When you have a player who will continually do the same thing under similar circumstances you have a player who has a habit. It does not really matter if what they are doing is wrong or mostly right or successful some of the time. If they are “just doing an action” then it is a habit. Most habits can be small things like traveling or having extra movement in their shooting form that interferes with the ball actually going in the basket.
What I am going to say next, and you will have to decide whether you agree with it or disagree with it as it is a big statement and a large part of my coaching philosophy. It affects every decision I make when I’m training athletes and developing players.
And that is that the player when acting purposefully will always out perform any automatic reaction they have had “built into them”. Training a player to play “automatically” or by “habit” drowns out their natural ability and dilutes their skills.
Even a good habit, if only eventually, will inhibit the player from performing at their highest level.
As a coach I consider it my job to bring out the ability of the player to their highest performance. Not drive in habits like a trained circus bear.
Once a player has formed a habit it can be quite maddening for a coach. Because despite all the assurances the player gives you that they will change it they go right on doing the same thing, especially in stressful game situations when you want them to be on the top of THEIR game the most. This is where habits really show up.
So how do you break a habit? I found the answer to this question from the American Philosopher L. Ron Hubbard.
“There are three rules on the resolution of automaticity (habit). You just make the “player” do it all by (them) self, and if you just make him do it instead of having it done for him – and he’ll recover from that automaticity (habit).
“Now that’s the basic law: You make him do it (the habit) and he owns it. Now, if you can’t make him do it right away, you can make him change it or you can make him alter it, some slight fashion.”
So what you do is you drill the player to purposefully do the habit that they keep repeating until they can confidently do it. Pretty simple right?
The player will most likely have some hesitation or resistance to mimicking the action they have been berated for performing. But let’s say the habit is picking up their pivot foot prior to dribbling. So you will ask them to do it the same way that is their habit. Have them purposefully travel by picking up their pivot foot prior to dribbling.
Drill them over and over again until they are certain they can do it easily and freely. Since you are the coach you should be able to see that they can do it easily and freely and that they do it purposefully. Then make it more difficult and put them in a game like situation and have them travel in the exact same manner that they travel in a real game until they are sure they are doing it. It will be pretty clumsy at first and then as the player starts to take control over the habit it will smooth out. When the player can control the action it is no longer a habit.
Of course after they break their habit you now need to drill them on the proper way to do an action or move. But the habit will no longer interfere with your drilling them correctly and they will be able to learn the move quickly.
This may need to be repeated a few times if the habit reappears but this has been very successful for me. One precaution is this is not a punishment, it is a drill like any other drill. Do not treat or let the player treat it like a penalty.