Systems and Skill Development in Youth Basketball


Last week, I wrote about dynamic systems and basketball offense, and dynamic systems are at the center of The 21st Century Basketball Practice. Graeme McDowall tweeted the above picture that captures the difference between the way that we train, and the way that we perform.

In training, we separate the various skills, but in games, the skills work together. In training, we practice “game shots from game spots at game speeds” in an effort to be game-like. However, as Harri Mannonen explained, these shots differ from the shots that occur in the game because of the cognitive demands of a game.

In a game, there are tactical elements to shooting: shot selection. In a drill, any drill, the shot is planned. The point of the drill is to shoot. In a game, on the pass reception, the player must decide whether or not to shoot. That adds complexity to the game shot that is not present in practice.

A coach may explain shot selection or attempt to teach these tactical elements, but these are separated from the technical skill practice. In a drill, without context, how does one determine if it was a good shot? In a game, the time, score, defense, teammates, and other factors contribute to a shot being good or bad.

Furthermore, when players are in a shooting slump, coaches or sports psychologists address the mental side of shooting separately from the practice shots. In a game, confidence is there or it is not. Players need the confidence to complement their technique and their decisions to shoot. It cannot be separate from the shot.

Shooting, or a player’s shot, is a system of itself. There are elements, interconnections, and a purpose. By separating the elements – the technique, the cognition or decision to shoot, the shot selection, the mental or confidence – in practice, we take a non-systems approach to developing a system. To improve performance, we need to think of a player’s shot as a system, ad work to include all aspects of the system into practice.

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

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