Blog: Remarks on Shooting and Practicing Shooting

In this entry attempted to combine some principles and some nuts and bolts regarding shooting and practicing shooting. I added the 146 points one by one between March 3 and May 1 in 2015. The last points added were 72, 73 and 74.

  1. At this point it is necessary to address the question what type of analogies could be useful in coaching shooting. Some suggestions:
  2. There’s another reason why using varied practice will not make Coach look good there and then. As Brian McCormick put it: “With the varied practice, players will miss more shots or make more mistakes on the move than if they do the same thing 10 times in a row.” So, even if varied practice is good for retention and transfer, it’s not good for maximizing the amount of successful shots in a practice session.
  3. On the contrary, coaching implicitly will make Coach look goofy or even useless. That is because what he does not explicitly state the rationale for what he’s doing. Rather he keeps adding variety to the training which makes it look messy. And instead of barking out explicit, professional-sounding instructions he repeats analogies that to an outside observer make no sense.
  4. One of the reasons why explicit coaching still rules is that it gives coaches a chance to – explicitly! – demonstrate how  thoroughly they know shooting: “Bend your knees!” “Keep your elbow in!” “Follow through!”
  5. Implicit coaching may very well seem counterintuitive because Coach will direct players towards certain solutions without first explicitly telling them what those solutions are and why they are beneficial.
  6. Enhancing implicit learning is easier said than than done. It’s a different way of coaching than most of us have grown used to, and thus it takes time to learn and hone necessary pedagogical skills. Coach must e.g. come up with proper and comprehensible analogies that help players improve their shooting.
  7. This type of coaching will hopefully lead to implicit learning. Ways to enhance implicit learning include external focus of attention, dual tasking, using analogies, and errorless learning.
  8. When coaching shooting (or any other motor skill), Coach should use a different type of speech than the one used above. In other words, Coach should shy away from referring to the shooter’s required movements or to the body parts relevant to the movement, but rather concentrate on the desired outcome.
  9. At the same time, the shooter’s legs will be springy and his lower back tense. This will allow him to generate power and transfer it to the shot while keeping the upper body relaxed.
  10. In order for a 3-point shot to seem and be effortless, your upper body must be relaxed. Otherwise the shot will look laborious. One of the things a coach might do in practice is to remind the shooter to keep his shoulders relaxed.
  11. A good way to assess the potentially effective range of  a certain shooting technique is to see how the shooter misses his shots. If some misses are short and some are long, then the shooter is within the potentially effective range.  If practically all misses are short, then the shooter is out of that technique’s potentially effective range.
  12. More than anything, a shot should be effortless. Meaning, it should seemingly take the shooter hardly any effort to get the ball to fly far enough.
  13. By having your body in an upright position, I do not mean that literally (as in 90 degrees relative to the floor). Rather, upright here means that after the catch, you should be able to go up for a shot without first swinging your upper body backwards.
  14. Another way to eliminate unnecessary movement is to catch the ball with your upper body in an upright position. Once again, this contrasts with the traditional way of teaching things. Often, as a part of getting to a low stance, players have been taught to lean forward. It makes the shot difficult because the first thing you need to do after the catch is to swing your upper body backwards, into an upright position.
  15. Probably the easiest way to eliminate extra movement is to catch the ball in a high stance. Obviously, your knees must be bent so that you can both drive right off the catch and generate enough power for an effortless shot. But you don’t need to drop nowhere as low as coaches have traditionally taught. The idea is to stay as high as you ever can.
  16. If there is something consistently wrong with the rhythm of a player’s shots, the rhythm should be manipulated. The easiest way to do that is to minimize the movement of the shooter’s body parts. This alone may be helpful because when extra movement is eliminated, some disruptions to the rhythm may be eliminated as well.
  17. At this point some of you may wonder if I am wandering the topic – shooting and practicing shooting, that is. I do not think so. I think that when it to comes to learning to shoot better, the ideas regarding the way the practice is organized are every bit as important as ideas regarding the shooting technique and motor learning.
  18. The ability to work as an extra is something that the head coach should consider when recruiting assistant coaches. They don’t necessarily have to be players or ex-players, but the matter should be considered within the context of the given team.
  19. Obviously, you can’t put just anybody on the floor with the players. The extras must be able to e.g. make decent passes, set effective screens, and move around in a safe manner. In other words, they must possess skills of a necessary level. What exactly that level is, will depend on the team.
  20. A third option would be to bring in other people, implement them in drills as extras and possibly have them help otherwise, too. Their job description could be somewhat similar to that of student managers in college teams. In junior club teams those “managers” could be parents. They will often have time on their hands if they drive their kids to practice. In professional teams extras could be volunteers who for example look to start a coaching career.
  21. This should not be done whenever possible but things should rather be prioritized case by case. In other words, sometimes you are better off having coaches just monitoring the action. But just as well, sometimes they should be included in the action. In any case, they should be doing something purposeful.
  22. Once you have your players optimally utilized, take another look around you. Ask yourself: What about the coaching staff? Maybe you should more often implement coaches and whoever you have on the staff – including yourself – into drills as extras.
  23. Say you run the traditional two-line lay-up drill. What if after shooting a lay-up the shooter would turn around, play defense on the player next shooting a lay-up, and only then go to the rebounding line? And what if the next rebounder would serve as an extra offensive player, too? The idea could be e.g. that the player going for  the lay-up should pass to the rebounder / extra offensive player if he raises his both hands.
