Articles & Resources

How An Injury Affects Shooting by Brian McCormick

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Oct 15, 2011 12:01:00 PM


by Brian McCormick

I played in a rec-league basketball game for the first time in two years tonight. Two weeks ago, when I moved into m condo, I tweaked my back lifting my bed. When I grapple, I feel weak on my left side and am occasionally hopeless when I need to generate force on that side to try and roll or shrimp to improve my position. I can play, and I do not feel injured, but I know it’s there.

This often happens to young athletes, especially with ankle injuries. They hurt something or tweak something, but they are not hurt so bad that they cannot play. However, the injury, if left untreated, affects their performance.

When we warmed up for the game tonight, I shot three-pointers. I felt my body twisting as I shot. My body is usually pretty still as I shoot. However, I turned to the left.

There are two possible explanations in my mind: (1) I was compensating because my legs are not as strong as they used to be; or (2) the weakness through my core on my left side inhibits my ability to stabilize my body through a dynamic movement. I cannot resist the force to maintain a stabile position throughout my shot.

With ankle injuries, the same thing occurs. Players hurt their ankles, but continue to play. However, their range of motion decreases, and they favor one leg. If this goes unnoticed for long enough, this compensatory motor pattern becomes their “normal” motor pattern. Trying to return to the original motor pattern now feels awkward because the player has adapted to the pattern borne from the injury and the compensation.

In my case, I need to lift more and find ways to strengthen my back without hurting it further. I do some light core work, but grappling twice a week and demonstrating weightlifting lifts twice per week to my class prohibits a full recovery, but that’s a decision that I make.

For a player with an ankle injury, I advise players to stand on one leg and draw the alphabet in the air with the other. This is a classic rehab exercise that works in two ways: (1) it is a single-leg balance exercise and studies show that the ability to stand on one leg without any perturbations reduces one’s likelihood of injuring his or her ankle; and (2) by writing the alphabet with his or her foot, the player works through the full range of motion and breaks up any scar tissue or anything affecting the full extension or flexion of the joint.

This is one example. When a player’s skill performance changes negatively, often it could be as a compensation for something else. Before instructing more or worrying about the skill execution, we need to address the movement and reduce the injury or lingering effects of an injury to prevent a compensatory motor pattern from becoming normal.


Brian McCormick, CSCS, M.S.S.
Author: Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development

Director of Coaching: Playmakers Basketball Development League
Clinician: 180 Shooter 


Topics: Basketball Related, Brian McCormick

The Mile Fitness Test For Basketball by Brian McCormick

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Sep 10, 2011 7:11:00 AM


Coach McCormick really knocks this one out of the park!

Read his article by clicking HERE.

Topics: Brian McCormick, Strength Training

Sport-Specific Skills vs General Athletic/Movement Skills by Brian McCormick

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Sep 3, 2011 7:04:00 AM


Click HERE to reach Coach McCormick's article.


Topics: Basketball Related, Brian McCormick

Traditions Die Hard: Where is science-based or research-directed coaching? by Brian McCormick

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Aug 11, 2011 9:45:00 PM

Click HERE to view Brian McCormick's article.

Topics: Basketball Related, Brian McCormick

Injury Epidemic - The Solution Starts With Coach Education & A Change Away From Peak By Friday Mindset by Brian McCormick

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Aug 6, 2011 1:20:00 PM


Click HERE to read this article by Coach Brian McCormick.

Topics: Basketball Related, Brian McCormick

What is Learning by Brian McCormick

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Jan 2, 2011 6:25:00 PM

by Brian McCormick

Last week, I wrote about learning as a skill. However, what is learning?

Our most colloquial term referring to motor performance is “muscle memory.” However, while this term is accepted generally and practically, learning occurs in the brain. When we talk about “muscle memory,” we are referring to motor programs stored in our procedural long-term memory. Since learning occurs in the brain, we cannot see learning. Instead, we infer learning based on performance.

Learning requires improvement, consistency, stability, persistence and adaptability. Performance is temporary. Kobe Bryant shoots 7/25 on one night and 14/19 on the next night. Did he learn better shooting technique in between the two games because his shooting performance improved? If he shot 6/21 in the next game, would that indicate forgetting?

No. His performance varies due to performance variables: fatigue, defense, shot selection, time constraints, travel, pressure, etc. His technique - his motor programs - do not change from game to game; his skill is learned. However, his performance of these skills varies due to external and internal factors.

This is an important concept in learning and coaching. How does a coach react to a player’s performance? The coach’s reaction or instruction can become a performance variable and affect performance positively and negatively. Of course, the coach’s instruction is also a learning variable, as the instructions affect the player’s learning of the skill.

One measure of learning is adaptability from situation to situation. I have written previously about this concept in terms of movement away from the ball and used Vern Gambetta’s idea of adapted vs. adaptable. An adapted player learns his offensive set and can execute the set as if following a set of instructions; an adaptable player learns the skills and adapts those skills to different situations. When I played, I adapted to the pattern of the Flex offense in junior high school; however, I did not learn how to use a down screen generally, just within the context of the offense. Therefore, my skill was not adaptable to different situations.

