Brute Force Development

I watched a typical workout with a well-respected trainer and two high-school players. Everything made sense; the players worked hard; the trainer was engaged. However, I don’t know or couldn’t see a purpose other than “getting better.” This, to me, is brute force development: Doing something so many times that inevitably through the force of will there has to be some improvement.

From my vantage point and my biases, one player had numerous flaws in his shot. I am not one to advocate for a ton of technical work, breakdowns or a singular ideal technique, but when a player airballs as many as he makes, there is a problem. Rather than identify a problem and design drills to correct the problem, the approach appeared to be to shoot more.

I have texted many of my incoming players this summer to ask about their offseason goals. They nearly always give a general answer. “I want to improve my shooting.” Great, how do you want to improve your shooting? What specifically do you want to improve? Answers vary; I want to shoot quicker, extend my range, or I just want to get better. The players who want to extend their range or shoot quicker are on the right track, provided that they design exercises that focus on these aspects of their shot. The players who just want to get better are unlikely to make much progress; they do not have a plan. They are relying on brute force.

This is not uncommon. We have a society that believes that improvement comes from doing more; reps, and reps, and reps. However, if you shoot poorly now, and rely on shooting more in the same way, how is that going to lead to improvement?

Now, in yesterday’s workout, maybe the focus was not shooting, as almost every shot was after a move. This could have been “game-like training” for the moves and shots that these players shoot during games. However, how is it game-like if there is no defense and the players follow the coach’s directions: dribble here, make this move, get to this spot, and shoot.

Okay, well, it was not really game-like practice, but they were practicing their ball-handling. Again, how? By doing more of the same? When they lacked control on the reception of their crossover, but did nothing specific to improve this control, how are they going to improve? Again, the hope that if we do this one thing enough we will force improvement.

Brute force development works in some instances, otherwise nobody would continue to go to these well-paid trainers who rely on brute force methods. For most, it requires a lot of repetitions, which also helps the trainer, as the player must return to the trainer over ($$) and over ($$).

This method is not skill development. It is how many view skill development, but simply relying on doing the same thing more is not developing a skill. It is maintaining or solidifying a skill; if one performs this skill at an expert level, solidifying the skill at this level may lead to small improvements. However, if one performs at a sub-elite level, why solidify or automate the skill at this level? Why automate a shot that airballs as often as it goes in?

I work with two players who are non-shooters. We alternate between drills that perturb their current skill to force changes and drills that focus on the specific changes and drills that challenge accuracy and drills that they enjoy/competitive drills.

From the outside, the purpose may not be apparent. However, whereas our workouts may appear disorganized and less intense (which they are), I have a very specific goal for each player, and each drill fits this goal: One player is changing from a flat-footed set shot to a jump shot and one is changing from a two-motion shot to a one-motion shot. The drills are attempts to perturb their former techniques and assist with the coordination of their new techniques. The goal is to improve their shooting, but these are the specific ways in which we hope to accomplish this goal. It is not brute force development, but specific skill development.

Making sense of generational arguments about skill development

I don’t understand the following argument:

“Players from previous generations had more skill.”

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“Players from previous generations were three-sport athletes.”

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“Players from previous generations played more pickup games.”

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“Players need to specialize earlier and train privately with individual coaches to improve their skills.” Read more

Should we fix unusual technique?

Originally published in Los Angeles Sports & Fitness, January/February 2017.

When we watch children play sports, we see errors. Their skill performance differs from our mental models, which tend to be based on our own experiences or our images of expert performers. When we see a young basketball player with an awkward-looking shot or a baseball player with a funky delivery on the pitching mound, we see mistakes and a need to correct. Read more

The Press and Youth Development

Here’s a poll I just posted on twitter and I’m interested in hearing people’s opinions. This is in regards to coaching kids in the 3rd-5th grade.

If you have twitter, feel free to vote and then explain your reasoning with a reply. I have my own thoughts but I’m going to keep them to myself until the poll is closed.

Monotony, pickup games, and free play

My newest book, 21st Century Guide to Individual Skill Development, features a chapter on pickup games and a section on free play. I argue that these environments are ideal for skill development, and I use examples from my development, as well as research, to make my point. Of course, most basketball people (such as Stan Van Gundy and Kobe Bryant) argue against games for skill development, and many people view the number of games during the developmental years as the problem with skill development in the United States.  Read more

21st Century Guide to Individual Skill Development

Read more

What is skill development?

Recently, I read several articles that suggested that children need more skill development. Of course. It is the same as suggesting that players should play hard or that practice makes you better. These are uncontroversial statements with which almost nobody disagrees. However, nobody defines skill development. It is similar to fundamentals. These are terms that are used frequently and rarely defined because everyone assumes that we know what each other means. What do people mean by skill development? Read more

Elite Camps: Talent Identification and Player Development

I worked an elite camp at the local university this week. For players who are searching for someone to recruit them, attending an elite camp is a worthwhile expense because elite camps tend to limit the number of participants, provide a decent level of competition, and grant access to the coaching staff beyond any other experience. As an example, there were two players who I had dismissed when watching during the high school season who I liked after watching them play with and against better players and meeting them individually. Of course, there was also a player who I was very high on during the season who really disappointed, so there’s that too.

Read more

Podcast: Talking Fake Fundamentals

The podcast is a longer conversation that I did with Coach Nick of Bball Breakdown about Fake Fundamentals.

Pro-Style Drills: How to Train like a Pro

I mentioned pro-style drills or training like a pro in Fake Fundamentals: Volume 2. In the off-season, it seems every private trainer uses one of these catch phrases in their marketing, as parents are drawn to anything associated with an NBA player.

Well, see above. Uncontested, block practice shooting drills. Pre-determined 1v1 moves. Finishing against a pad. NBA drills.

Does anyone really believe that these types of drills are the reasons that NBA players are NBA players?

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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