Remember that Spanish class you had (or have) in school? The one where you worked your ass off for 4+ years to get good grades but graduated not being able to hold a real conversation? Me too. What if I told you the exact same thing was happening in basketball?
Just for context: I took Spanish for seven years in middle school and high school. Worked at it every day. Aced all the tests. But I still have trouble actually speaking and especially understanding the language. Why? Because Spanish teachers rarely put us in situations to actually speak the language and get confident adapting. We memorize words, drill the conjugations into our head, and much much more. But we rarely are placed into an environment that breeds true fluency.
And one thing I’ve started to realize is that language learning and basketball training have many similarities. So this process may sound familiar. You likely know of a player (maybe even yourself) who works their ass off in drills. They can do everything in the workout, but they get in the game and have trouble reading the game, quickly making decisions, and playing confidently. They can’t adapt to new situations very well. This is the exact same thing as the Spanish dilemma.
We spend all of our time rehearsing pieces of the whole (basketball drills and workouts, or memorizing vocabulary). We get really good at it because it’s easy to see improvement (making more shots in a workout, or getting that A you need). But when it’s time to throw your ass in the fire and play in a game or speak to a native speaker, you have no idea what you’re doing (or aren’t confident enough to do it).
All of the non-native speakers I know who have learned a language have one thing in common: they’ve been immersed into an environment where they have to speak it. The same thing happens in basketball when you think about it. Ask any elite hooper if they hooped a lot as a kid, and they’ll never tell you “nah, I actually spent way more time doing drills.” Absolutely not. They more than likely played a lot of games, where you have to make quick decisions, adapt, and play with confidently or else you’ll get kicked off the court. No way around it!
So, my thoughts: we need to practice the whole and let ourselves struggle to learn implicitly. Kids hate Spanish because it’s a ton of memorization. But why not do this: once students take Spanish for a year or two to get the foundation down, why not just put them in an environment to speak to each other? Or speak to native speakers? I promise you they’d enjoy it more and take a much quicker road to speaking fluently.
Same thing for basketball. Yes, drills are still important. But too much of it can stagnate or even hinder a player’s progress! They need to see live situations, where every repetition is different. Where they learn techniques, moves, and reads without even knowing it. And maybe most importantly, where they enjoy the difficulty of it and are motivated to do it every single day.
Now, again, the keyword here is "difficulty." This is going to be harder than drilling everything. But it's a desirable difficulty. It's not going to be easy to start speaking Spanish, or any language for that matter, to those who are fluent. You'll make mistakes. You'll ask for translations here and there. It won't be anywhere near perfect. Same thing in hoops. You'll make mistakes, you'll have to figure stuff out. Wrong reads will be made. But at the end of the day, it's what we need.
Just my thoughts. When you’re the only one in a gym who can’t speak Spanish fluently, you start to think about stuff like this! Let me know what you think.