Why More Options Equal More Success

According to Hick's Law, the more stimulus-response alternatives there are, the slower the response time. And to take it one step further, strength coach Pavel (yes, he's that good he only goes by one name), calculated going from a single possible response to two increases your response time by more than 50 percent. And even more amazing, going from one possible response to three possible responses, doubles your response time!

So what does all of this psychology have to do with basketball?

Triple Threat

That's why the triple threat position is so important to teach young players. Essentially, we're increasing the number of possible responses the defensive player has to react to. And thanks to Hick's Law, the more possible responses, the slower the defender will react. Offensive advantage!

However, how often is the triple threat position even used in youth basketball? When you see a young player catch the ball, is she a threat to shoot, pass, or dribble?

We run a youth league at my gym for 3rd-6th grade boys and girls, and after watching six weeks worth of games from the sideline last year, I'd be willing to bet one out of every 10 touches results in the athlete in a triple threat position. Usually they'll play hot potato around the perimeter, until a brave soul chucks up a shot or dribbles past her defender. As usual, games will be won and lost, but skills will not be developed by 80 percent of the players on the court.

A Threat or a Decoy?

It doesn't get much better at the high school level. After we spend a month or so on shot technique, static shooting, and shooting off screens, we'll start to focus on 1-on-1 moves, shooting off the dribble, etc.

Before we progress to that phase, I'll usually take each athlete and play defense on her in a game-like setting just so I can get a feel for what moves they like, what moves they don't like, tendencies, etc. At least 50 percent of the athletes never use the triple threat position, and even less have three or four 1-on-1 moves. The large majority of them hope their defender falls asleep, so they can get an open shot off or a quick drive to the basket. In essence, they're not a threat. They're a decoy praying the defense makes a mistake out of sheer boredom.

Don't We Need Role Players?

Yes, of course. However, all five players on the court need to be a threat to score, or at least make something happen. If not, you're depending on one or two players to carry you every night.

Why does Duke always succeed? Great coaching. Yes. Great recruiting. Yes. However, more importantly, rarely will they field a starting five that aren't all threats to score.

I'd much rather face a team with one girl scoring 30 points per game and the entire rest of the team averaging 20 points per game, than a team that has five players averaging double digits in scoring. Strategy becomes a lot easier, and the odds of playing the team on an off night is exponentially increased.

How Do We Fix It?

  • Repetitions until the triple threat position becomes an automatic, subconscious response. It may only take 100 repetitions, or it may take 10,000 repetitions. Don't give up because of boredom. Before it becomes automatic, it has to become subconscious.
  • With sport specialization at a unprecedented level, kids are playing organized basketball more and more, and spending less time practicing and playing in pickup games. Thus, they avoid taking chances, working on moves they haven't quite perfected yet, and experimenting because if they do those things in an organized game, their coach puts them on the bench. Kids are extremely creative. Let them play. Let them experiment. Let them find what works. I guarantee they'll learn and remember moves a lot quicker if they find out what works as opposed to you teaching them. Once or twice per week we'll play "21″ with our athletes just so they can experiment. There's no coaching. There's no advice. In fact, if the level is too tense during the beginning, we'll usually try a couple of crazy moves just to get the athletes more comfortable with experimenting.
  • Skill development work. This won't happen at practice. It also won't happen in games. Coaches have too many kids and too many other things to worry about (offensive plays, defensive plays, transition offense, etc). Kids either need to be at a facility, working one-on-one with their parents, or playing in pickup games. There are plenty of products (DVDs) out there that will help parents teach their children how to play basketball.

Remember, a player doesn't need 20 offensive moves in their toolbox. 4 or 5 moves is more than sufficient to keep the defender guessing. Just make those 4 or 5 moves are perfect.

A simple progression we use at 4th Quarter for a shot off the screen is the following:

  • Jump Shot off of a curl
  • Shot fake off curl, rip through to jump shot on opposite side of screen
  • Shot fake off of curl, rip through, to layup on opposite side of screen
  • Shot fake off of curl, rip through, to stutter-step to layup on opposite side of screen
  • Shot fake off of curl, rip through, to stutter-step to step back jumper on opposite side of screen
  • Five potential outcomes off of one simple move: jump shot off a curl from a screen.

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