Recap & Solutions

Why is it you or your team might shoot the lights out at training and then go ice cold in games? It’s one of the most frustating parts of the game, not getting reward for practice. There are some fundamental flaws in how we view shooting as a skill, and how we go about improving shooting performance. For the most part these problems are unrecognised and remain unchanged. This article series is going to look at how we approach, teach and practice shooting, and its effects on game performance. We’ve settled for inefficiency for too long, it’s time to wake up, and make a change.

Summary

  • Game shooting is a complex skill and traditional practice methods consisting of high volume, low repetition shooting oversimplifies the action, ignoring important factors which tend to go on unrecognised. The result is a poor transfer to game performance and in fact this method of training can actually have a negative effect by hurting the individuals ability to learn from poor shooting in games.

  • Skills are stored in mind-maps which contain the instruction from the brain to the muscles on how to perform the action. Refining these mind-maps allows us to build on our experience and refine performance over time. Significantly different skills require different mind-maps, each to be ‘found’ then executed. It is easier to perform complex skills after first ‘getting your eye in’ such as with warm-up shots, since this helps us to find the appropriate mind-map and repeatedly access it. In moments where skills are broken up by other skills it becomes harder to find a rhythms since you are unable to simply draw repeatedly upon the same mind-map.

  • Shooting in games is almost always separated by time and a variety of other actions, all requiring finding and executing different mind-maps, such as defensive movements/passing/cutting/running etc. The weak link to shooting performance in games, is our ability to ‘find our shot’ in the appropriate time, after performing any number of other actions, all of which increase distraction and fatigue.

  • Repetitive shooting with little variation results in higher shooting percentages inside that training session. Since there is little variation, once we have successfully found our shot, the following shots are now trying to replicate the earlier action to ensure the same result – a made basket. This was termed ‘ego-shooting’. We’re no longer working on the aspect of our shot most applicable to the game (finding our shot after completing other actions), but are focusing on making the shot, which serves only to make us feel good and provide a false sense of confidence. Our mental intent shifts from learning to replicating.

  • Mind-maps group similar movements together, labelling some aspects as stable and consistent among  a variety of situations, and others as fluctuators which vary between situations. This helps reduce the number of mind-maps required to be stored, and increases the speed at which we can access them. An example of this is seen in the walking movement pattern. The exact action of the ankle changes as terrain does (to account for uneven vs even surfaces), but the overall timing and movement which resembles walking as we know it does not. The action at the ankle is a fluctuator whereas the action at the hip is more consistent, or stable, across terrains.

  • The more we isolate skills from the situation in which they occur, the greater the risk that traits which should be fluctuators that are flexible and comfortable with change, are incorrectly stored as being stable and vice-versa. There are important differences between the shots we shoot in games and the shots we tend to spend our time practicing. Fatigue, movement, decision making, momentum and variation all significantly influence game shooting. If our shooting mind-map isn’t accommodating of these factors, instead learning to ignore them given the amount and type of practice shooting we have implemented, we then find ourselves trying to force our practice shot into the type of shot required by the game, and our performance suffers.

  • If the skill of shooting is learned with exposure to more variation, it will be more flexible and is more applicable to a variety of game shots – not just practice shots. We now adjust the details of our shooting form to suit the requirement in that particular game moment.

  • Our heavy focus on technique as being the key to successful shooting is disrupting the natural learning process and does not guarantee success.

  • The more we give a player to think about, perhaps the details of shooting technique, the more they might show improvement inside that drill, but the worse they will perform in pressure situations such as a game. It encourages learning through the conscious mental pathway, which is slower and more error prone under pressure, rather than the subconscious, which is faster and more robust to errors under pressure.

Solutions

  • When practicing shooting, don’t be fooled into thinking making more shots here will mean you’ll make more in your game on the weekend. If you notice you’re shooting well, increase the difficulty of the shots. See how fast you can dribble into your shot and still make it. How quickly can you get it off? Can you increase your level of fatigue and then make the same shot? You want to increase the level of difficulty to a point which challenges you, but isn’t so far above your ability that your body can’t ‘figure out’ how to learn from that miss and make the next.

  • Increase the variation between your shots to focus on ‘finding your shot’. You might do this by shooting a different shot each time (off the dribble, catch and shoot, jab fake shot etc). Or if you are shooting from a particular position you might drop down after a couple of makes and perform a push-up before shooting your next shot. One push-up wont fatigue you very much but it has broken up your rhythm and will make it harder to make your next shot – you’ll have to find it. Shooting a shot with your opposite hand could have a similar effect, you’ll have to focus to shoot with your weak hand so that level of receptiveness to your shot will flow on to your next few, helping you to learn more from the following shots.

  • When teaching shooting, try to break it down as little as possible and avoid over-coaching. See how much the athlete can figure out on their own, without you needing to intervene. If they’re struggling with something, perhaps the elbow flaring our excessively in an attempt to generate power, consider showing them ways to get more out of their legs. Teaching them to jump off a chair while lifting the ball over their heads will teach power from the lower body and the ability to move the ball from a low to high position in the same moment. By ‘unlocking’ this strength, the issue of the elbow flaring out in an attempt to generate more power become less prevalent, and easier to correct with less effort since it is now unnecessary. If you were to encourage the athlete to keep the elbow in, thus reducing their power, without giving them a solution to their power problems, you would be fighting a losing battle.

  • Avoid fixing an error as soon as you see it, see if the athlete will make the adjustment on their own. This also gives you as the coach time to reflect on why that error might be there and if you can fix multiple errors with fewer cues. The example above of ‘unlocking’ lower body power to reduce upper body technique errors is a good example of this process.

  • If you need to spend time refining your shot technique, or breaking down shooting drills for beginners, just ensure they are completing enough shooting in game settings, even if it’s beyond their current ability, in order to expose them to the intended end result of their current shooting practice. This will help inoculate them to any learning errors resulting from the drills and is a form of coaches insurance.