Monday, September 3, 2012

Coaching Hard and Soft Skills

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After months of anticipation and waiting, I finally got my hands on The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle. Coyle is also the author of one of my favorite books, The Talent Code. As I suspected, the book did not disappoint and it was well worth the wait! If you haven't yet, you need to get it. It is a must for every coach and player!

I'm not going to print all 52 tips on here, but one of the things that struck a chord with me was the idea of hard vs. soft skill and how different they are from each other. A hard skill is a skill that must be done right every time, in every situation. A soft skill, on the other hand, is the skill of being able to read and adapt to a situation on the go.

What does this have to do with coaching basketball you ask? Well basketball is a game that constantly combines hard and soft skill. Successful players have both. As a coach you need to understand how each is developed in order to properly coach it - and it's evident that some coaches do not understand the difference.

Many times coaches confuse hard skills with soft skills. Passing is a prime example. I understand the need for form passing drills at a young age, but is that really how you get better at passing? Of course not. Passing must be done against pressure, to a moving target, with defense. How many times in a game are you going to come down the floor, stop unpressured, and make a perfect pass to a guy standing wide open? If you do play a team that allows you to do that, let me know who it is so we can schedule them! Most teams you play are going to pressure the passer and maybe the cutter. Players are going to have to learn angles, leading their target, when a player is open, the type of pass to use,  how fast to throw it, etc. These are all soft skills that can't be taught properly in a structured drill.

How about fast break skills? We often hear coaches complain that players that are great in practice but struggle making the right decision in transition during a game. Why is that? Well many times players are told to take the ball to spot A, pass to player B, and then move to spot C. Well that may work in practice, but doesn't really apply to a real game when the situation is constantly changing. They might be great at a normal 3 on 2 situation but what happens when it's 3 on 3? 1 on 1? 3 on 2 and the defenders sag in the lane? 3 on 2 when the third defender is sprinting in behind? All of a sudden it isn't as easy as it was in practice - the skill has shifted to a soft skill.

Half court offense is another prime example of hard vs. soft skills. Yes shooting, passing skills, dribbling are important. Players need to know how to react to a given situation to take advantage of the defense - when to backcut, the angle to basket cut, etc. Even in set offenses such as SWING or Flex the teams that run it best have players who read the defense and make the right play. They still backcut pressure, attack the rim on the drive and read the defense, relocate on the pass inside for a better passing angle out,  etc. They see the patterns in the game and understand how to react and take advantage of the defense, instead of running around like robots.

Closeouts are yet another skill we all struggle getting our players to do correctly in a game. Why? Well, many times we practice closeouts 1 on 0 or with a dummy offense. It's great for the technique but translates poorly to game situations. How do they know how to use the skill in a game? How do they know what angle to take when closing out when the offense is in a variety of positions? How do they know how to read the offensive player's body language to see that he's going to drive? The answer is they do not have the knowledge, unless they've acquired the soft skills as well.

And how about 1 on 1 skills? How many players can do a move that is textbook on a chair and then get to the game and they seem lost on when to do the move, or they cross over right into the defender? The issue is that they have the hard skill down but they don't have the soft skill - the knowledge of when to use the crossover, the angle to take, etc.

I guess the labored point I am trying to make is that basketball is a lot of soft skills. But as a coach are you teaching it a soft skill setting? As you all know by now, I am a HUGE fan of the work that Brian McCormick does. Mainly because he teaches the game in a soft skill setting. He develops those kinds of skills in players, which are very important skills.

The question we as coaches have to ask ourselves is are we giving our players the correct teaching environment for the required skill? You want to teach the backcut, that's great! But running a drill with a passer at the point, a wing, and a defender where the defender dummies it isn't going to really help. It's a good way to start to learn the skill and build the technique (hard skill), but in order for the player to truly learn the concept they need to see it over and over again in a game type setting (soft skill).

As I've talked about in other posts, this year I spent a lot of time experimenting with teaching the game using small sided games. What we found was that small sided games of  3 on 3, 2 on 2, and 1 on 1 where the ultimate way to build skills, habits, and the ability to adapt to and read situations. Reading this book now solidifies my theory on the topic - you have to spend a lot of time on the soft skills. You want players to really learn how to play and how to use a skill during the game then you need to teach in an environment that develops soft skill learning. Other wise you are going to be frustrated. 

Now don't get me wrong, we still need drills to teach the hard skills. Players need to know the technical aspects of closing out, making a crossover dribble, or making a push pass. But many times we as coaches, myself included, spend too much time teaching the hard skill and not enough on the soft skill aspect and it's evident that the soft skill aspect is far more important. It doesn't matter if a player has picture perfect passing form if he's throwing it to the other team every time. Teaching soft skills is the missing piece to basketball development in my opinion and why not enough players "know how to play".


Matt Martino said...

Great site. Thanks for your work.

Matt Martino said...
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