New Era, Feb. 1978, 46

Ward Basketball’s Secret Weapon

Robert had always wanted to play ward basketball. He had always had to struggle at it, too. He wasn’t as tall as some of the other boys, but he felt his quickness would make up the difference. The problem was, he lacked confidence.

Robert yearned for a secret weapon that would sharpen his ball-handling skills and hone his shooting to fine-tuned accuracy. In his dreams he visualized himself sprinting the length of the court to slam the winning basket through the hoop as the buzzer blared at the end of the game.

Unfortunately, reality rushed back when he realized he had been daydreaming and the man he was guarding in practice had faked him again and was driving in for an easy lay-up.

The team worked well together, and the coach was good about letting everybody have a chance to play. But they didn’t have any real training drills, and certainly no way for someone who wanted to learn to pick up what the others already knew. He wished he knew what criteria the coach used in rating team members.

Like Robert, many would-be athletes, particularly in Church sports, know that winning—or even earning the right to be a starter—comes through discipline. There are no “success-without-effort” formulas.

And yet Robert realized that effort must be channeled to be effective. Analysis of his skills would help him know where he should concentrate on improvement and also which strong-points to build on. The question, then, became how to know which skills were important to the coach and how Robert could improve on them.

Although Robert’s case is fictional, it parallels some typical real frustrations. The solution, however, is not fictional. There are ways for a player to know what a coach is looking for and methods for improving talents in which a player is lacking. One of the easiest things to do is to talk privately with the coach. This is particularly effective in ward basketball, because coaches are asked to help develop spiritual growth and personal welfare even more than to build a winning team. The coach can offer a lot of pointers and may spend individual time with a player (talented or raw) who shows exceptional interest.

But sometimes the coach himself isn’t sure where to begin. He’s played ball himself, knows some simple plays and drills, and mostly enjoys the chance to be with the young men in the ward. Those who have played before know how to play together already. The coach’s big worry is how to make boys like Robert feel at home as part of the team.

One of the tools the roundballers and their coach can successfully employ is a battery of skill tests.

According to Heber-Newsom, author of a book for high school basketball coaches, the use of such tests increases both the coaches and the players’ confidence and judgment.1 Another authority, Coach Herman Wolfe, suggests three reasons for considering a skill evaluation program2: (1) players realize how much they need to improve on their own; (2) players develop confidence in the abilities they do have; and (3) a record of player abilities helps a coach be fair and objective in choosing both the starting lineup and replacements.

Of course, ward basketball is played for more reasons than just to see who can win—the most important ones include learning to have fun, working together, and exhibiting sportsmanship in action and thought.

But skill tests can add variety and interest to daily practice, show shy players that they do have potential, and encourage coaches to let each team member have a chance to get in the game. Properly administered tests can permit contestants to compete against themselves, marking progress as they increase in talent. Those who don’t want to play might even be made to feel part of the team by helping to administer tests and record scores.

There are many basketball evaluations used by coaches, adapted to almost all players, teenage and older. The majority are used to score high school and college teams. In a thesis about basketball testing, Donald Lee Jenson reviews the various methods and recommends two: the Knox Test and the Wolfe Test.3

The Knox Test

This test measures ball-handling and shooting ability with four easy exercises.

SPEED DRIBBLE: Four chairs are placed in a straight line, the first chair 20 feet from the starting line, and the others 15 feet apart. The entire course covers 65 feet. The player stands behind the starting line with the ball in his hands and starts on the signal from the coach. He weaves between the chairs, up the length of the court and back, dribbling as fast as he can. He may start on either side of the first chair and dribble with either hand at any time.

WALL BOUNCE: The participant stands with his toes behind a line five feet from a wall. The object is to see how rapidly he can chest-pass the ball against the wall and catch it 15 times. Toes must remain behind the line, and only chest passes may be used. (No batting of the ball with the arms is allowed.)

DRIBBLE SHOOT: Three chairs are arranged in a straight line diagonally from the right side-line to the basket. The line should be 65 feet long, with the chairs spaced evenly (16 feet, 3 inches) apart. On the starting signal, the player dribbles around the obstacles; then when he reaches the basket, he shoots a lay-up. He continues shooting until he makes it, then dribbles back through the obstacles. If he is right-handed, he should start to the right side of the first chair; if left-handed, then the left side of the chair.

COIN IN THE CUP: Three cups, each a different color, are placed five feet apart in a straight line. A player stands with his back to the cups, 20 feet away, the ball in one hand and a coin in the other. On the starting signal, he pivots and races toward the cups. When he is 12 feet from the cups, the person giving the test names a color. The dribbler then drops his coin in the appropriate cup, bouncing the ball all the while. Time stops when the coin plunks in the cup.

Times for all four parts of the Knox Test should be recorded on a regular basis and monitored to note progress.

