Hard 2 Guard Player Development Newsletter
Practice in Proportion to your Aspirations.
In this Week’s Newsletter…
- A Quick Word: Patience
- Drills vs. Games
- Personalities of Young Athletes
A Quick Word
During a clinic today, we worked on zone offense and defense. When the players caught the ball while defended, they passed as quickly as possible; it was like Hot Potato. When the players received the pass in open space, they hesitated.
This is the exact opposite of the proper approach. When a player catches the pass when open, he should make a move immediately. Too many players make a move and get open, catch the pass, wait for the defender and make a second move to attempt to beat the defender again. Why? Once you get open, why wait to be defended to make a move? Players should catch with the Hard2Guard mentality: catch the ball physically and mentally prepared to shoot. If outside of one’s range or if there is an open lane, drive right away. You’re most open when you first receive the pass.
When receiving the pass while defended, the player needs to be patient. Be strong with the ball, pivot to the basket and look for an open teammate or use a move to drive past the defender. Pressure works when players rush because they make hurried decisions without accounting for all the variables. Rather than focus one’s attention on the defender, the player needs to develop confidence with the ball, and with his technical skills, so the defender does not affect the player, and he or she can see through the defender to find an open teammate or lane to the basket.
This mindset requires confidence borne through practice with the ball and experience in these situations. One cannot learn to react to game situations in 1v0 drills. To extend a drill to the game and ensure transfer of the skill from practice to the game, drills need to progress to more game-like or small-sided games. Shooting off the catch progresses from (1) simple catch-and-shoot drills to practice shooting technique to (2) shooting off different cuts from one’s offense to (3) reading a defender and using the screen to create an open shot to (4) playing 1v1 with different situations leading to the reception of the pass. Otherwise, how does a player to learn to recognize when he is open or how to react immediately upon the reception in a game? These decisions are ultimately skills that need to be practiced in drills, live drills and small-sided or modified games at practice.
Games vs. Drills
An associate emailed me a news clip of a “world renowned trainer” saying, “We are here to do drills, not games,” (despite all the footage in the background showing players engaged in games), and the associate said that this is what coaches are measured against, as promotional pieces and news stories like this one prejudice parents thinking.
This is a very traditional approach to coaching, and one which is en vogue again as a backlash against the never-ending games played by many young players involved in school and club basketball year-round. The problem, of course, is when they are pitted against each other (games vs. drills), as neither is a solution by itself.
Drills are a tool. The problem is when the drills become an end. Trainers do not have to prepare players to play in games, so the ultimate measure of their improvement is improvement in the drills. However, improvement in a drill is only important if it improves one’s ability to play the game. Any drill can have value – if there is transfer to a game skill.
In India, I assisted with the re-development of the company’s curriculum for physical education basketball lessons and after-school practice plans. Initially, I disliked most of the drills in their curriculum because I looked at the entire program as a whole. However, as I read through each drill, there was nothing wrong with any of the drills individually. Throughout the 12 lessons, there was very little integration between the drills and the game. The curriculum read as if the end-goal was to improve the athletes’ abilities to perform certain drills, not to develop better basketball players, so in its entirety, I had problems with the curriculum. No single drill was bad, but the collection of the drills did not serve its purpose.
Drills are essentially an opportunity for deliberate practice. Ericsson says that deliberate practice differs from normal practice because “it entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all” (Ericsson et al., 2007). In competition, players perform skills that they know how to do at a level where they are comfortable performing. They play at a speed at which they are comfortable, shoot from distances where they are confident that they can make the shot, defend players who they believe they can defend, etc. This is the reason that games are not the answer for player development even though they offer the most specificity.
“Deliberate practice includes activities that have been specially designed to improve the current level of performance,” (Ericsson et al., 1993; p. 368). If the purpose of drills is to improve performance through deliberate practice, the drills should be designed to improve a specific skill. This means that a trainer or coach should know why he or she is using a particular drill and should have different drills for different players, as players have individual needs.
If a player needs to improve his shooting, is running through more generic drills with the same feedback going to create the improvement? What does the player need to improve? Is it balance? Is it his release? Is it his movement into the catch before the shot? Is it the motion of the ball from the catch to the release? Is it the hand position? Heck, the shooting problem may be the result of an old injury, and no amount of shooting drills will solve the problem. Deliberate practice would focus on the specific issue and use a specific drill for a specific purpose. Otherwise, the drill is more generic practice; the better the player, the less affect generic practice will have on the improvement of his skill.
Deliberate practice is not appropriate for all players. “We claim that deliberate practice requires effort and is not inherently enjoyable. Individuals are motivated to practice because practice improves performance. In addition, engaging in deliberate practice generates no immediate monetary rewards and generates costs associated with access to teachers and training environments,” (Ericsson et al., 1993; p. 369). Players need a purpose to engage in deliberate practice – they have to want to improve a specific skill. Playing has to be important to them before this type of practice will mean something to them. Deliberate practice is not for beginners who have yet to invest in the sport.
