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Rules of Retention, by Rainer Meisterjahn


Rules of Retention Pyramid

One of the most CONCERNING problems in basketball today is that players are unable to take full advantage of learning opportunities in practice and struggle to memorize information. Instead, players often become dependent on constant coaching instruction. The issue is frequently exacerbated by coaches who feel a need to shout instructions throughout every second of every game and break the flow of practice by continually interrupting drills to correct “mistakes” and providing excessive verbal explanations instead of letting the players “figure it out.” Coaches, you should always remember that autonomous player learning is AT THE HEART of just about every successful basketball program in the nation. Yes, there are certainly examples to the contrary. However, if you want to give your players the best chance at on-court success through effective learning, pay close attention to the following…

The Learning Retention Pyramid shown in the picture above is based on classroom research. Nonetheless, it has great applicability to on-court teaching. Follow these simple guidelines:

  • Emphasize ACTIVE learning during each practice. You’ll likely provide plenty of opportunities for passive learning without even trying.
  • DISCUSSION GROUP: At the conclusion of every practice, make 10-15 minutes available for your players to evaluate and discuss the practice (e.g., quality, effort, skill development).
  • PRACTICE BY DOING: Provide your players with brief, yet specific, instructions (e.g., on technique and play execution), then let them “try it out.” Make it a point, during certain in-practice periods, to only give feedback when specifically requested by your players. Research has shown that athletes often prefer feedback to confirm they did well on a skill rather than after poor attempts when they usually prefer to try again.
  • TEACH OTHERS: Every practice, provide at least one opportunity for some of your players to teach something to their teammates and/or the coaching staff (e.g., a skill, drill, or philosophical quote). You might put a different player in charge of coaching the team during short stretches of every practice. Challenge your players to teach using combinations of verbal explanations, demonstrations, audio-visual means, etc. (see top half of pyramid marked in gray).
  • IMMEDIATE USE OF LEARNING: Whatever you teach, let your players “have a go at it” right away so it (e.g., a new skill or play) “sticks.” However, you will also want to challenge your players’ retention at times by delaying implementation (e.g., teach a play and then ask your players three practices later to spontaneously execute it at game speed) and, thus, maximizing long-term learning.

Lastly, pin the Rules of Retention Pyramid to your office wall and let it become the foundation of your teaching philosophy. Not only will your players appreciate it, but they WILL pay you back by making your job easier and performing better on the court in the short and long-term!

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