7 Keys to Effective Player Development

Have you ever heard this quote, “Individuals get better in the off-season, teams get better during the season.”

While I appreciate the mindset behind this, that team development must be the #1 priority during the season, I feel this statement implies that individual player development isn’t important from November to March.

If that’s the case, I highly disagree. Individuals need to get better during the season as well. In fact, the most effective way to improve your team is to improve yourself!

Individual player development (which should include both athleticism & movement training as well as basketball skills & fundamentals) should be addressed and given priority at every practice. To what extent you should focus on these elements depends on the age & level of the player, the length of practice and the time during season (early pre-season vs. playoff time).

I know you can’t win if you don’t rebound. I realize that ‘defense wins championships.’ However, the name of the game is to put the ball in the bucket. So working on offensive moves and getting up quality reps of game shots from game spots at game speed is paramount to a team’s success.

Before he coached his first practice as the head coach of Butler, a colleague recommended Brad Stevens have a manager chart how many shots his best player took during the 2+ hour practice. Coach Stevens ran what he thought was an excellent practice – in depth teaching, sound team concepts, etc. After practice he found out his best player took less than 25 shots the entire practice, which Coach Stevens immediately recognized was unacceptable. From that day forward he has implemented quality shooting drills in every practice.

Former NFL coach Jon Gruden laughs when coaches say, “We need to get back to working on the fundamentals” after a tough loss. Get back to them? Why did you abandon them in the first place? That’s probably why you lost!

While the amount of time you spend will vary, I firmly believe every practice should have an individual player development component.

Here are 7 keys to effective player development:

1. Build your game brick by brick. Every rep of every set of every practice is important. How you do anything is how you do everything. You build a house one brick at time. You build your game one drill at a time.

2. Leave your comfort zone. Once a player has the movement, skill or footwork down, they need to push harder than game speed. The harder you practice, the easier things become during games.

3. Be innovative. Casual spot shooting and stationary ball handling are more boring than yesterday’s newspaper. Plus one can argue how transferable those drills really are. Drills need to be innovative, yet purposeful. They need to be designed to improve game performance… not look cool for a YouTube video. Be innovative to improve effectiveness, not to look cool.

4. Know the ‘why’. Every drill must have perceived relevance. That means the player clearly understands how this particular skill or drill will improve their game performance. Will dribbling 3 basketballs reduce turnovers when the lights come on and the cheerleaders start dancing on Friday nights? Doubtful. Therefore it has minimal perceived relevance.

5. Use visualization. Great players like Kevin Durant and Chris Paul don’t just do a drill; they compete in that drill with the same focus and effort as if they were in the waning seconds of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. They imagine they are being guarded by an elite defender; not just ‘going around a cone.’

6. Avoid fatigue and boredom. These are two of the biggest killers of player development. You can combat this by being in excellent basketball shape and using innovative, purposeful drills (#2 above). When your body gets tired, your mind quickly follows. No one can get better at a skill when his or her mind and body are exhausted.

7. Do everything with precision. Details matter! Perfect form and footwork are imperative. If you want to build a beautiful brick house (#1), you have to lay every single brick with care and precision. Once you start sloppily laying bricks… the house suffers (both in appearance and structural integrity).

Also make sure you understand and remember that skill improvement is a process of 2’s:

It takes 2 minutes to learn a new move or new skill.

It takes 2 weeks to work on it daily until you develop confidence in it.

It takes 2 months of constant work to be competent enough to use it in a game.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful and I wish you the best the rest of this season.