All of basketball comes down to two processes: perceiving the situation, and acting on it (deciding to act on it can also be added in between). As we come up the floor, we perceive the spacing of the floor. Where our defender is. Where their feet are oriented, and what openings that provides us with. We pick up on this and accordingly make the action(s) that the situation calls for. In most training environments, we only emphasize this second part—the action. We work on the moves, but not the triggers that cause us to do these moves in-game.
That’s where perceptual and visual cues come into play. What are they? What’s the difference between the two? Stay with me.
Note that not everyone uses this distinction, but this is how I separate the two to make sense in my head, so it’s good for you to learn how we think about them as we present to you on this platform.
Let’s talk about visual cues first. These are “triggers” that we must react to that aren’t specific to the situation we’re in. For example, pointing right or left to cue a player to pick up the ball with that hand into the shot, or dribble in that direction. Maybe holding up a number. Simple cues that aren’t basketball-specific, but still make our training a bit more difficult.
To me, these are a good way to start: either with younger players, or as you are learning a new skill or getting warmed up at the beginning of our session. In fact, they act very similarly to audio cues, which I also wrote an entire article about! They make training reactive, and as a result force us to adapt, which simply cannot be done when we’re training with no cues, against air.
The next step up are perceptual cues. They sound similar, but there is an important difference: perceptual cues are specific to the context. So on a finish, does the defender/coach step up (cueing the player to shoot a floater) or sit back (cueing the player to finish off of two feet). See how these are closer to what you’d perceive in a real game? They’re more specific.
In fact, every time you play a game, you’re being bombarded with perceptual cues in the most realistic sense, which is why I love live games in training. But sometimes this isn’t realistic in training, so we have to get as close as possible with visual or perceptual cues.
These exist on a spectrum of specificity. For example, “dummy defense,” or playing low-intensity defense, can be a perceptual cue, but it’s not exactly what we’ll see in a game. But it’s also not a visual cue because it’s a bit more specific to what we’d see as we play. Thus, it’s on the middle of that spectrum. As you get more advanced, you add more specificity (maybe making it live 1-on-1 instead of dummy defense), and as you want to regress the difficulty you make it less specific, like using pointing or hand signals.
There’s so much you can do with these, and we’re going to dive into it all and give you countless examples on the platform.