Basketball Practice, Mindful Learning and Player Development

2169383315_b9d4d33219I played at a big sports complex last night, and an elite club team practiced on the next court. The club regularly features high Division I recruits, and a trainer took the current players through a workout. For the first 45 minutes, they did conditioning drills.

The high school season ended last weekend. Assuming these players did not play for the state championship, their season has been over for 2-3 weeks. Their big summer recruiting events are not until July. Is this the time to stress conditioning above everything else? Is this how to develop a player?

After the conditioning drills, the players practiced their ball handling. Several players had terrible posture during the drills, and few did the drills any better than an average high school freshman. Therefore, I imagine the players were learning something new, or relatively new, as opposed to training an already learned skill.

Is learning a new skill in a fatigued state the best way to learn?

The player with the poor posture was your typical skinny, 6’6 player who probably cannot eat enough to add weight because of all the playing, workouts and growth spurts. The postural issues are nothing new: coaches see them all the time, especially with taller players or players in the midst of a growth spurt. However, just because it is common, should it be ignored?

What would enhance this player’s performance more right now: 45 minutes of conditioning or 45 minutes of balance and stability work to train the right posture and activate the right muscles to enable him to move more efficiently?

Sure, mobility and stability work is not as “hard” or “demanding” as running up and down the court for 45 minutes, and the players may not even break a sweat, but what is going to help the player improve the most right now?

If the player practices with poor posture, the poor posture is going to lead to less effective movement and poor habits. At some point, to get past a plateau in his performance, the player will have to correct his posture and learn new movement habits. Simple cues like “hips down” rather than “lower” or “chest and eyes up” rather than “eyes up” during the specific drills focus the player on the correct posture. Why not train this posture from the beginning at the start of the off-season? More to the point, why not train the player properly rather than putting the cart (intensity) before the horse (movement efficiency)?

If we want to enhance our players’ development at practice and increase mindful learning, we need to teach new skills when players are fresh and ready to learn, and we need to correct their weaknesses at the most basic level. If a building was crumbling, you would not start by fixing the walls; you would fix the foundation because any problems with walls likely starts with the foundation.

With a player, fixing or improving his basketball-specific technique without first addressing his athletic deficiencies is the same as patching the walls without addressing the foundation. Eventually, the walls will collapse again, and you will spend all your time returning to fix the walls without ever really fixing the problem.

If we have better awareness of movement and the body, we can develop better players by fixing the root of the mistake and starting from the foundation, not just the basketball-specific corrections.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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