Educative vs Training Environment

by on August 6, 2019
in Passing

Much has been written on Twitter about passing and catching in the last week, prompted by Oregon’s Kelly Graves’ tweet about the high percentage of turnovers in women’s basketball and his implication that a slow, shuffling 2v0 passing drill explained their relatively low turnovers and high assist to turnover ratio.

In the comments, someone pointed out my team’s relatively high turnovers and low assist to turnover ratio last season, although our turnover ratio matched the NCAA average that Graves’ tweeted. This was used to argue that my points were invalid.

I never posted anything about reducing turnovers. I don’t worry about turnovers. We do not stress over turnovers. I work in a developmental level where our goal is to increase scholarship opportunities for our players and prepare them for NCAA D1 basketball.

As I have written previously, I favor an educative environment. In the video below, soccer coach Larry Paul differentiates between an educative environment and a training environment. An educative environment builds and expands options, whereas a training environment reduces options. We aim to expand options, whether through encouraging long passes, behind-the-back passes, one-hand passes, etc.

You will never hear me yell at a post player to “pass it to a guard” or “stop dribbling”, and instead will hear me yell “Go!” as soon as one rebounds the ball. There are not a lot of teams who encourage their 6’3 centers to lead the fast break, but it is likely one reason (of many) that she left with a Division 1 scholarship.

Similarly, it is not in my nature to play conservatively. When we get possession with 3 seconds left in the quarter, 94′ feet from our basket, I encourage a long pass. I want to score. We do not inbound and protect the ball like a smart team; we go for it. Sometimes we score; other times we commit a turnover.

First highlight. Freshman to freshman to freshman. No starters. Not a set play or anything that we had practiced. They organized as they set up for the inbound pass.

Against presses, not many teams look for the 40-foot pass. We do. We do not break presses to get the ball into the front court. We break presses to score layups or shoot open 3s. When the ball goes out of bounds in the front court, we do not inbound the ball and set up; we look to score. Occasionally, we get a 5-second violation or another turnover.

Not many coaches encourage behind-the-back passes. We do. Not many teams have back-up power forwards throwing crosscourt hook passes with their weak hands. We do. I spent the offseason sending texts to two of my guards challenging them to make passes like Milos Teodosic.

Our players play with freedom. Nobody exits the game for a bad pass or a turnover or a bad shot. That’s not our style. Does that lead to more turnovers? Sure. But, despite our turnover issues, our offense ranked as excellent or very good for almost every offensive category at our level, according to Synergy.

There are other factors that explain our turnovers, but my point is not to defend myself or my coaching. Instead, I want to point out that improving passing and catching skills and reducing turnovers are not the same thing. There are two general ways to improve: (1) increase your potential options or (2) decrease mistakes. We improve by increasing our options: throwing different kinds of passes, making different moves, increasing shooting range, etc. Most coaches focus on limiting options in an effort to decrease mistakes and ultimately win the game. That’s not us.

Therefore, our players improved. Our passing and catching improved. Our turnover numbers may not suggest that, but that has to do with our style of play and our level. How?

If you need a form passing drill, I suggest this:

Mostly, our drills are competitive because I worry less about the correct technique and more about the ability to find a pass against the defender:

We add in some two-ball transition shooting drills to practice one-hand passing and add conditioning. These are examples (not my favorite).

We also pass in all of our shooting drills.

In a short practice (we never go over 2 hours), I don’t understand the purpose for an uncontested passing drill when players throw dozens of uncontested passes during shooting drills. Therefore, when we practice passing specifically, we practice the decision-making aspects of passing: identifying the open player, reading cuts, timing, etc.

We clearly are not perfect, but our record, our offensive stats, and our progression of players to the next level, especially with some constraints that we face, suggest that while our turnovers may look high, and may suggest that we cannot pass, they probably are not a big problem and are somewhat indicative of some of our strengths, namely the players’ freedom and confidence to explore and try new things.

Play is Learning

Originally published in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter, 7.16 and Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter, Volume 7.

