Backhands and Basketball - Vital Lessons for Developing Players

Here I'm going to tell you a story about my tennis lessons and how they could make you a much better coach!

To stay in good fitness and health, I decided to start playing tennis.

I never had any official lessons until this year. However, I was lucky enough to be friends with a guy named Chris who spent decades playing and teaching tennis.

We started out each session with these shots. We'd repetitively hit each shot before progressing to the next type of shot. (Block Practice)

  • Net Shots
  • Forehands
  • Backhands
  • Serves (Occasionally)

Next, we'd have a sequence where I'd mix the skills in a specific order. (Serial Practice)

  1. Forehand
  2. Backhand
  3. Approach Shot
  4. Net Shot

After that, we'd play mini-games where there was live play. (Random Practice)

Since Chris was really good, he'd create games where if I hit the ball in play 3 times in a row, I got a point. He also took it easy on me.

For a beginner, this felt like a great mix to me and I felt like I was making some decent progress.

After a few months, due to time constraints like toddler nap times and picking kids up from school, we got to mini-games relatively quickly in each session. We'd warm up and hit some shots close to the net then get right to it.

I was getting better and better, but I kept struggling with my backhand.

It got to a point where I wouldn't hit the backhand if another group of people were playing on the court next to us.

I would just tap it over...

Or I'd take a super awkward approach trying to get to my forehand shot. I looked like a kid playing Duck-Duck-Goose trying to get to my forehand.

Chris wanted me to HIT the ball.

After another couple of months and little progress in the backhand, I said to Chris, "Can we just have a session or two where I focus on exclusively hitting the backhand for a while?"

After the first session, I was getting more and more backhands in play. Then in the second session, I started ripping some backhands.

It was literally night and day.

After more and more practice, our live play and mini-games got a lot more intense and fun!

Every once in a while if I got a little too chirpy, Chris would remind me that he could still hit 100+ mph serves. It was all in good fun, though. Chris and I grew up watching guys like Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, and Michael Jordan, so trash-talking is just how we interact… even though he's a far superior player.

This experience made me realize a few things.

1 - As coaches, we really need to put ourselves in the shoes of the beginner more often!

I realized it had been over a decade since I really had learned a new sports skill where instruction was involved.

It's easy to forget the learning process, especially as it pertains to basketball, since it can be many years since we were first beginners.

This ultimately will make us better teachers and coaches!

2 - Block practice is still important to develop technique and confidence!

I'm a huge fan of integrating block practice, serial practice, and random practice in almost every training and team practice session.

For more clarification on these terms, you can also read this quick review on block practice, serial practice, and random practice.

Quick Review on Block Practice, Serial Practice, & Random Practice

Block practice is where you practice the same skill for a set amount of repetitions repeatedly.

Here is an example of block practice:
Cut to the wing, catch the ball, and immediately shoot. Do this 10 times in a row.

Serial practice is where you practice multiple skills in the same sequence repeatedly.
A - Dribble through 3 chairs using change of direction moves.
B - Pass to a coach on the wing.
C - Curl cut to the elbow, receive a pass from the coach, and shoot a jumper.

Repeat A, B, C in order for 10 reps.

Random practice is where you practice multiple skills in an unpredictable sequence.

This would be your typical live 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, 4v4, and 5v5 drills against live defense.

There is no predetermined sequence of the skills that you will use. You don't know ahead of time how the defense will guard you.

The skills that you use are truly random.

Of course, the ratio of each type of practice can vary based on the team's experience (8 year olds versus professionals), your situation (offseason versus in-season, individual workouts vs. team practice), and your objective (improving shot technique versus improving shooting while defended).

However, sometimes, especially if you're learning a new technique or struggling with a certain technique, you need to build the skill and confidence with a lot of repetitions through block practice.

I also think it can be a great tool for professional players. It can be used to warm up, develop rhythm, refine technique, or even give a boost to confidence by having success.

3 - It's not block practice versus random practice… It should be block practice AND random practice.

Study after study shows that random practice translates to better retention and transfer which basically means that you're more likely to reproduce the skill in a game setting.

However, what improved my ability to retain the new skill and transfer to a game setting wasn't more random practice. It was using more block practice then integrating it with random practice.

To be fair, I've also had situations where I worked with a player for two months straight exclusively using random practice via 1v1, 1v2, and 2v2 game-based drills.

This is in no way meant to discount the importance of random practice...

It's to emphasize the importance of using all tools in the toolbox to maximize player development.

And yes. I understand that N=1. My unique situation doesn't necessarily apply to every situation.

At the same time, I'm still a big believer in integrating both block practice and random practice for individual workouts and team practices.

That little extra time spent practicing technique could be the key for a player to take that next step to implementing a skill into a game setting.

What do you think about this?

Do you like to integrate block, serial, and random practice?

Are some coaches going too far to one side of exclusively using random practice and game-based drills?

Is this a better approach for youth teams versus teams with more advanced skill sets at the high school, college, and professional levels?

Reply to this article below.



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Rudy Ramirez says:
7/23/2021 at 10:27:03 PM

I agree completely with Coach Haefner. I coached HS for 30 yrs. I always used a similar practice approach which developed young players who moved on to varsity level. I take issue with some coaches esp., on the varsity level whose practices are exclusively random mode as if to say " I just don't have time to develop and MANTAIN individual skills. Preparation for the GAME is all-important." This helps neither the individual or the team. I coached young players (may of whom, just made the cut) who the all-knowing would say " Don't waste your time. He'll never make varsity." Almost always they were dead wrong. Coach, keep inspiring us coaches with your valuable insights.

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