While it seems counterintuitive, the cart sometimes has to come before the horse. Before drills have meaning, players have to play the game. Some coaches desire for players to have well-developed skills before engaging in game activities. Unfortunately, most individuals will grow tired of the constant drill work and quit without the opportunity to play. Modified games can be structured as developmental activities that improve the current level of performance, especially for beginners who will improve through almost any exposure to basketball activities. Basketball has to be fun and important to an individual before he or she wants to expend the time, energy and concentration to engage in deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice requires concentration, effort, time, energy, repetitions and feedback from a knowledgeable instructor (Ericsson et al., 1993). Games do not afford these requirements. In a competitive game, one does not concentrate on the execution of a skill, and one does not perform enough repetitions. Drills provide the required repetitions, concentration and feedback. However, these should be specific to the game, not simply to improve one’s performance of the drill.
Skills differ, so the drills used to develop the skills differ. Individual drills work best for skills whose success is determined primarily by the motor component. For instance, shooting is primarily a motor skill – the shot’s success depends largely on the proper execution, and repeatability, of one’s shooting technique.
Other skills depend largely on more cognitive-perceptual processes. The success of a pass often depends more on the ability to read one’s teammate and the defense, and less on the physical ability to execute a pass. Therefore, while a stationary form shooting drill may assist with the development of better, more repeatable shooting skills, stationary form passing drills are unlikely to make one a better passer. The goal is not to complete as many passes as possible in one minute, but to complete passes in the middle of a game against live defenders. This is the specific skill to be practiced in the drill or deliberate practice.
Drills are not the enemy. Of course, neither are games. Coaches need to balance the two and understand the needs of the players, both from a motivational standpoint and from a drill-selection standpoint. Purposeless or generic drills will have less of an impact on development than playing games, but games are insufficient to develop advanced skills because of the nature of competition and the dearth of repetitions. Deliberate practice and modified games provide the best learning environments for players to develop their skills for improved game performance.
Personalities of Young Athletes
Modified games often provide unique insight into the personalities of players. During camps and clinics, I play a lot of tag and similar games. In these environments, I feel that I can get a sense of the players‘ personalities in two ways:
I. In a clinic in India, we played AdiTag. I watched two young girls play against each other. Both played very defensively. Neither took a chance. They dribbled around each other, never getting close enough for the other to tag her. It is easy to surmise that these two would not be the most aggressive players in a team situation, and a coach would need to work with them on their aggression and confidence in game situations. This type of player would likely hide from the ball in game situations or be the one who was willing to substitute rather than play (as happened on the second day when we played a game and one of the two immediately went to the side and nominated herself as the sub).
On a deeper level, I imagine these girls have a Fixed Mindset (Dweck). A person with a Fixed Mindset often is afraid to try for fear of failure, as that failure demonstrates their lack of talent. While other players darted in to tag their partner with no regard for defense or avoiding being tagged, they avoided the possibility of being tagged with all their power. They played prevent defense for the entire time.
The more assertive players were much more willing to engage and risk failure for the opportunity to succeed. These players likely had a Growth Mindset. Being tagged did not cause them to doubt their talents, but served as a learning experience for the next time.
In a simple drill, these personalities express themselves. It would be interesting to see how they transfer from a drill to a game to off the court personality.
II. When I play team tag, one player chases after a player on the other team until he or she tags an opponent. In the last two summers, almost every player has chased a player of similar ability or someone in their social group. I never say anything about challenging yourself or who to pursue. It happens naturally.
To me, this shows a very real indication that players, even young players, have a real sense of their abilities and their rank amongst their peers (sometimes better than their coaches, and almost always better than their parents). Now, in some cases, this is a negative, as I think players settle into norms – a player who feels he is the third best player, and probably is the third best player, will continue to play and act like the third best player. This may benefit the team, but not necessarily the individual’s development. I never worried about match-ups with my youth teams – children generally know who they should defend. Again, this is positive and negative. Sometimes, a coach needs to step in and challenge a player to help the player move beyond his or her current level.
However, this summer, I saw a lot of tweets criticizing players for taking it easy or not challenging themselves or whatever. In my experience, this does not happen. Players do not seek the easy out when they are young. If they are the best player, they chase the best or fastest player on the other team even if they take over a minute and there are four easier targets that they could tag in a matter of seconds. Once a player chooses to pursue another player, he or she almost always sticks with that player. The exception is with the lowest skilled players who sometimes jump from player to player; I imagine that this is often because they are not as proficient at judging their own ability because they are not as good or not as experienced, so they do not know who they should go after. Therefore, they give up quicker and try for a new player, often hoping to find someone of their ability level.
I think these insights are important. In a sense, it shows that most players start with a Growth Mindset. They are not worried about taking a long time to tag a comparable player; they do not take the easy out and go for someone below their skill level. They do not have to be told to challenge themselves. They are like the children from Dweck’s puzzle study who receive feedback about their effort and choose the puzzle which is just above their ability level, rather than those who receive feedback about their performance and choose a puzzle that is too easy.
Unfortunately, based on the comments that I read, somewhere in the players’ development, the Growth Mindset – the desire to challenge oneself – changes to a Fixed Mindset and a desire to protect one’s talent. This illustrates a serious flaw in the way that players are coached, trained and parented, and an area where more informed coaches, trainers and parents could lead to improved performance and practice habits (and enjoyment) for players.