Monday, July 7, 2014

Sam Smith, The Talent Code, and Visual Learning

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What does a British pop singer have in common with book The Talent Code? More than you might think. Sam Smith is a British pop star who recently had his first big US hit "Stay with Me". When I first heard the song, what struck me was that it sounded like an 80s R&B or Soul singer. I was a little surprised that it was sung by a guy from Britain. Then I heard Smith interviewed on the radio last night and it made perfect sense. Smith started talking about how he was greatly influenced by a lot of female R&B singers, Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin being two of them. His mother was a big fan of that type of music and played it often. Smith readily admits he fell in love with the music and it was a deep inspiration for him (lighting the spark). After hearing that interview, it became apparent why he has the sound that he does.

So what does that have to do with the Talent Code? In The Talent Code, Coyle talks about how great performers spend a lot of time watching/listening to other's performers and studying other performers help to influence their own work. If you listen to Smith's songs, it doesn't take long to hear who his influences were. He spent a lot of time around, inspired by, and studying, those performers. Those performers in turn influenced his sound.

Okay, great, but what does this have to do with basketball? Simple - what are our players watching? Do they even watch anymore?! Unfortunately, visual learning is now one of the most under utilized learning tools. In a lot of talent hotbeds younger players watch the older players. They see how and why they move and then internalize that information to use themselves. In basketball the playgrounds and street courts used to be a great example of this.  Winner stayed on so the younger teams spent a lot of time on the side WATCHING the older players and without even knowing it they picked up valuable information on how to play the game. They then applied next time they were on the court. This created a hotbed of learning that produced a lot of great players.

With the rise of structured year-round basketball, our players are watching a lot less and just playing more. Our young players are so saturated by playing basketball that they don't have time to watch, and if they do they chose to do other activities because they need a mental break. This isn't a blame AAU statement, but just an observation because basketball is year round now. As coaches it's important to get our players watching more and learning through visualization. Some ideas that I have to help coaches get players to visualize more are as follows:

  • Incorporate visual learning into your practices and skill work with video. 
    • Want to teach players to attack the basket? Show clips of Jordan, LeBron, and Kobe attacking the basket and highlight the details - shoulder to hip, pushing ball out, etc. Question players and have them break down what they are seeing. 
    • Want to teach dribble drive? Then have them watch clips of teams running dribble drive well. They will then see the big picture and small nuances of the offense. 
  • Incorporate peer coaching into practices
    • Have players watch each other and have them coach each other on proper movements, position, etc. 
  • Incorporate visual learning in workouts/skill work with peer coaching
    • Partner up players and have them watch each other. 
    • Correct mistakes and praise when done right - helps players evaluate good vs. bad for themselves as much as for partner. 
  • Encourage players to watch more film
    • Pros, college, high school - anything will do. 
    • Have them watch a game on TV and write thoughts on the Xs and Os, player movement, player skills, etc. 
    • Have them watch a player (choose wisely) and take notes on how/when they move, how they execute what they do. 

As a coach I know that I need to do more with players visual learning. We have a middle school workout at noon today and I'm going to partner them up and have them coach each other. We will see how it goes. Also next year I'm going to incorporate more video into practice to show them proper way to execute techniques and offensive/defensive actions. Would love to hear feedback about how you incorporate visual learning into your practices.

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