A coach’s approach and instructions affect the player’s adaptability. When coaches limit players, they often affect their adaptability. When coaches use only block drills, they affect their adaptability. For instance, if a player learns a chest pass in a typical two-line drill with no defense, is that skill adaptable to different situations? Will he be able to use the skill in a game situation when pressured by a defender? We assume that skills transfer; we assume that because a player can make an unguarded two-hand chest pass to a stationary target, he will be able to pass off the dribble to a moving target while defended. These assumptions account for many breakdowns in skill execution and coaching. If the player adapts and executes the pass in a game under time stress, then we say he has learned the skill. However, if his skill is useless to him because of the load or time constraints, he has not learned. He is able to perform the skill under certain situations, but he has learned the skill only in those specific situations.

Assuming a high school varsity player has learned his shooting skills, how should a coach react to a mistake? Many coaches and parents immediately yell at a player who misses a free throw to use more legs. However, this type of instruction interrupts the skill execution. A varsity player has learned the shooting technique - he may need to improve, but his technique is consistent, stable, persistent and adaptable: he shoots the same way every time. If his technique changes on one shot because of fatigue or balance or defense, he quickly returns to his technique and does not change his technique permanently; his technique persists over a period of time; and he can shoot in different gyms against different defenders.

When the coach tells the player to bend his legs, the player changes from an automatic processing to a controlled processing. The conscious overtakes the subconscious execution. In a time-stressed task, this usually leads to err because it takes too long to think consciously and make a decision. In a skill like shooting a free throw, the conscious thinking diverts the player’s attention from the rim (external) to the bend of the knees (internal). The player becomes more acutely aware of his body and tries to control the shot, which often leads to sub-optimal performance. When I shoot free throws, and allow my mind to wander, I hit 20, 30 in a row. However, as soon as I realize that I am shooting well, and try to analyze the shot to feel something or to learn something to share with the players who I train, I inevitably miss because my coscious mind controls the action. By thinking about other things, I divert my conscious mind away from the task and allow the subconscious to control the process. Since the skill is well-learned, the subconscious generally leads to make after make.

A bad game is a bad game. A poor performance may illustrate the need for additional learning; for instance, a player may need different practice to adapt the chest pass to game situations, especially in the half court. Therefore, the poor performance illustrates a limitation in the player’s learning, and a coach can use a different type of practice, a more random, varied practice, to enhance the player’s transfer of learning to the game, or the adaptability of his skill.

However, in other instances, a bad game is a bad game. If I am usually a 90% free throw shooter, and I make 5/10 in a game, the worst thing that I can do is change my free throw shooting because of the one poor performance. Performance is temporary. If I have learned the skill well, my skill is stable and that one game is not going to alter my performance moving forward. Instead, as long as my mind does not interfere (affect my confidence and attention), I would expect to shoot 90% in the next game.

Learning is relatively permanent and requires practice (of course, learning can be negative, as one can acquire a skill at a below-optimal level). Observation of skill execution must differentiate between a poor performance (temporary), an unlearned skill (and therefore inconsistent in its execution) and a skill learned with less than optimal technique. Practice should be aimed at establishing the correct technique and making the skill more consistent, more stabile, and adaptable.


Topics: Basketball Related, Brian McCormick

Dirk Nowitski's Summer Training by Brian McCormick

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Dec 19, 2010 6:31:00 PM

Click HERE to view this article.

Check out Brian as he speaks at the BSMPG Basketball Specific Training Symposium this coming June 3/4 in Boston.

Topics: Basketball Related, Brian McCormick

Learning As A Skill by Brian McCormick

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Dec 12, 2010 2:28:00 PM

by Brian McCormick

Josh Waitzkin wrote a great book titled The Art of Learning in which he chronicles his experience as a chess prodigy and push-Judo World Champion. He attributes his success to his ability to learn.

In the lead-up to UFC 124, Kevin Iole wrote about the transformation of Josh Koscheck and Georges St. Pierre since their first fight. About GSP, he writes:

“He literally traveled the world seeking knowledge. While he’s one of the greatest athletes in the sport, his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach, John Danaher, said it’s St. Pierre’s ability to absorb coaching that makes him so unique.

‘He’s mastered the art of learning,’ said Danaher... ‘His ability to learn is what has helped him to continue to make progress over time. Most professional mixed martial artists have a certain skill set that is associated with them, and they use that and sustain themselves throughout their careers with that. But he’s one of the few who continues to change, modify and adapt and bring in new techniques over time.’

He’s meticulous when it comes to doing things correctly. And so, even though he had routed the hard-punching Dan Hardy at UFC 111, the first thing he did when he returned to the locker room was get onto the floor and question Danaher about mistakes he made when going for an arm bar submission in the first round.”

I wrote an article recently about automaticity ( and cited a study titled “Inside the brain of an elite athlete: the neural processes that support high achievement in sports.” Yarrow, Brown and Krakauer (2009) wrote:

It is not automaticity per se that is indicative of high proficiency but rather the level of skill at which automaticity is attained.

