Two-ball drills, transfer and inspiration

Originally published in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter 6.4. Now available in Kindle and paperback. Subscribe to the weekly newsletter here.

After their practice on Monday, two teenagers from our women’s team worked along the baseline on a two-ball drill that I had introduced the previous week. This is my primary purpose for introducing challenging dribbling drills: To inspire players to practice on their own. We do not spend much time on dribbling. My men’s team generally practices dribbling on Thursdays when we have fewer players. With our skill workouts, we usually work on general dribbling in one of the two workouts per week. In the 11-12 hours of practice and workouts each week, we spend roughly 20 minutes on dribbling (of course, other drills, games, and scrimmages incorporate dribbling). 

After watching the girls, we did two-ball drills at the next workout. The players have improved during the year on the drills. Initially, they struggled with the first six two-ball drills, but they have those down and can do several more difficult drills competently. Has this transferred to better dribbling in the games? That is more difficult to answer.

How much of one’s dribbling success is related to his or her handles? As two guys have improved their dribbling competence, their performance in games has worsened because they dribble too much and use too many moves. Their problems are not a lack of improvement in practice or transfer from practice to games; their problems may be from overconfidence, and/or a lack of anticipation. If the problem is a lack of anticipation or reading the game, the dribbling improvement in drills is not transferring to the games.

On the other hand, the dribbling practice has given several girls who play on the women’s team more confidence. They actively look to attack in games, whereas they barely wanted the ball in the early season. Not all of the change is due to dribbling drills, but as their proficiency with the ball has increased, they have shown more confidence. Incidentally, they also are much better passers off the dribble than the guys: They anticipate and read the game better. This may or may not be reflective of ball-handling either, as the guys and girls are almost the same size, yet the guys play against much bigger opponents.

There are many factors that affect improvement and learning. For learning to occur, there must be retention and transfer. In terms of the dribbling drills, retention means the ability to perform the skill in the next practice. Transfer refers to the ability to perform the skill in a novel situation. The players retain their skill from one practice to the next. Is there transfer to game performance?

That is the important question. That is the drill’s utility. If the drill does not improve game performance, is it worth doing? Yes and no. As I mentioned, I use two-ball drills to inspire players to practice on their own. In that respect, a drill can have a purpose even when its transfer to game performance is minimal. Similarly, at our u20 practice this week, I had the posts perform two-ball drills, but not the guards. Why? The posts had one basket and were doing the Mikan Drill. When waiting, they did two-ball drills to work on their coordination, as I have a 14-year-old post who has grown four inches since I met him, and an 18-year-old 6’5 post who has yet to grow into his body. The two-ball drills were a way to train some rhythm and coordination regardless of the skill transfer.

When designing a drill or workout, or determining the amount of time to spend on an exercise, skill, or drill, these are the questions to answer. Does it transfer to the game? Is there an alternate purpose?

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

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