The art of deliberate practice [with drill video]

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about needing 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. It is a number that can be overwhelming to almost anyone. I recently listened to a Freakonomics podcast, “How to Become Great at Just About Anything,” that discusses the importance of practice. There are several ideas that relate to aspiring basketball players.

What is deliberate practice?

Deliberate practice requires the instruction of an experienced teacher or coach who can help an individual attain a higher level of performance. Today’s players need the guidance that only a coach can provide. The weekend tournament games are fun but very revealing. Though the lack of fundamentals is often talked about, it’s very understated. Walk into any gym and watch the players of any age — they are all just jacking up long jumpers. As coaches, we must find a way to instill the proper way to practice by helping players define specific goals. Fundamentals are the key to success in any endeavor. In fact, our aim as coaches should be to help our young athletes develop the proper disciplines and skills that will help them succeed in LIFE!

“We actually find that with the right kind of training, any individual will be able to acquire abilities that were previously viewed as only attainable if you had the right kind of genetic talent.” –Anders Ericsson, Research psychologist and author

Focusing on technique

For young basketball players, I emphasize the importance of making lay-ups and free throws. Nothing is more important to the success of the individual and team than being able to consistently make lay-ups and free throws. Being able to use both hands is a skill that seems to be lost. I try to make sure each practice includes several different drills using both hands driving to the basket. The old “Mikan”drill is still the best for teaching the use of both hands. Use it as a warm up drill everyday, and notice the improvement as the season goes on. Your players will not like it at first. It does not have much of a “cool” factor!

Another way to work on lay-ups is to make your players dribble the length of the floor with a defensive player on him all the way to the basket. Only allow strong defensive pressure, no blocked shots from the defensive player. I have found that just having a defensive player near them changes the entire drill. The offensive players need to get in the habit of making a lay-up with someone on them! Do this on both sides of the basket. This becomes not only a lay-up drill but a great conditioning drill as well.

Fundamentals have not really been lost. The best, most serious players have always embraced the desire to get better. They are coachable and eager to learn. As their coach, provide them the leadership they need.

The Mikan Drill

Here’s a video from illustrating the Mikan Drill.