Hard 2 Guard Player Development Newsletter
Practice in Proportion to your Aspirations.
In this Week’s Newsletter…
- A Quick Word: Learning Skills and Small-Sided Games
- Double-edged Sword of Demonstrations/Instructions
A Quick Word
Here are the slides from my talk “Learning Skills and Small-Sided Games” from the Sports Psychology for Coaches Conference sponsored by the Institute for Coach Education at Boston University:
Here are some additional notes from my talk:
The traditional approach to teaching skills focuses on technique. The traditional approach uses isolated drills and lots of repetitions to build the motor program. The problem is that the game environment changes the skill (Fenoglio, 2007).
Constraints approach to developing skills: what are Person, Environment and Task constraints on the skill execution? To develop skills, manipulate and adapt practice environment based on Person, Environment and Task. Create age-appropriate and skill-appropriate challenges. Coaches often spend time on stationary passing drills; however, is the constraint on the player the technique of the pass? The limiting factor in skill execution is related most often to the perceptual and/or cognitive element of the skill, not the motor: reading the defense, reading the speed of the play, judging the distance of the pass, deciding which type of pass to make and similar skills lead to mistakes more often than the technique of passing.
Learning requires retention and transfer, which cannot be seen during a practice. Immediate improvement in practice is not necessarily learning. If a player shoots 50 straight free throws, his performance should improve. However, will he retain his improvement tomorrow? Will the improved free throw shooting transfer to other types of shots or even to 1-and-1 situations?
During practice, once can observe improvement and consistency. However, one cannot observe stability, persistence, or adaptability, so one cannot infer learning during a single practice session.
Small-sided games lead to faster, more robust learning of skills (Feneglio, 2007) due to the increased number of repetitions compared to a full-sided game and the emphasis on variable practice in a game context. Feneglio (2007) suggests an 80/20 practice breakdown: 80% small-sided games and 20% warm-up, instruction, coordination drills and more.
Dr. Dave Brunner spoke before me at the conference, and one of the ideas that he introduced was Schwerpunkt. Schwerpunkt was the idea that a leader empowers the lower-level operatives to make decisions based on harmonized bigger goals.
Dr. Brunner works with the U.S. Army and specifically with those soldiers who have to defuse improvised explosives. These soldiers train and train for hundreds of different situations, but inevitably, the real situation differs from training. If the decision-making was controlled at the top, especially during training situations, what would happen in the middle of the battle when faced with an unusual situation?
Athletes, of course, do not face life and death situations. However, if all the decision-making is controlled at the top, what do players do when faced with a novel situation during the game? Players need to have adaptable skills – players have to be able to shoot from different spots, different distances and with the defense in different proximities. If the team only practices shooting in drills with no defense so every shot is uncontested, the player is unprepared to decide if a shot is a good or open shot in a game.
I use one of Dick Devenzio’s ideas and rate shots for our players. We define good shots prior to the season. However, once we set those goals of taking good shots, I empower players to decide what constitutes a good shot within the course of a game. I do not want a player questioning whether a shot is a good one or not. If the player is going to shoot, I want the shot to be confident and without any doubt. I want the focus to be on the basket, not the correctness of the decision. I do not want players worrying about what I think. They are empowered to make decisions based on our overarching goals.
If a player takes a bad shot or if bad shots become a problem, we return to our goals at practice. However, I do not yell at players during games because I do not want a player second-guessing himself. I want to empower players to make decisions – we have schwerpunkt.
Double-Edged Sword of Demonstrations & Instruction
During my presentation, one question focused on the timing of block practice and random practice. In a traditional coaching methodology, coaches start with the block practice with lots of instruction and feedback and isolated drills. Once players show improvement, the coach adds a new element or puts the skill into a scrimmage. The decision-training style of coaching starts with competition-like drills and “hard-first instruction.”
When I trained a lot of players, I used the typical block practice method and realized that it was ineffective. When I demonstrated a move, players attempted to copy my move. I was an average player – my goal is to help players become better than me, not to make a bunch of copycats. However, the instructions and demonstrations from the outset, the traditional block practice approach, puts players in an imitation mindset as opposed to an exploratory mindset.
A recent article by Bonawitz et al. (2010) in Cognition titled “The double-edged sword of pedagogy: Instruction limits spontaneous exploration and discovery,” found that “Preschoolers in the pedagogical condition focused almost exclusively on the target function; by contrast, children in the other conditions explored broadly.” Rather than explore different solutions, and possibly make mistakes, the students followed the instruction. Bonawitz et al. (2010) concluded that “pedagogy promotes efficient learning but at a cost: children are less likely to perform potentially irrelevant actions but also less likely to discover novel information.”
On the court, block practice promotes efficiency. If I set out to practice ball handling, and I do straight-line ball-handling drills, the practice is efficient and players make few mistakes. However, if I start with a game of tag, like in the video, the practice gets messy. There is less efficiency; it looks more disorganized.
However, in the game of tag, players explore solutions to the problem of getting past the person who is “It.” In a straight-line ball-handling drill, the player solves the problem of one specific move at a time; if I offer a demonstration, then the player focuses on solving the problem of imitating my movement, not discovering the best way to position his hands or coordinate the movement to accomplish the goal of the move.
Block practice is not wrong. Efficiency can be good. However, I use the decision-training approach to present the problem and allow players to explore and discover first, and when there is an issue or a constant mistake, I use the block practice as a means to correct the problem efficiently. Then, I return to more competition-like drills to assess the learning.
The timing of the methods of instruction – block vs. random, variable – matters depending on your goals as a coach for the player’s development. Because I want players to explore and discover their own solutions rather than simply imitating me, I use the random, variable drills first and supplement those drills with the occasional block practice when necessary.