Practice – Too much ego shooting

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.

Find the weak link

A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. To fortify the already strong links would be considered inefficient and perhaps useless. Consider you were to isolate a chain from it’s intended use, such as by unhooking it from a tow-truck and lying it flat. You then spend your time strengthening the already strong links. A colleague might even come in after a while and comment on how much stronger those links look now you’ve bolstered them, validation of your progress. But all your hard work will be for nothing when the chain is once again hooked up to the tow truck and asked to pull beyond the capacity of the weak links. The illusion of progress was shattered when the real task was performed. What if made shots during shooting practice was only fortifying the already strong links? We need to first understand what components influence shooting as a skill, and then find our weak link, doing all of this by investigating the game moments. Only then can we appropriately structure our practice and shoot-arounds in a way that leads to game improvement. To find the weak link, we need to view how the body learns and refines the act of shooting.

Mind-maps

Every time you perform a movement, different parts of your brain light up, passing signals to each other and telling the body how to move. Join the dots and you have what we’ll refer to as a ‘mind-map’. As these ‘maps’ are stored, like papers in a filing cabinet, skills improve. They are refined through practice to more accurately suit the intended result. Every time you decide to undertake a movement, your brain has to find the appropriate ‘mind-map’ to execute. Different movements require different mind-maps to be found and used. Running requires a different mind-map to that used for shooting for example. This concept helps explain why it’s easier to perform more complex skills once you’ve ‘got your eye in’. The initial movements completed (such as shooting early in a warm-up) might be inconsistent (more misses) as here the brain is ‘finding’ the right mind map in it’s filing cabinet. Following repetitions are improving our ability to draw upon the identified mind-map more accurately and inside the time constraints (shot now feels alright and shooting percentage is going up). Since different movements involve different mind-maps, the more variation or the more time that lapses between attempts, the harder it is to perform consistently. It’s easier to repeatedly find the same mind-map than it is to find various others in random succession.

During repetitive shooting drills, each shot is very similar and the mind-map is well ingrained/worn in from earlier shots in that session, this makes it easy to ‘find’. In games however, no two shots are exactly alike and they are always separated by time and other actions such as sliding, passing, running, pushing, jumping. Since different movements all require different mind maps, when we decide to shoot inside a game, the link to our shooting mind-map isn’t as readily accessible as compared to shooting inside repetitive drills. We still get a shot off in the game, but we didn’t have time to draw upon the exact mind map and the result is close, but not perfect, and the shot rims out.

Find your shot

Shooting performance inside repetitive shooting drills is usually far better than that inside games. We’re much better at repeating the same shot than we are at finding our shot. Remember, if a chain has a weak link you get no further benefit reinforcing the already strong links, you will only see real improvement by addressing the weak link. Instead of practicing the same shot over and over again, we should perhaps be practicing our ability to ‘find our shot’. And the only way to find something, is to first lose it, or at least make it harder to find as quickly. It is reasonable then to argue that inside traditional or repetition shooting you get the most value out of the first shot you make. Or to put it another way, you get the most value out of the first shot you successfully find within the time allowed – the time between when you decide to shoot and when you initiate the shooting action. Successive makes beyond this is just ‘ego-shooting’. This phrase is chosen because it becomes easier to make more shots after the initial make. Following this first make, in which you ‘find your shot’, you are simply trying to maintain the exact same movement to keep the streak going. The intent shifts from being 100% focused on ‘make the shot’ to ‘don’t change anything so the next shot goes in as well’. This is an important difference, now the athlete is not primarily trying to get better, they’re trying not to get worse! The player has moved from focusing on making the shot, to focusing on not missing the shot. Players recognise this when they try to mess up a shooting partners streak of makes by rolling the ball at their feet rather than throwing a good pass. In reality, they are probably throwing the most beneficial pass they’ve made all shoot-around. A pass that breaks the players rhythm and shifts the emphasis back to finding and making the shot. This idea is reflected in a shooting game that was developed in response to this article series.

As mentioned in other articles, all actions begin with intention. What the intent is, determines the interpreted result of the action. If the intent was to make the shot, if we didn’t make the shot, the body subconsciously reviews the action-effect relationship, learning and calibrating for next time. As soon as the intent shifts away from ‘make this shot’ the body isn’t learning or improving, it is replicating.

So problem one is that we ego-shoot during practice and aren’t addressing the limiting factor or weak link in games, which would be to go from performing any other number of actions, inside pressure, distraction and fatigue, and then having to ‘find your shot’ in an instant of a second.