Hard 2 Guard Player Development Newsletter
Practice in Proportion to your Aspirations.
In this Week’s Newsletter…
- A Quick Word: Clinics and Cross over: The new model of youth basketball development
- Shooting practice: periodization and learning
- To stretch or not to stretch
- Athletes and learning
A Quick Word
Since publishing Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development in 2006, many people have emailed about how they’re using the book with their club, team or organization. I’m looking for those people. A coach in New Zealand is interesting in re-structuring his club around the ideas in the book. He is writing a proposal for funding and needs data to support his plans. If anyone has used Cross Over as a model for a program/club and can share any information with me/him, please email me.
This week, I went out to lunch with former NCAA and NBA coach Gordon Chiesa who now works in coach development for the NBA. He talked about shooters. High school and college shooters talk about the number of shots that they take during the off-season, but then their shots are off during the season when they do not practice their shooting as much.
There are two things at work here: periodization and learning.
First, the competitive season does not provide the same opportunity for development as the off-season because of the competitive demands. This was one of the primary issues that started me down the path that became Cross Over. During the season, coaches concentrate on winning. They focus on strategy, game plans, scouting, team rotations and more. There is less time for individual skill development and practice. I compared the weekly schedules of a Spanish club to high school and club teams to illustrate this difference in emphasis. With one game per week, a coach has more time to dedicate to development; with two games per week (we played Wednesday/Friday in high school), the focus remains on competition: our Monday practice focused on our Friday game and improving on our mistakes; our Tuesday practice focused on Wednesday’s game; and our Thursday practice was a lighter practice focused on Friday’s game. Where is the time for an intense practice? When is there time for substantial individual development?
With a Saturday game, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday can be intense, skill-oriented practices with Friday focusing more on game preparation. The schedule provides more time for in-season shooting practice or other forms of development. The schedule puts development (practice) first, and competition second, while the U.S. system emphasizes games and competitions and fits in practice around the game schedules.
Furthermore, from a development standpoint, during the competitive season, players play to their strengths, which inhibits development of new skills. If I am battling for playing time with a teammate, I am unlikely to risk mistakes trying a new move during practice. Instead, I play to my strengths so that I can win during practice and hopefully earn more playing time. I don’t stretch beyond my limit and risk mistakes because those mistakes may lead to reduced playing time, even though those same mistakes are the way for me to learn new skills or improve my skills. During games, I use my learned skills rather than experimenting, as the goal is to perform.
Second, from a learning perspective, the purpose of practice is transfer to game situations. If a player practices all summer and shoots a high percentage during his practice, but shoots poorly during the season, what was the purpose of the training? If there is no transfer from practice to games, there is no learning.
When players practice in the off-season, most practice is block practice; that is, a player shoots from a spot for a certain number of repetitions and then moves to a new spot or a new shot. Block practice leads to improved practice performance, so players and coaches believe that the player is learning. However, block practice is less robust than random, variable practice. This means that the improvement demonstrated does not transfer as well to novel situations and is more susceptible to variables such as fatigue, pressure, gym lighting, etc.
When players practice and improve during the off-season, but fail to show the same improvement during games, there is a lack of transference. From talking to Chiesa, NBA teams attempt to improve transference by finding ways to shoot more during the season. Ray Allen is famous for his pre-game shooting rituals.
Beyond increasing the in-season shooting practice or skill development emphasis, players need to change their practice habits and move beyond the traditional block practice. If the practice improvement is not retained from the off-season to the regular season or if the practice does not transfer from practice to games, more is not the answer. Realistically, a player can spend only so much time on his shooting. Rather than adding repetitions, the player should reduce repetitions, but use random and variable training.
Block practice is the favored practice schedule because it leads to quick improvement and because it affords more repetitions in a short amount of time. If a player uses a rebounder and shoots 15-foot spot-up jumpers from the same spot, it is easy to shoot (and make) a high number of shots in a short amount of time. However, if the practice does not transfer, are these extra shots worthwhile?
Rather than make 10 shots from a spot before moving to a new spot in a typical five-spot shooting drill, a more random, variable drill would be to shoot different shots or from different spots on each repetition. It is not just a matter of shooting from game spots, but shooting game-type shots: a player never repeats the same motion 10 times in a row in a game.
As an example, a player sprints toward the elbow and curls into a shot. After shooting, he flares away from the passer, catches and shoots a second shot. Another way to vary the drill would be to use a screener and a defender and make the shooter read the defender and use the screen to create an open shot. Repetitions like these take more time, which means fewer shots. However, this type of practice should improve retention and transfer, so the fewer shots lead to better game performance.