  24. One partial solution is to take a careful look at the drills you are using and possibly re-organize them. If you find moments where players wait in lines, is it possible to use them as extras instead?
  25. So, where do these extras – i.e. additional offensive players and defenders – come from? The problem is that they should be implemented while at the same maximizing the number of players shooting. There is an obvious, practical and serious contradiction here.
  26. This may sound like a small, theoretical detail but it isn’t. It changes the way players shoot in practice. When you first add a defender and a teammate to drills, you will have doubts about the new set up, because the shooters’ percentage will drop, yet at the same time they can’t seem to pass, either.
  27. In other words, a minimum requirement for game-likeness is the presence of the shooter, at least one teammate, and at least one defender.
  28. The most obvious ones are the cues concerning the defender closest to the shooter. Also, passing to a teammate should be an option because, more than anything else, basketball is a collective effort.
  29. To make the shooter’s cognitive constraints game-like in practice, Coach must first consider which types of cues the shooter must react to in games.
  30. There will be no panacea to this problem but rather a lot of partial practical solutions. It will be up to Coach’s drills and tactics and the team’s level, staff, and social context which solutions work best in any given case.
  31. That brings us to the real question, Question C, regarding shooting practice: How can Coach create game-like cognitive constraints as effectively and efficiently as possible? The answers will necessarily be compromises between the requirements demonstrated in questions A and B.
  32. However, considering question B, too, that would be inefficient because the number of repetitions per player would be severely limited. It would take take nine players to train one.
  33. The most obvious answer to question A is to create game-like constraints by setting up 5-5 situations and having the designated shooter react to what the other nine players are doing.
  34. That is why Coach will inevitably face two basic questions regarding shooting practice: A) How can Coach create game-like cognitive constraints? and B) How can Coach provide the players with as many repetitions as possible?
  35. The aforementioned differences may well explain why some players are relatively better shooters in practices than in games, and vice versa. This apparent discrepancy may be due not to differences in mental toughness, as often assumed, but rather due to different cognitive and technical skills.
  36. Predetermined shots will be not only cognitively less taxing than but also probably biomechanically different from shots taken while adapting to game-like constraints. (On the difference between predetermined and adaptive actions: a study on passing in futsal and a study on speed testing in rugby.)
  37. Typically, contrary to what happens in games, practice shots are predetermined and isolated. In other words, the cognitive load faced by the shooter is different and lighter.
  38. Even if the variability of shots in practices matches the variability of shots in games, there may be room for improvement regarding the game-likeness of practice. That is because even if the mechanics are the same, the cognitive constraints may be quite different.
  39. The pace of prior movement is an important factor of a field goal shot. That is because it affects the amount of power that will transfer to the shot. Thus an easy-to-implement way to add variability to shooting practice is to vary the speed of the dribble or the cut prior to the shot.
  40. One of the things the present FIBA rules do is that they maximize the number of difficult field goal shots. That is because there will be a lot situations where getting the shot off in time is an issue: four quarters (and thus four end-of-a-quarter situations), 24-second shot clock, 14-second shot clock after an offensive rebound.
  41. The length of the shot clock affects the types of field goal shots taken. The shorter the shot clock, the quicker the average pace of movement. And just as importantly, the shorter the shot clock, the more difficult shots the players must take.
  42. To check if this is the case, please re-watch your team’s latest game. Concentrate on field goal shots. What percentage of those shots are such that you’ve practiced them in organized shooting drills? What does this percentage tell you about the game-likeness of your shooting drills?
  43. In other words, “game-like” shooting drills are often idealizations by Coach rather than drills based on the reality of the game.
  44. However, often coaches seem to interpret “game shots” as shots that the team offense is supposed to produce. And “game speed” as all-out speed, quite rarely seen in game situations prior to a shot.
  45. All in all, the old coaching slogan “Game shots, game speed” should be interpreted as a reminder to constantly add variability to shooting practice.
  46. It is questionable to juxtapose the variability of practice hypothesis and the specificity of practice hypothesis in the first place. From a coaching point of view, they are not contraries but rather a complementary pair. (For a detailed discussion on complementary pairs, see Kelso & Engstrom 2006: The Complementary Nature.)
  47. How then can a player adjust his shooting technique  in order to hit shots from different distances? Here are some suggestions on which variables to consider: timing of the release, height of the arch, follow-through (using the “snake bite”), the amount of dipping.
  48. It’s better than missing shots by 2 meters but still this contradiction hinders learning. It would more efficient if Coach taught players how to adjust their shots in the first place. Or if Coach at the very least would not explicitly tell player not to adjust their shots.
  49. This leaves players in a strange situation: if they follow Coach’s instructions, they are going miss most of their shots. Obviously players will find solutions. In other words, they will make deviations from Coach’s teachings to make shots from different distances.
  50. Why am I even discussing this? Because even though no one will explicitly deny this fact, a lot of coaches choose to simply ignore it. When we teach shooting, we often refer to “one correct shooting technique” without discussing how to vary that technique to hit shots from e.g. different distances.
