Defining Technical Skill in Basketball

This entry is the latest chapter in the blog Complexity, Creativity, and Everything. The addition was made on Wednesday March 22, 2017. The whole blog is here.

Given what I have written previously, it seems appropriate to apply conscious control in basketball games and practices. But it is also commonly claimed that the goal of motor learning is to learn to execute motor skills without conscious control. Where does this contradiction stem from?

To me it seems to stem from the differences in how technical skill is defined in the two different approaches towards basketball. These approaches have been discussed in my blog: complicated systems approach and complex systems approach. Most often the definitions of technical skill are not stated explicitly but become apparent by implication.

Generally speaking, skill may be defined as ”the ability to do something well”. Then the question becomes what this ”something” is when referring to technical skill.

In the complicated systems approach the implied definition of technical skill is that it is the ability to execute well a collection of sport-specific movement patterns. Often those patterns are first learned and only then used in appropriate game situations.

For example, a player practices jump shot trying to imitate a certain pre-determined movement pattern – i.e. ”text-book jump shot” – and then takes the same type of shots in games when opportunities arise.

From the point of view of complicated systems this definition mentioned makes sense because in complicated systems “one can usually predict outcomes by knowing the starting conditions”. In other words, it can be predicted which movement patterns will be useful once learned properly.

In some sports the complicated systems approach works. For example, a figure skater must jump a triple Lutz in a certain fashion strictly determined by the rules. And if he learns to do the Lutz, he will probably be able to install into his program.

But as noted above, invasion team sports such as basketball are definitely not complicated systems but rather complex ones. Therefore the definition of technical skill developed within the complicated systems approach is not valid in basketball. That is for two reasons, both discussed above:

  • In complex systems, the future is unpredictable.
  • In basketball the technical dimension is subordinate to the tactical dimension.

In other words, a player’s motor behavior is a series of attempts to execute tactical tasks set up by tactical decisions relevant to the present game situations. What those tasks will be is unpredictable because game situations are unpredictable.

For example, even if a player can consistently hit his text-book jump shot from a certain distance, it may not be all that useful for him in game situations. That is e.g. because the opponents will do their best to stop him from using his text-book jump shot.

Additionally, for each tactical task, there is an infinite number of solutions. For example, the ball can be shot into the basket in an infinite number of ways from any position on the floor.

For these reasons it is not necessary for a basketball player to learn certain pre-determined motor patterns (e.g. ”text-book” jump shot). Rather, in basketball technical skill can be defined as the ability to find well viable motor behavior solutions to relevant game situations.

The number of possible solutions is infinite. For example in a jump shot the rules allow any movement pattern for as long as the ball is not punched. Thus the solutions to tactical tasks may turn out to be may be quite individual.

Complexity, Creativity, and Everything

“Basketball is interaction between the two teams and the rules of basketball.”

That was my definition of basketball I wrote in a previous blog. In this blog, I will first try to justify the aforementioned definition. Then I will discuss where it takes us – in other words, what it implies regarding coaching, practicing, and playing basketball.

There will be profound questions about complexity, collectivism, creativity, variability, mindfulness. All the way through, I will draw practical conclusions from the theoretical musings.

As James C. Maxwell remarked: “There is nothing more practical than a good theory.”

I am writing this piece by piece. The latest addition was made on Wednesday March 22. The update starts with the subheading Defining Technical Skill in Basketball.

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Let Us Re-imagine Basketball

We should re-imagine basketball.

The current equipment and rules are designed to suit men’s top level. Elite players can go coast-to-coast in a flash, palm the ball, throw end-to-end passes, dunk the ball thunderously, hit threes as if they were lay-ups. You know, do all kinds of cool stuff.

The rest – kids, women, recreational male players – are left with a ball game that’s nice not really suited for them. This could be changed. We could modify the rules so that players of all levels would get to really enjoy the game.

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Why eFG% Is Invalid 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 since they help hide the invalidity of the underlying assumptions.

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Improving Andre Drummond’s Free Throw

In a previous blog entry, I wrote about shooting and practicing shooting at a general level. Here I try to show how to implement those ideas into a real-life situation.

To make this concrete and familiar, let’s have a look at a much-publicized dilemma: an NBA player’s free throw shooting technique that is flawed and produces bad results. In other words, let’s look at Andre Drummond’s free throw shooting.

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Remarks on Shooting and Practicing Shooting

This entry is an attempt to combine some principles and some nuts and bolts regarding shooting and practicing shooting. Originally, I published this post in March 2015.

In November 2015 I put it back together piece by piece and also added some new remarks. The latest additions were made on Monday Nov 30. Drills related to this entry can be found in this blog entry.

Shooting Accuracy and Efficiency Are Not the Same Thing

For starters we must define the primary goal of shooting practice. That definition is a prerequisite for any intelligent discussion about the subject. That is because if we do not know exactly what shooting practice should accomplish, it is impossible to assess its efficiency.

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Coach, Why Do We Practice This?

Recently I started putting together a practice plan, as I usually do. This time it proved to be a laborious task because I couldn’t stop asking this question:

What should players practice?

This wasn’t just an acute question regarding the content of that particular session. Rather the question concerned me at a more general level. Meaning, what types of tasks should be included? Scrimmaging, running, ball-handling, shooting, defensive footwork? Yes? No?

And, most importantly, why?

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