What are you practicing when you practice?

Note: The video above appeared as a recommended video when I visited YouTube. I did not seek out the video.

A side-to-side dribble is a good drill to practice ball control for young children, and I use the drill occasionally. It is simple ball manipulation. However, what is Michael Carter-Williams practicing in this drill? What is the goal? What is he hoping will transfer to game performance? What is the point?

Let’s start with the major problems. First, look at his posture. Basketball players wonder why their backs hurt! His posture in the drill is poor for almost any activity that he could do in life. When would he ever use that posture in a game?

Second, look at his eyes. How does staring at the basketball on every dribble improve game performance? Typically, the purpose of simple drills such as this is to improve ball control without staring at the ball, but he never takes his eyes off of the ball. Is that practicing what he hopes to do in the game?

Third, why is the guy hitting his wrists? Is this a mental drill? Is MCW working on maintaining focus on his skill when annoyed by a defender?

Fourth, he is stationary. This is less complex than dribbling while moving, and the way in which you contact the dribble changes with movement compared to standing still.

Fifth, in a game, the goal is to turn the dribble into a pass or shot. Is he in a position to see a teammate or an opening? The intention of the dribble differs from that in a game. In the drill, the goal appears to be to dribble the ball low and quickly for a certain amount of time; is that goal anything like what occurs in a game?

The practice is unlikely to transfer to dribbling in a game, which requires a different intention, a different posture, a different visual orientation, and a different hand position on ball contact, and occurs in a more complex environment.

Finally, I was going to question the drill because he did not make any obvious mistakes. If he is repeating something that he has mastered, what is he learning? Where is the improvement? However, after watching a second time, he makes small mistakes constantly. His handle actually sucks. I have worked with youth and high school players who make fewer errors with two balls while moving:

Maybe such a simple drill is necessary.

Of course, MCW is a competent dribbler in a game. Does his lack of aptitude in this drill suggest that he has room to improve in games if he could develop better ball control in a simple, stationary drill? Or, does his game success suggest the complete lack of importance of a drill that is distant from game performance? If he performs well in games, but struggles at a simple drill, will the simple drill improve performance in the complex environment? Or, is the simple drill a waste of time because aptitude in the drill has no effect on game performance?

For a young player, a side-to-side dribble is not a bad drill to use to develop ball control. However, to make the drill more effective, add movement. Ball control, however, is only one part of game dribbling. A drill such as the top video is removed from game dribbling in multiple ways (intention, posture, complexity) and consequently is unlikely to transfer to game performance. Therefore, time spent on such a drill should be minimal, if used at all.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice & 21st Century Guide to Individual Skill Development

4 thoughts on “What are you practicing when you practice?

  • Brian

    I have Fake Fundamentals (1 and 2) as well as 21st Century BB. From those books, I have decided not to use any solo/no D dribbling drills in my practices. One main point from your books is that a player’s posture actually changes when there’s a defender in front of her and of course there is a cognitive structure missing when there is no D or teammates.

    But I think you suggest that this drill is used occasionally by you. Correct?

  • These videos drive me nuts. Kids see Curry do these type drills and think thats how he got his handle. Agree that these type of drills helps younger kids a little bit with ball control. In my experience, dribbling is improved from 80% game play (1v1,1v2,2v2, etc) and 20% drills. Unfortunately, I think most trainers do the opposite (especially with girls).

  • Todd:
    With beginners, I might use a drill like this, although I add movement, even walking, as soon as the player can bounce the ball. I also would correct the posture.
    With non-beginners (players with 1+ seasons of experience), I might use this drill as homework when players do not have training partner, as a quick warmup, or as a teaching drill. For example, if we start with tag, and we struggle to control the ball, I may simplify the game. Depending on the advantage that they started with during tag, I may simplify all the way to an unopposed drill, if that’s their skill level. I would do the simple drill for 1-2 minutes, and then return to the tag game. The simple drill is not going to improve their skill in 1-2 minutes, but it may help their confidence.
    With older players (high school/u14s+), I would rarely if ever use a drill like this, even with movement, unless I had a relatively new/beginner player on the team or potentially the typical early maturer who was never allowed to dribble and needs some extra work to catch up to the guards or something like that.
    There are no (few) absolutes. My main point in those books is to argue that a coach should have a reason for a specific drill. For me, a drill such as this has a purpose only if the objective is to improve ball control in a new/beginner who has little familiarity with the ball. This is not a drill that develops game dribbling. So, it just depends on the purpose and the amount of time invested.

  • Coach Z:
    Ha, I said that at a bar last night watching the Warriors game and like 20 shots of his pre-game two-ball drills. I have had 8-year-olds who could do those drills. They’re not hard or complex.

    I agree that there must be some cognitive-perceptual component, whether with a defender, or possibly with the player’s imagination, as occasionally players practice on their own. I believe that in a drill like the above, their minds turn off and they go through the motions because it is not complex. That could be the goal for Curry during his pre-game routine: the routine relaxes him and develops confidence, but that’s not how an NBA player or a teenager develops a better game handle.

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