What youth coaches get wrong about “Fundamentals”

Youth coaches have a responsibility to help young players learn how to play the game. One way to do this is through teaching and emphasising the FUNDAMENTALS. However, it is difficult to teach players the fundamentals when most coaches haven’t defined what a FUNDAMENTAL really is.

Most youth coaches think of fundamentals as the following.

➡️ shooting
➡️ passing
➡️ dribbling

While these are important categories of technical skills, they aren’t fundamental to the game that is being played.

Fundamental is defined as the central principle on which something is based”. Invasion sports, such as basketball, have two main central principles upon which the game is built. These are:

  1. The ability to move one’s body
  2. The manipulation of space

When we teach players to pass or dribble, we are teaching them the technical movements needed to manipulate space. This is a combination of body movement in order to move the ball into an area of space on the court.

➡️ The pass is used to advance the ball quickly into an area where your teammate has space
➡️ The dribble is used to create separation from the defense so that the ball can be moved into space.
➡️ The defender’s objective is to pressure the ball so as to take away space from the offensive player

Space creates time, however, time does not create space

Fergus Connolly, Gamechanger

A well-executed pass or dribble isn’t much use if the ball isn’t moved into an area of space, at the right time. This is something that youth teams struggle to perform during games.

A player gets a rebound and his teammate sprints to the opposite side. The teammate is open and the coach is yelling, “Pass the ball!! Pass the ball!!” As the player attempts to do this, it is deflected and results in a turnover.

The next day, the team works on passing because the players can’t do it in games. However, the passing drills are technical repetitions with no defense present. This is not working on a fundamental or a skill that addresses the problem.

The problem was navigating space with a defender in front of the passer.

Youth coaches love to work on chest passes with the ball starting from the passer’s chest and going straight to the teammate’s chest. This is considered fundamental. However, if you watch any youth game, you will see that the chest pass is rarely used and in elite-level basketball, the chest pass is only used in transition to pass the ball up the strong side. So, why do we consider this fundamental?

We spend a lot of time in practice repeating this technical movement over and over again, thinking we are working on a fundamental skill, but players aren’t improving from this. Players need context in order to understand how to move in a way that creates and extends space. This is crucial.

By creating and extending space, we get to the shooting component. Players should only shoot the ball when they have space in a scoring position. The context allows players to get the necessary repetitions to identify these situations.

Repeatedly solving a problem leads to an increased rate of learning than merely repeating the solution to a problem which gives an illusion that learning has taken place

Janet Metcalfe, Annual Review of Psychology

By challenging the narrative and understanding that movement and space are basic fundamentals, maybe then, we can get youth coaches to use constraints and small-sided games to teach the game. Without context, learning is limited as players are unable to make the necessary connections needed to transfer to game situations.

It is more important that players move the ball into space at the right time than execute a perfect technique that results in no advantage.

Pep Guardiola has offered, “we move our bodies in order to move the opponent”. According to Alex Sarama and Michael Mackay, “moving the opponent changes the variables allowing for new affordances”. Fergus Connolly adds, “to create space in one area, we have to compress space in another”.

Therefore, as the game is being played players need to be able to move their bodies efficiently in various planes of motion in order to manipulate space. By compressing one side, they create space in another area. This is the entire premise of dribble penetration principles.

Check out the two videos below on some of the best passes from the NBA. Observe how the passer manipulates his body to move the defense, which creates a passing lane to deliver the pass into an area of space at the right time.

Feel free to count how many “traditional fundamental” passes are delivered.

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