The Basketball Podcast: EP192 with Rob Gray on Better Coaching

RELEASE DATE : 01/12/2021

In this week’s coaching conversation, professor, researcher, podcaster and author Rob Gray joins the Basketball Podcast to discuss the way we coach and practice sport skills.

Rob’s recent book discusses what is the new, revolutionary way people are becoming skillful and how is sports practice and coaching becoming more creative and fun – giving athletes the opportunity to explore and support their own individuality and creativity.

How We Learn to Move: A Revolution in the Way We Coach & Practice Sports Skills

And his podcast covering how psychological research can be applied to improving performance, accelerating skill acquisition & designing technologies.

The Perception & Action Podcast

Rob Gray is a professor at Arizona State University who has been conducting research on and teaching courses related to perceptual-motor skill for over 25 years. He received his MS and PhD from York University in Canada with a focus on the visual control of movement. An important aspect of his work has been applying basic theory to address real-world challenges which he has done in positions with Nissan Motor Corp, the US Air Force, serving as an expert witness for driving accident cases, and consultant roles with several sports teams and organizations. In 2007 he was awarded the Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology from the American Psychological Association.

One of the accomplishments he is most proud of is the baseball batting virtual environment/virtual reality that he developed over the course of several years and which has been used in over 25 published studies. In 2017 (Gray, Frontiers in Psychology) he published the results of a 10-year study using a virtual reality training protocol which led to clear evidence of transfer of training to real performance.

In his career, Gray has strongly emphasized the communication and dissemination of scientific knowledge. In 2015, he started the Perception & Action Podcast ( to help bridge the gap between theory and the field. With over 350 episodes and 2 million downloads, it has become a critical resource for individuals working in areas including coaching, talent development, training and rehabilitation.

Rob Gray

Listen Here:

Rob Gray Coach Quotes:

“There’s a lot of really interesting new ideas for how to coach and to design practices [that are] fundamentally changing the role of the coach . . from instructor, where I know all the answers, to more of a designer and a guide, where you help an athlete find their own solutions.”

“I think we can do better, especially in practice sessions, of getting more interactions between players and taking advantage of [having] everybody together [and] use that chance, instead of doing kind of reductionistic drills, passing and dribbling around cones, . . and just make things more game-like.”

“The real theme in the book is exploration . . the book is more of a starting point to get you thinking about these different ideas: the importance of variability and movement and moving away from repetition and the one correct way to do things.”“We’re dying for creative players that can create scoring opportunities by making good decisions, then you go to practice, and how often do you let an athlete make a decision?”

“Letting athletes make decisions is really big. Designing practice, where they get lots of opportunities to interact and make decisions, is critical.”

“I totally recognize the pressures on coaches to get people proficient in the short term . . everybody knows some players that are technically good at dribbling between their legs, around their back, and then you get them in the game and they’re useless because they don’t know how to take advantage of space, pass, and when to shoot and things like that.”

“If something’s functional, it’ll emerge. That’s the idea. You don’t need to give it to people first. If it’s important, and you need it, like keeping the ball protected when you lay it up, in your design of the right drills, and practice conditions, you’ll learn that. It’ll emerge.”

“As a coach the kind of myth you want to dispel is it’s completely hands off coaching, that the coach doesn’t do anything . . As a coach, it’s still your job to say, ‘That solution is not going to work in the long term, in a real game, or when they’re faster players.’ Your job as a coach is more to guide and push them and mold the solution rather than, ‘Here is how you do this technique.’”

“Sometimes when I observe practice I say, ‘That’s a nice dance recital. When does practice start?’ [because there are] no decisions, no unpredictability. Everyone knows exactly what’s going to happen. That’s not what happens in sports.”

“We want to get you better in the game . . what we call shared affordances. Affordances are opportunities for action . . we want the point guard to see the same thing at the same time as the center does. They both see the defender leave the hoop undefended. The point guard lobs the pass to center; it’s not a scripted play. They just both saw the same opportunity, because you gave them practice at picking up opportunities, not just running scripted plays.”

“We have to recognize, ‘What’s the purpose of this practice session?’ If we just want people to feel comfortable and confident, then we don’t want to have a lot of huge variability and chaos . . Learning is messy. It’s about making mistakes, right? If your team perfectly executes every drill in a practice session, they didn’t learn a single thing. Learning requires making mistakes, searching for different solutions. When you want to really focus on learning and improving a specific thing, you need that [messiness] versus right before the game, let’s focus on confidence and things like that.”

“I think we’re chasing a lot of kids away from developing love of movement because of this elite sports model. If you can’t master this dribbling drill, then kids are like, ‘I’m not sporty,’ and they never pursue anything like that again, they get chased away. Whereas, if we made it more fun, I think we would definitely keep more people in [the sport].”

“Here’s all these different solutions . . Bernstein called this the degrees of freedom problem, how do I choose what to do? A constraint is something that takes away one of the solutions . . and actually pushes you to do another one.”

“There’s something to be said for teaching athletes to problem solve. So, not all of the things you do in the practice have to be variations that occur in the game.

“If you’re going to jump and land the exact same way every time, you are going to place stress on the exact same body parts every time versus . . adding a little variability to it . . There’s some great work showing that if you develop practice that encourages this variability, you reduce the factors for ACL injuries and things like that.”

“A classic thing we teach in motor learning classes is the difference between performance and learning. Right? Performance is looking good in the moment; learning is being good in the future, getting better in the future. And the two are very different.”

“The traditional way you use videos is corrective or you went the wrong way on this play. Whereas I think, I think the way you described is a perfect way [create a video edit of practice to game clips] . . connecting the practice, why we want to do it and seeing an outcome is a great, great tool for a coach.”

“The example, when we get you to dribble around cones, we’re getting you to act with no information, right? There’s no reason to go left versus right around the cone, other than the coach told you . . so, what we like to do, instead of getting you to learn to control the ball with cones is have you play tag.”

“The idea that you can take a skill, break it apart . . hitting off a tee in baseball practice or dribbling around cones, and then put it back into the game is, I think, fundamentally flawed.”

Rob Gray Breakdown:

1:00 – Ways Where Coaches Can Do
6:00 – Player vs Coach Led Development
8:00 – Evidence-Based Ideas
11:00 – Shoot The Lamp
14:00 – Interventions in Games as a Coach
18:00 – Block Practice
21:00 – Progressions
24:00 – Constraint Ladder Approach
28:00 – Googles
31:00 – Individualization
34:00 – Constraints to the Defense
37:00 – Adding Variability in Practice
40:00 – Conditioning
43:00 – Education
47:00 – Keep Them Coupled
49:00 – Concept of Fake Unopposed Drills
54:00 – Exaggeration and Teaching
58:00 – Concept of Form Shooting
1:00:00 – Conclusion

Rob Gray Links from the Podcast:

The Perception and Action Podcast

How We Move: A Revolution in the Way We Coach & Practice Sports Skills

Nikolai Bernstein

Degrees of freedom problem

Karl Newell

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