Hard 2 Guard Player Development Newsletter
Practice in Proportion to your Aspirations.
In this Week’s Newsletter…
- A Quick Word: Periodization
- White Men Can’t Jump
- Differential Learning and Degrees of Freedom
A Quick Word
At the AAHPERD conference, I listened to a professor and former men’s basketball coach speak about periodization. Periodization is a fancy word for planning one’s training for purposes of a planned peak at the right time (post-season).
The speaker said four things that left me shaking my head:
- During his transition period after the competitive season, he eschewed active rest and mentioned players running on treadmills for 15-20 minutes.
- He said that strength and power are easy to maintain during the competitive season.
- He said that you cannot do plyometrics before a maximal strength phase.
- He mentioned a 1 repetition maximum test during the first week of training.
I do not see a reason for putting players on a treadmill or for training slow. I know some teams that have done their spring 2-mile test already. Why? Coaches who use 2-mile tests as their measure of fitness for basketball either do not understand basketball or training or they simply use conditioning as punishment. During the transition or active rest period, low intensity and high volume is appropriate. However, I would keep the players off the treadmill and off the track and incorporate some fun activities for active rest, maybe even use the time to teach a new skill beyond basketball, like boxing, swimming, rowing, etc. Make the workouts fun rather than punishing players or keeping them busy for the same of keeping them busy.
I agree that in-season training is a maintenance phase in terms of strength and power, not a development or growth phase. During the season, the emphasis is on-court skills and strategy. However, most players appear to wear down physically during the season. They lose weight and lose some strength due to the constant competitive stress and lack of recovery and regeneration during the season.
Plyometrics is not an esoteric form of training. Plyometrics incorporate basic fundamental movement skills like jumping, hopping, sprinting and more. How can you argue that athletes cannot engage in jumping and hopping skills or training before a maximal strength period? How would you play any game?
I trained a player who started his college strength program before his freshman season. He was plagued by a hip injury throughout high school. Before doing any kind of movement screen or postural assessment, the strength & conditioning coach had the team max out on the back squat. The hip injury became a back injury because his injury affected his squat technique and movement patterns. If the first period of the periodization if a general preparatory phase, as the speaker explained, why is there a need to max out on the squat? Why would you have players lift anything before doing an assessment?
These perceptions are common amongst coaches and even many strength & conditioning coaches. I would not use slow, steady-state running on a treadmill; I would not lift without doing an assessment and technique practice first; I have no problem incorporating plyometrics into a program before a maximal strength phase; and I am not sure that strength and power are easy to maintain during the season, though that should be a goal. The problem is that many people see the comments made by the speaker as facts, especially when said by a college basketball coach or a professor. We need a better understanding of why we do what we do, rather than just following other people’s plans. In a later session, Tom Delong from the National Strength & Conditioning Association had a slide with the following:
“We copy, not create.” – Dr. Michael Yessis
Rather than copying, coaches and strength coaches need to understand and create individual plans based on the athlete’s sport, movement patterns, flexibility, etc.
White men can’t jump?
This week, the impossible happened: Jacob Tucker won the NCAA Dunk Contest. Why is this impossible? Because white men can’t jump.
Since childhood, I have been told that whites are unathletic. In Sian Beilock’s Choke, she writes about the effects of similar stereotypes on the academic performance of females and African-Americans. She writes that the stereotype threat leads students to choke on tests.
Dr. Beliock defines choking as “poor performance that occurs in response to the perceived stress of the situation…Choking is sub-optimal performance. It’s when you…perform worse than expected given what you are capable of doing, and worse than what you have done in the past. This less-than-optimal performance doesn’t merely reflect a random fluctuation in skill level…This choke occurs in response to a highly stressful situation,” (Beilock, 2010, p. 5-6).
The stereotype threat is a subconscious self-doubt that arises because the person is made aware of a negative stereotype about his or her race or gender prior to a task. For instance, something as subtle as filling in one’s race and gender on a standardized test can impact one’s performance if there is a pervasive stereotype such as the perception that females are not as good as males at math or that African-Americans do not score as high on SATs.
If the stereotype threat affects female and African-American students, is it reasonable to suggest that the same stereotype threat affects white basketball players in an environment where society strongly believes the genetic advantages of African-American players? Is the lack of great, white dunkers due to genetics or the pervasive stereotype that white men can’t jump?
When I was young, I did not do plyometrics; I did not play on a lowered hoop; I did not lift weights. Was my lack of explosiveness or jumping ability because of genetics or because I did not do anything that would develop my jumping ability? However, since everyone told me that jumping ability was an innate talent, and I lacked those genes, why would I invest the effort in activities designed to improve my explosiveness? When I played, and I was at the point where I could almost dunk, did I choke because I lacked the ability or because of a subconscious self-doubt when playing against a court full of African-Americans?
