Basketball on the Edge – Automate Your Game!

Jul 5, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Coaches love players that have a high basketball IQ. I’m around coaches all the time who say they want players who can “think” the game and understand what to do when different situations present themselves. But, what if all of us are wrong? Or at least not as right as we think?

Players that have a high basketball IQ do “think” the game better than others, but that is mostly because so many decisions are put on auto pilot by high IQ players. Instead of taking the time to think about what decision or action needs to be taken, the player reacts to the play immediately and without conscious thought. How does a player develop that ability to react immediately and automatically?

The first way is through experience. The more you play, the better you get at reacting to situations and making the right decision. I recently read an article explaining that Major League Baseball hitters could not even make contact against Jennie Finch, a high level women’s fast pitch softball pitcher. Why couldn’t these professional players hit the ball? Basically because the cues were different. It wasn’t reaction time or bat speed, it was simply that the hours of deliberate practice against overhand pitchers off a mound 60 feet 6 inches away did not prepare them to understand the cues (arm angle, release point, grip, etc.) of an underhand fast pitch. The only way to notice these bodily giveaways is to observe them over and over through thousands of hours of meticulous practice. It’s a fascinating article that you can read here. The point is that by putting in hours of practice you can train your mind and body to work together to solve very complex problems in an instant.

The problem is, how can players with less experience gain the advantage that comes with being able to react quickly to a given play? The answer lies in developing “automatic” reactions to situations that happen repeatedly during a basketball game. Let me give you an example. During a basketball game each team gets a certain number of possessions. Each time the ball changes possession there is a transition from offense to defense. What should a player do whenever there is a change of possession? Sprint the floor in transition! On defense a player needs to get back to protect against a fast break and then get set up for half-court defense. On offense a player should sprint down the floor to get in position for an easy basket or set up the offense. Unfortunately, what often happens when the ball changes possession? Players stand staring at the ball for a second or two before they react either losing their advantage or giving an advantage to their opponent. Instead, players should train themselves, or coaches should train their players to react immediately when there is a change of possession and begin sprinting down the floor. This particular scenario happens over and over during a game. Don’t “think” about it. Players just need to react EVERY time. It should become a habit. It doesn’t take a high basketball IQ to sprint immediately in transition it just takes a commitment to create the habit.

  • What are some other examples of situations that occur frequently during a game when a player can “automate” their reaction?
    • The ball goes out of bounds. Don’t stand around, instead immediately find your man if you’re on defense or set up your out of bounds play if you’re on offense. Don’t wander around the court waiting for play to resume, react automatically when the ball goes out of bounds.
    • A shot goes up by the opposing team. What should you do? Get a hand up and then start your box-out. Every time.
    • If you make a mistake, don’t put your head down and pout as so many players do, automatically look to make a hustle play.
    • When you catch the ball on offense always look first to the basket. Maybe a teammate is open for a layup, maybe you have a driving lane, you’ll never know if you don’t look.
    • When a pass is thrown to you, keep running towards the pass until you catch it. Make it a habit.
    • On defense, whenever a pass is made, “jump to the ball”. This means moving a step or two towards the ball quickly to establish a new defensive position. This should happen without having to think about it.
    • Set a screen, then roll. Too many players screen and then don’t roll, especially at the youth level. Make the roll automatic and then work on the game reads as players develop and gain experience.

You can probably think of many other situations where an automatic response would serve a player well. The point is that a high basketball IQ is critical to being a good player, but save your brain power for scenarios where those decision making skills are needed. Look for moments as a player or a coach that happen over and over and then “Auotmate” your game so your response is immediate and reflexive. If you can Automate Your Game you’ll be more effective, be perceived as a smarter player, and not waste time “thinking” about decisions that should be automatic.

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