I come up against this all the time, coaches saying they don't want their players "messing" with their shots once the season starts. So what's the truth?
WHY IS BASKETBALL ANY DIFFERENT?
The first question that comes to mind is why should basketball be any different from other sports? The great PGA golfers are working on their swings, short game and putting all the time. They probably don't try to adjust anything right before a round, but afterward they get with their coaches and work on such things as tempo, swing plane, club face at contact, ball flight, this and that. Baseball players have hitting and pitching coaches to work with them throughout the season. Tennis players work with their coaches all the time. If they could talk to them during a round, they surely would. (It's kind of unfair that golfers can have caddies [who can be coaches and teaching professionals] and talk to them throughout a round, but tennis players can't even talk or signal their coaches in the stands during matches.)
Basketball is no different! In fact basketball shooting is a much more forgiving skill than hitting a 90 mile an hour fast ball, or controlling a golf clubhead traveling at 120-140 miles/hour. The basketball rim is about twice the size of a basketball. Free throws are taken only 13 feet nine inches from the center of the rim. Jump and Set Shots are taken from just a few feet away up to 20 feet or more, not huge challenges.
NOT MAJOR CHANGES!
By working on your shot, I don't mean you should make major changes to your shot during a season (usually), because it takes time for the body to adjust to and trust a very different shot action. But minor things can be worked on and "tweaked" all throughout the season. And if your stroke is really suspect (a nice way of saying "poor"), what is the risk in a major change? If you're losing playing time or games due to poor shooting, why not address it, both individually and as a team, whatever it takes?
AWARENESS IS HOW TO DO IT
The way to do this most gently is through awareness rather than telling someone (or yourself) how to do things. Awareness is how our marvelous body/brain/nervous systems work (let's call it the "body"). Awareness gives the body the feedback it needs to know what is happening, and then it can make the, usually, subtle changes it needs to learn and perform better. Patience is important, too, as the body cannot be rushed. If you are always short, for example, yelling at yourself or a player isn't of much help. In fact it would hinder growth. But simple awareness and then observation of how such-and-such feels, and what the results are, will lead to solid, lasting learning.
EXAMPLES OF AWARENESS COACHING/LEARNING
Let's say a player shoots everything flat and has a low shooting percentage. The awareness questions to ask are "How high are you shooting now?" and "What might you do to shoot higher?" Once the player has some knowledge of the height of her/his shots, then invite him/her to play with the answers to the second question. The player could aim higher with the arm action, one possibility, or the player could jump more strongly to shoot. Also you could notice "when" in the jumping motion (or down-up for a Free Throw) you are shooting. Is it "early," "middle of the jump," or at the "top"? With experimentation, the player will learn that shooting quicker is a simple and powerful way to increase the height of shots. Then play with this instruction -- "Shooting quicker" -- and the player will LEARN about height and how to get it. The major part of the work on improving height can be done by the player, just noticing things, giving precise feedback, and then getting out of his/her own way. Letting the learning happen!!!
(A note about "Letting Go!" It means to stop interfering and give your magical body the freedom to perform what it knows to do. You might ask, then, "How can I do perform with excellence if I don't yet own the skill, don't know how to do it?" One of my mentors put it this way: If you know what to do, then "LET IT HAPPEN!" If you don't know what to do, "LET IT LEARN!" The magic is in the "LETTING...")
YOUNG KIDS ESPECIALLY
Kids should be coached and encouraged to work on their own on their shots all year long. These are the developmental years, so allow them to try new things throughout the season. Teach them to be responsible (able to respond) for their own learning! That's what's so powerful about the Swish videos, THEY TEACH KIDS TO COACH THEMSELVES! It's in the "practice" that they're going to develop themselves more than in the few and far-between coaching sessions. Coaching can get them started beautifully, but it's in the follow up (and repetition with awareness) that they'll learn the most. And, coaches, don't worry about losing games! Skill development for your players is much more important at the younger ages.
I asked a few coach friends to give me their comments on this subject, and their input is included below.