  51. This should be obvious. Since field goal shots are taken in different situations, certainly the shots must be different if you are going to make them. The simplest example is that when the distance changes, the shot must change, too. If you make a jump shot from 4 meters and then take a similar shot from 6 meters, you are going to miss by 2 meters.
  52. Less obviously and more interestingly, variable shooting practice fits the specificity of practice hypothesis, too. That is because all field goal shots in game situations considerably differ from each other.
  53. It should be quite obvious that variable shooting practice fits the variability of practice hypothesis.
  54. Interestingly, this approach fits both of the “two general and contrasting hypotheses that are applicable to motor learning”: the variability of practice hypothesis and the specificity of practice hypothesis.
  55. I prefer to talk about shooting techniques in plural rather than about a player’s single shooting technique. That is because I like to emphasize the essentiality of differences between the countless adaptations to forthcoming situations.
  56. That is why it is one of Coach’s main tasks is to make sure that players will continuously face novel and variable tasks while practicing shooting. This will help them to learn to efficiently adapt the shooting techniques to properly fit the ever-changing context.
  57. Take dipping the ball. It has both advantages and disadvantages. So, it will depend on the context which ones matter more. It is inefficient coaching to claim that you should always dip or to claim that you should never dip.
  58. That is why general-level discussions about the shooting technique tend to amount to nothing. These discussions are often about “whether to or not to”: whether to dip or not to dip, to sway or not to sway, et cetera. However, given the importance of contextual and personal factors, the answer to this type of a question is usually neither “yes” nor “no” but rather “it depends”.
  59. That makes it a basketball coach’s job to for example help a player develop and learn shooting techniques appropriate to the situations the player will face in games. These techniques are contextual and personal.
  60. These theoretical-sounding findings have very practical implications. Since in invasion team sports executing a motor skill is (almost) always intervened with decision-making, motor skills should be practiced that way, too. Other kinds of training methods – often drawn other kinds of sports – should be viewed very cautiously.
  61. Causer and Ford found out that “positive transfer of decision-making skill occurred between soccer and other invasion sports, supporting the concept of transfer of learning, but not between invasion and other sports, providing some support for specificity of learning”.
  62. It seems plausible that invasion team sports, such as basketball and soccer, are as close to the open skill end of the continuum as a sport can be. Since the two teams occupy common ground, the environment is even less predictable than in net and wall games, such as volleyball.
  63. Often sports are “categorized into two types: open skill and closed skill sports”. This can be misleading since sports are not either or but rather located somewhere along the continuum that connects this complementary pair.
  64. Free throws are an exception. Hitting them is a predominantly closed skill or “a motor skill performed in a stable or predictable environment where the performer determines when to begin the action”.
  65. Shooting in basketball is a predominantly open skill. In open skills “movements must be controlled in a strict relationship with a changing environment”.
  66. So when practicing shooting, what you should actually be practicing is adapting to different situations. Practicing shooting can’t be separated from practicing other motor skills or from practicing tactical skills.
  67. In other words, there is no correct one shooting technique – not even for one person, let alone for all players. Rather, all technical details should depend on the situation and on the shooter’s characteristics.
  68. “Whenever practical constraints allow” is a most important condition regarding anything related to shooting (excluding free throws). Given the constraints set by the defense and the shot clock, sometimes the ball will and should be thrown or slung. Those types of shots should be practiced, too.
  69. Rhythm is the most telling technical detail of a shot. Whenever practical constraints allow, the upward and forward movement of the ball in the shooter’s hands should accelerate in a fluid and even fashion. “Pole” = Instead of leaning forward, the shooter should remain in an upright position – like a pole that can be found in any gym. “Ceiling” = Instead of shooting flat (= “Towards the wall”) the shooter should use a high enough arch (“Towards the ceiling”). “Latin” = Instead of moving about in a rigid, mechanical fashion (“Like a robot”), the shooter move about in a rhythmical, light, and unpredictable fashion (“Like a latin dander”).
  70. In order for you to be an effective 3-point shooter, you should extend your effective shooting range in practice situations to about 1.5 meters of 5 feet beyond the line. The extended range makes it possible for you to adapt to different game situations and still shoot effortlessly.
  71. This is not a metaphor. You should literally be able to hit al least half of your shots from 1.5 meters beyond the 3-point in practice situations where there is no hurry, no fatigue, no defensive pressure. If your shooting technique is not up to the task, you should do something about. Otherwise it will limit your accuracy.
  72. According to my experience, the efficiency of coaching tends to be limited by traditions. This considers the shooting distance, too. Coaches simply do not believe that hitting shots from 8.5 meters is quite natural, given that the player uses proper techniques. Hence coaches do not even try to teach proper techniques, and the player’s shooting range really remains limited.
  73. Generally speaking, coaches tend to use so called “basic skills” as not only requirements but also as limitations – as warning signs that their players shouldn’t even try to reach beyond. One possible explanation is that we as coaches do not know how to help players advance beyond those old-fashioned “basics”.
  74. There is an easy way to see if it’s even possible that someone is a decent shooting coach. If he talks about current top NBA shooters as e.g. miracle workers, unnatural phenomenons, or unique talents, forget about it. But if he talks about them as logical products of personal characteristics, practice, and the ever-changing context of the sport, there is hope.
  75. You can only extend your shooting range far enough if your shooting technique allows you to generate enough power and to transfer that power efficiently to the shot. Such power-output is a necessary characteristic of any proper shooting technique.
