Do You Think Too Much When You Play?

By Don Kelbick

I am a huge proponent of leaving your brain at the door when you step on the court. I believe that over-thinking produces the most deadly of all game killers, “Analysis Paralysis.”

Just by looking at the words (a good English project for players) “analysis paralysis” means what it says, you are unable to take action because you are examining your action so closely that it forces you to freeze.

I also believe that coaches, in our desire to create the best players that we can, foster analysis paralysis by our teaching coaching methods. Insisting on attention to the minutest detail, focusing on the tiniest minutiae when performing skills, such as shooting, while well-intentioned often produces a result that is opposite of what we intend.

When shooting, concentrating on elbows, launch angles, aim, etc. places emphasis on the wrong priorities. Shooting is a skill of kinesthetic sense and feel. Anything that gets in the way of that feel, diminishes results (have you ever tried to aim a shot with a 6′ 10″ athletic monster with the wing span of a 747 running at you?). When a player misses a shot and goes back to the minutiae for correction, odds are his shot will get worse, not better.

I find analogies in the strangest places but I am easily able to relate them to my teaching. When I find something that I think will support my coaching philosophy, I integrate it into my teaching. My latest discovery comes from watching football player Plaxico Burress.

If you have never seen the TV show “Sport Science,” you owe it to yourself to search it out and watch a few episodes. “Sport Science” looks for scientific reasons behind many sports phenomena, it even creates some itself. Some examples of the show include a scientific study of who is more accurate at 25 yards, Drew Brees of the New Oleans Saints in the NFL or an Olympic Gold Medalist in Archery (it was Brees), who has faster hands NBA guard Jared Bayless or a rock and roll drummer (Bayless) or what is the most effective distraction on the foul line (it was not physical distraction of people acting crazy behind the basket or the sound of 20,000 people booing). It is truly fascinating stuff and it might blow away some of your theories behind your playing or teaching.

In the episode featuring Plaxico Burress, I don’t know if it was BP (before prison) or AP (after prison), they were studying the effect of pass patterns and timing on completion rate. They asked Burress to run multiple pass pattern; buttonhooks, in patterns, out patterns, slants; and simulated when the ball would arrive. I don’t know how they come up with this stuff, but they scientifically measure things like deviation, probability, etc.

Here is the payoff. After having Burress run patterns and measure them for accuracy, consistency, speed, etc., they had him run the same patterns blindfolded. BLINDFOLDED! These were the results, when blindfolded, there was LESS variation in his pass patterns then when he could see. In addition, the variation between the patterns with and without the blindfold was less than 1″ vertically and less than 2.5″ laterally. That means he was able to virtually duplicate his patterns whether he could see or not.

Both Burress and the Sports Science people attribute this to the huge amount of repetition he has had in running these patterns.

I believe that repetition is the key to becoming proficient with any skill. When it becomes an unconscious action, it gets better. If you do the same thing over and over and over, accept the little variations as being human as opposed to being failures, eventually you will get good at what you do. That is not to say that there aren’t more efficient ways than others, but the search for efficiency should not overcome the search for effectiveness.

Don’t think about what you do, just do it over and over again until it becomes an unconscious action, like walking. You don’t think about putting one foot in front of the other when you walk, yet you still get to where you are going. Don’t think when you play. You might be surprised at the result.

To view coaching products from Don Kelbick, go to Don Kelbick Products.

For more information on Don Kelbick, go to www.DonKelbickBasketball.com.

3 Comments

  1. Kevin Monahan — December 7, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

    I have 8-9 year olds who have just played their first game. I have been teaching them to not look at their defender when they have the ball and to just do it: shoot, dribble or pass. They have a tendency to pick up their dribble after they have beaten their defender and look right in his eyes rather than follow through with an open shot or lay up. The Lay Up drill I got from Breakthrough stresses that lay ups are made with the eyes. So are passes, jump shots and dribble drives. I teach them to look at what their goal is whether it’s space on the floor, a teammate or the basket. The defender’s position is irrelevant unless he’s beaten you to the space. If he has, the plan is to reverse dribble away from the block.
    Though it’s my first year coaching, watching my older kids play ion the same league I saw a lot of great moves and drives that ended up with the player (9-12 year olds) stopping his dribble among 3 defenders with his head down protecting the ball or looking at his defenders face as if it would help him figure a way out of his jam. I’m teaching and training my current players to have a sequence planned out: Dribble drive to an open space and pull up to shoot or pass while you still have the advantage over the defender.

  2. AI — August 12, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

    I think you are partially right. Thinking too much during competition will hurt you. Thinking too much on a shot can cause you to miss. Thinking too much in fast pace game can slow you down. But I also think it’s good to think because your game will improve over time. Eventually, these thoughts become instinctive moves. It’s better to put thoughts that eventually translate to instinct than just do everything instinctively w/o paying any attentions to your flaws.

  3. Zayden — January 23, 2019 @ 12:37 pm

    I Struggle A lot with this issue. I think way too much as I play and I am a Freshman in High School. Is there any drills that could help me and fellow teammates fix this?

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