Three details to improve coaching and player development

Skill development is my forte. When I watch coaches do things that impede improvement, I am frustrated. Much of my angst toward college coaches stems from watching poorly conducted workouts and a lack of emphasis on off-season development by coaches making six figures to develop better players and win games. 

After watching a couple workouts lately, here are some details that decrease the effectiveness of a workout:

Terminology: Calling a move one thing and the same action by a different name during a drill, breeds confusion. For instance, an in-and-out dribble and a side-to-side dribble are not the same thing. A side-to-side dribble is a dribble in the shape of a “V”: The first dribble starts outside the body and moves toward the midline, and the second dribble moves from the midline back to the outside of the body. An in-and-out dribble is made in the shape of a “C”: the ball starts on the outside of the body, and with the hand remaining on the top of the ball, the ball moves toward the midline and the push of the dribble takes the ball back to the outside of one’s body. In simplest terms, a side-to-side dribble takes two dribbles, while an in-and-out dribble takes one dribble. Neither is right or wrong; both have their purpose as moves and in drills. The problem is when a coach uses the terms as synonyms: Players are confused. Whether a move or a drill, a term should mean one thing in all situations to prevent confusion.

Posture: Wilson, Murphy, and Walsh (1996) found that body posture is important in the transference of strength training to human movements and speculated that the phenomenon of posture specificity may be due to the neural input to the muscles. We can extrapolate these results and suggest that the same is true when transferring a drill to a game situation. The issue often arises in stationary ball-handling and defense drills. Coaches want an exaggerated posture. In small doses, this can be good. I often tell players to exaggerate getting into a lower athletic position because their normal position is not as low as I would like them to be. However, why do coaches want players to do defensive and ball-handling drills in a full squat? Does anyone play in that position? Do players play defense or handle the ball with the top of their thighs parallel to the ground? Is that a position that affords quick movements? If that’s not the desired posture, why practice in that position?

Transfer: When organizing a workout, what’s the purpose of the workout? How does it fit in the overall off-season plan? Do the drills transfer? Stationary ball-handling drills are not bad, per se, but they should not constitute the majority of a player’s ball-handling practice because one dribbles differently in a stationary drill than when running. Similarly, cones or chairs can change performance. Are the cones set up to be obstacles to dribble around or to symbolize a defender? The question may seem like semantics, but there is a difference in the way change-of-direction moves are executed against obstacles versus against defenders. Do players often attack a defensive player at a 45-degree angle and execute a crossover dribble? Why is this the default practice drill? The only reason for attacking at a 45-degree angle is because a defender is close to the ball handler. That calls for a different move than an open-court crossover move. If you want to practice making a move against a defender forcing the offensive player at a 45-degree angle, frame the drill in such a way. If you want the player to practice an open-court move, they should be attacking toward the basket, not toward the sideline.

Similarly, within a workout, the coach should know how the move fits within an offense. I watched this this week: During the block-practice drills, players stepped in and made moves from a triple-threat position with a left-foot pivot on the right side. In the more competitive drills, players curled into the catch with an inside-foot (right foot) pivot. These are different moves. One should be able to execute both moves, but if the idea is for the block-practice drills to prepare the players for the more competitive drills, they practiced two different things. If the goal is to link the drills, they should be aligned more closely. For a better learning environment, however, variable or random training is more effective. The players could have switched from one move and one pivot foot to another on each repetition rather than the repetitive block practice that preceded the more competitive drills.

These are three ideas to help with the effectiveness of a workout. Ultimately, transfer from a practice or workout to game performance is the point: A workout is not an end and of itself.

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