Shoot worse in practice to shoot better in games?
This is a common mistake that I see in a lot of basketball shooting workouts. I know that it's something I did personally.
In a traditional shooting workout, you will shoot five to twenty repetitions in a row of the same shot.
The video below would be an example of this.
And a lot of people do this for almost the entire workout as they progress through drills and variations.
I believe this is the mistake. You shouldn't do this for the entire workout. And depending on your situation, you may not do it at all!
The academics would call this constant practice.
"A practice sequence in which the same tasks or movements are repeated under the same conditions from one repetition to another."
Critical Missing Piece From Your Shooting Workouts?
Constant practice is appropriate for beginners and when first learning a skill.
However, once the skill is acquired, you should add variability to your practices and workouts.
Basically, you don't shoot the same shot twice in a row within a drill.
Here is an example of taking different shots on each repetition to add variability. The workout was edited to illustrate this point.
As you can see, the sequence of shots varied.
- Catch and shoot
- One dribble - lay up
- One dribble - jump shot
- Dribble move - lay up
- Dribble move - jump shot
- Dribble move - finish move counter
Academics would call this variable practice: "A practice sequence in which the same tasks or movements are repeated but where one aspect of the execution is changed from one repetition to another."
Some researchers argue that variable practice will lead to more permanent learning and better game performance over the long run.
However, it may appear messier and filled with more errors in the short term. So, it might not look like the player is improving at first.
Why one player shoots 20% better in practice than another player but shoots worse in games!
Let's pretend that we have two players named Jacob and Michael. Also, let's pretend that Jacob and Michael take the exact same shots during games.
In practice, Jacob shoots 73% and Michael shoots 53%. However, in games, Michael shoots better at 45% while Jacob shoots only 40%.
The situation above is not uncommon.
Variability versus constant practice could be one of the possible explanations.
Constant practice (shooting the same shot repeatedly) often results in higher shooting percentages during practice. And if you think about it, that makes sense.
It's easy to gain rhythm and make more shots when you take the same shot repeatedly and the situation never changes. You might only make one of your first three, then adapt and make the rest. While it looks good on paper, it might not translate to games.
How often do you shoot from the same spot just twice in a row during a game, yet five to twenty times in a row? Not very often.
If you can make a high percentage after your shot changes each time, that is a skill in itself. A skill that is more like the situations that you see in a game. And it needs to be practiced.
So even after adding variable practice, you might see a dip in your shooting percentage during workouts. At the same time, your shooting percentage during games could improve. That's because you're training yourself to be more adaptable like in a game.
8 ways to make each shot different in a drill (add variable practice)
Here are some examples of ways to add variability. You certainly are not limited to these ideas.
#1 - Shoot from a different location or angle each time.
You can switch to the opposite side of the court after each repetition. You can also shoot from a new spot on each repetition.
Examples of shot locations are wing, corner, top, guard spots, elbows, blocks, mid-post, short corner, mid-range, etc.
#2 - Shoot from a different distance each time: 10 ft, 15 ft, 20 ft, etc.
You could technically add variability by just changing the distance of the shot on each repetition.
So, you could take every shot from the right wing while changing the distance on every shot.
#3 - Change the amount of dribbles on each shot.
If you're working on shooting off the dribble, you could change the amount of dribbles on each jump shot. You could alternate between zero, one, two, and three dribbles.
Relative to the hoop, this will change distance and location as well.
#4 - Change the dribble move on each shot.
You could alternate between different dribble moves like the crossover, behind-the-back, hesitation, jab and go, between the legs, etc. You can even incorporate double and triple combo moves.
#5 - Change the finishing move on each shot.
You could alternate between a few different finishing moves. You could practice moves like the floater, runner, extension lay up, up and under, same leg/same hand lay up, hook shot, Rondo, Rondo counter, Euro step, etc.
#6 - Make a different cut each time.
Before each shot, you can practice a different cut. You could do a V-cut, flare cut, curl cut, L-cut, ball screen options, fast break shots, etc.
#7 - Take a different type of shot each time.
You could simply tell them to do something different. It can be a combination of anything above.
#8 - Add a defender.
And probably the best way to add variability and simulate game situations is to add a defender. Each possession will be slightly different no matter what. (Later in this series, we'll discuss these drills in more detail.)
Another term to discuss is random practice, but that's for another day.
Should you stop shooting five to twenty shots in a row and eliminate constant practice from your workouts?
As mentioned before, constant practice is very suitable for beginners and learning a new skill.
However, I don't think you can even eliminate constant practice for advanced players. In fact, I still use both constant (same shot each rep) and variable practice (different shot each rep) with every level of player. I believe there are benefits for both.
For example, in some workouts, I use constant practice for catch and shoot warm up drills. I also like to do this to hone technique and develop confidence for advanced players. I think it's good for even the highest level of player to see the ball go in the hole a lot. NBA players struggle with confidence too!
In this video below, the first two drills (57 shooting & 7 shooting) are examples of constant practice where the shot is the same for X amount of repetitions.
I also like to end workouts with drills & games like the ones above. As mentioned, it's great for confidence and you also end on a positive note. When you do that, it's great for motivation as well. And players want to come back.
Additionally, I believe research is difficult to interpret for numerous reasons including the flaws in human perception. Just watch Brain Games. So, I still like to keep both types of practice at some level.
What should the split be between constant and variable practice?
Who knows! Every person and every situation is different.
I know college coaches who eliminate constant practice completely from their workouts and practices. I know professional coaches who still use constant practice. And I respect all of them.
You might do 30/70, 50/50, or even 70/30 splits between constant and variable depending on your situation. I even mix it up workout to workout and group to group within a workout.
I'm not smart enough to figure out the best solution for every situation. I don't think anyone is.
However, if you haven't added variable practice to your workouts, you should start now.
On a side note, I also want to credit Brian McCormick and Don Kelbick for first introducing these ideas and concepts to me.
Resources for Shooting and Workouts:
What do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments, suggestions, and questions...