Stephen Curry is amazing. Before the season started, I tweeted:
I understand Anthony Davis is a freak, and LeBron is LeBron, but did everyone forget about Steph Curry?
— Brian McCormick, PhD (@brianmccormick) October 27, 2015
Curry is the best player in the NBA, and if he continues the same trajectory, he could end up as an all-time great. However, the drill above is not the reason for his ridiculous skills. I know this because I used to do this drill with 9-year-olds.
It looks impressive, but it has very little to do with dribbling in a game. First, he’s stationary. The way that your hand contacts the ball changes when you are stationary, walking, or running. We used to do the same basic drill, but add forward and backward movement. Second, in a game, you react to opponents, not to tennis balls. Tennis balls do not provide the same informational cues as an opponent.
If I trained a player such as Curry, I would do similar drills in the offseason primarily because I would want him to rest and not to overtrain. Drills such as these given an illusion of importance, and players are motivated by the challenge. It is easy to see improvement in the drills. This motivation and improvement increases confidence. The increased confidence is the biggest quality that transfers from these drills to game performance, especially when the player believes in the drills.
However, that does not mean that every young player should start tossing tennis balls while he or she dribbles. It is interesting that these drills garner so much attention, but almost nobody has highlighted a comment from the profile that was written about Curry in ESPN last year:
DRIBBLING THROUGH THE rocks and tire tracks at Jack’s hoop honed Curry’s ballhandling skills, while the unpredictable backboard and the unforgiving rim tested his touch and inspired the perfect, impossibly high parabolic arc of his shot. But the court also polished his composure; this is where he first obtained the Tao of Point Guard. “This was a visionary place for me,” Curry says. “Make it work no matter what you have to work with — that’s something that stuck with me very early on as a point guard. Adjust. Get creative. Try a different angle, a different lane, a different move or a different shot — just make it work. Out there on my grandpa’s court, there was no better place in the world to breed that kind of creativity.”
Of course, there is nothing sexy about working out on an old country court; especially not compared to fancy lights, tennis balls, and other complicated-looking drills. However, that is the point: There is a difference between complicated and complex:
Complicated machine-like systems typically follow one path to achieve a specific end, and as such are highly predictable; but also highly vulnerable. Complex systems achieve their objectives through a process of exploration and on-going adaptation; negotiating obstacles, solving problems through trial- and-error, and flexibly adapting to changing circumstances.
Dribbling a basketball and catching a tennis ball is complicated, but it is not complex. Dribbling through rocks and tires that create unpredictable bounces and inspire creative solutions is complex. Dribbling through defenders is complex, not complicated. Therefore, despite the media’s attention to his current dribbling drills, it is easy to argue that these drills simply maintain skills that he developed as a child as his grandpa’s house.