Educative vs Training Environment

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.

Limiting players or developing players

In a discussion in another forum, some coaches have disagreed with my opinions and believe that a coach’s job is to limit players. In response to a question about one-foot or two-feet lay-ups, I responded:

It depends on the situation. Where is the defense? What is the offensive player’s advantage? What is the defender’s advantage? In general, go off one foot when extension or quickness is needed and two feet when size and/or power is to the offensive player’s advantage. One-foot facilitates speed and length while two-feet facilitates balance and strength. However, to teach one to the exclusion of the other is limiting a player’s effectiveness.

Another coach responded:

I agree with your post, and would add one extra reason for the jump stop, 2-footed layup… when control is needed… ie when there is a defender waiting in good position to take the charge.

To which I replied:

Agreed, though balance and control are similar reasons in my mind, though should be clearly articulated. However, as players get older, I think they can avoid charges off one leg, much like Mano Ginobili, if they build good eccentric strength and body control and remain under control on the drive.

Which drew another response:

But as Coach Meyer says, you can’t protect every move, thus, limit players.

And another:

Good point, but there are a lot of “ifs” in that sentence.

And another:

Rather true, but the one thing besides the “if’s” is that we are all not Manu Ginobili…especially high school kids. Michael Jordan made some nice moves jumping off of one leg, but I wouldn’t teach those moves to kids. The kids will try moves they see anyhow and some will develop the necessary coordination and strength, and some won’t. As in a previous post, some things have to be limited as far as what and how we teach them.

To which I said:

But, isn’t that coaching: to build the player to eliminate the “ifs”?

So, should we limit players? Initially, of course, there are limits on a developing player, as one cannot learn everything or perform every move overnight.

However, as players reach high school, and have presumably been playing basketball for several years, should these limitations continue? As a trainer, I attempt to give players all the necessary tools to be successful. We progress based on the individual’s strength and mastery of skills; i.e. we master a crossover dribble before we go to a double crossover dribble; we master a 10-foot shot before we move to fifteen feet. There is a progression.

And, I suppose, in essence, the progression limits players. However, limit, to me, means a ceiling or a forbidden area. There is no ceiling for me. If a player has the demonstrated strength and skill to do a move, I will teach the move, regardless of age. I currently work with a 12-year-old who does a more advanced workout than a couple high school players I also work with because the 12-year-old has mastered more skills and has proven he can handle his body weight eccentrically, partially because he has much more weight training experience than the high school players.

So, in a sense, I suppose, I currently have limits on the high school players, at least in relation to the 12-year-old. However, as soon as they demonstrate similar skill mastery and strength, we progress.

I just have a problem with the word “limit.” My whole goal as a trainer is to remove limits by building skills and the confidence to use skills. I never want a player to feel as though I am holding him back or not challenging him or her. I want to create an environment where the player is constantly learning and mastering new skills, moves, approaches and techniques. When the learning and exposure to new stimuli stops, so does real improvement, as learning is replaced by training previously mastered skills and there is only so much improvement that can occur through training when learning is not involved.

  • What Is A Playmaker?

    Who decided that a point guard has to be small? More importantly, what is a point guard? We expect a point guard to be a leader and have a high basketball I.Q. Why don’t we expect or challenge all players to develop this game awareness? Why rely on only one player? Read more →
  • The PBDL Concept

    English soccer academies wait until players are 11 to play full 11v11 soccer; in Italy, youth basketball players participate in skill-oriented clinics at 6-years-old, but start competitive games at 12. In the United States, kids play 5v5 full court games and compete for national championships when they are 8-years-old.

    Read more →

  • Starting A PBDL

    The PBDL emphasizes learning and development. Presently, players and parents have numerous recreation options - leagues based on fun and equal participation, typically for beginners - and numerous competitive opportunities - teams focused on strategy, game preparation and winning. There are few true development leagues - until now.

    Read more →