“No, I won’t train your child 1 on 1”.
I’ve found myself saying that a lot lately so I wanted to unpack the “why” for families, coaches and players alike.
Basketball is not piano.
It’s common for parents to enroll their young kids in piano lessons as a way of learning how to play the instrument. The piano teacher gives all of their attention to the child, shows them how to play, they improve and maybe even become lifelong pianists. Money well spent!
That line of thinking often gets used when trying to improve at basketball. But it’s wrong. Basketball is a team sport. You aren’t preparing for a 1-person showcase (recital) as a basketball player. The game is dynamic and it is played alongside 4 other teammates (and 5 opponents).
For the sake of simplicity I will give 3 main reasons why 1on1 basketball training is at best ineffective and at worst a huge waste of time and money for parents (of young players). These reasons assume that the main goal of 1on1 training is to perform better in games. If the goal is purely social or simply to enjoy the game more then maybe 1on1 training can serve those purposes.
1. Lack of decision-making
Basketball, like any team sport, involves hundreds of little decisions throughout the course of a game. When do I make this pass? What kind of pass should I use? Should I shoot, pass or drive? Will I have time to make one more move or do I pick up my dribble now?
You can’t simulate those decisions with no live defenders. Not to mention where you dribble the ball, how you position your body, where you scan with your eyes are all based on where your defender is and where the other players are on the court. A bright orange cone provides a very poor replacement for a human in these scenarios.
Most players (especially younger ones) don’t have the experience and prior context to imagine where defenders would be, when this move would work and how to execute it in real time. Therefore, practicing offensive moves in a 1on0 setting has very limited transfer to the game. Essentially, how something is being practiced is not how it will be executed in a game situation. It begs the question, why practice it in the first place?
2. Skills they won’t be able to use (in games)
More often than not a player is being trained by someone other than the coach of their team. And unless this trainer communicates directly with the coach of the player’s team then they may be working on skills and concepts that the player won’t even have the freedom to execute come game time. This one can mostly be mitigated with open communication between the trainer and coach but from my experience these conversations rarely happen which leads to a disconnect between what’s being practiced and what the player is able to perform in a game (based on their role within their team).
In addition to the reason above, the skills worked on in a 1 to 1 session are often exclusively on-ball (meaning things that happen when the player has the ball in their hands). But we know that 95%+ of the game happens when you do NOT have the ball in your hands. This relates back to reason #1 - working almost exclusively on things that simply won’t transfer to the game.
3. False sense of confidence
Repeating the same dribble move (with no defender) 30 times in a row will lead to some level of improvement at that task. The player will be cheered on by their trainer and they will feel as if they are getting better. Unfortunately, it’s a mirage. They have improved their ability to perform a predetermined cross-over at the cone and shoot a layup. So they have improved at something. And that something provides confidence in their competence to perform that rote series of skills. However, it all comes crashing down when they have to perform it in a game scenario. As I outlined in reason #1, they are working on skills in a way that doesn’t simulate the randomness of a game.
The trainer-player relationship is also tricky because the trainer needs to legitimize their role by doing things over and over so the player (and parent) feel like they are improving (and gaining confidence). True learning and improvement is messy but the optics of that aren’t ideal for a parent paying $100+/hr for their child to get better (or at least look like they are improving).
All that being said, like most things in life, there are exceptions to the rule…
1. If a player is wanting to improve their shooting then there is value in having someone knowledgeable work personally with them on a technical skill like shooting. Although, after 2-3 sessions there are diminishing returns. The player should know what the “lynchpin” techniques they need to be working on to improve their shooting consistency after a few 1on1 sessions. Then it’s up to them to get the repetitions and work on it on their own.
2. If a player is 16+ years old and would benefit from the expertise of someone that can work with them closely to develop some “micro habits” in how they work on their skills. I would still say that you’re mostly paying for the motivation of having to show up to a skill workout since you’re booked with a trainer. It’s similar to the value that most personal (strength & conditioning) trainers provide - it’s the accountability you're paying for…not necessarily the results you are getting as a direct result of their expertise. However, if a player is only working on their game when their trainer is around then they’ll never be very good anyways.
Now that you’ve heard why I think 1on1 training is highly inefficient for most players it’s only fair to provide some alternatives.
I’ll suggest a few:
1. Small group training (3-6 players) allows for defenders to be part of the skill development while still providing an intimate setting so that the coach can provide real-time feedback to each individual player.
2. Large group training (15-30 players) allows for the same benefits as small group training with perhaps a little less personal feedback. An advantage of this form of training is there is a higher chance of grouping up with players of similar ability and size (due to more players being present).
3. Pick-up/scrimmaging at your local park or community centre. The best way to improve is to play live basketball against bigger/older/better players. You learn how to be effective in different environments and develop creativity that is hard to do in highly organized settings.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!
This post was written by Right Way Basketball founder, Mike Kenny, a former USPORTS National Champion, current coach educator, clinician and teacher of the game.