Blog: The Future of Player Development Ain’t What It Used to Be

Developing players is a futuristic project. We need to prepare players to face the challenges of high-performance basketball as it is played in the year of 2020. Or 2025. Even 2030 is only sixteen years away…

At the moment, the game is changing at a furious pace due to e.g. the breakthrough of the performance analytics. Looking back just a few years, it was a wholly different game.

So how should we go about developing future top-performance players when we do not know what the future top-performance basketball will be like?

At least these things should be considered:

1) Variability
The tactics and techniques that the players learn today probably will not serve them until the end of their career. Everything must be varied and modified – during a career and, as a reflection of that, during every practice session. Continuous motor learning is a necessity, and hence motor learning skills should be emphasized in player development.

2) Quickness
Whatever else will happen in the evolution of basketball down the lane, the game will probably become quicker and quicker. Hence players must also become quicker – not just physically but also tactically and technically quicker. We should e.g. critically assess every single technique we teach: Is there a quicker way to do this?

3) Specificity
The higher the level of play, the more important it becomes to realize what a player’s future position will be, what the skill requirements will be at that position, and what he will need to do to excel at the required skills.

There have been arguments that in the future, positions will disappear – that all players will be interchangeable. I don’t think that’s going to happen. Here are some comments on the subject.

The next time around I’ll discuss how these predictions, if taken seriously, should affect training at… let’s say #3 position.

Blog: Would You Like to Shoot a Medicine Ball at a 4-meter High Basket – Or Why Children’s Basketball Equipment Needs Modification

At least here in Finland, a lot of basketball people seem emotionally attached to the mini basketball equipment. They seem to think a size 5 ball and a 260cm basket are the “right” equipment for all Under-12 age groups. People often get upset, even angry, should someone suggest using other types of baskets and balls.

What I think we should have is an open discussion about basket height, ball size and other rules in all U12 age groups. The discussion should not be about what is “right” – e.g. what we adults are used to – but about how to best enhance children’s enjoyment, motivation and motor learning.

What I have here is calculations concerning the Finnish boys’ average size at different ages in relation to the basket height, ball size and ball weight. These calculations do not tell us exactly what should be done, but they do provide a basis for an intelligent discussion.

It is quite obvious, though, that some modification definitely need to be made. For starters, consider this:

For an average 6-year-old boy, shooting a mini basketball at a mini basket is like it is for an average a 20-year-old to shoot a 1486g ball with a circumference of 113cm at a 400cm basket.

For the calculations, see this PDF file:

Relative basket height, ball size and ball weight in youth basketball

Blog: What Should Collectivistic Player Development Be Like?

If the good of the team is all that matters, what then separates Collectivistic Youth Basketball (CYB) from Peak by Friday basketball (PFB)? Charlie kind of brought up this point of view in a comment to a blog of mine.

Recently I’ve written about basketball being essentially a collectivistic sport. CYB in a nutshell is: a player’s goal should not be to play well but to help his team succeed optimally.

On the other hand, Brian McCormick has written about PFB: “Winning now is the only thing that matters, and often this stunts the development of players who need time and space to explore, make mistakes and learn.”

Yep, CYB is right and good and PFB is wrong and bad. But they look awfully alike, don’t they? What’s the difference then?

Here are some thoughts on the dilemma.

1) In CYB, the strategy should be to even the odds, so that kids will achieve success in a somewhat even fashion. In PFB this is not done.

2) The odds may be evened in e.g. these ways:
* Constantly change the rosters. In tournaments have players from different clubs play on the same team.
* Use different equipment and rules that favour different types of kids and enhance motor learning. Use ball of different sizes.
* Modify rules so that they keep the final scores close and grow the role of chance. Instead of one game of four seven-minute quarters, have four short games of 7 minutes and change the line-ups between each game.

3) Sometimes in youth sports it is claimed that the main focus is on developing the individuals, not on the good of the team. But what if that attitude actually harms player development? Doesn’t it dismiss the main skill for a player to develop – the skill to co-operate and interact with his teammates for the common good?