  76. Besides power-output, you must also consider release height, quickness, accuracy, and compatibility within game context.
  77. “Compatibility” refers to how easy and quick it is to combine the shot with things that tend to precede shots or shot fakes or follow shot fakes: pass, catch, cut, dribble, drive, fakes etc. Compatibility is an often-overlooked characteristic, because shooting tends to be practiced in an isolated fashion – e.g. taken out of the game context. That isolation makes compatibility a non-issue, because fitting the game context is precisely what compatibility is all about,
  78. Doesn’t this call for power-output, accuracy, quickness, release height, and compatibility contradict what I wrote near the beginning of this entry – namely that “all technical details should depend on the situation and on the shooter’s characteristics” et cetera? The short answer is “No, it doesn’t”.
  79. In other words, when it comes to shooting or any other motor skill, there are both contextual and universal considerations. Those two types of considerations are not contraries but they rather complement each other.
  80. In yet other words, any shooting technique is not just as good as another one but some techniques tend to offer more functional solutions to contextual problems than some other techniques.
  81. To illustrate the point, think of free throws by good free throws shooters. They all have unique shooting techniques. Yet those techniques share some common characteristics.
  82. These common characteristics tend to be the same ones that are described over and over again in lists of basketball shooting mechanics. Though those lists will differ somewhat and you can argue about the details, they are usually more or less the same.
  83. Then why do different players use different techniques even for the same types of shots – say free throws?
  84. The obvious partial answer is that players have different anthropometrics and different physical characteristics. For example, a small and strong player is going to shoot free throws differently than a big and weak one.
  85. However, no two players will shoot alike even if their anthropometrics and physical characteristics match as closely as they may. That is because players’ intrinsic dynamics also affect the technique, and they are going to be different. Intrinsic dynamics has been defined as “coordination tendencies that exist as a kind of network at a given point in time”.
  86. Then “the interaction between the intrinsic dynamics and the external constraints of the system will produce the emergence of individual solutions and coordinated motor patterns”. There are so many variables in play that the aforementioned solutions and patterns are bound to be unique.
  87. What does the existence of intrinsic dynamics then imply regarding shooting basketball? The most immediate conclusion is that it is counterproductive to try to get all players to shoot alike.
  88. The opposite is true, too: intrinsic dynamics alone will not help a player to shoot effectively. Rather, through sport-specific practice he needs to develop an efficient fusion of intrinsic dynamics and general technical principles.  Coach is there to provide help in the process.
  89. This in fact is the essence of the coaching profession: merging general and particular. This is also why coaching is not and cannot be a science. How to merge general and particular is always a judgement call – even though being familiar with scientific results will help to make more effective judgements.
  90. The existence of intrinsic dynamics also implies that when it comes to learning to shoot, even someone who has never touched a basketball before, will not start from zero. That is because the intrinsic dynamics will have him shoot his first shot in a certain way.
  91. This in turn implies that a coach should you use basically the same method no matter who he’s coaching – whether it’s absolute beginners or advanced players. He should have them simply shoot the ball and then see where to go from there.
  92. In other words, no one is a tabula rasa. Everyone has shooting techniques when they enter a practice, no matter whether they have previously used those techniques or not. Coach should see what  those techniques are like and then manipulate them in an appropriate way.
  93. This implies that we should disregard the approach that I imagine is common especially when coaching beginners: starting by demonstrating the correct technique and having the players imitate it the best that they can. It is not efficient teaching because it does not make use of what the subjects already do and know.
  94. Though the intrinsic dynamics is important, it does not determine how a player will eventually shoot. Intrinsic dynamics simply provides a starting point and constraints along the way.
  95. Intrinsic dynamics is not immutable but constantly changing, affected by everything you do, learn and confront. So, not only does intrinsic dynamics affect your shooting techniques, but also the ways you shoot the ball modify your intrinsic dynamics.
  96. This brings about the question of how the intrinsic dynamics could be modified to make learning basketball as easy and quick as possible. This is the case when the intrinsic dynamics and the task dynamics of a sport – basketball in this case – match.
  97. First, the athlete should sample, or participate in various sports as a kid. Sampling has been shown to develop “fitness and gross motor coordination“. This type of development should allow for the intrinsic dynamics to become both stable and adaptable. Then “rich behavioural solutions” may emerge. In other words, an athlete learns to learn.
  98. Which additional sports a basketball player does, will greatly affect his learning curve in basketball. On the other hand, it should be noted that “expertise may develop in quite unique ways“. This makes it a difficult and contextual task to conclude which other sports an athlete should do in order to optimize his long-term improvement in basketball.
  99. Secondly, it has been suggested that early engagement in a sport enhances the development at a later age. “Early” here refers to “practice and play in the primary sport between six and 12 years of age“. Given the current point of view, it could be hypothesized that the more early a person engages in a sport, the more strongly his intrinsic dynamics are affected by the engagement, and the more closely his intrinsic dynamics become matched with the task dynamics of that particular sport.
  100. To optimize this effect, the task dynamics of youth basketball should be as similar as possible to the task dynamics of adults’ basketball. To make this happen, the youth basketball rules should be carefully modified. The size of the ball and the height of the basket should be scaled down, and it might be a good idea to play games 3-on-3.
