And I Thought My Workouts Were Boring...
I remember the time in my career where I started to turn the corner and really improve as a shooting coach. Working with a university team in Canada, I had success with some players, but still didn't FULLY understand what I was teaching. I knew what I wanted a shot to look like but I didn't have a full grasp on why or how. I didn't know what my priorities were and what my non-negotiables were either.
Through experience, I started to slowly piece those things together. I really started to understand what the key parts of a shot were and what I was willing to compromise on so that the player would be comfortable.
Around that time, I had a conversation with my mentor who said something along the lines of “until the player gets it, you can't move on.” I realized that in my workouts in the past, I would feel the need to keep the player doing different things all the time. Maybe I was afraid they would get bored or maybe I felt the need to show off my vast (or so I thought) knowledge of shooting. Or maybe I just didn't yet have a grasp of what was critical for that player.
Listening to that line, I realized that I was taking the shotgun approach to coaching shooting; say or do a bunch of different things and hope one of them helps. I challenged myself to really grow as a coach and improve my craft. I wanted to learn what was critical to each player I was working with and really help them improve that one habit, knowing that the results would follow.
My workouts slowed down dramatically. I identified a habit and would doggedly work to correct it. My workouts were very different than those of other coaches around me, but I felt like I was serving a different purpose. It wasn’t about getting reps or being concerned with conditioning; I was working to change a habit in the middle of a complex movement.
But still, I worried that maybe my workouts were too slow. After all, most guys wouldn't break a sweat in a hour with me and a lot of times we'd basically do the same drill (with a couple little variations) for a whole workout. I worried that maybe I needed to be more like everyone else.
Then, I went to watch a few workouts my mentor did. By this time he had cemented his place as the best shooting coach in the NBA and I was really curious what pearls I could come away with.
The biggest thing I learned was that at times, his workouts could be even slower than mine (at that point in time). And the reasoning was simple: if a baby can't walk yet, why teach it to run?
With many fundamental flaws, if you don't correct them in the beginning, you have dramatically lowered the potential ceiling of the player. In the last few years, I've learned that if you can be patient and spend a few more days or weeks to really solidify the habit, it allows the player to speed through later steps because their fundamentals are now solid.
So resist the urge to do counterproductive drills in order to keep a player engaged. You’ll find that often times, increasing the speed of a session will cause the player to revert to old habits.
You may need to get creative and find productive ways instead, all while doing the necessary work to really build a new habit. These creative ways can be as simple as a scoring challenge, a time limit, a new spot on the floor, or a new way of saying something. The variations of a drill may all accomplish the same thing, but allow the player to feel like they are doing something different. It's all great.
Young players will ask how to improve their consistency but when I'm watching them, all they do is shoot shots well out of their range. “Do you have a drill to help me hold my follow through,” they will ask. “Yes, slow down, move in, shoot a shot, hold your follow through, and repeat repeat repeat.” It's not that players aren't capable of changing a habit. More often, it is the realization that THEY actually need to hold themselves accountable to build it. Many times slowing down and moving in are key parts of that.
I’ve realized that when I do camps, sessions, and clinics with younger players, I won’t have them for the amount of time that they will need to truly change habits and make progress. What I’ve tried to teach them is how to hold themselves accountable, essentially becoming their own shooting coaches.
Those good, perfect reps that I mentioned are the only way to build new habits and if the player isn’t willing to slow down and do those reps, they will continue on their current trajectory. If they are willing to buy in to the process and work to correct the mechanical flaws in their jumper with every rep, only then can they raise their ceiling as a shooter. Just don't compromise what is truly important in order to make “progress”. Progress will come on its own time.