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Basketball Training and Skill Progression

Last night I worked with a player and taught two new moves. It was a typical progression; she struggled with the first couple repetitions and after five or six repetitions, she did the move smoothly.

However, when she plays in her game today, will she use the move? Has she added something useful to her repetoire?

She plays three games in a tournament this weekend. It’s May, so no colleges can watch. It seems like the perfect opportunity to use the games as a teaching tool and encourage players to practice new moves so they add confidence before the importat games in July.

However, is that what happens? Or, is she more likely to play it safe because she is battling another player for playing time and needs to win the coach’s confidence? How does a player win a coach’s confidence as a point guard – by making new moves and risking a mistake in an effort to improve or by making the safe play and not turning over the ball?

Is the block practice in an individual workout enough to teach the skill to a level of mastery and transfer the skill to game performance? No.

When I was young, I worked on moves in my driveway. That was my block practice. On Sunday evenings, I played 3v3 pick-up games at a local gym. After school, 2-3 days a week, I played open gym at my high school or at a park. This was my random practice. On Saturdays, I played one game in a spring league. I had never heard of AAU until I started coaching. That was my off-season training.

But, is the old way worse than today’s progressions? I had numerous opportunities to work on my newly developed skills without the pressure of fans or coaches or meeting expectations. In the pick-up games, I could try new moves and not worry about mistakes. Even better, the older players at the 3v3 games showed me moves that I could practice on my own: that’s how I learned to shoot  a floater, a running hook and a step-back. As a 5’10 freshman, I needed ways to get my shots off against 6’4 seniors in the pick-up games, so I practiced new and different ways to shoot shots close to the basket or create space for my jump shot.

When I played in the league games or in our high school summer league, I had more confidence and more offensive weapons.

In today’s off-season, do kids have time to develop new moves and add weapons as they race from individal workouts to team practice to AAU or high school tournaments? How many coaches view the off-season games as developmental, focusing on improvement and players trying new moves or shots, as opposed to competitive and focusing on the result?

Competitive situations are not the ideal environment for learning, development and improvement. However, for most kids, the entire year is a competitive environment, as they transition from their high school season to an AAU team whose coach wants to win and play in the top tournaments. Then, the summer ends with games focused on performing for college coaches. In this environment, where does the development occur? When does the player that I trained get a change to gain confidence in game situations with the move that she learned last night so that she can add it to her arsenal?

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