  101. When Coach works with a particular player on his shooting, it must noted that the primary goal is not to enhance the player’s shooting accuracy but rather his shooting efficiency. These two are often confused but there is a huge difference.
  102. Accuracy refers simply to the rate of hitting the shots taken. So, certainly, being accurate is correlated with being effective. However, there is more to being an effective shooter than being an accurate one.
  103. That is because in the basketball context, the only true measure of a player’s efficiency is the effect of his actions on the success of this team. In other words, a basketball player’s job is to help his team win (Read the first chapter of this book.) Regarding field goal shooting, he can do that by not only hitting shots but also by e.g. drawing fouls and optimizing the number of his shots.
  104. Optimizing the number of shots requires two things. On one hand, it requires that you take will take the shots that enhance chances of your team. On the other hand, it requires that you will not take shots that will harm the team’s chances of winning. So, paradoxically, as a result of successful shooting training, a player may start scoring less than he used to.
  105. Given this, we are now ready to deal with an inevitable and critical bunch of related questions regarding enhancing shooting efficiency:  How should a particular player shoot? What technical changes should be made, given his intrinsic dynamics and the general-level principles of proper shooting mechanics? Which technical details are acceptable individual deviations from the standard, and which are harmful aberrations that should be ironed out?
  106. To answer these questions, you need to consider the five elementary and necessary characteristic of any proper shooting technique that were listed above. These are the characteristics and examples of questions you may use to assess them.
    1. Release height: How high is the ball when it last touches the shooting hand?
    2. Quickness: For how long is the ball in your hands between the catch and the release?
    3. Power-output: How effectively do you produce power for the shot? How relaxed are your shoulders, arms and hands?
    4. Accuracy: Do the shots go in?
    5. Compatibility: How easy is it to combine your shooting techniques with e.g. cutting, dribbling and faking?
  107. In principle, the process of improving a player’s shooting techniques is simple enough. First, you spot the one of these five characteristics that seems to limit the shooting efficiency the most. Second, you identify the technical detail that seems to negatively affect the characteristic in question. Third, you implement a change regarding that detail.
  108. For example, the most limiting characteristic may quickness, i.e. slowness. Watching the player shoot, you may conclude that when catching the ball, his stance is too low and that it takes him an eternity to get up. Then – using methods of implicit learning – you help the player adjust the height of the stance.
  109. This sounds simple enough but unfortunately there are several complications.
  110. Perhaps the most obvious one is the involvement of subjective judgment. Determining  the main problem is a judgment call, and so is deciding what to do about it. Getting back to the example above, there may be problems not only with the quickness of a shooter’s techniques but also with the power-output. And enhancing quickness may be done in other ways besides changing the stance, e.g. by limiting the amount of dipping the ball.
  111. One way to work around this is to ask other coaches’ opinions and see if you come to an agreement. Your colleagues do not need to be present at the practice because it is quite easy to share videos through Internet. Also, obviously, you need to talk with the player.
  112. A rational approach is to think how to fix as many problems as possible making as few changes as possible and keeping those changes as slight and implicit as possible.
  113. If there are problems with several ones of the five characteristics, a practical rule of thumb is to try to find a common technical detail that affects them all. Often the best candidates are rhythm and stance, which have been mentioned before in this entry and which affect all five characteristics.
  114. In short, Coach could look at the player shoot and first ask: Is the stance okay when he catches the ball? If not, what could be done about it? Is the rhythm okay? Does he accelerate the ball fluidly, in one motion? If not, what could be done about it?
  115. Another complication related to improving a player’s shooting techniques is that sometimes improving some of the five characteristics will negatively affect some of the other characteristics.
  116. The most consistent one of such negative correlations is the one between a shot’s accuracy and its quickness. This common phenomenon in all sports is known as speed-accuracy trade-off.
  117. Practice will diminish this effect. However, it does persist. In other words, even experienced players shoot more accurately when they have more time to get the shot off. This is why more or less every player will use a little more time to get the shot off when they are open as to opposed when the defender is just about to close out on them.
  118. This phenomenon partly explains why a player needs so many different techniques to optimize his efficiency as a shooter. Even shooting from the same the distance, he is better off using different techniques depending on the time constraints (e.g. the distance to the closest defender). The more time he has, the less accuracy he needs to trade off for speed.
  119. A lot of basketball coaches are reluctant to have their players work on shooting techniques, especially in the middle of the season. This wide-spread reluctancy is due to the belief that such practice will negatively affect the accuracy, at least in the short term.
  120. This belief is not wholly unfounded. Certainly changes to the shooting techniques may diminish the shooting efficiency, either temporarily or even permanently. However, this fact should not make one conclude that players are to avoid working on their shooting techniques. Quite contrarily, players should continuously have that kind of practice.
  121. First of all, no matter what a player works on, the risk always exists: the net impact may be negative. If you want to absolutely avoid that risk, you can’t practice at all.
  122. Secondly, working on shooting techniques is not the same thing as changing them. All kinds of athletes are constantly honing their basic skills down without a second thought. Why should basket players’ shooting techniques be turned into a special case?
