This topic is better shown in examples than verbalized, but I’ll do my best to give you the big idea in this article. If you want to check out a ton of ways to do this, head over to our small-sided games area of the platform!
Creating context is one of the absolute best ways we can get our athletes working on a certain skill, technique, or weakness in their game without even mentioning it. And as we talk about in our frequency of cueing video, we’re always aiming to teach more with less words. Although it may take a bit longer for players to improve their performance through implicit learning (the style in which neither us or them explicitly refers to what they're learning), this style helps players retain what they learn. In other words, it become sticky and they’re able to pull it out of their back pocket in a game, which is what actually matters, right?
The method of using context I’ll talk about here is simple: helping players understand how important the skill is and how much they can improve, and doing it through game play. We’ll take an example to dive into one way to accomplish this. Imagine that you’re working with a player who doesn’t have much of a floater game, and you truly believe that adding this could take their game to the next level. As coaches, most of the time we’d tell them this. We would spend time explaining the benefits of floaters, how much you’re going to work on it, and more. We can actually cut all of this out.
At the beginning of a training session, put them in a live game with some interesting rules. “You can’t enter the paint, but you also can’t shoot a jumper,” you tell them. “Go figure out the rest and try to score on your defender.” This constraints-based model will do a few things:
One, it forces them to discover the proper means to accomplish the given end: scoring outside the paint without shooting a jumper. As a result, it gives them that “a-ha” moment of realizing what the proper shot in this situation is. “Oh, floaters would be the best option here!” From that, they begin to understand the importance of floaters in real games, and even more importantly, if they suck at them or not (which is valuable information for you too!). Players are smart. They’ll figure all of this stuff out without us telling them, as long as we are creative in how we place them in situations to do so.
This gives us an advantage going into the rest of the session. The player now understands why floaters are vital to their game. They know that they suck at them (if that’s the case), and that context captures their attention a bit more. They’re now engaged. Fully immersed. They go harder in these drills because they know they’re not just randomly putting up shots that you tell them to take, but they now are able to connect what they’re doing with a long-term vision of how they’ll improve in-game.
And note that the only way you can do this is to reverse the traditional model of drills then play. If we have players play in live situations at the beginning of a workout, it automatically (if done right) boosts the quality of the remainder of the session. We’ll talk about this a lot in the future.