Why Basketball Skill Trainers Fail

In today’s game, almost everyone uses a basketball skill trainer of some kind. Players work with an individual coach on general skills or have a shooting coach to work on their shot or they attend a weekend clinic with a trainer to do a variety of drills.

When players improve, we credit the work with the trainer just as we give credit to a tutor when a student improves his schoolwork. However, how much credit does a trainer deserve?

Most trainers fail. When a player uses a trainer or a parent pays for her son to use a trainer, they expect the trainer to produce results. After all, that is what they are paying for, right? Plus, most trainers market themselves by telling parents and players how they will improve the player’s game, so improvement is to be expected. However, this misses the point.

Let’s say that you work out with a trainer once a week because the trainer is pricey for an individual workout ($50 or more). You do some ball handling drills to warm-up and then you do some shooting drills. If you work hard, you should be able to shoot 300-400 shots in an hour workout with some ball handling.

After shooting 300 shots, you feel like you have improved. However, if you do not work out again until your next workout with your trainer, are you getting better? 300 shots in an hour is a good workout. But, 300 shots in a week is not very many. It certainly is not enough to improve your performance greatly.

But, because of busy schedules and cost, many players train with a trainer once per week and do not practice on their own between sessions. They have team practices and tournaments, but they do not engage in the same kind of deliberate practice with a focused goal, concentration and feedback.

Other players use group clinics so they can practice more times per week, as the cost per workout is less. However, when you are in a group of 15-20 players with one trainer, how many repetitions do you get? How much individual feedback? In a group workout, you might get 100 shots if it is really well-done. So, even though you work out three times per week, rather than once, you get the same number of shots. And, with the number of players, you get less feedback and you might have a lower concentration level (depends on your focus and personality, as some concentrate better with a group where they can learn from others’ mistakes while their eyes wander when working out by themselves).

Trainers fail because players believe in their ability too much. Players and parents buy into their trainer’s skills and believe that they will improve because of the trainer’s magic touch. I can market myself by dropping the names of some Division I players and taking credit for their development because of the instruction and workouts. But, I spent just as much time with other players who did not reach the Division I level. Did I do a better job with some? Were some just born with more innate talent?

Maybe. But, those who develop and become the better players worked harder. They did not see a one-hour workout once a week as their off-season practice. They used the hour to learn and then spent the rest of the week mastering the drills or skills. They worked out on their own. I’m sure they thought I did a decent job, but they did not rely on me. They took responsibility for their own development and improvement. They went to the gym. They worked out on their own.

Trainers fail because players and parents believe in the power of the trainer. A trainer is a guide, a tool to use to enhance one’s development. A trainer is not the cure or the answer. If the trainer provides no guidance for the other six days a week, his value is limited even further. A good trainer has a plan and advises players on the in-between time. A good trainer knows his limitations and knows that a player cannot develop in one individual workout or a couple group workouts per week. In the end, it isn’t about the trainer or which trainer that you use. In the end, your effort, dedication, concentration and practice matter.

What do you do in the days between workouts with your trainer? How do you spend your time? Who is guiding or advising you? How hard are you working? Are you taking care of your body? These answers dictate your success moreso than the trainer, equipment or gym that you use.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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