There are two distinct voices within coaching and literature. On one end of the spectrum, there is deliberate practice. On the other end of the spectrum, there is play. On Twitter, professor Dave Collins wrote: “Play on its own is important, but surely so too is learning.” This is a problem. Play is learning; it may not be sufficient to reach an expert performance, and the best learning environments support play and build upon the learning that occurs through play, but there is no denying that learning occurs through play. 

For generations, we learned through play. At TED, evolutionary anthropologist Isabel Behncke Izquierdo said: “Play is not just child’s games…play is foundational for building relationships and fostering tolerance. It’s where we learn to trust and where we learn about the rules of the game. Play increases creativity and resilience, and it’s all about the generation of diversity: diversity of interactions, diversity of behaviors, and diversity of connections. When you watch bonobo play, you are seeing the evolutionary roots of human laughter, dance, and ritual. Play is the glue that binds us together.”

The last few decades have reduced opportunities for play in a rush to promote more serious and structured activities that supposedly promote success. During those same decades, rates of attention deficit disorder and similar disorders (Nyarko et al., 2017), obesity (Cunningham et al., 2014), and depression and other mental illnesses (Olfson et al., 2014) have increased. Correlation does not equal causation, but there is evidence that exercise improves behavior and academic performance in those diagnosed with ADHD (Pontifex et al., 2013), reduces symptoms of depression (Barclay et al., 2014), and fights obesity. 

Play is a significant contributor to a child’s cognitive, physical, emotional, and social development (Blasi et al., 2002). Play is essential for healthy brain development, increases physical activity levels in children, develops social and decision-making skills, and enables exploration and discovery of interests (Ginsburg, 2007). “Play is very much an activity of the mind….Engagement in play involves the mind in an active process as a child investigates, explores, and inquires during play” (Blasi et al., 2002). 

Traditionally, the learning process for almost any skill started with play. I played basketball for years before I was coached. I and my friends developed numerous skills through our recess games. By the time that we had a coach, we could dribble, shoot, pass, make layups, and more. We knew the basic concepts. We had not perfected these skills, and some were better than others, but we had developed a good foundation. More importantly, we were motivated. We tried out for the school team of our own volition, whereas my parents signed me up for soccer when I was young. 

I never played soccer or touched a soccer ball before my first organized practice. Everything I learned about soccer was through an organized practice or drill. I enjoyed soccer, and over the years I improved, but not in the same way that I loved basketball or improved in basketball. After eight years of organized soccer, my skills were rudimentary; the coaching, exposure to the game, lack of individual practice, lack of pickup games, and more influenced the differences between my development in basketball and soccer, but the initial entry into the sports is at least partially responsible for the differences. I started basketball through play and it was natural for me to search for pickup games or to practice on my own; I started soccer in an organized environment with a schedule of practices and games, and it was less evident for me to practice on my own or search for pickup games. My interest and motivation for basketball was greater, and consequently, I improved more, developed better skills, practiced more, and played the game better. 

Development is multifactorial, but the initial activities certainly set up a different path in each sport, and the outcomes were somewhat predictable, at least to someone who values play. For someone who believes that play is frivolous or unimportant, the outcomes are surprising or attributable to other factors, such as total hours of engagement. The greater exposure to basketball is a factor, and likely the greatest factor, but it is influenced by the initial opportunities to play and find my passion for the game on my own. I chose basketball; I never chose soccer or baseball, and despite more years of organized practices and games, my skills in baseball and soccer were never as advanced as they were in basketball. 

Ericsson et al. (1993) wrote that conditions for optimal learning required: (1) Motivation to attend to the task and exert effort to improve performance; (2) the task to take into account the preexisting knowledge of the learners; (3) immediate informative feedback and knowledge of results; and (4) repeatedly performing the same or similar tasks. Deliberate practice, then, is effortful, designed specifically to improve performance, requires immediate feedback, and is repetitive (Ericsson et al., 1993).

To a large degree, the first condition is a prerequisite for the following three, but it is the condition that is ignored most often. Ericsson wrote that one must have passion for the activity before engaging in deliberate practice; this is mentioned rarely when discussing his work, but may be the most important point. When a player lacks motivation, the repetitions, carefully designed practices, and feedback will not amount to much. As an example, when I contemplate a major change to a player’s shooting technique, my first consideration is the player’s motivation; will the player invest the time, effort, and concentration required to stabilize the change? If not, why bother? Essentially, I am asking if the player has the motivation to engage in deliberate practice.