4) There are ways to measure the individual impact, too, if need be. Say you run a tournament with short games and constantly changing line-ups. Or you can do this in a team practice. You can keep score on which players’ teams win the most games. This could something to consider e.g. when running a try-out camp.

5) Maybe all other individual statistics but wins should be initially ignored? Maybe collective stats should rather be used as the basis for selecting fields of improvement? Maybe praising players based on their stats (mainly scoring) makes them view them incorrectly, i.e. as an end in itself instead of a means to an end.

6) In CYB the coach does not change the practice schedule or content in order to succeed in the next game. In PFB that is done, as “Peak by Friday” implies.

7) To complement CYB training, it might be a good idea to have individual workouts with one to four players per one coach.

8) The fact that most people will not engage in competitive sports as adults does not mean that they should not do so as kids, as some claim. Isn’t it rather the other way around? Since it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most kids, shouldn’t they be constantly given chances to win all kinds of championships?

9) In order to optimize chances of winning, players need to specialize, i.e. play a certain position. As shown, players of certain size will most probably play certain positions and need certain skills. Yet to optimize improvement in the future, players need good overall general skills. How should a coach solve this problem of specialization and general skills?

10) One suggestion is playing 3-on-3. Relatively more players will have a chance to handle the ball, and the cognitive load is lighter than when playing 5-on-5. Yet all the basic element of the game are there.

Blog: Euroleague Stats and Positional Characteristics

These numbers* from Euroleague 2013-14 by @sJacas tell
1) The minute-weighted positional average height and
2) how high a percentage of all field goal attempts are three-pointers.

Pos___Height____3PA/FGA
#1____187cm_____43%
#2____191cm_____45%
#3____196cm_____43%
#4____202cm_____35%
#5____206cm_____6%

According to Jacas, besides #1’s, #2’s also have a lot of play-making responsibility. The average heights are practically the same as in 2010-11.

What does all this imply, then?

1) Instead of bigger, players are becoming quicker and more skillful per inch.

2) #2 should be able to use pick-and-roll.

3) #1 should be able to shoot 3’s off the catch as well as off the dribble.

4) #4 without a 3pt shot is a dying breed.

5) An aspiring #5 could create a competitive edge by developing a dependable 3pt shot and becoming a stretch five.

6) When listing players’ heights, add at least an inch to their actual barefoot heights.

All this partly determines how one should go about developing collectivistic high-performance players. More on that the next time.

* = All data are from @sJacas via Twitter. Jacas is a contributor of In The Game, a web site where Euroleague statistics are discussed in a smart, cautious way.
I have taken 2.4cm off all five positional average player heights originally provided by @sJacas and based on the Euroleague rosters. Then I have approximated the result to the nearest cm.
2.4cm were taken off because @sJacas calculated that players who were in both the EL rosters and the Draft Express bare-feet-measurements database were on the average 2.4cm taller on the EL rosters than in the DE database.

Blog: How to Make a Practice Session Collectivistic

As an idea, collectivism probably sounds reasonable enough to a lot of coaches. Also, it is probably quite easy to imagine what it would look like if his team played collectivistic basketball.

But how do you actually make this happen? In other words, what should a coach do in practices to get his team to play in a collectivistic way?

Here are some suggestions. Their applicability will depend on the age group in question. Please let me know about more ideas.

1) Enhance tactile communication

In other words, have the players make physical contact with each other. It “promotes cooperation between people, communicates distinct emotion, soothes in times of stress, and is used to make inferences of warmth and trust”.

Also, “prosocial behavior has been shown to serve an important purpose in enhancing future team performance in sport“.

These are some suggestions on the subject, crowdsourced for Akuva coach development program.
A) Co-ordination drills with a partner (hands on shoulders or hips).
B) Different versions of tag (also, team version where caught players have to hold hands).
C) Team routines that feature physical contact.
D) High-fives during the drills.
For more suggestion, click here.

2) Have each player co-operate with every member of the squad.

Do not let the players choose who they e.g. shoot with but rather assign pairs and groups of three or four or five. Then circulate the pairs from session to session so that in a short while all possible combinations have been used.

This reciprocal model is used to enhance prosocial behaviour. Having all players on friendly terms with each other is advantageous e.g. because “social factors emerge even in a setting where individual performance is highly salient and rewarded, player roles are clearly defined, and within-game strategy and coaching prescribes much passing behavior”.