  123. Thirdly, an important part of improving as a basketball player is enhancing your shooting efficiency. Up to a point, It is possible to do that by simply accumulating more repetitions, but eventually at least fine-tuning shooting techniques is needed, too,
  124. Fourthly, when a technical change causes a negative net impact, it is often due to the usage of explicit teaching methods. Explicit methods make the player consciously control what he has been previously been controlling unconsciously, and this change often diminishes the efficiency. So, it is not practicing shooting techniques that should be avoided but rather explicit teaching methods.
  125. In this context, “automated” and “automatic” are often used as antonyms of “conscious”. However, “unconscious” is a more precise choice. That is because the brain will always remain in control when motor skills are executed. It is the amount of consciousness required that changes.
  126. Adding to the amount of conscious control is a risk because it may lead to “decreased accuracy, reduced power output, slower movements, and overall depressed motor performance”. So, the disruptive effect has to do with the timing and rhythm of neurons firing.
  127. Consciously controlling a motor performance may also harm the tactical performance of an athlete. That is because conscious control “uses the resources of working memory because it requires that task-relevant declarative knowledge be recalled from storage in memory and manipulated consciously to control the movements of the task”. When this happens, less working memory capacity is left for e.g. making tactical decisions. Hence their quality may suffer.
  128. Once again, it must be noted that it is not either conscious control or unconscious control. Rather than contraries, they are a complementary pair – just as the pairs that have been discussed above: closed skill & open skill; variability of practice & specificity of practice; contextual & universal.
  129. In fact, a widely accepted theoretical framework describes motor learning as a process where an athlete, while moving from the novice stage towards the expert stage, gradually relies less and less on conscious control, and more and more on unconscious control.
  130. The problem with this framework is that elite athletes do not act the way that the framework predicts. On the contrary, they  are very able to consciously control their movement and to modify it in order to enhance their performance. In fact, this ability seems to be a requisite for improving into an elite athlete in the first place.
  131. Obviously, this holds true for efficient shooters in basketball, too. Most of them can e.g. explain intelligently what it is that they do. This shouldn’t be true given the theoretical framework mentioned above.
  132. To resolve this paradox, the only possibility seems to be to look into different definitions of conscious control. Recently, there have been interesting articles on the subject by e.g. Toner and Moran and Winter et al. My next conclusions are largely based on those two articles.
  133. It has been well shown that if conscious control is defined as consciously paying detailed attention to movements of body parts,  then conscious control does harm the performance.
  134. However, there is another kind of conscious control that may used to enhance performance: athletes may (consciously) monitor their performance on-line and use the results to consciously control and optimize their performance. The process is conscious but only up to a point: the adjustments of actual  body-part movements are left up to unconscious control.
  135. The theory helps to explain why one-word holistic cues may be used consciously to improve performance: they lead unconscious control into a proper direction without disturbing its functioning.
  136. This also helps to explain the rationale for using implicit learning methods discussed above, especially analogies. If anything, they are one-word holistic cues.
  137. In a nutshell, this much is clear now: When aiming to improve a player’s shooting efficiency, Coach should use teaching methods that encourage using unconscious control rather than conscious control. And when conscious control is used, it is to be used in the form of analogies, or one-word holistic cues, whenever possible.
  138. However, a complication remain: what if a player’s intrinsic dynamics or existing motor skills do not allow for him to connect the dots? In other words, what if the cue does lead the unconscious control into the right direction, yet the unconscious control can’t make the required action happen?
  139. In praxis, for example, Coach may use the analogy “Ceiling!” The player may very well realize that his shots are too flat. Yet he may be unable to make the arch higher through unconscious control.
  140. Then it may be necessary that Coach should make corrections using explicit instructions that get the player to pay detailed attention to movements of his body parts.  That does run the risk of initially disrupting the shooting efficiency, but it may prove to be beneficial in the long run.
  141. Even though the aforementioned risk does exist, it is not inevitable that it should be realized. You are to use your coaching skills to keep that from happening, while at the same time making sure that necessary changes do take place.
  142. While running a shooting practice, you are to keep a keen eye on the player’s performance. If his efficiency suffers even briefly because of your instructions, you may be overloading the player’s working memory.
  143. If that is the case, you should probably simplify your instructions. A useful rule of thumb is to have the player concentrate on only one thing at a time.
  144. When considering whether to take the aforementioned risk of disrupting the player’s unconscious control, you should consider e.g. the phase of the season and the phase of the athlete’s career. The further away the next game is, the lower the risks are. And the more seasons the athlete still has ahead, the bigger the potential gain is.
  145. Perhaps most importantly, Coach and the player must decide how high they are to set the bar. They need to consider where the limits of the player’s potential seem to lie and what his career goals are.
  146. Say you’re a 6-7 center with a decent mid-range jumper but no 3-point shot. Developing a reliable 3-point shooting technique would take practice time and might compromise the efficiency of your mid-range jumper, and yet no results would be guaranteed.  However, if you want to advance to a high European level, you must take the risk and try to turn into a stretch four. But if that type of advancement doesn’t seem possible or isn’t your goal, you may very well remain the mid-range shooting center you’re now and be quite successful at a lower level of play.