When learning a skill, retention and transfer are the qualities which determine learning and improvement. Immediate practice improvement may help one’s confidence or make the coach look smart, but if the skill is not retained from the off-season to the competitive season or transfer from practice to the games, there is no learning. Whether in the off-season or during the season, random, variable training improves retention and transfer compared to block practice.
To stretch or not to stretch
Based on information suggested by well-known coaches and students in my classes, people are married to the idea that static stretching prior to intense activity is the best way to warm up and/or prevent injuries. A recent study by Amiri-Khorasani and colleagues (2010) tested the effects of different stretching warm-ups on the Illinois Agility Test (IAT) with professional soccer players.
The IAT is a popular test of agility, though it is more appropriate as a measure of soccer agility than basketball agility because of the lack of lateral movement.
“The length of the course is 10 meters and the width (distance between the start and finish points) is 5 meters. Four cones are used to mark the start, finish and the two turning points. Another four cones are placed down the center an equal distance apart. Each cone in the center is spaced 3.3 meters apart. Subjects should lie on their front (head to the start line) and hands by their shoulders. On the ‘Go’ command the stopwatch is started, and the athlete gets up as quickly as possible and runs around the course in the direction indicated, without knocking the cones over, to the finish line, at which the timing is stopped.”
The study compared static, dynamic, and the combination of static and dynamic stretching within a pre-exercise warm-up prior to the IAT. There was significant decrease in agility time following dynamic stretching vs. static stretching in both less and more experienced players. When static stretching was combined with dynamic stretching, there appeared to be no adverse effect. However, dynamic stretching was the most effective warm-up for the IAT with professional soccer players.
Amiri-Khorasani and colleagues (2010) focused on performance decrements caused by static stretching. However, some performance decrements, especially if minimal, are worth the potential reduction in injuries. However, numerous studies have concluded that the benefits in terms of injury prevention or minimal at best. Pope and colleagues (2000) found that a typical pre-exercise stretching protocol does not produce a clinically useful reduction in injury risk. Another review of literature by Thacker and colleagues (2004) found that stretching was not significantly associated with a reduction in total injuries, and therefore, there is not sufficient evidence to endorse or discontinue routine stretching before or after exercise to prevent injury among competitive or recreational athletes.
Based on these and other similar studies, pre-practice or pre-game static stretching for purposes of improving performance or preventing injury would be unnecessary, and dynamic warm-ups would provide a better warm-up for performance enhancement.
Athletes and learning
Saturday night, Jon Jones defended his UFC Light-Heavyweight Championship. Steve Cofield of Yahoo! Sports suggested that Jones may be the smartest fighter in MMA.
“Youth was on his side as he was simply too long and athletic for the veteran Quinton Jackson. As ridiculous as Jones’ physical tools are, listening to him analyze the fight during the post-fight press conference, has me thinking that his mental grasp of the game might be the scariest thing for future opponents.”
When I first watched Jones fight, he had some ridiculous judo throws. Turns out, he had no judo experience; he spent hours watching youtube clips and trying out things that he saw on the Internet.
In The Art of Learning, former chess and tai chi champion Josh Waitzkin attributes his success to his ability to learn. Coaches overlook learning as a pivotal instrument in a player’s ultimate success. Coaches often equate memorization with learning, but they are no the same. Memorization involves retention, a key element of learning, but learning requires the ability to transfer the knowledge to new situations.
If our goal is to develop great players, learning has to be part of the development. The best players learn how to learn and use this ability to perform better. A player like Shane Battier would be a very average player without his ability to learn. His ability to take scouting reports and use the knowledge to inform his performance enhances his ability on the court.
This, however, is not the only type of learning. Many post players, as an example, are inhibited because they never practice real moves in real situations. They do not have the opportunity to learn. They practice moves in isolation, but they do not practice in variable environments where they develop the awareness and feel of the moves. They look robotic when they get the ball in a game, and it is because they are robotic. They know moves, but have not learned how to use them.
Improving performance is learning. Thinking of performance improvement in terms of learning changes one’s approach, whether an individual learning a new move by watching youtube or a coach teaching skills to a team.
- Amiri-Khorasani et al. (2010). Acute effect of different stretching methods on Illinois Agility Test in soccer players. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24 (10), 2698-2704.
- Pope, R. P., Herbert, R. D. Kirwan, J. D. & Graham, B. J. (2000). A randomized trial of pre-exercise stretching for prevention of lower-limb injury. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 271–277.
- Thacker, S. B., Gilchrist, J., Stroup, D.F. & Kimsey Jr., C.D. (2004). The Impact of Stretching on Sports Injury Risk: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 371–378.