Player Development: The Missing Link

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What a great time to talk about player development! 

And today, we’re going to focus on what I’ve found to be the missing link in our current player development world.  

Often, when we think of or talk about player development, the focus is on developing a player’s hard skill like ball handling, finishing, or shooting. 

Hard skills like these are a huge piece of player development, and they typically get most of the focus during team practices and individual skill sessions.

Don’t get me wrong, developing a player’s skill set is important, BUT there’s a problem when we begin to teach these skills independent of decision making. 

You see, when we just teach the skill as a stand-alone or as a one-off separate from decision making, our players are only getting the “HOW” of that skill, but they won’t actually know WHEN to use it or WHY they should use it — and that’s where we’re failing them in their development.

When players see James Harden go between his legs on a crossover into a step-back three, they don’t really know WHY James Harden did it. They think it looks good because they see the crowd go crazy and it’s on SportsCenter, but they miss out on the bigger picture. 

What they don’t understand is WHY Harden uses that move to create space from his defender.

And HOW he’s spent thousands of hours working hard to not only develop the skill, but also the decision making attached to it.

As we’re teaching and developing our players’ skills, it’s important we add in decision-making to the skill. Simply doing things on air will not give players the context of how that skill translates to their actual game. 

Here’s what this can look like if we’re working on attacking/reading ball screens:

1. Bring out the hedge defender or include an on-ball defender for 2-on-2 situations. 

2. Set up 3-on-3 actions where the ball-handler has to simultaneously read the on-ball defender, hedge defender, and the help defender. 

This gives players the opportunity to incorporate decision making into the skills we’ve taught them.

We can apply this to any basketball skill we teach our players. Whether it’s developing multiple finishes at the rim or learning when to shoot or use a shot fake with a one-dribble pull-up — players flourish when they have the ability to make great decisions. 

The challenge is this: when you’re training players and developing their skills in practice, consider what decisions you’re having them make. 

Don’t miss the mark by focusing solely on their skills.

Instead, truly hone your players’ skills by putting them into decision-making situations — that’s true and complete player development.

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