FT Frequency Revised – Or Why Four Factors Should Be Six Factors

FT frequency is one of the Four Factors, the basketball analysis framework developed by Dean Oliver. The equation he uses is:

  • FT frequency = FTM / FGA

However, there are severe problems with the equation – in fact so severe that the FT factor should be split into two.

One of the problems with Oliver’s equation is that negative occurrences may cause FT frequency to rise. I.e. if the shooter misses a FG shot where he gets fouled it affects the FT frequency more positively than if he gets fouled and makes the shot. That is because a missed foul FG shot will not add to the number of FG attempts, as a made foul FG shot does, and because a missed foul FG shot provides the offense with two FTA, whereas a made foul FGS will only provide one.

Example: Say you have made one 2-point FG shot where there has been no foul. Then you take a second one, and this time there is a foul. If you make the FG shot, you earn a bonus FT. Make it, and the equation becomes:

  • FT Frequency = 1 / 2 = 0.5

Should you instead miss your second FG shot and make one of the subsequent FT attempts, the equation is:

  • FT frequency = 1 / 1 = 1.0.

So, now the FT frequency is higher even though your FT% is lower and even though you have drawn the same number of fouls as in the previous case.

The other problem with Oliver’s FT frequency equation is practical. A team’s FT frequency will not tell how they have done regarding the two basic aspects of free throws: earning FTA and making them. Hence they must have separate indicators.

This is hardly surprising since in 2007 Kubatko, Oliver, Pelton and Rosenbaum wrote: “This would imply Five Factors, but this one term [FT frequency] tends to capture the most important elements of both.” As shown above, their second claim was incorrect.

To measure a team’s ability to hit FT’s there is no better tool than FT%.

To measure a team’s ability to earn FT’s I suggest this equation:

  • FT frequency = FT Sets / Plays

As shown above, neither FTA nor FTM should be the dividend since getting fouled and missing the FG shot would lead to more FTA and FTM than getting fouled and making the FG shot. I.e. a less positive outcome would have a more positive effect on the FT frequency.

So, the only options left for the dividend are the number of number defensive fouls or the number of FT sets. The context here is Four Factors where the independent variables cover endings of plays. Since a defensive foul will not necessarily be the ending of play but a FT set will be, it makes sense to choose the number of FT sets as the dividend. Also, FT sets are more directly linked to FT frequency than the total number of defensive fouls is. In a previous blog I already turned Four Factors into Five Factors.

This splitting the FT frequency into two factors turns Five Factors into Six Factors. And this is where it ends. Hence the Four Factors turned into Six Factors are:

  1. Clean effective field goal percentage
  2. Foul effective field goal percentage
  3. Turnover percentage
  4. Offensive rebounding percentage
  5. Free throw frequency
  6. Free throw percentage

Five Factors – or Improving the Validity of Four Factors

Four Factors, developed by Dean Oliver, is a widespread concept in basketball performance analysis. Yet there is a serious flaw in it: it uses eFG% to measure the efficiency of field goal shooting. This is an invalid procedure, as shown here.

What then would be a valid indicator for the efficiency of field goal shooting within the framework of Four Factors?

Actually, two indicators are needed: eFG% of FG shots where the shooter is not fouled in the act of shooting (clean eFG%) and eFG% of FGS shots where the shooter is fouled in the act of shooting (foul eFGS%). This is the most useful way of including all FG shots  in the analysis – even those shots where the shooter is fouled and misses the shot.

The equations are:

  •                       Clean eFG% = (Clean FG + .5 x Clean 3P) / Clean FG shots
  •                       Foul eFG% = (Foul FG + .5 x Foul 3P) / Foul FG shots

Adding to the number of variables adds to the complexity of the analysis. However, the practical value of the analysis is also improved since now getting to the free throw line and hitting FG shots are measured as separate issues. At this point Four Factors have turned into Five Factors:

  1. Clean effective field goal percentage
  2. Foul effective field goal percentage
  3. Turnovers per possession
  4. Offensive rebounding percentage
  5. Free throw frequency

However, Five Factors will eventually become Six Factors, since there is a practical and theoretical problem with the factor of free throw frequency.

Blog: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet in Basketball

Last summer, Team USA won the FIBA world championship easily. Not one team could actually compete with them. What was that about?

To me the main teaching was that basketball is an underdeveloped sport – a work very much in progress.

That is because Team USA overwhelmed everyone with their combination of athletism and sufficient amount of technical skill. In other words, no opponent was physically capable of putting them in a position where any advanced tactical skills would have been required.

The fact that that type of one-dimensional dominance was enough to win a world championship, showed that the sport itself is underdeveloped. In more fully developed sports – say, European or American football – a combination of high-class tactical, technical, and physical capabilities is needed in order to be the best in the world.

Okay, maybe the FIBA World Cup is a bad example? Maybe it’s rather the NBA champions San Antonio Spurs that have it all: techniques, tactics, athletism?

Much has been made of the Spurs’ collectivistic team play. And yes, relatively speaking they do play collectivistically – in other words, collectivistically for an NBA team.

That is because in that league, the individualistic line of thinking is the default setting. When NBA star players work towards the common good – i.e. do the job of a basketball player – they are thought to nobly sacrifice their game.

In European high-level basketball, it is rather collectivism that is the default setting. Compared to the top European teams, the Spurs’ tactical competence nothing to cheer about. Just consider what happened in their preseason loss to Alba Berlin.

What does all this mean regarding future, then? That when it comes to basketball, you ain’t seen nothing yet. There is plenty of room for improvement. First, a combination of high-class techniques, tactics and athletism must be reached. Only after that, we can really go to work.

Blog: Much of Basketball Performance Analysis Is Invalid Because eFG% Is an Invalid Metric for Measuring the Efficiency of FG Shooting

Whenever you see basketball performance analysis where eFG% is used as the metric to measure the efficiency of FG shooting, you immediately know that the whole analysis is invalid.

Since eFG% is widely used, much of the current basketball performance analysis is invalid.

Nothing helps: not the huge amount of the data, not the sophistication of the analysis methods, not the great looks of the graphics. In a way, they only make matters worse sonce they help hide the invalidity of the underlying assumptions.

