The Difficulty of New Ideas in Basketball

“It takes two to make a very great career: The man who is great, and the man– almost rarer– who is great enough to see greatness and say so.” – Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

In the video above, David Burkus, an assistant professor at Oral Roberts University, discusses the difficulty in accepting new or creative ideas. He suggests that for an idea to be great, it must satisfy two conditions: it must be new, and it must be useful.

Burkus discusses the difficulty in accepting the new idea, and his challenge to those who are presented with new ideas echoes the Rand quote from above. He suggests that since new ideas threaten the status quo, we are reluctant to adopt them. Also, since we use the old paradigm to judge the new idea, the new idea does not appear useful or better because it is not the old idea.

In basketball, many hold onto old ideas like running a mile for a conditioning test, static stretching prior to practice, step-sliding and drop-stepping on defense, only shooting lay-ups with the outside hand, giving quick offensive players (like Rajon Rondo) lots of space, and others. New ideas are not embraced quickly.

Burkus argues that we do not need more creative ideas; instead, we need to be better at recognizing great ideas. Several weeks ago, I tweeted: “I’m realizing that research is no match for tradition. The lack of critical thinking skills in coaches & aspiring coaches is disheartening.” I was asked for suggestions on how to improve. My 140 character response was, “Read. Debate. Talk to people who think differently. Learn from other disciplines. Answer ‘why?’ w/more than ‘because’.”

Why did I look into the efficacy of static stretching? When I was young, I never got hurt. I also never stretched. I played at recess, after school, etc. The only sport where we stretched was soccer. The only sport where I pulled a muscle was soccer. When I got to college, our rowing team stretched a ton. Again, I pulled a muscle. Sure, this is a tiny sample size and probably just a coincidence.

When I started to coach, I did not have players stretch; I actually prohibited stretching with my first team in Europe. We did not suffer a bunch of injuries; in fact, I don’t think anyone missed even a practice due to an injury all season. As I started to write, and people began asking me questions as if I was an expert, I went beyond my personal, anecdotal experience to find some real answers.

Why did I look into the way that I was taught to play defense with the step-slide and drop-step? When I was young, I was considered slow. I was told that I could not defend anyone. I listened to my coaches and practiced their methods. When I got to college, and played pick-up games (often against better players than I faced regularly in high school), I started to get picked up on teams because of my defense. That was due partially to my actually playing defense and partially from my lack of fear of being embarrassed by quicker players. When I played a pick-up game against Baron Davis, for instance, everyone on my team scattered and left me to bring up the ball 1v1. I was dumb enough not to be scared or worried about getting picked or dunked on.

However, I also dispensed with all of the lessons that I was taught in high school and before. I did not worry about whether I crossed my feet; I did whatever was necessary to stay with the ball. I watched some football practices and watched the defensive back drills and realized that they crossed their feet. Defensive backs had to deal with the same possibilities as a basketball defender; there is always the possibility that as soon as the DB turns his hips, the WR can break down and go back to the ball or run a slant or an out. In basketball, there is always the chance that a ball handler can make a crossover move exactly when a defender crosses his feet. It’s possible. However, I never got crossed so badly that I fell down, as some believe will happen if a defender dares to cross his feet on defense. Instead, I played admirably against very good, very quick guards despite my reputation in high school of not being able to guard anyone.

After thinking about my movements, I started to watch other defensive players. When I watched good defenders, I saw players crossing their feet. This led me to switch my teaching from what I was taught to what I did when I was put in a situation to defend faster players.

These are my two examples. Many times, we look for new answers in the same game, and we do not see new solutions. By looking beyond the hardwood and stealing ideas and methods from other sports, we can bring new ideas (that are proven already) to basketball and test these ideas to see how well the concept transfers. It’s not that basketball needs more creative ideas; instead, we need to recognize the better, new ideas.

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

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