Whereas deliberate practice is essential in a situation such as changing a player’s shooting technique, play includes three of the four conditions of optimal learning, at least within sport (and this is an issue with transferring Ericsson’s work to sports, as his research was on chess and violin, which differ from sports such as basketball). 

In play, there is motivation to continue; in fact, that is a key identifier of play. Play can involve great effort; when I played pickup games, my play was at least as effortful as a typical practice. In a sport such as basketball, there is immediate knowledge of results regardless of a coach’s presence. When I shoot, and I miss the shot, I know this immediately. This is knowledge of results. The only condition that play fails to meet is repetitiveness, as play involves repetition without repetition (Bernstein, 1967). Rather than repeating the same task identically, play involves numerous different attempts at a task; when I was young, and I shot in my front yard, I imagined different situations or playing against different defensive players; when I played pickup games, the different defenders forced new moves or shots. I may have performed 20 or 100 repetitions, but none was the same. 

Deliberate practice must be structured to improve specific aspects of performance. Mastering a specific piece of music for violin differs from playing basketball. Basketball is changing constantly and evolving; it is more like jazz, as David Thorpe titled his new book, than a symphony. Varying the repetitions through play may be more akin to deliberate practice than removing and isolating a skill, which is typically how we view deliberate practice. The pop science-y books have led to increased isolated training and early specialization, but these changes have negative repercussions. Early specialization and repetitive movements have been shown to lead to increased injury in athletes (Read et al., 2016); chess players do not lose a season due to carpal tunnel from moving the chess pieces too often at too young of an age. 

Ericsson and colleagues (1993) addressed play and described the differences between play and his definition of deliberate practice: “In contrast to play, deliberate practice is a highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve performance. Specific tasks are invented to overcome weaknesses, and performance is carefully monitored to provide cues for ways to improve it further. We claim that deliberate practice requires effort and is not inherently enjoyable (Ericsson et al., 1993). Not all learning occurs in this method. I have trained numerous players who enjoyed working out; in these sessions, the activities were structured, coach-led, specifically designed by a coach, and had a goal of improved performance. Because they enjoyed them, does it fail to meet Ericsson’s definition? Do we have to hate what we do in order to learn? I don’t believe so. 

The voices on the deliberate practice spectrum tend to describe play as frivolous. It may be fun or have social benefits, but it does not improve skill. I hear basketball coaches who say that practices should not be fun. Why not? Basketball is play. That does not mean that one cannot do drills or that fun has to be the most important goal of every second of practice, but why should avoiding fun purposely be a goal at all? 

If play is learning, skill improves through play. In a study of German national team soccer players, the national team players compared to amateurs engaged in more non-organized leisure football in childhood, more other sports in adolescence, later specialization, and more organized football only after age 22 (Hornig et al., 2016). They played more and specialized later. In Australian Rules Football, the total number of hours in invasion-game activities differentiated expert and non-expert decision makers, suggesting that it is the involvement in the activities, not their designated purposes, that differentiated the experts (Berry et al., 2008).

When I was young, I skied. I was not skiing to join a ski team. I skied for fun. It was play. The more often that I skied, the better I became. I challenged myself on harder and harder runs. When I fell, I had immediate knowledge of results that I did something wrong. I initiated the activity; I picked the runs. Despite the inherent fun, a full day of skiing, especially as I got older and went after moguls, was effortful. In a sense, the optimal conditions for learning described by Ericsson were present in my skiing, despite the absence of coaching and performance-related goals. It would be crazy to suggest that I did not learn as I progressed from the bunny slopes to black diamond runs with moguls. 

Deliberate practice is not wrong; drills are not wrong. Practice does not always have to be fun, and the goal is not necessarily to maximize fun. However, learning occurs through play. Fun is not bad. Drills are not the only way to learn. Play is not necessarily easy; play can be effortful. Often, play is more effortful because the enjoyment and inner drive to continue leads to more hours spent on the task.

