Basketball skill trainers, creativity, and following directions

The video above is not a drill that I would do. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but it is so far removed from the game that I would suggest that the transfer to game performance is almost zero.

Trainers, however, swear by their drills. These are the drills that helped them to develop their handles or to become a better player. In many ways, they’re probably correct, but not for the reasons that they believe.

When a player trains with a trainer, the player tends to copy the drills that the trainer uses. In many cases, especially with younger trainers or trainers who were really good players, the drills are the ones that the trainer used when he was a player. Because most trainers grew up in the years before Youtube, the trainer often created these drills by himself or maybe with friends.

Whereas he attributes his success to the drill, and consequently the trainees should be able to attain the same success by performing the drill, I would suggest that the creating process, the innovation, had more to do with the skill development and ultimate success, and it is this process that trainees need to copy.

When a player performs the drill above, there is little thinking involved. The trainer demonstrates the drill, and the player performs the drill. There may or may not be physical benefits derived from the drill, and these benefits may or may not transfer to improved performance.

When the trainer created the drill, however, there was a process. He thought about problems and created solutions. He imagined situations. He analyzed his game, his strengths, and weaknesses. He created. This is the process that drove the skill development. He created awareness and a more mindful practice. When players copy the trainer’s drills, this process is ignored.

There are many ways to develop one’s handles. Magic Johnson and Isaih Thomas were known to dribble the ball wherever they went. Steve Nash became famous for dribbling a tennis ball around Santa Clara University’s campus during college. A recent ESPN the Magazine article titled “The Full Circle” attributed Stephen Curry’s handles to “dribbling through the rocks and tire tracks at Jack’s hoop” (Fleming, 2015). Personally, I improved my handles in my 20s by inventing drills and dribbling circles around little children who were there to pick up their older siblings from practice and were bored when their mothers kept talking.

In each of these examples, the player directed the learning and created the challenges. The player engaged in the thinking process and innovation. When parents drop off their sons and daughters with trainers (or coaches), and the players follow directions rather than thinking and creating, they short-change their learning. They perform the same drills, but they do not go through the same learning process. Following directions and copying a trainer is not the same as thinking, creating, and innovating. There may be some physical benefits, but the drills will lack the same holistic skill development.

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

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