Learning Basketball Shooting : The Awareness "Monster"

After a recent set of clinics, my top Coach-in-Training, Ernest Johnson, from D.C. and I were talking about the value of Feedback. I've been taught by my mentors that physical learning occurs from in-the-moment "awareness of experience" much more than from being told what to do or reading about it or even seeing it. When you can FEEL something, like the difference between a tight wrist and hand and a relaxed wrist and hand, that feeling (experience) will teach you about wrist-hand tension and how effective or ineffective it is. The "idea or concept" of something is superseded by the "experience" of it, and a much deeper learning can occur.

As we were talking about feedback, Ernest got into one of his frequent crazy and spontaneous moments and started yelling into the phone, "Feed me, Feed me, Feed me, I'm hungry, Feed me, I need feedback!" That gave me the idea of an "Awareness Monster" needing to be "fed" with feedback. It's like the Cookie Monster demanding cookies, this vision of a wild and crazy pretend monster that is after us to be fed. "Me want Feedback!!!" I think this analogy will be fun for kids: Feed the Awareness Monster!

FEEDBACK IS CRITICAL TO LEARNING

As I've written many times, much of my coaching background came from golf coaches and a golf school called "The School for Extraordinary Golf" (plus a book by that name). One of the truths that evolved is that "Awareness is how we learn," "Awareness is curative!" As put another way, "Experience is the Teacher." Words can lead you there, but it's the experience that does the teaching. Feeling (and seeing) the difference between one shot and another teaches you how to shoot more effectively the next time. It could even be missed shots (of course). Awareness of a mistake is more valuable than a perfect shot with no awareness as to how you did it. Awareness gives the body/brain/nervous system the feedback it needs to make changes, subtle or gross.

A phrase that describes the effect of this goes something like this: "The experience with high awareness of one shot can teach you more than taking 1,000 shots with no awareness." Some people believe you have to make thousands of "perfect" shots before you learn how to do it at will. That's pretty discouraging, because how can you make perfect shots when your stroke is imperfect. As I like to shape that line (and what may be the intention of many people who use it) is to say that perfect AWARENESS of thousands of shots is what you need to learn to shoot, not perfect SHOTS." And when awareness is high, it won't even require thousands. Perhaps hundreds. Perhaps 10's. Of course, you need lots of experience, but when your awareness antenna is raised high and tuned into your stroke, learning can be very quick.

The more the feedback, both by yourself to yourself and to you from others, the greater your learning. If you're not giving feedback, then no one knows where you are relative to your experience. You might be totally asleep; you might be totally aware. (Without great practice, it's probably more the former.)

When coaching someone, set up a system of feedback and learning will be enhanced. If working in pairs, teach them to give feedback to each other. It's effective for the shooter to speak first and then for the observer to give feedback. If the observer speaks first, the experience of the shooter is diminished.

From my experience, most players are reluctant to give feedback to a peer, probably not wanting to appear critical or contrary. Speak to this and maybe mention how the Awareness Monster needs feedback for learning. For kids who resist speaking feedback to a shooter friend, a less threatening way is to have the observer simply give a hand signal, thumbs up for "Yes, I agree," thumbs down for "No, I didn't see it that way," or the thumb at the halfway point for "I'm not sure" or "I missed that one." The point is that the observation of an outside party can help the shooter see and feel the shot motion.

Watch and Learn: However you do it, observe the interplay of shooter and experience (awareness) -- plus an unbiased third party, where possible -- and learning. The more awake everyone is the higher the level of learning. Learning takes time, but with high awareness, remarkable breakthroughs are possible ... and quicker than you think.

Tom Nordland is a shooting expert and coach from California via Minnesota. His videos, coaching and writings are inspiring a Renaissance (a rebirth, a revival) in shooting around the world as players and coaches are taught the things that really matter in shooting. A great shooter as a youth, Tom was given a gift of seeing shooting like few have ever seen it. He sees the “essence” of great shooting and how to get there. The good news is that it’s very simple. The few great shooters of today and yesterday mastered simple things, not complicated motions. Improved shooting is now possible for everybody in the game, and mastery is available to those who sincerely dedicate themselves to it. Visit Tom’s website (http://www.swish22.com/) to read of his background and his articles and newsletters, and to view the remarkable endorsements and amazing testimonials for this approach to shooting.