Rather than looking at the clock every 10 minutes until a workout is finished, one plays until he or she decides it is enough or until the gym closes, which is when I left the gym during my high school years. I showed up just before the games started to get into the first game, and I left when they kicked us out of the gym. Nobody forced me. I played for fun, but I learned as much or more in these Sunday night pickup games against older players as I did in all of my practices and camps combined.

Play is learning, and many of our problems, whether societal or within sports, are due to our increasing dismissal of unstructured play as unimportant or frivolous. 

References

Barclay, T.H., Richards, S., Schoffstall, J., Magnuson, C., McPhee, C., Price, J., Aita, S., Anderson, A., Johnson, D., & Price, J. (2014). A pilot study on the effects of exercise on depression symptoms using levels of neurotransmitters and EEG as markers. European Journal of Psychology and Educational Studies, 1(1), 30-35.

Bernstein, N.A. (1967). The co-ordination and regulation of movements. Pergamon Press; Oxford.

Berry, J., Abernethy, B., & Côté, J. (2008). The contribution of structured activity and deliberate play to the development of expert perceptual and decision-making skill. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 30(6), 685-708.

Blasi, M., Hurwitz, S.C., & Hurwitz, S.C. (2002). For parents particularly: To be successful — Let them play!. Childhood Education, 79(2), 101-102.

Cunningham, S.A., Kramer, M.R., & Narayan, K.V. (2014). Incidence of childhood obesity in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 370(5), 403-411.

Ericsson, K.A., Krampe, R.T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological review, 100(3), 363-406.

Ginsburg, K.R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191.

Hornig, M., Aust, F., & Güllich, A. (2016). Practice and play in the development of German top-level professional football players. European Journal of Sport Science, 16(1), 96-105.

Nyarko, K.A., Grosse, S.D., Danielson, M.L., Holbrook, J.R., Visser, S.N., & Shapira, S.K. (2017). Treated prevalence of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder increased from 2009 to 2015 among school-aged children and adolescents in the United States. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.

Olfson, M., Blanco, C., Wang, S., Laje, G., & Correll, C. U. (2014). National trends in the mental health care of children, adolescents, and adults by office-based physicians. JAMA psychiatry, 71(1), 81-90.

Pontifex, M. B., Saliba, B. J., Raine, L. B., Picchietti, D. L., & Hillman, C. H. (2013). Exercise improves behavioral, neurocognitive, and scholastic performance in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The Journal of pediatrics, 162(3), 543-551.

Read, P. J., Oliver, J. L., De Ste Croix, M. B., Myer, G. D., & Lloyd, R. S. (2016). The scientific foundations and associated injury risks of early soccer specialisation. Journal of Sports Sciences, 34(24), 2295-2302.

College recruiting is overrated

This spring, after six players signed NCAA D1 scholarships, a few NCAA Division 1 coaches made some interesting comments. One, after we discussed our record and such, said, “You had a talented team”. Another implied that they had spoken to one of my players when she was in high school and passed on her, as though they did me a favor. Finally, another asked if I knew that my best player would end up that good.

Five of the six were initial qualifiers; the D1 coach who thought they were talented could have signed any of the five, but none had even a D2 offer, although several talked to D1s and D2s before signing (truthfully, the coach had three chances to sign them: as high school seniors, after their first year at J.C., and after their second year at J.C., and despite their talent, the coach never offered any). If it was evident that they were talented, how did not one of the 351 NCAA D1 women’s basketball teams offer a scholarship to any? If each program signs an average of four players per year, roughly 1400 players signed scholarships, but these talented players had no offers.

The school that spoke to one before she signed with me was as good as any player on that team. The coach basically admitted one of two things: (1) They could have signed her, but their evaluation skills are poor, and they passed on her to sign players who are not as good; or (2) She chose a not-quite-full scholarship at a junior college over a D1 full scholarship. Either way, I thought, “So, you’re admitting that you’re bad at your job.”

Finally, I did imagine that the player would be as good as she is. I watched two possessions on video before offering her a scholarship. Furthermore, I watched two pull-up midrange jump shots, shots that I avoid. I never saw her play defense or pass or go to the rim. In those two possessions, it was easy to see that she had a transferable skill set: She had a good shooting technique, she moved effortlessly, and she had good height for her position (she signed as a 2/3). When she arrived, I learned that she never shot three-pointers. Also, I moved her to point guard, a position that she had never played. She left as a point guard who shot 38% from the three-point line. She is far from the same player as when she arrived, but it only took two possessions to project that she could develop into such a player.

