Hard 2 Guard Player Development Newsletter
Practice in Proportion to your Aspirations.
In this Week’s Newsletter…
- A Quick Word: Beet Juice
- Jiujitsu and Specificity
- Two General Concepts to Explain Offensive Basketball
A Quick Word
I follow MMA fighter Urijah Faber via twitter and he frequently posts on his nutrition via the web site Eat Like a Champ. For a while, I have noticed that he drinks a lot of beet juice, which sounded pretty disgusting to me.
Now, it appears that beet juice is the new coconut water.
Last winter, I wrote about coconut water as an alternative to Gatorade as a more natural source of electrolytes during and after practice or competition. Beet juice is the new coconut water.
Alex Hutchinson who writes the Sweat Science blog has written twice in recent months about a series of studies at the University of Exeter in the lab of Andrew Jones.
In one study, the researchers found that males could exercise 16% longer after a six-day regiment of drinking 500 mL of beetroot juice. The researchers speculated that the nitrate in the beet juice contributed to the enhanced endurance.
In a subsequent study, the researchers isolated the nitrates and concluded that it was the nitrates that led to the improvements. The treated beet juice without nitrates showed no performance benefits, while the regular beet juice continued to show improved performance.
The researchers speculate that the nitrate turns to nitric oxide in the body which reduces the oxygen cost of exercise.
Further studies are needed, but just as coconut water took off in 2010 as the all-natural electrolyte replacement beverage (see Volume 4), beet juice might be the nutritional supplement of choice in 2011 as a pre-exercise cocktail.
Jiujitsu and Specificity of Language
I took an introductory jiujitsu class this week. Jiujitsu is unlike anything that I have done previously. However, the initial learning curve was made steeper because of unspecific language. Several times, my more experienced partner or the instructor said “put this leg there” or “that arm there.” As a novice trying to imitate an expert’s one or two demonstrations to get a position, the unspecific language made the learning more complex. Which leg is “that one,” my right or my left? When an athlete is confused, “that” or “this” does not simplify the action. When instructing, coaches should use language that is as accurate and specific as possible.
Beyond the unspecific language, I appreciated the learning approach. Jiujitsu is a sport that requires an opponent, like wrestling. It is difficult to practice moving into a position or going for a submission against air. This naturally creates a decision-training style of instruction, as the instructor showed an action and then we partnered and took turns making the move over and over in a non-competitive manner. In the first move, I unbalanced my opponent to get to a dominant position, kept hold of his arm and rolled into an arm bar. While practicing, my opponent did not fight or resist – he went with the movement. During the class, we practiced for about 45 minutes and then rolled for 15 minutes to incorporate the things that we had learned in a more competitive environment. In a sense, the instructor demonstrated a concept or position, we played small-sided games and then scrimmaged.
I prefer this style of learning where the athlete has a chance to learn by doing and learn from his mistakes without the instructor or coach immediately correcting every mistake or instructing throughout the session. The instructor watched and added brief instructions to improve my foot placement for leverage or to remind me not to lay back too quickly when going for the arm bar.
I talk less each season that I coach. If I teach a move, and the player struggles on the first repetition, I do not stop the player and re-explain. Learning does not occur through the listening. Why overwhelm the player with more instruction? The more mental resources that he uses to process the verbal explanations in his prefrontal cortex, the less resources he has to feel the movement through more sensory-oriented areas of the brain like the motor cortex, basal ganglia and parietal lobe.
Instead, I allow the player to work through his mistakes and try the move a couple more times before I instruct more. I save my instructions for correcting specific things, like my instructor pointing out a slight adjustment in my foot placement to improve my leverage. With specific instructions and limited feedback, I feel players learn better and are able to handle different situations in a game without relying on the coach for all the answers.
Two General Concepts to Explain Offensive Basketball
Last week, I conducted a clinic in Boulder and attempted to emphasize two offensive objectives: an individual’s goal is to create space and the team’s goal is to disorganize the defense (the first is the focal point of Hard2Guard: Skill Development for Perimeter Players and the second is the foundation of Developing Basketball Intelligence).
