Sport-Specific Skills vs. General Athletic/Movement Skills

In Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter 5.9, I wrote about Jimmer Fredette and the misperceptions about his athleticism. Then, I wrote about The Jimmer’s athleticism more in depth. On twitter, someone asked what I saw to make the statements about his athleticism. The second article has a few video clips to illustrate some points, but I worked out an 8th grade girl this week, and the example might help the explanation.

The player’s mother and father emailed me and asked for shooting instruction. When we met, the father explained to me the numerous problems with her shot and gave special attention to her thumbing the ball with her weak hand. The girl was 5’1 and maybe 100 pounds.

I watched her shoot. Her shot was highly repeatable. She had some technique flaws in her shot, but nothing major. Then, I watched her shoot on the move. Finally, I moved her to the three-point line to get a sense of her range.

The father saw problems with the girl’s shooting technique. I found her issues to center on her athletic skills: (1) she’s not very strong and (2) she struggles to decelerate and stop her momentum.

Her skill level was pretty good. She was able to use either foot as a pivot foot on her first step to the basket and she could step in right-left or left-right to shoot. Many players struggle to use their non-dominant foot as a pivot foot.

Her shooting technique was good for her size. She shoots a little lower than ideal, but there is no way she’s going to shoot a pro jump shot as a 5’0, 100-pound 8th grader. Comparing her to Maya Moore is ridiculous.

However, her arm motion is consistent and straight. The problems occurred at the start and the finish. The problems at the start of her shot were athletic, and the the problems at the finish were technical (with small hands, her shooting hand starts too far to the right and she finishes with her fingers pointing to the side, not straight to the basket).

While we spent some time focused on the finish, the bigger improvement will come through better general athleticism. When she develops better leg strength and power, her shot will improve as she will start from a better position, and she will extend her range. I told her that to improve her shot, she needed to do some leg strengthening and jumping exercises, as well as some running on the sand (she lives near the beach).

As for her deceleration, part of the issue is a lack of strength and part is technique or habit. However, the problem was not her understanding of a 1-2- step; the issue was her inability to drop her hips when she stopped. Instead, she stopped with a wide stance, using the big step as a break to stop her momentum, as opposed to sitting her hips lower to absorb the force.

This is my focus for her technique work – the ability to stop. This is not a basketball-specific skill; instead, it is a general athletic skill. As I wrote in regards to Fredette, all sport-specific skills develop on top of general athletic skills: before one can shoot, one must develop skills for jumping, stopping, throwing and more.

In our youth sports culture, we are ignoring these general skills and moving directly to sports-specific applications of fundamental movement skills. Young athletes learn running mechanics while dribbling a ball or develop their jumping patterns when learning to shoot. At some point, players plateau, and many times, it is the suboptimal basic athletic skills that prevent further learning and development. In this case, it is strength and deceleration. In another player that I train, it is total body coordination and core strength – he’s simply growing too fast, and he has lost coordination of his limbs. His issue is not shooting technique; the first, biggest issue or the foundational issue is his lack of coordination, and he will struggle with that for a couple more years as he is just starting his growth spurt and his father is pretty tall, so he has a lot of room to grow.

Before trying to make children into basketball players, we have to develop their athletic skills. Fredette illustrates great athleticism through his sport-specific skill execution. However, without the athletic foundation, his shooting would not be as proficient. The two work together and complement each other, but one cannot be a skilled player without possessing the underlying athleticism to perform the skills.

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