These three comments illustrate the recruiting issues at many programs. We overrate marketing and sales, and underrate evaluation. We see recruiting as “connecting with players”, and not as identifying players who fit a system or who have the foundation on which to develop. Recruiting is social media and fun graphics, taking pictures in uniform and going to expensive restaurants, not identifying and filling needs or seeing the difference between a weakness that can be developed or hidden and one that will inhibit success.

Consequently, nearly every NCAA Division 1 program relies on recruiting services to rank players and tell them who to recruit. Despite employing multiple coaches who are hired ostensibly for recruiting purposes, they pay outside consultants and services thousands of dollars per year. They outsource the evaluation and talent identification and focus on sales and marketing.

Of course, these adults market to 18-year-olds. I am not invested heavily in recruiting because 18-year-olds do not make rational decisions. I made my final college decision because of weather. My players are older (19-21), and they made their college decisions for a variety of reasons, many inexplicable. Who knows why an 18-year-old chooses one school over another? I know my players thought that the recruiting tactics employed by most of the schools and coaches were ridiculous. Over and over, they asked why a coach did something, and my answer tended to be “because they think that they have to do that because they think that other schools are doing it and they don’t want to miss out on a player because they did not do something that another program did.” It seems like nobody really evaluates which strategies actually work.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of college basketball. Talent wins. This is not debatable. The top programs — Notre Dame, UConn, Baylor — not only recruit top 10 talent, but sign specific top 10 talent. Other programs collect stars and hope to figure out their fit later. They sign as many McDonald’s All-Americans as South Carolina, Baylor, Notre Dame, etc., but fail to reach Final Fours. If talent wins, why?

Evaluation and identification are more than noticing good players. A recruiting service ranks players in a vacuum because the service does not have to win games. Player #1 is marginally better than Player #2 in the rankings’ opinions, but Player #1 is not better in all situations. Kalani Brown led Baylor to the 2019 NCAA National Championship, but she does not fit well with UConn’s style; that does not mean she’s not a great player or that UConn plays the wrong style. It suggests that UConn probably would not recruit her regardless of rankings or stars or that UConn would have to adjust its preferred system to maximize her strengths and hide her weaknesses.

When I recruit, I value certain things. I also trust that I can develop certain skills. I have a strong sense of our style of play. Consequently, I ignore players who went on to sign NCAA D1 scholarships. Am I wrong? Maybe. However, I know out style, and the players did not fit. That does not make them bad players or not D1 players. When I recruit, I am not collecting recruiting stars; I am building a team.

I worry little about sales and marketing; my biggest recruiting tool is current players. They are my salespeople. I trust that by treating players well, running fun practices, developing skills, and working hard to move on players to the D1 level that the current players will see that and explain that to recruits. Part of that is shaped by our constraints; if a player needs to be wined and dined or cares greatly about gear or free stuff, etc., we don’t have it to offer. We sell what we have: Opportunity and a commitment to enjoying basketball and developing. It is not a sales pitch to wow potential recruits, but I do not want players who need to be wowed. I want gym rats who are drama free, and this recruiting approach tends to work on those players and eliminates others.

This year, I looked for two qualities above all else. I want to be + in these two qualities at every position. When I found players with these qualities, I tried to get a sense of their personalities; were they gym rats? If they have these two qualities, and they love to play, I am confident that our style (practice and playing style) will attract them, and I am confident that players who love to play will improve.

I don’t care who recruits the players or what a recruiting service says. I am not battling for the top 5 players; signing a player such as Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, Aja Wilson, Arike Ogunbowale, Napheesa Collier, etc. gives a program an opportunity to compete for an NCAA National Championship. I recruit down in the 100s to 1000s to 5000s where the differences between players is one opinion versus another. Ultimately, I trust that players who sign with me will end up better than others because I trust that few coaches develop players as well. Arrogance, maybe, but I think most good coaches would think the same.

