The balance of drills and games in youth basketball

As I watched the parkour episode of the Tim Ferriss Experiment, it struck me that many of the moves in parkour are things that children once did on their own. Obviously, advanced parkour athletes do things that few if any children try, but many of the basics that Ferriss learned at the outset were moves out of childhood. Now, of course, few children run and jump over things or land and roll on their own, so we have freerunning and parkour gyms now.

Ferriss started at the Tempest Freerunning Academy in a giant gym to learn some basic movements. After learning these basics in a safe environment, his instructor said that the point was to do parkour outside in the natural environment. He added that the gym should be used for experimentation and refinement.

In Fake Fundamentals: Volume 2, I explained that my objective is not to eliminate all drills. Instead, I believe that drills should have a specific purpose. One consistency between the fake fundamentals is their generality; they are activities that coaches use, but their purpose is debatable. Do these drills really lead to the expected improvement? Is the improvement because of the drill?

After watching the TFE episode, it struck me that experimentation and refinement could be the two reasons to use a drill as opposed to a game in practice.

Of course, the coaching behaviors, instructions, and feedback differ for experimentation compared to refinement. When a player is experimenting with a new skill or move, the instruction should be limited, the feedback should be delayed, and the coaching should be positive. If the coach is negative or overly verbose, the potential for experimentation decreases.

When the objective is refinement, there will be more instruction and feedback, and these should be specific to the objective. For instance, when a player is attempting to refine her shot to shoot quicker, the feedback should relate to the quickness of the shot, and the drill should be designed to create a learning environment that requires a quicker shot.

The fake fundamentals tend not to fit in either of these categories. When teams do the three-person weave, is it experimentation or refinement? What is the specific refinement? Is it the same for all players? Do the individual players know what they are trying to refine? Does the drill create situations that force or encourage this refinement?

I use drills. However, I am selective about the drills that I use, and I try to have a specific purpose for each drill. Simply doing an activity on a daily basis with a general goal and general feedback is purposeless and practice for the sake of practice. It’s certainly not 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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