I went to dinner with a young strength & conditioning coach and a former player/client. As we discussed the NBA, and specifically the athleticism and size of LeBron James, the former player said that there was no way that his son would have a chance to play in the NBA. I disagree. If we want players to believe in their potential, we need to eliminate excuses for falling short and the subconscious self-doubt. Last year, I wrote that I was rooting for Jeremy Lin because of this subconscious self-doubt in Asian players who had never seen an Asian-American excel in the NBA.
The former player was the hardest and most diligent worker that I have trained. Many concepts from my book 180 Shooter and my 180 Shooter Practice Tracker program were developed while working with him. He went from un-recruited to D3 All-American. However, if the hardest worker that I have trained who demonstrated a high skill level and possessed adequate size for his position did not make the NBA, how can a teenager in a similar position believe in his professional prospects?
How did Tucker become an NCAA dunk champion? Part of it was self-promotion, as he had to get himself invited to the competition. However, he developed his jumping ability through hard work. He managed to ignore the stereotype threat – for some people, this type of discouragement motivates them to prove the stereotype wrong.
If we strive to find ways to reduce the stereotype threat for women and African-American students, the same threat pervades the minds of many whites who believe they lack the genetics to excel in basketball and other power-related activities. As more players like Steve Nash excel in the NBA, their success will help to dispel the stereotype in the minds of many. Blaming genetics gives people an out, an excuse – ultimately, while everyone has a different genetic ceiling, effort and environment have more to do with one’s ultimate success, as Tucker demonstrated last week.
More Jacob Tucker:
Differential Learning & Degrees of Freedom
In 5.9 and 5.10, I wrote about differential learning. This week, I attended the AAHPERD conference and listened to a motor behaviorist speak about degrees of freedom. He did not reference differential learning, but the concepts mirror each other.
In the talk about degrees of freedom, he showed a slide of handwriting with one’s strong hand and one’s non-preferred hand. The slide did not actually show handwriting, but instead a measurement of the consistency of the movement. Figure A showed great inconsistency at the wrist, elbow and shoulder; essentially, the three joints had many degrees of freedom. Figure B was very consistent, showing almost no degrees of freedom in the wrist and elbow, and some at the shoulder. The assumption is that Figure B represents the preferred-hand handwriting because of the consistency. However, Figure A actually represents the preferred-hand handwriting. The implication is that skilled performance requires greater variability of movement at the joints than non-skilled movement.
When someone learns a skill, the first aspect of learning is to reduce gross mistakes – he freezes the degrees of freedom. When learning to shoot, beginners often have less motion with their hand/wrist: they push the ball rather than starting with their hand under the ball and a full follow-through. They freeze the degrees of freedom at their wrist.
The next step is to release the degrees of freedom. If a player remains frozen (imagine the way that Dwight Howard shoots a free throw), he will never shoot expertly. Performing a skill requires variability and adaptability within the joints. What we think about as consistency and reducing mistakes is really an amazing ability to adapt our movements and compensate.
The speaker used pistol shooting as a second example. A novice pistol shooter freezes the degrees of freedom at his wrist and elbow; all the movement occurs in his shoulder. An expert pistol shooter has greater degrees of freedom at the wrist and elbow. This seems counterintuitive – greater freedom at the joints would seem to lead to greater error. Instead, the greater degrees of freedom compensate for each other.
In ball handling, a beginner freezes his shoulder and elbow and uses only his wrist to bounce the ball (or he freezes his wrist and shoulder and slaps at the ball with elbow extension). As he improves, he uses his whole body to bounce the ball. While he uses greater movement, the outcome becomes more consistent. When a player slaps at the ball with his wrist, the ball controls the player – the bounces are inconsistent. With greater degrees of freedom, and a full-body motion, the different joints compensate and balance each other – the body finds its optimal movement pattern for dribbling.
If experts use greater degrees of freedom, as opposed to restricting the motion at the joints, is the typical repetitive, block practice appropriate? The assumption is that the repetition leads to a greater reduction in variability, but the concepts of differential learning and degrees of freedom seem to indicate that reducing the variability is not the objective of practice. Instead, practice is intended to discover the optimal movement pattern for the individual.
To develop ball handling skills, do players learn and master the skill through repetitive drills or through a game like tag? Tag fits with the theory of differential learning. In a straight-line or stationary ball handling drill, the goal is to develop consistency of movement and eliminate variability through repetitions. However, dribbling in a game involves a great deal of variability.
In a game of tag, a player must use more degrees of freedom. He moves, adjusts to opponents, evades, moves at different speeds. These movements require different hand positions, different ball velocity, different angles of release, etc. Players naturally practice with more variability. No two repetitions are the same, just like in a game. Rather than trying to limit the range of motion, tag increases the range of possible movements so players have a wider range from which to discover their optimal movement pattern.