Before I teach a specific skill, I want players to understand these general concepts. If I have the ball, I want one of three things to happen: (1) create space for my shot; (2) draw a second defender to create a shot for a teammate; or (3) be in a position to pass to a teammate when he creates space.
There are two important take-aways from these goals: (1) the dribble is not an end – the dribble is used to create a shot or pass; and (2) typically, you are most open when you first receive the ball.
If I do not have the ball, I have two basic options: (1) make a cut to create space for myself or (2) do something (cut, screen) to help a teammate create space whether with the ball or away from the ball.
When players internalize these general concepts, the specifics are easier to teach. Look at the two ways to teach a pick-and-roll:
Traditionally, to teach the pick-and-roll, teams start in a 2v0 drill where the screener sets a screen at a specific point, the ball handler dribbles to a specific point and the ball handler passes to the screener rolling to the basket. Next, in a 2v2 or 5v5 scrimmage, the players attempt to replicate this exact scenario: the screener tries to set a screen in an exact spot, the ball handler uses the screen and looks to make the same pass.
When building the pick-and-roll on a general foundation, the specifics are less important. Instead, the screener knows that he can do one of two things: cut to create space for his teammate or set a screen on the ball to help his teammate create space. The ball handler, as he uses the screen, knows that his goal is either to create space for his shot or to create space for his teammate. There is no specific area where this has to happen.
In a traditional approach, players narrow their focus. When a coach coaches in a specific way, players tend to have attentional blindness: even though a teammate might be open elsewhere, their focus is narrowed to the specifics and they miss other things on the court, some of which may be more advantageous. The pick-and-roll becomes the end. On the other hand, when the goal is more general, a pick-and-roll is simply a tool to create space. It is a means to an end, but if there is a better means or a way to create a better end, the broad awareness enables or empowers players to make the better play.
From a team perspective, the general goal of disorganizing the defense builds upon this idea of creating space. With the pick-and-roll example, the traditional approach emphasizes scoring with one of the two players involved with the PnR, or some teams employ a specific approach to use a third player either as a passer or shooter.
In the more general approach, it does not matter who scores. If I run a side PnR and the defense helps and uses three players to defend the two players in the PnR, someone is open. If we move the ball, the singular action disorganizes the defense (3 defenders for 2 offensive players) and creates an open shot for an offensive player somewhere. The challenge is finding the most open player, who may be missed if the specific instructions narrow the players’ focus and vision.
In the clinic, we used a 2v2 drill (see Blitz Basketball) with the ball handler penetrating and his teammate in the corner. Now, I introduced three specific actions for the wing: (1) backdoor cut; (2) stay; or (3) loop. How does one decide? Spacing. What movement creates the most space for you (the wing) or the ball handler? If the ball handler gets into the paint on his drive, the wing can stay. If his man helps into the paint, he is open in the corner for a shot.
Therefore, the help defender has to make a decision – he cannot help on the ball and defend the shot. If the ball handler’s penetration is outside the lane, a help defender can stop the ball and defend a shot from the corner: when I demonstrated, it was no more than two steps to move from preventing the drive to closing out in the corner.
Therefore, since staying is not an option, the player loops or cuts backdoor. If the help defender loses vision (leverage), the cut backdoor should be automatic because you create the most possible space, and you move closer to the basket for a better shot. If the help defender maintains leverage so he can see man and ball, the loop behind the dribbler creates the most possible space from his defender.
Rather than running an offense where the man in the corner makes a specific play every time, he reads the penetration and creates the most possible space. This is not an A or B decision. In a sense, I want to free players from making the “right” decision, and empower them to make what they see as the “best” decision given the circumstances. If the player does not make the best decision, he probably will not be open for a shot, but it is not the end of the world. We keep playing and maybe the next action creates an open shot. When reviewing the game, we can discuss the decision and use it as a learning point. What did he see? Why did it not work? It is not trying to do one certain thing or “run the offense,” but developing the confidence to make decisions in an effort to create space and disorganize the defense.