Motivation and skill development

by on June 28, 2019
in Motivation

When I work out individually with players, I seek their input: They decide on the skills that they need to improve, and often pick the drills. I want players to own their improvement rather than act like a robot following directions. When they know that I refuse to provide all the answers, they have to think about themselves and their skills. They have to plan their workouts. Hopefully this reflection adds to their overall development.

Today, at the end of a workout, I asked the two players to choose the final drill. One (P1) wanted to do something that she had seen in a video. The other (P2) clearly did not like the idea. 

The drill was simple; each player practiced a move against a stationary defender and attacked the basket where I half-defended their shots. Usually, I would turn the stationary defender into a live defender and play 1v1, and I could tell P2 preferred to go live. I went along with the dummy defense because (1) it was P1’s idea, and P2 was silent when we discussed what to do next; and (2) we are nursing some injuries, so at that point, I preferred a less intense drill. 

P2 got very little from the drill because she did not value the drill. P2 is an extremely intelligent player, and the only player who I have encouraged to become a coach. She often asks questions, and we have discussed my ideas. I imagine her frustration was due at least partially to playing for me, as she even ridiculed the initial instructions, saying the stationary defender was basically a cone or a chair. Her body language suggested an indifference (conversely, when we did full-speed pull-up shots, she went hard for the duration) that negated any value that she could have gleaned from the drill. 

P1 was motivated. When she made mistakes (travelled, had her shot blocked), she asked questions. She tried new things. She experimented. Despite the lack of true defense, she engaged with the activity. 

Ultimately, as much as we discuss practice design and best practices, the players’ motivation plays a greater role in improvement than our drills or instructions. P1 engaged with the drill, and P2 did not. P1 believed that the drill could help her improve, and P2 did not. P2’s attitude was not correct although her thinking aligned with mine. Ideally, regardless of whether or not a player agrees with the drill, she finds a way to take something from it. 

In this case, giving up control to the players worked for one player, but not the other, because they could not agree. In a normal situation, we would have ended with some 1v1 to engage P2, but we were pushing our time limits, and our injuries.

In Evolution of 180 Shooter: A 21st Century Guide, I attributed much of our skill and shooting development to this choice and motivation. By empowering players to make decisions and control their own practice, players are not in a hurry to leave. Almost every day, players stay after practice and shoot. I leave the gym; this is not to win points with me. They play shooting games or add some stationary ball handling because we never do stationary ball handling in practice. Often, the shooting is as much social as it is skill development. 

I do not hover. I do not correct. I may disagree with a drill or the shots they attempt, but my time is finished; this is their time. I am not going to tell them how to spend their time. Just because they stay for an extra 20 minutes does not mean that I coach for an extra 20 minutes. If they want my help, they know where I am or they can sign up on my door for an individual workout with me. I am available, but I do not want to interfere with their time, and turn their extra player-directed practice into more practice. I want them motivated to continue rather than escaping the gym quickly to avoid more. 

Sometimes, coaching does not have to be hard or complex. When players enjoy what they do, they do more of it. When they feel they are practicing for their own benefits, rather than to please a coach, they continue. 

Maybe I hit the jackpot in recruiting and found a bunch of gym rats, but I believe it is a combination. I definitely search for players who want to be in the gym, but once you have motivated players, coaches have to maintain and enhance that motivation. Small things like asking for players input or allowing players to pick a single drill give players some autonomy, and ultimately motivates the players. Skill development combines many things, but often it is the simple things, like coaching motivated players, that have the greatest effects. 

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