Basketball Decision Training 2.0: Adding More Variability

Explore an updated version of Basketball Decision Training (BDT). Plus, see how it helps coaches and trainers improve their players’ game.

But why are we updating BDT? Well, the answer is simple. Coaches and trainers from around the world are using basketball decision training. We want to increase their understanding of how to make it more variable. As well, many coaches are seeking to better understand the concepts underpinning why basketball decision training is more effective than blocked repetitions. Therefore, we will explain variable practice in the context of BDT.

We’ve been working hard to incorporate new ideas and techniques to demonstrate to you. To give you an idea of what to expect, we’ll be using examples from Chris Oliver’s experience working with his two daughters under 12. We’ll also rely on his experiences visiting with NBA and NCAA programs who are using basketball decision training.

What is variability and why does it matter?

Variable practice is a type of practice that involves changing the conditions or parameters of a task during practice. This can involve changing the environment, the equipment, the instructions, or even the task itself. Variability in practice design can be beneficial for skill acquisition and memory formation. Variability is also an important aspect of skill acquisition. Researchers suggest that variability in practice can help learners develop a more mechanistic framework for memory formation. This leads to better skill retention and transfer to novel tasks.

Variable practice has been shown to be more effective for skill acquisition than repetitive practice. Repetitive practice involves practicing the same task over and over in the same way. While this can lead to some improvement, it does not lead to the same level of learning and generalization as variable practice.

Why variable practice is more effective for skill acquisition

  1. Variable practice requires learners to focus on the essential features of a task. Then, they adapt their plans to those different situations. This leads to a deeper understanding of the task and to more robust motor memories.
  2. Variable practice helps learners to develop the ability to transfer their skills to new situations. By practicing in different conditions, learners are more likely to be able to generalize their skills to other situations.
  3. Variable practice is more motivating and engaging than repetitive practice. Learners are more likely to stick with a task and give full effort when challenged and seeing progress.

Here are a few examples of variable practice:

  • Practicing shooting from different distances and angles.
  • Practicing dribbling at different tempos and with different dynamics.
  • Practicing finishing using different problem solving methods.

Tips for incorporating variable practice:

  • Change the environment in which you practice. For example, if you are practicing shooting free throws, try practicing at different rims or different times of practice.
  • Change the equipment that you use. For example, try using different types of basketballs.
  • Change the instructions that you follow. For example, use different constraints each time you use a drill.
  • Change the task itself. For example, if you are practicing passing, encourage using different types of passes vs. different types of defense.

Basketball Decision Training and Variability

Throughout this video you will see examples of a player training with a coach using variations of Basketball Decision Training. These concepts were pioneered by Basketball Immersion. The learner is under 12. She is challenged in random, variable ways to connect skills and decisions based on the coach’s simulated defensive cues.

Why is the coach and player practicing this way?

A hallmark of skilled basketball performance is behavioral flexibility. Skilled performers can produce a movement pattern to reliably and efficiently achieve a given task outcome. They also possess the ability to change that movement pattern to fit a new context. This perspective highlights the factors critical to understanding behavioral flexibility and its connection to movement variability, stability, and learning. It also addresses how practice strategies should be developed from a motor learning standpoint to enhance behavioral flexibility.

Blocked on-air practice with no perception-action coupling present fails to create behavioral flexibility because it does not replicate the tight coupling between perception and action that is typically present in the performance environment. Research has shown that simplified training protocols that lack representativeness and fail to replicate the real-world conditions can limit the development of behavioral flexibility. To enhance behavioral flexibility, practice strategies should be developed from a motor learning standpoint, taking into account the importance of maintaining the perception-action coupling.

Our player development concept of BDT is a unique approach to training that focuses on improving players’ decision-making skills, not just their technical skills. BDT uses random and variable learning opportunities to best simulate competitive conditions and mixes different skills and decisions with tight coupling to enhance behavioral flexibility.

Basketball decision training is for everyone

Basketball Decision Training was first shared in 2014 with basketball coaches around the world and has been adopted and adapted by coaches at all levels of basketball from the NBA on down to youth basketball. It focuses on helping players apply better skills and decisions in the context in which they will be used.

The foundation of the BDT process is the hand and body signals which key an offensive reaction. Instead of repeating prescribed movements that are memorized and repeated over and over with no variation, a BDT drill involves a player having to make a decision about whether to shoot, pass, or drive based on the simulated defensive coverage they are facing. This type of training helps players learn to use their skills in a game-like setting and to make better decisions based on the situation.

The game is not scripted. The game unfolds in random and variable ways in an open environment where a player’s interactions with that environment determine what they do and how they do it. Memorizing a prescribed move or decision does not help prepare a player for being able to adapt to the demands of an ever changing environment. Why? Because a player never executes a skill in a game without it first being preceded by a perception and a decision. In fact all players execute techniques in a game following this process. They perceive based on opponent and teammate actions and positions, than they decide what to do based on that perception, shoot, drive, or pass, and finally they execute the decision with a technique that solves a problem.

BDT as Simulated Defense

The BDT signals are meant to simulate a defender’s actions. If a defender is chest to chest with you but giving an offensive player space, than the offensive player has space to shoot. If a defender is shoulder to chest with an offensive player that the offensive player has an advantage they can leverage driving to the basket. When a defender is arm length away than the offensive player does not have space to drive or shoot so they execute a pass. If an offensive player drives and a defender cuts them off chest to chest on a path not towards the basket than the offensive player can drive and counter to reattack directly towards the basket.

As you can see memorizing and repeating moves only accounts for the third part of this process…skill execution. Essentially when a player tries to apply those memorized movement patterns, shooting, passing or dribbling in a game, an offensive player has to relearn those moves in the context of a game situation.

Instead practicing with BDT provides better transfer of techniques to a game situation because it combines skills and decisions in random and unpredictable ways challenging the learner to come up with an appropriate solution on each repetition. This creates repetition without repetition.

Learn more about basketball decision training and how it can help improve your coaching and your player’s application of skills and decisions in a game in our complete course available here:

How to Teach Basketball Decision Training Shooting

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