Examining Traditional Coaching Truths

Even if you do not coach volleyball, I recommend John Kessel’s blog, as it is as good as anything that you will find on the Internet for coaches. In December, he posted an article titled, “No More Drills, Feedback or Technical Training.” Now, to some, this might eliminate the need for a coach, as those are three primary tools of coaches. However, he makes some great points in regards to all three.

Lately…I have come to the drill development chapter and asked those listening…to simply stop saying the word drill, and start saying the word game, for any exercise they have opted to teach their athletes.

I use this strategy with my players. Rather than do a passing drill, we play an advantage passing game like 6v5 with one player as an all-time offensive player and two teams of five. We play to 100 completed passes. Of course, recently I had to explain the purpose of the game because players were starting to play the game rather than develop skills to transfer to the real game. As Kessel writes:

The best way to do this is to simply listen to your kids, and stop doing drills and start doing games. There is a mind shift you will have to make when you step in front of your athletes and say “OK this is a game with a focus on ‘insert skill/skill combo here’ and the scoring is….”

Nearly my entire practice is games. We play ball handling games (tag), passing games, small-sided full court games to practice defensive and offensive transition, small-sided half-court games to practice ball and player movement and 5v5 scrimmages.

The goal, of course, is not to eliminate improvement or deliberate practice, but to make it more meaningful and game-like. After all, we practice to improve game performance, not for the sake of practicing. Again, as Kessel writes:

Deliberate practice is important. Many of you then should continue to do drills, and not make the change – but you still must make them more gamelike, with more scoring and competitive cauldron tracking, and follow the principles of motor learning….so keep saying drills if you want, just do them better so the kids have success in competition.

As for feedback, Kessel stresses proactive rather than reactive coaching. You see this a lot in games, where coaches try to teach and correct things after they happened in the game, rather than during practice or prior to their occurrence. As Kessel writes:

Coaches spend way too much time talking about what cannot be controlled at all – a past skill performance – and nowhere near enough time focusing on the only thing that athlete can control – the point being played right now. This change I am asking in your teaching to take place, is working to guide your players to focus on what is ahead, mentally and physically.

Dead-balls are a great time to coach during the game. Rather than call over a player and discuss or critique the previous play, prepare the player for the next play. For instance, if a player made a bad pass that led to a turnover and a foul on the lay-up attempt, rather than focus on the past mistake, prepare her for the next possession. What does she need to do next?

Kessel explains this in terms of practice, too:

Why can you, the coach, walk out and get the tip, from your spot sitting on the team bench, yet your players who are much closer right there on the court, cannot save the ball? You are seeing the opponent’s actions BEFORE contact, better than your players can is why. You are reading the CONTEXT of the developing play…your expertise starts to shout “SHE IS TIPPING THE BALL” well before the contact…Yet kids, trained by just “tipping drills” with a coach standing on a box, never get the incredibly important prelim information in real time – they just see a coach tipping over and over…So we must get better at teaching the game between contacts, teaching them why you KNEW that was coming, and teaching them to look wider, through the net, and see the flow of the game. Then give them feedforward when appropriate, so they can learn from you experience and make it their own.

This is so important. Issue 4.5 of the Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter discusses spatial orientation, analytical thinking and zone offenses. I see spaces in opponent’s zones. I also see players on my team preparing to make a pass and know that we are about to commit a turnover and I cannot change the play in the moment. However, in the next practice, we will discuss why I knew that there was going to be a turnover. I need to teach my players to see and exploit the openings that I see. This is a process, and one that will not be completed this season. It takes time to teach players to see and think the game, but if the coach never puts them in these situation, this learning gets delayed longer and longer.

This goes along with Kessel’s comments about technical training:

In impact this is “seen” even in the webinars, when I ask for the feedforward you would give a player spiking a ball down by their ear, not reaching at all. Clearly bad technique.  The coaches provide these most common feedback comments – “Reach;” “Extend:” “Get on top of the ball:” “Keep your elbow up;” and the negative coaches say “Don’t drop your elbow!” They first forget to check for understanding by asking the player to show them the skill without the ball. If they did, my bet is the athlete would show good technique, reaching high, for they understand the technique. The problem is they are not at the right place and time, and simply will not fully extend and hit the ball off their elbow to show the reach you are expecting. The answer is not more technique, it is to come up with ways to guide them to be in the right place and time – in this case earlier and/or faster, which, by making that timing adjustment, will result in the ball being at a higher point in time for contact.

Basically, he says that the player knows the proper way to hit the ball just like most experienced players understand and can demonstrate the proper shooting technique. Missed shots for experienced players are not caused by lack of knowledge about the proper shooting technique, but by poor timing or shot selection: the player stops and never gets balanced or he is late to find his target or he shoots flat-footed because he isn’t ready to shoot on the catch.

Similarly, many players excel in 1v1 moves when going through drills without defense, but when they have to read the defense and make the correct move, suddenly their handle is not as tight and they are less effective. Rather than spending more time engaged in ball handling drills, they need more practice against defenders in the different situations that they face during a game.

Kessel outlines and evolved approach to coaching which focuses on preparing players for game situations and teaching skills based on the players’ true needs and weaknesses, not the easy instructions. By being more judicious and precise with corrections and feedback and centering practice drills in the game, we can develop more well-rounded and skilled players with a greater awareness on the court.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

1 thought on “Examining Traditional Coaching Truths

  • great! One of my favourite drills is the tennis ball basketball drill. It’s where your dribble with 1 hand while you and your partner throws the tennisball up in the air, right at you or roll then tennisball. It will be difficult but its great for ball dribbling!

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