Skill Acquisition and Drill Design

Each week, I write a free weekly newsletter which I send to thousands of subscribers. During the year, I interview experts with my own questions and share the interviews in the newsletters. In 2009, I interviewed a sports medicine specialist at one of the leading hospitals for ACL injury research; a popular strength & conditioning coach and a sports nutritionist. However, my favorite interview was with Adam Gorman, a Skill Acquisition Specialist at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra, Australia.

Gorman’s role at the AIS is diverse and includes drill design and implementation, as well as the development of research initiatives and interventions including video-based training and perceptual skill development.

Here is one of the questions that I asked Gorman:

BM: How does your presence change the way that a basketball coach approaches skill development? What do you add or do differently?

Gorman: Basically, I think I provide a different way of viewing skill acquisition and the ways in which a training session or drill can be structured. My approach is often a little different to the “traditional” methods that have been applied in the past. I try to create a learning environment where players are able to explore their own, unique movement solutions to problems.

That is, I don’t overly constrain players in the ways in which they attempt to achieve success in a drill or activity. Instead, I simply manipulate the environmental demands (number of defenders, aim of the task, etc.) and allow the players to explore what works and what doesn’t work. Through questioning and drill design, the players learn the broad principles of play so that they can apply those same principles to new situations.

Wherever possible, I include the normal perception-action coupling of the skills and link the solutions to the problems. For example, a player who learns how to perform a certain defensive movement, without also learning how that movement is linked to the movements of an offensive player or other defenders, is really learning a solution that is isolated from the problem. In a constrained situation, the solution may be performed extremely accurately but when that same solution is then applied to a situation that is more representative of the game, the solution can decompose because it was never performed and mapped to the relevant information in the environment.

Brian McCormick writes the free weekly newsletter, Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletters. To subscribe, go here. To read the compilation of newsletters from 2009, including the rest of the interview with Adam Gorman, purchase Brian McCormick’s Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter, Volume 3.

9 thoughts on “Skill Acquisition and Drill Design

  • On this side, your blog and your newsletter I don’t see you talking much about ball handling. Is it not a skill your work a lot on? If you do, I would like to hear how you teach players to become better ball handlers.

  • Interesting. I don’t know how long you have received the newsletter, but I have written about ball handling extensively over the years. I also have a ball handling DVD titled “Great Ball Handling Made Easy” that is available through

    As for teaching ball handling as a skill, it depends on the specifics of what you mean. I prefer to play games of tag with the ball to practice ball handling. However, I also use specific drills to develop the basic ball handling moves – most of the drills that I use are featured in Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development (available through, or as well as on the DVD.

  • He talked so long that I never made it to the drills.

    For stationary drills, it depends on what you’re trying to develop and what stage the player is in. I generally do not do any stationary drills once a player is familiar with the basketball because the hand position on the ball for the dribble and the reception differs between stationary and when moving. Every drill that I do involves movement.

    It’s not that any drills are wrong; it’s a matter of your goals and your time. Drills generally improve a player’s ability to do the drill; the transfer to game ball handling or moves depends on the drill and the player’s imagination.

    Stationary drills, to me, do not develop ball handling. They develop better ball control, which is a part of ball handling, and they often introduce hand placements and dribbles used as dribble moves, but they do not teach the move because moves require motion.

    However, I’m sure of the drills are similar to those used in my DVD.

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