When I see discussions about recruiting, however, the basketball side is all but ignored. Recruiting discussions center on wooing players: The sales and marketing. Players are wooed and arrive to campus and find that the coach is completely different. Recruits go from special (the one being pursued) to the bottom once they arrive. Some cannot handle this. Some feel that coaches lied in the recruiting process. Once the sales and marketing ends, they realize the customer service and the product is not actually what they wanted to buy. They are unhappy or they transfer.

Often, this happens because there is a mismatch between the player and the style of play or the coaching style. The player enjoys being wooed and picks the best wooer, and the recruiters focus on sales and marketing and signing the biggest names or the highest ranked players. Nobody really thinks about the fit.

I saw a player on the transfer portal yesterday. I tried to recruit her as a high-school player, but was told that she was going D1. I never saw where she signed. Once I saw her in the portal, I laughed out loud. Like, seriously, who made this decision? The fit was awful in almost every way possible. Of course she is transferring after her freshman year! Our scholarship may not have been as enticing, and bragging about a junior-college scholarship is not the same as a D1 scholarship, but I guarantee that she would have fit better, had more fun, and developed better here. It is not that the college is bad or the coach is bad; this coach is an acquaintance and I would not hesitate to send a player there. However, not this player. It’s like once the momentum got rolling, everyone got distracted by “D1” and “highly ranked” and nobody stopped to think about fit.

Noticing the top 5-10 players is easy. Selling your program should be easy; after all, if you cannot sell your own program, why would anyone want to go there? The difficulty in recruiting is finding the right fit and evaluating players with room to grow (whether because of right mentality, physical traits, developable skills, etc) versus players who have peaked.

Unfortunately, when we discuss recruiting, these separators are discussed infrequently, which is why recruiting ends up being tremendously overrated for nearly everyone below the top 5-10 programs.

The problem now with the transfer portal is that those coaches and programs who are bad at the important skills — identifying potential, evaluating fit, and developing skills — can get rid of mistakes more quickly and sign transfers who are mature and more proven at the D1 level. There were multiple programs that had 5+ transfers this year; before the portal, that would have been a sign of a coach to stay away from. Now, it’s barely a blip. Other programs succeed almost entirely on Division 1 transfers; why risk signing unpredictable high school players when you can watch them play against college competition and then evaluate their skills and fit?

Offseason Drills

Yesterday, as I worked out with two players, two guys worked out on the other end of the court. At one point, my players wanted to work on ball handling; we started a drill about the same time that the guys started their drill.

For our ball-handling practice, we did triple moves into jump shots or finishes. The smaller guard worked on pull-up jump shots and floaters, and the forward worked on pull-up 3s and different layups. They started from different angles and finished with different shots from different locations on each repetition. They practiced different dribble moves and combinations on each repetition.

On the other hand, they set up chairs to designate where to go. I don’t know their objective, but it looked as though they were using a ball screen (first chair), hesitating to freeze the hedging or switching defender (second chair), and making a crossover into a shot. They did the same exact move in the same direction for the same shot for the entire time.

Their practice appeared to be specific; maybe the guy uses on-ball screens in their offense and has to attack switches better. I don’t know; I am guessing at their objective based on what I saw. It’s possible that the chairs signified nothing more than a spot on the court.

Our practice was general. I like triple move drills to improve dribbling skill because it focuses on the control of the reception of the dribble. Rather than do simple drills or stationary drills to improve control, I prefer drills at close to game speed with actual game-like moves. I also prefer to finish offensive drills with a shot, as the point of any move or pass is to move closer to scoring.

I know that our practice was not game-like. It was a general dribbling drill focused on a specific aspect of dribbling: control on one’s moves.

I fear that many would view their practice as game-like because it resembled a move or a shot that one might take in a game. However, the chair provided no cues and forced no decisions. Without decisions, the drill is not game-like regardless of its specificity to a shot that one may take in a game.

When people walk into the gym, and see these two practices, most gravitate toward the other end. It looks important. It looks like something that happens in a game. The props add an element of organization. They worked at a more rapid pace.

It would be easy to conclude that we were not practicing seriously. I rarely offered feedback unless they asked a question. I choose the triple moves drill because it provides its own feedback. When they mishandle the ball, I do not have to tell them that they lost control – chasing after the ball tells them. We lost control of the ball far more than on the other end; another sign that their practice was better.