The invalidity of eFG% is due to an obvious yet ignored fact: eFG% does not consider all FG shots. The equation of eFG% is:

eFG% = (FGM + 0.5 x 3PM) / FGA

The problems is that not all FG shots count as FGA. If the shooter gets fouled in the act of shooting and misses the shot, that FG shot is not considered an FGA in the statistics.

Consequently, eFG% does not measure the efficiency of all FG shots but the sample is systematically biased. This makes all performance analysis, where eFG% involved, invalid when it comes measuring the efficiency of FG shooting.

Despite this obvious bias, eFG% continues to be widely used. Why? Probably because it is easily derived from the basic box score stats.

Thus implementing eFG% requires no extra work. Rather than ponder the validity the underlying assumptions, analysts concentrate on putting together new formulas or new graphics.

For glossary of terms, see Basketball Reference.

Blog: Teachings of NBA Playoffs 2014

These ideas occurred to me when watching the NBA Playoffs 2014. A half of these ideas are gathered from my previous (now deleted) posts, but the other half I have not posted before.

Idolizing Spurs

* Some basketball people now seem to think that all NBA teams should now try to implement the strategy and tactics of Spurs. However, as in any business, this type of imitation is bound to lead to failure.

* Even though Spurs’ tactics worked last season, who says they will be any good this season?

* Think of Lakers in 2011. After winning two championships in a row, they got swept in the playoffs by Mavericks – partly because their famed triangle offense had gotten outdated.

* What happened to idolizing the strategy and tactics of Miami Heat? They have made it to the championship series four times in row and won the championship in 2012 and 2013.

Performance Analysis

* In team sports, the analysis of past performances will never be able to tell what the future performance should be like.

* Performance analysis is an important tool for developing performance, but its importance and predictive power are exaggerated by the PA industry and the media.

* The more precisely and rigidly a team follows the guidelines derived from the analysis of past performances, the more vulnerable it becomes.

Misusage of Terms

* Usually there is nothing extra about an “extra pass” but the term simply refers to a pass that is made by a player, who is in a decent position to shoot, to a teammate, who is in a better position to shoot.

* What are often referred to as “little things” in basketball tend to be not little things but big things that are called little only because they do not appear in the box score.

* The term “look-away pass” is most often literally incorrect, because the passer does not look away but rather keeps facing the basket and sees what the defense does. In other words, he does not turn his shoulder towards the direction of his eventual pass.

Positionless Basketball

* At the highest level of play, any simple-sounding action is hard to execute successfully. The physical, technical, and tactical constraints are strict.

* That is why “positionless basketball” will never happen at the highest level of play. Players must specialize in certain skills to be able to execute them efficiently even where the air is thin.

* A paradox: The more optimally a coach wishes to utilize his players’ unique skills, the more functionally specialized his system should be. Yet the more functionally specialized a system is, the more difficult it becomes to make it functionally integrated.

Watching and Learning

* If a coach watches basketball in order to improve himself as a coach, he shouldn’t watch exclusively NBA basketball (or any other one league).

* Rather, a coach should watch a wide variety of b-ball: different countries, different levels, different age groups, both sexes.

* Exposure to wholly different types of basketball will allow a coach to learn more than watching the NBA teams over and over again.

Blog: Theory and Practice in Children’s Sports

During the past couple of years I have been reading some scientific literature on children’s sports but also following the phenomenon as a parent. The following remarks are some of my observations on the clash between the two worlds, theory and practice.

1) The lure of early specialization and early selection is strong.

Benefits of sampling – doing multiple sports as a kid – have been well shown but the problem is that the greatest benefits become apparent only years later. And the same goes for late selection.

Yet what helps children succeed asap is early specialization, and what helps the children’s team win asap is early selection. That’s obvious to all stakeholders. That is also why early specialization is still often encouraged and why early selection is still a normal procedure.

Also, children’s coaches are often inexperienced. Hence they do not have the first-hand experience of long-term benefits of sampling and late specialization.

2) Games and competitions enhance learning

To fully enjoy the benefits of sampling, a kid should not only practice multiple sports but also compete in them. Meaning, take part in “official” competitions and games.

First, competing is an exciting and memorable activity in itself.

Secondly, the incomparable excitement and purposefulness of competing enhances learning. The games and competitions are learning opportunities as such, but kids also practice more intensely when they know that they are going to compete.

Think about it this way. In an off-season practice, children’s ice hockey team may play soccer to add variety to the training. Is it effective? Or would it be more effective if the children practiced with an actual soccer team in a different social set-up under a real enthusiastic soccer coach to prepare for real exciting games played real uniforms?

3) Changes in weather enhance learning

When it comes to motor learning variability is good, generally speaking. One of the inherent advantages that outdoor sports have over indoor sports is that outdoors, practice conditions inevitably change from practice to practice, often during a single practice. This provides the athletes and coaches an automatic form of contextual interference. Conversely in indoor sports, practice conditions remain more or less the same all through the season.

4) Motor skill teaching is still done old school

Recently, research has changed a lot of assumption about motor learning. Now coaches should consider e.g. external focus of attention, self-controlled practice, random practice, implicit learning and practicing first with the non-dominant limb.

Breakthroughs in research have not yet caused a revolution in the way children are coached. Mainly it is still internal focus, blocked practice, start with the dominant limb and so on.