Training games and competition

Throughout Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development, I argue for the importance of small-sided games in training, but caution against too many competitive games and the length of today’s competitive season.

To some, this is a contradiction. If some games are good, why are other games, against a real opponent, bad?

There are several reasons. Small-sided games increase the number of repetitions each player gets compared to a “real” game. In a practice setting, a 12-player team can have every player involved with a 3v3 game at each main basket. All players are involved in the action, and each player receives more touches, which means more shots, more passing, more ball handling, more on-ball defense, etc. In a “real” game, only five players play at a time and 2-3 players dominate the ball meaning fewer touches and opportunities for the non-star players.

Next, I found an outline of a Sports Psychology course. The outline included a description of Zajonc’s Theory of Social Facilitation. The three main points:

  • Audiences increase arousal
  • Arousal inhibits learning new responses
  • Arousal facilitates the performance of well-rehearsed responses.

If we want players to learn and develop, a practice setting is best, as there is no audience to increase arousal. During games, players do what they know they can do well. However, only doing what you can already do does not lead to growth, improvement or development.

A game, even an off-season game, is a performance. As long as a crowd is present, and arousal increases, players strive to perform. Players want to look good.

Developing a new skill or improving is a series of mistakes. You try something over and over until you finally get it right. A game is not a condusive environment for this type of trial and error process, but small-sided games in a practice setting provide a competitive atmosphere for 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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