13 Takeaways on the Games Approach

Basketball Immersion founder Chris Oliver came on the Fireside Chat last week to discuss some of his philosophies with high school and college coaches. Here are 13 notes that I took away from what he shared about the games approach.

1. Block vs. Serial.

Block Practice: Do the same thing over and over again. No variation. A coach might for instance take a traditional Mican Drill and tell a player to make 10 in a row. Another one is telling a player to take ten free throws in a row.

Serial Practice: The player knows the order but the type of shots changes. For example the 42 drill, mixes a 3, mid-range shot, and lay-up.

Serial practice is not perfect in simulating everything that can happen in a game, but it is much better than block practice. Serial practice is much more game-like since it mixes up the types of shots which is more likely to happen in a game. Coaches and athletes are still more reliant on block practice. Block practice generates better results and leaves both the player and coach with a false sense of accomplishment.

2. Don’t Skip Perception & Decision

If we just work on the biomechanics of taking a lay-up, it will not be effective. There are four things that go into the how of teaching. Perception, decision, execution, and feedback. When we teach players the stereotypical two step “fundamental” lay-up lines, we ignore perception and decision. There are not defenders present. There also is no consideration as to when to drive, if a pass is the better decision, or if an unconventional finish is better.

3. Developing Comfort & Confidence

There are still opportunities to teach traditional methods. As a result of focusing squarely on execution of a technique players develop comfort and confidence. Much like riding a bicycle, training wheels lead to a step. At a certain point though, we need to consider how much this comfort and confidence transfers to the game. Defense and random sequences in games change the perceptions. Players only improve in decision making when they play many of these randomized scenarios and get feedback not just on the technique, but the decision as well. Oliver consistently advocates for whole-part-whole on his podcast. You can think of a player’s technique as being a part. Ultimately though coaches spend a disproportionate amount of time on this technique when it almost never serves players in games.

4. Visual Stimulus

The first visual thing players see once they reach a state of general comfort and confidence is a defense. Then a basket. That is how it almost always works in a game. Unfortunately, players are not given enough of an opportunity in shooting and finishing drills to work against a defense. As a result, they are ill-prepared to ever give the basket a look in games. Thus, in drills, players need to practice some other considerations other than just the basket. A dummy defender is better than no defender.

5. Learning through Watching

Video representation of great shooting technique will transfer to your player’s shooting. Chris Oliver told us it is less important for players to seek out male or female role models when it comes to good shooting. What matters more is to find a lefty for lefties and a righty for righties. The shooter could be a pro, but does not have to be. When players watch these shooters, be very specific in telling them what to watch for. Players watch the ball too often. It is not the ball that dictates the shot. If you want to point out the feet of a shooter, tell them specifically to watch the feet. Ditto for the elbow or the eyes.

6. Memory Vs. Retention

Mindless exercise and routines does not lead to retention. It leads to memory. In order for players to retain information we need to interleave or mix in different concepts. Skills are not taught independently they are taught interdependently. Peter Brown stuff.

7. Unrealistic Drills

Chris Oliver loves to point out the insignificance of the 3-man weave. It’s the hockey version of the Flying V. It will never happen in an actual game. I ditched the weave years ago, but the zig zag drill is still a staple of mine. It is another drill that is not realistic in the way it is run. Offenses should go in straight lines and beat their defender. It should be more of a sprint and recover drill than going side to side.

8. Messy Practices

Oliver loves messy practices. Good practices are messy. It means that mistakes were made. That is why this the games approach. A game is not perfect. Players struggle and are challenged. Coaches offer feedback. Players and the team get better.

9. Cut out Dribbling

Time spent with players is precious. Chris Oliver does not bother teaching dribbling. Players can learn that and practice that on their own before they ever get to practice. Youth levels it might be a little different since players are not ready or strong enough for other skills. Making lay-ups and driving at the youth level is a much more important skill, so dribbling can be incorporated in that general process.

10. Play 5 on 5.

Chris Oliver wants to start practice with 5 on 5. Some coaches like 3 on 3 or 4 on 4, and those have their benefit depending on what you are emphasizing and trying to teach. In terms of the games approach, the extra defenders in 5 on 5 versus 3 on 3 make a tremendous difference. Spacing is completely altered by the presence of extra players. Especially with ball screen defense.

11. Stop the Action for Feedback.

He will stop 5 on 5 immediately when he sees an error or reason to address the team. At first players that play for him find it annoying. When they eventually see just how often in practice they get to play 5 on 5 they quickly change their tune.

12. Structure Fosters Creativity

Offenses need to be structured. Creativity is born out of structure. The difficulty comes when there are too many absolutes within a structure. That is when players become robots. They stop reading the defense and stop enjoying the game. The games approach allows players an environment to refine their decision-making and technique in the same environment.

13. Skip the Fluff

Most coaches at the high school level have two weeks to get ready. They need to skip the fluff. No more mindless drills like 3-man weave. Inbound plays add value because they happen in games. Do not overdo it though. Multiple systems will be a waste of time. Stick to something you believe in and let players grow in that system.

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