The effect of game constraints on practice shooting drills

Last week, I used a shooting drill that my friend Safa Kamalian introduced to me. It is a very easy set up: There are four offensive players and two defenders, and the offensive players pass the ball until someone shoots. 

At this particular clinic, the players, although young, were very good and very skilled. With a two-person advantage, it was not difficult to create an open shot, even with stationary offensive players.

Repeatedly, however, players hesitated. They were unsure whether or not they should shoot because another pass might lead to a better shot or the defender might be close enough to contest the shot or a hundred other reasons.

The parents and coaches grew restless as their sons passed up shots that everyone knew they could make.

This drill would not fit many coaches definition of a “game-like shooting drill” because the offensive players were stationary, but the drill represents game shooting better than many harder drills. In games, players have to decide whether or not to shoot, and these decisions are based on many things. Some of these things are important, such as proximity of defenders or time left on the shot clock. Other things that affect decisions seem more trivial, such as players not wanting to appear selfish or players worried about their coach’s approval of their shot selection. Regardless of whether or not the reasons are important or trivial, they affect a player’s shooting.

In a more typical drill, there is a designated shooter. He has no other option. Therefore, there is no decision. There are no concerns about feeling selfish or a coach questioning the shot selection. There are no defenders; I went five pages deep on shooting drills on YouTube, and I did not find a drill that incorporated a defender.

The decision to shoot is an element of shooting that is ignored in practice. However, when you watch carefully during games, players hesitate. They don’t know whether or not to shoot. This hesitation leads to missed shots or missed opportunities to shoot open shots. Again, this is dismissed as the psychology of the player, but why isn’t it considered an aspect of shooting? We accept that part of passing is deciding on which pass to use, who to pass to, and where to throw the pass. Why is deciding whether or not to shoot not considered to be part of the shooting skill?

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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