Creativity and constraints in skill performance

Most teams practice passing, but I have never seen a passing drill with the underhand alley-oop pass thrown by Lyndsay Whalen.

This is an example of two things that are important for basketball player development.

First, any good point guard would see Maya Moore sprinting the lane. When Whalen receives the pass, she is facing her defensive basket, and all of the other players are within her view. It is not the vision that is remarkable; it is the audacity to throw that pass. Most players would hold the ball or attempt a bounce pass, and a bounce pass likely would have been stolen. The underhand pass was the only pass available.

This is the definition of creativity in sports: the ability to create a novel solution to a problem. This type of creativity separates the exceptional point guards from their peers.

However, this type of creativity is only possible if players play without a fear of making a mistake. Part of the reason that Rebecca Lobo called it the best play of the year is that it is a low-percentage play. A player worried about making mistakes would never attempt that pass. A player whose coach would take her out of the game for a turnover would never attempt that pass.

If we want to develop players with creativity, we have to allow for them to try these novel solutions, as these are not skills that are practiced frequently.

Second, this is an example of self-organization based on the constraints of the task. In the moment, Whalen coordinated an action that she probably has never practiced (she may have thrown underhand passes, but likely not as alley-oops to defended players running full speed). How does a player perform a skill in a way that she has never practiced? Self-organization. The task demanded a certain execution, and the body found the solution to the problem.

Creativity and self-organization. Two concepts that we must understand if we want to maximize the development of our youth players.

Also, for those who have never seen such a pass before, check out Dimitris Diamantidis:

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