Hard 2 Guard Player Development Newsletter
Practice in Proportion to your Aspirations.
In this Week’s Newsletter…
- A Quick Word: Intensity
- Skills vs. Abilities
- Training as Problem Solving
A Quick Word
During University of North Carolina Strength & Conditioning Coach Jonas Sahratian’s talk at the Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group conference, he pointed out work rate or intensity and the importance of knowing why you are doing what you are doing.
He divided the intensity levels into high (95%<), medium (75-94%) and low (<75%). For basketball, players should not train in the medium intensity level. This level is too low to be sport-specific training, but too high to be recovery.
Unfortunately, most players develop in an environment where they train between 75-94% because it is comfortable. They never push to the edge to train at the highest, game-specific intensities, but they never recover either. Players (and coaches) think things have to be hard to be beneficial, so they ignore active rest.
Skills vs. Abilities
A frequent theme running through my writing is the need for players to develop general skills before sport-specific skills. Every basketball skill is developed on top of some general motor and movement skills. Coaching is the same: sport-specific instruction and concepts develop on top of general principles of motor learning, physiology, biomechanics and exercise science. Just as players need to develop the foundation before moving into sport-specific training or they will hit a premature peak, coaches need to understand the basics that underlie their sport-specific teaching. More and more, I am realizing that many coaches understand the specifics, but do not understand the foundation, which leads to a premature peak in their coaching ability.
One specific and consistent misrepresentation by coaches, the media and “talent identification experts” is the difference between skills and abilities. Magill (2011) defines abilities as “a general trait or capacity of an individual that is a determinant of a person’s achievement potential for the performance of specific skills” (p.49). Abilities are stable over time (once one finishes puberty) and have the quality of generality: they influence many skills. They are a prerequisite for skills.
Magill (2011) defines a skill as “an activity or task that has a specific purpose or goal to achieve” (p.5). A motor skill involves movement and is learned through practice. Skills are specific to one condition. Being a good shooter in basketball does not make one a good rifle shooter, though an ability like hand-eye coordination would generalize to shooting a basketball and shooting a rifle.
Speed has a high genetic quality (+50%), so it is an ability. Running is a skill (it is also a fundamental movement pattern, but it meets the requirements of a skill because it involves movement, is voluntary (not a reflex), is goal-oriented, and improves through practice). A person with a high ability for speed will be a better sprinter than someone with a low ability for speed.
Regardless of one’s ability for speed, he can improve his skill of running. With practice, his technique will improve and become more consistent; he will be able to maintain this consistency even after a period of no practice; and he will adapt this more consistent technique in different environments, like transferring one’s improved running skill from the track to the basketball court.
These skill improvements will enable him to run faster, but he will never run as fast as the person with a high ability of speed. However, if the person with the high ability for speed neglects the skill of running, he is likely to suffer from acute or chronic injuries, as he will lack the skill to control his ability to produce high forces, and this lack of control will stress the muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints until the load surpasses the capacity and the body breaks down in the form of injury. Peak performance occurs when an athlete with high ability for speed masters the skill of running.
An easy way to differentiate abilities and skills is to think of abilities as the tools and skills as the job. One must learn to do different jobs; he does not learn a tool – the tool is supplied, and some tools are more appropriate for some jobs than others.
When coaches and the media describe a player’s potential, they are referring to his abilities (or anthropomorphic measurements). Skills are observable and measurable: a player is a 45% three-point shooter. That is not potential; that is a measured and observable skill. However, when a coach characterizes an athlete as possessing potential, he is suggesting that he has a high ability for speed, jumping ability, reaction time or some other ability. However, to express these abilities, the player must learn the skills that depend heavily on the ability, like speed and running.
Skills and abilities are not interchangeable. One is a prerequisite for the other. To coach effectively, we must know the difference; we must know what we are teaching, and what we are trying to get players to learn. If we only possess a strong knowledge of X’s and O’s as a coach, and lack a foundation in basic exercise science, will we be able to get the most out of our players?
Training as Problem Solving
I work on Saturdays with a couple 10-year-old boys. One player’s right leg caves in when he shoots. Consequently, he gets little vertical force from his lower body, and he uses a twisting motion from his upper body to push the ball to the basket. As expected, his shots are flat, and he is very inconsistent.
When I mentioned this to the dads, one said that he found that very interesting because he normally only looks at the upper body when he looks at his son’s shooting. This is common. We shoot the ball, and the ball is in our hands, so our focus is on those parts of the shot that are closest to the ball – follow-through, elbow alignment, starting position, hand placement, etc. If the shot is flat, the answer is to bend his knees more or follow-through higher. However, what if the issue isn’t bending his knees? What if the flat follow-through is not the lack of skill but a result of an abnormality somewhere else?
I enjoy training players because I view it as problem solving. I almost never get true beginners. Parents tend to find me after they have experimented with numerous coaches or other trainers. Parents find me when nobody else has been able to help their son or daughter, usually because they focus on the specifics of the skill execution, and never address the foundation of the movement.
To me, the knee issue is a puzzle. Is the knee issue a result of an old ankle injury? Is it a result of poor hip stability? Is it a motor pattern that has been engrained post injury? I use exercise bands similar to the video below to address hip stability (lower body starts at 1:18). I assigned squats as homework to re-introduce the proper motor pattern. I also assigned a basic ankle rehab exercise to return the full range of motion to his ankle.
I imagine one of the three is the problem. Of course, the problem is which one. To me, that is the fun part of training. That is why I am back in school and always have my head in a book. I like solving problems and the wider variety of subjects that I study, the more problems that I will be able to solve. Training, to me, is problem solving.