This week, I worked out an 8th grade girl. When we met, the father explained the numerous problems with her shot and gave special attention to her thumbing the ball with her weak hand. The girl was 5’1 and maybe 100 pounds.
I watched her shoot. Her shot was repeatable. She had some technique flaws, but nothing major. I watched her shoot on the move. Finally, I moved her to the three-point line to get a sense of her range. The father saw problems with the girl’s shooting technique. I found her issues to center on her athletic skills: (1) she is not strong and (2) she struggles to decelerate and stop her momentum.
Her skill level was good. She used both feet as her pivot foot on her first step to the basket, and she stepped in right-left and left-right to shoot. Many players struggle to use their non-dominant foot as a pivot foot.
Her shooting technique was good for her size. She shoots a little lower than ideal, but there is no way she is going to shoot a pro jump shot as a 5’1, 100-pound 8th grader. Her arm motion is consistent and straight.
The problems occurred at the start and the finish. The problems at the start were athletic, and the problems at the finish were technical (with small hands, her shooting hand starts too far to the right, and she finishes with her fingers pointing to the side, not straight to the basket).
We spent time on the finish, but the bigger improvement will come through better athleticism. When she develops better leg strength and power, her shot will improve as she will start from a better position and extend her range. To improve, she needs to strengthen her lower body using resistance training, jumping exercises, and running on the sand (she lives near the beach).
As for her deceleration, her issues are a lack of strength and technique or habit. The problem was not her understanding of a 1-2- step; the issue was her inability to drop her hips when she stopped. She stopped with a wide stance, using the big step as a break to stop her momentum, as opposed to sitting her hips lower to absorb the force.
This is my focus for her technique work — the ability to stop. This is not a basketball-specific skill; it is a general athletic skill. All sport-specific skills develop on top of general athletic skills: before one can shoot, one must develop skills for jumping, stopping, throwing, and more.
We ignore these general skills and move directly to sport-specific applications of fundamental movement skills. Young athletes learn running mechanics when dribbling a ball or develop their jumping patterns when learning to shoot. At some point, players plateau, and many times, it is the suboptimal athletic movement skills that prevent further learning and development. In this case, it is strength and deceleration.
Before making children into basketball players, we must develop their athletic skills. The two work together and complement each other, but one cannot be a skilled player without possessing the underlying athleticism to perform the skills.