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Perfect Practice = Elite Skills

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Believe it or not there used to be only one basketball season every year. Those players who had some extra time on their hands and wanted to play a little more would go to the closest park or city gym and play in pickup games. Sometimes those games were five on five full court but more often than not they would be half court three on three or four on four.

Since only a relatively few players actually played in the off season, those that did were noticeably better than their peers when the official basketball season eventually started up again. Of course, now things are noticeably different. There are two separate and distinct basketball seasons - school season and club season - and it seems that as soon as one ends the other begins immediately.

As a result it's very common for players to compete in upwards of 80 games a year! Some players benefit greatly from so many games while others just end up reinforcing already bad habits without improving at all. If you are playing game after game after game and not improving like you want to or need to then it might be time to reevaluate your training schedule.

Here are 5 things to consider when working out in the offseason. They are ideas adapted from Doug Lemov's book for classroom teachers called Practice Perfect.

1. Encode Success

Fighting through adversity might make you mentally tougher and much more resilient but it's not always the best way to develop basketball skills. I'm not saying everything you work on should be easy but instead of doing flashy, complicated drills focus on those things that are simple and game like. Train yourself to be successful and once you have mastered a skill or movement then and only then move on to something more complicated. If possible, constantly look at pictures or watch videos of someone correctly executing the skill you're trying to perfect. Think of it as "positive brainwashing."

2. Practice the 20

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your actions. Assuming that this principle is true, if you are serious about becoming a better player you should focus on getting real good at those things which produce the most results. If it doesn't happen in a game - and often - why are you practicing it?

3. Objectives before Drills

The majority of young players that I know prepare for an individual skills workout by thinking "Today I want to play these two shooting games and then do these ball handling drills, and then if somebody else is in the gym maybe we can get in a few games of one on one or two on two." Advanced players think something like this, "I've been missing slightly to the left lately so I need to work on my follow through and I can correct it by using this particular drill. Then since my crossover needs to be a little tighter I'm going to get out the cones and place them really close together so my ball-handling has to be tighter and quicker. I want to improve my attacking and finishing moves from the wing so I'm going to get someone else to come to the gym and defend me 25 times." Notice the difference? It's huge.

4. Make Your Strengths Even Stronger

The summer is a great time to add new skills and dimensions to your game but just make sure you don't neglect the things you already do well. I know a local high school girl who was an outstanding shooter but didn't drive very well or very often. She evidently worked all summer on her attacking and finishing skills because when I saw her in college she was relentlessly attacking the rim. However, she never looked for her outside shot and when she did her shot looked completely broken. After an entire summer of working out she wasn't a better player, just a different one!

5. Drill to Develop Skills

Scrimmage to Evaluate. Playing 60 games a summer is not going to help you develop a new skill or improve a weak one. What the games will do is give you the opportunity to implement those things you've been practicing. If you're not practicing during the week then you're just playing on the weekends! Fun? Absolutely! But not necessarily conducive to becoming a better skilled and more talented player.

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