3) Emphasize passing rather than dribbling.

Passing is the act that primarily connects the offensive players to each other. Since “connectedness across players” and “unpredictability of ball movement” enhance the chances of success passing should be emphasized in collectivistic training.

So, how do you do emphasize passing instead of dribbling? Some ideas:
A) In the very beginning, start out by teaching passing instead of dribbling or shooting.
B) Have one ball available per two or three players, instead of one ball for each one.
C) Design even 1-on-1 drills in a way that always makes passing an option.
D) Make the rules of small-sided play or scrimmage such that they encourage passing. You may e.g. restrict the number of dribbles to zero or one, or have all players touch the ball before a shot is allowed.

4) Emphasize team defense rather than individual defense

Often coaches use this type of progression while teaching defense: one-on-one → two-on-two → three-on-three etc. Why?

Maybe we should never have players work on defense one-on-one? Or quite seldom? What would we lose if we concentrated solely on the collectivistic performance instead of the individual one?

Blog: Brilliant basic collectivistic basketball


If you take the idea of collectivism seriously, you need an answer to this question: What will collectivistic basketball actually look like?

One answer is that it looks like the way San Antonio Spurs play.

Another answer is that collectivistic basketball should be “brilliant basic basketball”.

Topias Kauhala and Gert Remmel used the phrase “brilliant basic play” (loistava peruspelaaminen) in their excellent Finnish-speaking article in Urheilulehti after the soccer Euro championships 2012. They referred to the fact that, most of the time, modern soccer stars do not seem to do anything miraculous.

In the same vein, brilliant basic basketball is an inevitable consequence of playing collectivistically, isn’t it?

Collectivism means that the only thing that matters is the good of the team. Everything individual players do is measured against that standard and that standard alone.

In other words, they are to do the task at hand as efficiently as possible. Efficiently means e.g. avoiding unnecessary risks.

Since spectacular individual actions involve risks – otherwise they would not be called spectacular, would they? – efficiency and collectivism mean that the number of spectacular individual actions is to be kept to a minimum.

Most of the time, brilliant basic play within the collectivistic network will get the job done. If not, the play will be too risky and the team will lose.

In other words, players should have a lot of skills, yet they should use them as sparingly as possible. If someone shows off his skills without serving the collectivistic purpose, he is demonstrating an individualistic mindset.

Obviously, there will always be a need for flashes of individual brilliance because sometimes the network will break down and individual heroics are needed in order to e.g. beat the shot clock.

Blog: The Magic’s in the Damn Team


In team sports, what are the primary subjects?

This question was posed by philosopher and floorball coach Jani Hakkarainen in a Finnish-speaking article (Urheilulehti 19/2011).

The choice must be made between collectivism and individualism. Collectivists claim that teams are the primary subjects, individualists’ answer is individual players.

Hakkarainen does a convincing job arguing on behalf of collectivism. He writes e.g. that since a team’s qualities are different from the sum of the individual players’ qualities, the teams must be the primary subjects.

It’s the same thing in other walks of life, too. Imagine hearing the individual performances of Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham on Whole Lotta Love seperately, one by one. Then listen to Led Zeppelin. The magic’s not in the individuals, is it?

The magic’s in the damn band.

Why should this be important? Not only because philosophical issues are important per se, but also because the collectivism vs. individualism issue has immediate practical consequences.

It seems to me that individualism has been the dominant underlying assumption in player development. Replacing those individualist assumptions with collectivist ones will lead to changes in coaching.

These suggestions I can think of. Please let me know your thoughts.

1) A coach should favor prosocial behavior. Players’ friendly co-operation will enhance collectivism, hostile competing against teammates will not.

2) The whole concept of individual skills should be questioned. A coach should always consider training technical skills within a tactical context.

3) Co-operative learning methods should be used wherever possible.

4) Passing should be emphasized instead of dribbling.

5) A player’s goal should not be to play well but to help his team succeed optimally.

6) A coach should consider very carefully how he refers to statistics.

7) Criteria for talent identification should be re-written.