The most fundamental of basketball fundamentals

Over the weekend, I conducted four clinics with players from 3rd-8th grade. The players ranged from beginners to competitive AAU types. Some players were good; some weren’t.  One of the first things that struck me was that most of the players could shoot weak-hand lay-ups.

There has been incredible angst over the last decade about deteriorating fundamentals in the youth basketball player. Players are described as lacking fundamentals. However, when looking at technical skills – those most commonly associated with the term “fundamental” – these players were okay. Considering that the most competitive players were away at big AAU tournaments, the players’ fundamental skills were at least appropriate for their age groups. Several players appeared to be several age groups ahead of their real age in terms of their skills with the ball (lay-ups, dribbling, passing).

The fact that these players were able to use their weak hands shows me that they have had some decent coaching and/or have considerable experience for their age. My dad made me practice left-handed lay-ups as soon as I started practicing in my front yard – 3rd or 4th grade. However, I was advanced in comparison to my peers in this regard until at least high school.

Therefore, in this sample size, I’d argue that the traditional fundamentals are not the issue. Instead, the biggest problem was general movement. In one of the clinics, two players moved well out of a gym full of players. In my first clinic, a shooting clinic, I spent almost 40 minutes practicing how to stop forward momentum. When initially asked to stop and jump/land, their techniques were all over the map. Less than 10% could squat properly at the beginning of the clinic. Everyone knew what a jump stop was, but few could execute one correctly.

My shooting clinics differ because I spend so much time on the lower body and comparatively little time on the upper body. In my experience working with youth shooters for the last 15 years, most problems stem from the lower body. Concentrating on the elbow does little to improve one’s shot because the problem remains. The elbow generally is askew because the lower body is not providing sufficient power for the shot, either due to issues of strength, balance, or coordination. These are not shooting issues, per se, but movement issues, and the problems go far beyond shooting woes.

In our basketball system, movement is the forgotten fundamental, yet it is the most fundamental of basketball fundamentals. Shooting, defense, passing, ball handling, etc. will never be performed optimally when develop atop poor movement habits. Correcting the skills without addressing the movement issues is a quick-fix approach that is sure to fail in the long run. Instead, with younger players, we need a greater emphasis on movement before we attempt to develop sport-specific skills. Our collective angst should be centered on basketball fundamentals, but on the most basic fundamentals of movement.

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

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