Watch an NBA game. Those guys move so quickly. However, it appears like they are moving slowly. Watch a high school or youth game. In comparison, those players move so slowly, but they appear to move too quickly.
This paradox is one of the tougher concepts to teach players. An NBA player knows how to set up a screen, when to cut, where to move. He is patient until it is time to explode, and when he explodes, the movement is dynamic and quick. They abide by the old John Wooden adage: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”
High school players hurry. They are in a rush to make their move. They don’t wait for screens. They don’t allow cutters time to clear the area. Then, when they do move, they lack the explosiveness. In reality, they move pretty slowly, even though it looks fast because of the rush.
Patience is a key component. Understanding the play and reading teammates and defenders allow a player to move explosively, but not rush.
Young players love to run to the ball. It is a natural instinct. However, when everyone runs around and runs to the ball, there is no spacing. There is no room for explosive moves. Everyone gets in each other’s way. The action looks fast because it is chaotic, but in reality, the chaos makes the actual movements slow.
Imagine a race. In the first race, you have to sprint from one baseline to the next. Easy. You would finish fairly quickly. In the second race, there are six to eight random, moving objects on the court, all moving at different speeds. You probably would not finish the race to the other baseline as quickly.
This is the difference between players who have patience and players who rush. When a player rushes, there are six to eight moving objects that potentially could get in the way. These objects slow down the offensive player’s movement. However, if the player reads the play, he can find a lane without any moving objects and explode.
Expert players play slow to play fast. The game slows down mentally for them due to their experience and expert cognitive-perceptual skills. They are more decisive and make quicker, more accurate decisions. When all five players possess these advanced cognitive-perceptual skills, the ball moves quickly, there is great spacing, and players never seem to get in each other’s way.
With younger players, I am caught trying t instruct two different things: We need to play faster, especially with regards to sprinting when we cut and squaring to the basket when we catch, but we also need more patience. We tend to rush when we know that we are receiving an on-ball screen, so we run past the screener, rather than waiting for the screen, and we move before the cutter clears the area. Therefore, there are six players in a tight space, rather than slowing down for a split-scond, waiting for the screen, allowing the cutter to clear, and then exploding into an area with only one defender.
It is a balance between speeding up and slowing down. Knowing when to play fast and when to play slow is the sign of an expert player. Getting to that point is a process filled with trial and error, immediate and delayed feedback, and questioning to assist the players with their understanding and their reading of the defense and their teammates.
By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League