Learning vs. following directions

In an historical context, our sports system grew out of our school system ,which was designed to produce workers for the industrial revolution. Consequently, our school system is designed to produce students who follow directions and can recite answers back to a teacher as the teacher said them, but who may not excel at creating new things or synthesizing multiple ideas, or explaining the answer with a different analogy. 

Similarly, traditional coaching values players who follow directions. It wants players who run the play without questioning whether or not the play is the best way to score.

The problem is that teaching in this way does not ensure learning or understanding.

In Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! Adventures of a Curious Character, Richard Feynman wrote:

What this Greek scholar discovers is, the students in another country learn Greek by first learning to pronounce the letters, then the words, and then sentences and paragraphs. They can recite, word for word, what Socrates said, without realizing that those Greek words actually mean something. To the student they are artificial sounds. Nobody has ever translated them into words the students understand.

Similarly, plenty of players can run offensive sets because they follow the directions (they learn that this movement is followed by this movement), but they do not understand the basic skills that make up the set. They do not realize that a screen is a basic skill, and they cannot use a screen outside of the specific way in which it is used in the play. Players look good and look smart because they are organized and follow directions, but they don’t really know how to play. Remove them from their specific system, and they are disorganized. They cannot adapt because have not really learned how to play or how to use a screen.

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

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