The Basketball Podcast: EP167 with Leonard Zaichkowsky and Daniel Peterson on The Playmaker’s Advantage

RELEASE DATE : 09/06/2021

In this week’s coaching conversation, authors and sport researchers Leonard Zaichkowsky and Daniel Peterson join us to discuss their recent books The Playmaker’s Advantage and The Playmaker’s Decisions.

The Playmaker’s Advantage is a groundbreaking book that will educate developing, young athletes, along with their parents and coaches, about this essential creative capability in an accessible, easy to understand method.

The Playmaker’s Decisions book focuses on the split-second decision-making process that produces both clutch plays and mental mistakes.

Leonard Zaichkowsky
Leonard Zaichkowsky, a professor, researcher, and consultant for almost four decades at Boston University, pioneered sports psychology by bringing cognitive neuroscience and sports performance together as an interdisciplinary science. His academic textbooks and research publications demonstrated the importance of an athlete’s remarkable brain in anticipating and acting on opportunities during competition. He has consulted with teams in the NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB, Australian Rules Football, the Spanish men’s national soccer team, and Olympic sports organizations around the world. Len is a former president and a fellow of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, and currently section editor on psychology for the International Journal of Health, Sport and Science. Recently, the American Psychological Association honored Len with the “Distinguished Service to the Profession” award. Today, Len is a cofounder and senior consultant at 80 Percent Mental Consulting, advising coaches, teams, and sports organizations on developing athlete cognition. After too many Boston winters, he and his wife now live in Fort Myers, Florida.

Daniel Peterson
Daniel Peterson is a writer and consultant specializing at the intersection of neuroscience and sports performance. He combined twenty-five years of technology management experience with his second life as a sports dad and coach to explore how athletes make decisions. Now, ten years later, as cofounder and director of 80 Percent Mental Consulting, he works with coaches, trainers, and teams to understand and improve their cognitive game. Dan and his wife live outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, patiently waiting for the next generation of Peterson playmakers.

The Playmaker's Advantage

Listen Here:

The Playmaker’s Advantage Quotes:

Dan: “What the research has shown . . is that the right type of training can improve decision making and can improve some of those things that, in the first book, we call the ‘playmaker’s advantage.’”

Leonard: “Coaches recognize the importance of the cognitive components in the decision-making process. But it’s ignored in part because . . they were never mentored or taught how to improve that. And so now we’re engaging them in that discussion.”

Leonard: “Coaches simply haven’t thought enough about how to teach decision making and even simple concepts like . . asking lots of questions. Just engaging the cognitive processes by asking questions or looking at video and . . getting the athletes to engage . .increases the probability of making good decisions.”

Dan: “We have a pretty good understanding of how to train athletes physiologically. The next frontier is how to get players to better understand anticipation skills, recognition skills, and decision making in that high stakes environment.”

Leonard: “You don’t have to know all the intricacies of cognitive neuroscience to be an outstanding coach and teach players how to think quickly and accurately.”

Dan: “What are the things that are really affecting how they [players] make decisions? We broke that into two categories. One is traits, things that they bring to the table. And one is constraints, things that are put upon them. And so, we tried to break those down.”

Leonard: “I come back to the idea of when, as a coach, you blow that whistle and you stop the action [and say,] ‘Now you should have done this..’ And they never give the player the opportunity to just ask the question, ‘What other options were there?’ Now, they [the players] are engaged in that thinking process.”

Dan: “The use and the leverage of technology is, when they’re done with their practice . . to get these mental reps of seeing things . . while they’re physically recovering, still engage their brain in looking at video. So for example, . . in basketball . . we’re going to occlude the video as soon as he [the opposing player] gets to about three feet from you. Can you start to pick up body cues? Is he going to go left? Or is he going to go right? . . that’s starting to train the brain to learn to pick up those cues.”

Leonard: “One thing we could encourage all coaches watching and listening to your podcast is to be thinking about is how they might use video in a creative way . . The science really speaks highly about using visual occlusion to enhance the decision-making processes.”

Leonard: “Search, decide, and execute is a simple concept. And that’s what the whole process starts with. We’re always searching for cues . . the playmakers are great at searching, and then they find the right cue. So that’s kind of step number one, the searching for cues. Then they make that quick and accurate decision. But that’s based on hours and hours of what we call deliberate practice. . Then the last step is execute . . you do it flawlessly, because you’ve rehearsed it so many times and you’re not afraid of messing up.”

Dan: “The athlete cognition cycle is . . a never ending loop . . You might do that 1000 times in a game, this cycle of searching for opportunities, visual perception, recognizing, decide what to do with the input you’ve been given through your senses, and then execute, and they all influence each other. So if I don’t do a very good job with visual perception, if I’m not seeing things and bringing those into my brain, the decision may be poor.”

Dan: “What is a mental mistake? What is happening when they make that wrong decision? And how can I improve on that?”

Dan: “Joystick parents . . want to tell [their children] exactly what to do: pass here, go there, do that, shoot. What we try to tell them . . there’s research that backs this up. Please understand your little developing playmaker there, his brain or her brain is so busy right now trying to figure out this chaos around them. They already know what the coach wants them to do. And they’re trying to make decisions on the fly, they’re trying to get to that automaticity, where they can make instant decisions on their own. But if they’ve got Mom or Dad coaching them second by second on the sideline, that just destroys that automaticity . . cheer them positively. Coaching from the sideline, does not help your young player, it only slows their development.”

Leonard: “We’ve got to get this into the vocabulary that sport is well beyond technical skills, that there is decision making . . we’re going to be teaching these in conjunction with one another so we try not to separate them out.”

The Playmaker’s Advantage Breakdown:

1:00 – Introduction
2:30 – Decision Making
5:00 – Importance of Cognitive Components
9:00 – Focus on Practicing Skills
15:00 – Concept of Perceptual Cognitive Advantage
17:00 – Playmaker
22:00 – Model
27:00 – Connecting Skills and Decisions
31:00 – Correcting the Mistake
34:00 – Train Through Watching Videos
39:00 – Outcome
42:00 – Concept of Active Patients
44:30 – Search, Decide and Execute
47:00 – Occlusion
51:00 – Basketball Practice
53:30 – Physical Training
57:00 – Making Mistakes
1:03:00 – Improving Decision Making
1:08:00 – Concept of Mind Body
1:10:00 – Conclusion

The Playmaker’s Advantage Links from the Podcast:

Leonard Zaichkowsky

Daniel Peterson


David Epstein

John Longmire

Mike Sullivan

Brad Stevens

Sidney Crosby

Steve Nash

Gary Klein

Learn more about decision-making:

Masterclass on 3-on-2 Decision-Making

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