"Like you, Tom, I believe there is no time like the present to work on and improve a player's shot. The old chestnut that you don't want to play around with a player's stroke during season should have gone out with the two-handed set shot!
"Golfers continually work and refine their swings; there is no reason why shooters should "wait" until the off-season to maintain and refine form and technique.
"The great players always want information and look for ways to get the slightest edge. Coaches need to have the courage to provide this information and not be worried about the chance it might cost a game along the way.
"The other poignant point in this discussion/debate is when is it a good time to make change and work on technique? In Australia, the basketball "season" never seems to end, and in the US, the advent of endless AAU tournaments leave little time to wait until there is a spare 3 months period in the coaching calender.
"It is a similar argument to not changing a player's shot once they have reached a certain age. This is such an important skill, why would any coach not want to provide players of any age or experience with information and knowledge to improve in this area?"
- - Peter Lonergan, NITCP Head Coach, Basketball New South Wales, Australia
"Tom, I believe every year we could benefit from going back and getting brushed up on the raw basic fundamentals of shooting to help keep our shooting in top form and keep accurate and, hopefully, improve. I have found from my own experience in life, that sometimes when I have done something so long, I do tend to neglect certain "small" things that can add up to a big difference. If I stay on top of those "small" things, I can be more successful. I would recommend that sometime during the year, players go back to the elementary basics and start from scratch and work their way back to where they are at to keep from ignoring something that may make a big difference in their shot."
- - Tommy Huneycutt (Tommy's Playbook website:
"Just a quick thought here ... I think the age and experience of the players is a big factor. Assuming the player is advanced and needs only refinement, then, yes, you work on the shot, but don't overhaul it, because winning in the short term is too important (like on a college team).
"However, taking that mentality to anything under HS varsity does a great disservice to the kids. Can you imagine a high school C team coach, for instance, not wanting to change a player's shooting form just to protect his W/L record? First, the whole point of youth sports is to prepare players for higher level play. The sooner the better for fixing shooting form. If your subject player doesn't change ASAP, he may never be ready for varsity play. If his performance in the C team level hurts his team (by missing a few shots, I guess), then that is a very small price to pay.
"Second, the longer you wait to change form, the harder it is to train new habits. Even when you can prove to a high school player that a form change is beneficial, when the pressure is on, he will resort to old habits. Only the exceptional students of the game will willingly change their fundamental habits when they are older."
- Steve Jordan, Coaches Notebook
"My thoughts on how kids are training are very similar to what Bob Bigelow (bobbigelow.com) has been saying (Ed. note: Steve, Bob and I met this fall in Massachusetts; Bob is an expert in Youth Sports and how they could more effectively be coached). So much time is devoted to game preparation and conditioning ... and so little time is being spent on developing players' skills. Kids are playing too many games and not enough time is being spent on just shooting a basketball. How many kids today go outside and shoot for an hour everyday?
"I recently did a clinic for a youth basketball team, and after I was finished my with my skills segment, the coach had them go right into a game. Just running up and down the court throwing shots from everywhere. Shooting is a skill, an art, and a science which needs to be worked on everyday. There's nothing more satisfying than shooting at the park or in your driveway and swishing shot after shot.
"I sympathize with youth coaches today. The youth sports system puts so much emphasis on winning games that it doesn't allow for coaches to spend the needed time on fundamentals such as shooting. Our kids can run 4-5 offensive plays and zone trap, but they can't hit a free throw.
"Some suggest blowing up the system ... but that's probably not realistic. I suggest working to improve the system. Traditionally town travel teams practice a couple times a week and play games on the weekend. Parents should consider basketball skill and shooting coaches to supplement their kids practice schedule. Working with a coach will focus them more on developing their skills than on winning basketball games.
"And for the kids who might have been cut from an AAU or travel team, they can now gain an advantage by working with a coach who helps them develop their skills."
- - Steve Smith (basketball coach at Forekicks, a Golf and Indoor Sports Complex in Norfolk, Massachusetts)
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 its 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 Toms 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.
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