The Wolfe Test

This evaluation is a bit more complicated, including seven activities. Scores are awarded as points, rather than a record being kept of the times. (More points indicate greater proficiency.)

Wolfe says the purpose of the test is to reveal speed, reflexes, coordination, and range of vision, as well as fundamental skills. Here are the seven tests:

FOUL SHOOTING: Each player takes ten shots from the free-throw line, using any shooting method. All shots are taken at one basket, and just as in a game, feet should not cross the foul line. Two other players do the rebounding. Ten points are awarded for each basket made.

(Wolfe had shooters rotate under five baskets, lofting two tries at each one. But Jenson found this method took too much time, too many testers, and caused too much confusion.)

SET AND JUMP SHOOTING: This evaluation is designed to sort out the most proficient shooters. Each player takes a maximum of 15 set or jump shots from ten spots marked on the floor. In order to advance to the next station, a shot must be made from the previous one. If ten baskets are made in 15 tries, 100 points are awarded. For each spot not scored from, seven points are deducted. In this test, as in the previous one, it may be helpful for those not shooting to keep a verbal count of the number of baskets made.

LAY-UPS: Within a 15-second time limit, shooting from any angle under the basket, the player tries to make as many lay-ups as he can. He may bank the ball into the hoop or just drop it over the rim. He may shoot with either hand at any time from either side. The net may be removed if it gets in the way. (Nets are designed to slow the ball down as it falls.) Ten points are awarded for each basket.

REBOUND REFLEX UNDER PRESSURE: The object is to throw a ball against a wall and catch it as many times as possible in 15 seconds. The ball may be thrown as high as desired but must not touch the floor. Start 12 feet from the wall. The baseball pass is perhaps the most practical throwing technique, although any method may be used. Any rebound that is dropped or that hits the floor before being caught is not counted. Five points are earned for each successful catch.

SPEED AND ACCURACY DRIBBLE: This test requires the examinee to turn quickly and change hands while dribbling around obstacles. The course consists of two benches (11″ x 72″ x 16″), one table (30″ x 72″ x 30″), and two folding chairs. (See illustration.) A complete circle around the table must be made going each direction. If the course is covered in 20 seconds or less, 100 points are awarded. If not, for every additional second or part of a second, five points are deducted. Objects should be evenly spaced on the court, with six feet between the starting line and the first chair and six feet between the finish line and the last chair. Dribblers may change hands at any time and should cut as close as possible to obstacles. They may start on either side of the first chair.

RAPID DRIBBLE AND LAY-UP: The player dribbles the length of the court as fast as he can go and attempts a lay-up. If he misses, he shoots until the basket is made. Wolfe says a good high school player can complete the test in four seconds or less. A time of four seconds, therefore, earns 100 points. For every two-tenths of a second beyond four, five points are deducted.

AGILITY AND PERIPHERAL VISION: One person is placed in the center of a circle 12 feet wide. Five others are placed around the circle and pass the ball back and forth. The person in the center is given 20 seconds to intercept a pass. For each second after that, five points are deducted from 100. The five passers may only fake once, but may pass in any order. They are required to keep their feet in the circle. No high lobs are allowed. If the ball is knocked out of play, the clock is stopped until it is retrieved. The man in the center should stay in the middle and play the ball.

As with the Knox Test, scores should be recorded and compared on a regular basis so that progress may be noted.

Jenson also offers the following guidelines in selecting and administering tests:

(1) They should be easy to administer and simple to score.

(2) They should be completely objective.

(3) They should measure basic skills and potential and test one performer at a time.

(4) They should not be time-consuming.

Tests may have to be adapted for an individual ward’s use according to space, number of players, or age and size of players. Also, keep in mind that everybody has an off day now and then and that there are many things skill tests don’t measure; attitude, persistence, competitive spirit, aggressiveness, and timing between players are just a few. Experience helps, too, allowing the players to build a sense of teamwork.

The most important thing is for team members to enjoy playing and understand that they can improve by competing against each other or by sharpening skills on their own.


  1. Heber Newsom, Basketball for the High School Coach and the Physical Education Teacher (Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Company, 1952), p. 77.

  2. Herman Wolfe, From Tryouts to Championships (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964), pp. 1–10.

  3. Donald Lee Jenson, The Effect of Skill Tests in Selecting Junior High School Basketball Teams (Brigham Young University, May 1969). See also Robert D. Knox’s article, “Basketball Ability Test,” in Scholastic Coach, Nov. 1947, pp. 45–47.

Illustrated by Ted Nagata

Knox Speed Dribble Sub-Test

Knox Dribble Shoot Sub-Test; Coin in the Cup

Wolfe Set and Jump Shooting Sub-Test; Wolfe Speed and Accuracy Dribble Sub-Test

Wolfe Agility and Peripheral Vision Sub-Test