Hard 2 Guard Player Development Newsletter
Practice in Proportion to your Aspirations.
In this Week’s Newsletter…
- A Quick Word: Re-Thinking Perfect Practice
- Routine vs Adapted Expertise
- Betweenness and Developmental Basketball
A Quick Word
Originally a reply to Neuroplasticity and how training changes the structure of the brain.
Is perfect practice the answer? There are other theories such as differential learning and nonlinear pedagogy that support the idea that athletes should engage in a wide array of skill executions and increase the number of degrees of freedom because by widening the scope of the practice, they are more likely to find the execution that best fits their anatomy, physiology, etc.
Thinking of the study on the London cab drivers: Is their practice perfect? Is it perfect compared to the bus drivers who drive a pre-defined route? It is essentially the difference between routine expertise and adaptive expertise. The cab drivers, by trying new streets, develop a flexible and adaptive expertise. The bus drivers never err on their route, but their route is not always the best one – what if there is a traffic jam, an accident, a street closure? They can execute their routine with great automaticity, but lack the flexibility to deal with these new constraints.
If the cab drivers stick to the conventional path and take the main streets, they are unlikely to make any errors, but they also have a shallower pool of experience from which to draw when a new problem arises. It is only through exploration, not perfect practice, that the cabbies develop the new and varied pathways which make them experts at their job.
Routine vs. Adaptive Expertise
The article “Two Courses of Expertise” by Giyoo Hatano and Kayoko Inagaki published in 1984 differentiates between adaptive expertise and routine expertise. “Routine experts are outstanding in terms of speed, accuracy and automaticity of performance, but lack flexibility and adaptability to new problems, (p. 31).
The two courses of expertise parallel the way that I define technique and skill. In motor learning literature, there is no distinction made between technique and skill, which I find problematic. Working on form shooting in a stationary position in a gym by oneself is a very different skill than pulling up for a jump shot off the dribble on a 3v2 fast break in front of 20,000 people. To differentiate, I use technique vs. skill.
Mastering one’s technique is like routine expertise: one can repeat the same procedure over and over with little variation and perform well in terms of speed, accuracy and automaticity. Shooting a free throw could be considered routine expertise because the environment never changes and the performance requires accuracy and automaticity with little need for flexibility or adaptability.
Most skills, however, are aligned more closely with adaptive expertise, as flexibility and adaptability are essential ingredients for successful performance. A free throw is self-paced in a stable environment; shooting within the flow of the game is often externally-paced (determined by the defense as well as the timing of a teammate’s pass) and occurring in an unstable or constantly changing environment. This environment mandates flexibility and adaptability.
One factor in the development of routine or adaptive expertise is the constraints of the system in which the skill is performed. When the constraints are random, as in the flow of a game, repeated applications of the skill is likely to lead to adaptive expertise. However, when the system is standardized, and there is no randomness, there is no reason for modification of the skill, which leads to routine expertise.
When a coach runs sets every time down the court, and demands precise execution (especially in practice), he standardizes the procedures and eliminates the need for adaptive expertise. As players learn the play, they develop routine expertise – they follow the standard formula designed by the coach.
However, games are always different than practice. While the players may be experts at their plays, the routine expertise did not require the development of flexibility or adaptability. When new problems are encountered during the game, the players lack the adaptive expertise required to deal with the novel situations. The practice created experts; however, is routine expertise the type of expertise required in a game performance?
The context of the applications also affects the development of routine or adaptive expertise. “When a procedural skill is performed primarily to obtain rewards, people are reluctant to take the risk of varying the skill, since they believe the safest way is to rely on the ‘conventional’ version,” (p. 34). An overly competitive environment leads to routine expertise rather than adaptive expertise. Rather than experiment with new solutions (moves), players do what they can do already. This stymies development. When free to explore new solutions, players make more mistakes, but also enrich their learning. In the process of making mistakes, they learn new solutions. Through trial and error, they deepen their learning. They develop flexibility, as they see problems from more than one view, and adaptability, as they try a multitude of new applications. By deepening their learning, they have more experience to draw from when encountering a novel situation. They have more tools in the toolbox, while a routine expert has a hammer, so every problem looks like a nail.
The idea of routine and adaptive experts has two practical applications for coaches:
First, games are an unstructured, unstable environment, and this environment requires adaptive expertise, not routine expertise.
Second, an emphasis on competition or external rewards dampens the development of adaptive expertise and promotes routine expertise.
To develop better game performers, we need to create environments that develop greater flexibility and adaptability. It is not enough to perform a skill with speed, accuracy and automaticity in one environment or situation; players must be able to transfer the learning to many different situations. A shooter does not just shoot free throws, though the ability to shoot a free throw with proficiency is a start. The shooter must be able to adapt to different constraints of time, defense, the ball, shot distance and more. To develop this adaptability and flexibility, players need to be put in different environments and challenged to explore through trial-and-error to discover new solutions. The more tools in the toolbox, the more a player will thrive in different environments or situations.
Betweenness and Developmental Basketball
Soccer fans and coaches on twitter often discuss pass percentages for individuals and teams and the correlation between the statistic and good offense and winning. I have started to examine the same thing in basketball, but also went searching for a framework for the study. I found some interesting studies by Martijn Swaagman, which offer a different perspective for evaluating the way that our developmental teams play.
In a blog entry titled “How to Style your Play,” he analyzes the 2010 World Cup Final. He explains the idea of betweenness:
“An arrow is an indication of passes between two players. Both the direction and amount is displayed. Blue arrows represent a relative low number, while red represent a relative high number of passes. From this distribution of passes, the betweenness can be calculated. The betweenness is indicated by the circle size of players. This sounds sophisticated but think of it as how often the player is the middle man. If player A wants to reach player C but is required (due to tactics, distance, opponent position, etc.) to use player B, the betweenness of the latter will go up.”
In his study of betweenness and basketball, he found that the point guard had a very high betweenness and the center a very low betweenness. This makes sense: the point guard is often the link between players and often makes a high percentage of the plays and decisions.
However, developmentally, is this a good thing? Through the LTAD curriculum, we talk about global players and not assigning positions until players are 15 or 16 years old. Does this really happen? Even if one player is not assigned the role of point guard, do we end up with the same distribution as shown in Swaagman’s study?
If the point guard is involved in the action so much more so than a center, is there any reason not to believe that guards will develop more quickly than centers? From a developmental perspective, should there be such a disparity?
I would like to examine my last team and use this model. When looking at Spain, it is assumed that Xavi is in the center of everything and most passes go through him (or Iniesta). Xavi is the proverbial playmaker for Spain. However, developmentally, if we want to promote the idea of the global player, how would Xavi’s dominance undermine the development of the other players?
In a previous article, Swaagman suggests that “Research indicated that offensive efficiency was dependent on the team’s ability to change offensive pace and vary their attacking methods.” If the team is dependent on one player to such a degree, how can it vary its attacking methods or change its pace? On the other hand, a team with multiple playmakers can change the pace and vary the attack quite easily.
To create these additional playmakers, the coach needs to create an environment where anyone can be the point guard. As long as one player assumes the role, the betweenness will skew in his favor – he will have more opportunities to improve, and other players will have fewer opportunities. Therefore, if he is chosen as the point guard because of a smaller edge in decision-making skills or playmaking ability at the beginning of the season, by year’s end, he will have increased the discrepancy because of his extra involvement.
While teams run different offenses, and coaches have different desires, using this model to determine betweenness and passing directions can provide increased information about how your team actually performs.