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Deliberate Practice

But Will It Help Him Play Basketball?

Jordan McCabe is a young basketball player featured in this video.

He has practiced and performed with enough skill to draw the eyes of local media in the Pacific Northwest.

His drills certainly get your attention. But — here is the jackpot question for anyone who wants to acquire skill — do they help him become a better basketball player?

Please don’t think I’m criticizing this boy. I love his passion, dedication,and willingness to exchange two hours of every day for skill. He’s well on his way to amassing the 10,000 hours required for mastery. I’m merely asking, as any coach should, some fundamental questions about practice planning and skill acquisition.

1. What exactly should you do at practice?
2. How much of it should you do?
3. In what order should you do it?

Chief in this discussion is the principle that motor programs are specific: the more practice is like the actual game, the more benefit you get.

So the first thing you wonder, in watching these drills, is whether basketball players get better by dribbling two balls at once. Since there’s never a time in a game where a player is called upon to dribble two balls, you must ask if practicing this way helps.

Same thing with the tennis ball drill. Does it help develop the fundamental ability for a basketball scorer, namely, to avoid defenders, be in position to receive a pass, and then be close enough to the basket to put it in?

It’s not just in basketball where these questions become paramount. In baseball and softball, for instance, how much should batters hit off a tee? There’s no tee in a real game, so why use one in practice?

Do hockey players warm up correctly? Let’s put it this way: their practices don’t look a lot like actual games. In games, the ice is filled with opponents who try to block their every move. But in warmups, players take leisurely shots.

Back in the 1970s, I had a chance to watch the great Soviet hockey teams practice. Even then I knew there was something fundamentally different about the way they used their time on the ice. I wish I had paid more attention, but, for sure, they worked harder on skating, and less on relaxed trips around the rink.

In summary, how sure are we that we are doing the right things in practice? All comments welcome, whether they’re about things we SHOULD be doing that we’re not, or explanations of why certain practice activities might be helpful, even if they are not specific.


One comment for “But Will It Help Him Play Basketball?”

  1. Those are some of the exact drills Pistol Pete perfected at about the same age as Jordan McCabe has. With out a doubt those kinds of drills improve your basketball abilities. I coach youth basketball and have seen boys improve there basketball play in a few short weeks by doing drills like these every day. The key is doing it with full effort every day.

    Posted by Keith Speidel | October 4, 2012, 1:51 pm

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