Our practice, however, was based largely, although not intentionally, around motor-learning theory. (1) The players had autonomy: They picked the drill, they chose their moves, they started when ready; (2) The task provided relevant and informative feedback; (3) The task challenged the players beyond their current level (as evidenced by mistakes); (4) Delayed feedback controlled by the learner; (5) Random, variable practice that interleaved dribbling and shooting/finishing practice and included different moves from different spots and different finishes on each repetition; (6) Repetition without repetition: We practices for 10 minutes, which provided dozens of repetitions, but they did not practice the same move or same shot twice.

The other end featured block practice and near-constant feedback (could not hear the nature of the feedback).

Despite a theoretical basis on our end, most identify block practice and more feedback as hallmarks of good practice and coaching. This is just an example of the differences between a traditional practice session and how we develop skills. The example above was roughly 10 minutes out of a much longer workout, but these occurred simultaneously and provided a nice contrast for different type of individual practice.

Spend the Offseason #Grinding or Developing Skills

Yesterday, I commented on a video of college basketball players:

Not everyone was happy with the critique.

Challenge accepted.

via GIPHY

What would you tell this coach/program to better use their time and replace this with?

Without knowing the quality that they attempted to improve, it is difficult to suggest alternatives. Based on the feedback, they cared about effort. If that is the goal, mission accomplished, I suppose. The players appeared to give effort. The drill appeared to be hard. If that was the only goal, I have no real alternatives. It is fairly easy to make anything hard.

The tweet said “getting better every day”, which prompted my question. Getting better at giving effort? Okay. Getting better at basketball? Debatable.

To clear up the misconceptions, this is not agility, nor does it have anything to do with playing defense. Looking only at the movements, this is training a slow change of direction. First, they touch the ground, which changes one’s posture compared to that which a player uses in a game. Second, many reach outside their base of support; they reach toward their outside leg. If I move to my right, and need to change directions to go left, I do not want to reach outside my base of support to my right. This slows down my movement. Notice how they stop on nearly every change of direction.

This is not exactly how I do lateral movement training with bands, but it just popped up on Twitter and is close:

Again, depending on goals, this is an alternative, if the goal is to improve acceleration, change of direction speed, lateral movement, movement quality, etc.

I have commented on this previously with regards to a college strength & conditioning coach. Previously, the team ran to a line, turned, and ran back, much like a baseline to baseline sprint in a game. As with this video, there was no feedback, instruction, or corrections for technique, and the players changed directions slowly. Why do you want to use conditioning work to reinforce patterns that slow down players in a sport predicated by speed?

Before we condition players, we instruct a hockey stop for change directions. Therefore, when we condition, we (hopefully) practice the correct technique and develop this pattern. Why invest time training a movement pattern that ultimately has to be corrected in order to move well during a game?

Again, this comes back to my presentation to Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group in 2011. Strength and conditioning coaches (I am assuming this is an S&C workout, not a basketball workout) should be concerned with skill development too, not just putting up numbers. The S&C workout should complement the basketball skill workout, and vice versa. If players train a slow movement here because the goal is to be hard, it fails to complement the basketball-specific movements on the court.

Is this harmful?

Probably not, depending on volume and preparation. However, is that the standard that we set for workouts? It’s not harmful; therefore, it is good?

On the other hand, it may cause negative transfer. If players use these patterns on the court, and consequently move slower, there is negative transfer. The training made players worse. In that sense, one may view it as harmful.

Doesn’t have any value to explosiveness, core, etc.?

I do not see much value in explosiveness or core because their posture and positions are poor. Is that because of fatigue, not the drill? Is it because it is their first time doing this? I don’t know.

However, I know that college coaches constantly complain about the lack of time with their players during the offseason. Consequently, why use that time for an exercise that probably isn’t harmful? Why not maximize the value of the time?

Honestly, the biggest positive to me is that it works on lateral movement because I believe that there is a sagittal bias in training, and basketball is a multidirectional sport.

However, if one wants to improve lateral movement, why not lateral plyometrics? Here is a link to a paper on the benefits of frontal-plane plyometrics. Below are the exercises; consider those additional alternatives.

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