Observations on Player Development Trends

This article mostly applies to private skills coaches and college coaches. Having never worked in the NBA and having only watched an NBA workout or practice a very small number of times, I’m not qualified to speak about player development at that level. And high school coaches are often in situations where it’s 25+ kids and 1 coach, meaning that some of the suggestions below just aren’t practically possible.

Also, this article will be more helpful to younger coaches than veteran coaches, because most of it is very basic stuff.

That having been said, here are some observations on player development trends based on watching a large number of player development/“skills” workouts in the last 20 years:

Not enough action versus a live defender

There is no doubt that a player can get more reps 1 on 0 than 1 on 1, and that teaching technique first is often a good idea before adding a defender to the drill. So, no one is arguing that 100% of a workout should be versus a live defender. That having been said, if we’re trying to get kids ready for the games (where they will be faced with a defender at least 90% of the time), then workouts should include at least some work versus a LIVE defender (not you with a pad!). Furthermore, by including a live defender most of the time (70% at least in my opinion), your kids will get way more defensive reps and will be in better shape, which can only help them.

Too many drills, not enough teaching

Way too many coaches put kids through drills without teaching them- the drill can only make a kid better if it’s done correctly, and that’s our main on-the-court job as coaches. The world’s best offensive drill only makes kids better who understand the importance of changing speeds and directions and using your hands, feet, and body to get open, who understand how to secure the ball on the catch with a good athletic base, who see the game on the catch- not just their defender, but all defenders, their teammates, and the rim, etc. At the end of the day, coaching between the lines is not about the drill, it’s about criticizing and correcting mistakes to improve a player’s core fundamental habits. So don’t “put a kid through a workout”- coach him.

Too many gimmicks

Everyone is working to be an innovator- partly because the “modern” kid gets bored more easily (or so they and we are told), partly for marketing purposes (because recruits, clients, and especially their parents love gimmicks), and partly because it seems we think we’re supposed to be “cutting edge.” However, it’s worth pointing out that the next time I see a tennis ball or a bell on the basketball court during a game will be the first time. Furthermore, Oscar Robertson and Pete Maravich managed to develop pretty decent skill sets with nothing more than “a boy and his ball.”

Too much standing and watching

Unfortunately, it’s quite common in a workout for all 5-15 players to be crowded around 1 basket with several other baskets left completely unoccupied. For the purposes of introducing the concept with just 1 coach in the gym, this approach can make sense initially- but long term, having smaller numbers working on each basket allows for many more reps and far more physical/cardiovascular/athletic conditioning.

Too many cookie-cutter workouts

Each individual player has individual needs, and no 2 players are exactly the same. However, many coaches’ workouts consist of players waiting in line for their “turn” in the same exact drill or dribble-move series or post-move sequence that the previous and next player are also doing. Yes, there are core fundamentals (footwork, balance, dribbling and passing technique, shooting mechanics, getting open, etc) that all players need to work on, so workouts can and often should have some common overlap- but workouts should also include a substantial amount of customization based on the needs, strength, and weaknesses of each individual player.

Players should learn to play with 2 feet

Learning to play with 2 feet allows for so much additional offensive versatility on the catch and to initiate a shot, pass, or drive, and playing with 2 feet also affords so many additional choices at the end of a drive.

Getting shots up is the one thing kids will work on in their free time

Getting shots up is a good thing, and as a former college coach, I rebounded for many kids over the years who wanted to “get some shots up.” Some of the time, they just wanted to get some extra reps, some of the time they wanted technical advice, some of the time they needed a confidence boost, and sometimes they actually wanted to talk about something totally unrelated to shooting. So I’m not knocking helping kids get shots up. Not at all. However, comparing all essential basketball skills, shooting is the essential skill that kids are by far most likely to work on when you’re not around. With this in mind, over-focusing on “getting shots up” during a planned workout is not in my opinion the wisest use of that limited time.

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