Learning is a relatively permanent change in performance that occurs through practice. To continue improving, one must acquire a new skill, as is often indicative of mixed martial artists who start in one discipline (wrestling) and learn new disciplines (boxing) as a way to improve. Another way to improve is to push past one’s current level in terms of the speed-accuracy trade-off. For GSP, that might mean improving the speed of his punches or the speed with which he reads his opponent to decide when, where and how to punch without sacrificing accuracy; or, he could become a more accurate puncher without sacrificing speed, maybe by throwing more straight punches as opposed to looping punches.

In basketball, young players often improve by acquiring new skills. As players gain experience, many automate these skills at an early age and their improvement plateaus. I have noticed that many female players essentially peak around their junior year of high school. Rather than settle into a performance level when one reaches automaticity, to improve, one must continue learning. If the player has learned all the basic skills, improvement requires pushing past her current threshold in terms of speed or accuracy. This is why many coaches push players to practice at the edge of their performance level. This is also why improvement often starts with a dip in performance.

To continue learning, the player must learn to make her moves quicker with the same level of accuracy. Imagine a player learning to dribble. Initially, the player improves by eliminating gross mistakes - essentially, the players learns to control the ball with her fingers. As her control improves, she furthers her learning by adding new moves: in-n-out, crossover, behind-the-back, etc. When she learns a new move, her performance declines because learning is an error-filled process. When she learns a crossover for the first time, she makes more mistakes than she had been making when dribbling the ball in straight lines. As she reduces errors and automates her crossover dribble, she automates the skill at a certain speed of execution. At that speed, she rarely makes a mistake - she has has supreme ball control at that speed or great accuracy with her dribbling.

To continue learning, she has to make the move faster. Learning the crossover dribble at a faster speed requires concentration, a specific goal and numerous repetitions - deliberate practice. The player must move outside of her comfort zone (the speed at which she controls the ball with great accuracy) and practice at a faster speed. At this faster speed - the edge of her performance level - she is likely to make more mistakes. However, as her learning continues, she makes fewer and fewer errors at this speed, which signifies her learning which we see as improvement. At that point, she must push to a new performance edge and make more mistakes in an effort to learn and improve.

This is an exhaustive task, especially as players gain experience and reach higher and higher levels of performance. It is easy to improve when learning a new skill. It is very hard to continue one’s learning on an automated skill.

The elite performers manage to push through their comfort zone and practice on the edges to continue learning and improving. GSP’s post-fight behavior is indicative of the dedication and concentration needed for learning to continue. In essence, his mistake in the fight set the conditions for deliberate practice, as he sought an expert for immediate feedback, and one imagines that he trained to improve that specific skill with numerous repetitions over the next few weeks. In that way, he learned something new, either because it was a new skill or because he was able to perform an old skill faster, more accurately or in different situations.

Many players lack this ability or desire to further their learning once they reach an acceptable level of performance. Their skill automaticity does not signify their expertise, but places a ceiling on their performance. Those who continue their learning and push past their comfort zone tend to be the ones who excel at higher and higher levels of competition.


Topics: Basketball Related, Brian McCormick

What Is Wrong With Girls Basketball? by Brian McCormick

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Nov 28, 2010 3:41:00 PM

I picked up the following on another web site that covers primarily southern California prep players and teams. However, it closely mirrors many points made on this site previously (I deleted the player’s name and school):

As the negative stories started filtering out of the HAX tourney, perhaps the most significant was the oft-repeated observation that [D1] recruit K.S. has no desire.  She’s a player with all the gifts to be a collegiate AA, yet, she plays as if she’d rather be anywhere other than the basketball court.  If this were a reality show, a judge would have already put the question to her, “Do you really want to be here?”  My belief is that she wants to come to [college] and if she has to play basketball in order to do it, so be it.  During the tournament, numerous observers felt that she was content to let others do the dirty work and if the ball got in her hands, then the magic happened.  Unfortunately, she was not the only player at the tournament who had that attitude.
Have we burned out these girls?  Playing every day, every month of the year.  Even though this is the first big high school tournament in the Southland [technically it is before the official start date of high school basketball practice], scores and scores of concerned fans were noticing that the girls were disinterested and unenthusiastic.  Also, the girls were better athletes, but not better basketball players.  Playing all those games hasn’t translated into higher skills because there’s no teaching or coaching. Watching player after player incorrectly perform a basic skill like a bounce pass or totally ignoring others like a close out,  and you can only start wondering what these parents are paying the big bucks for.  Oh, I know, it’s for the college scholie, and a lot of girls at the tournament have gotten that.  Good for them.  But have we lost a generation of players because of that single-minded goal?  Watching some of the ghastly games that WBB put on during their first week, I’d say the prognosis is not encouraging.


Topics: Basketball Related, Brian McCormick

A Quick Note : Youth Training by Brian McCormick

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Nov 28, 2010 3:33:00 PM

by Brian McCormick

I generally refuse to train 8-year-olds. When parents call about a young player, I encourage the parents to invest in gymnastics or martial arts because of the benefits in terms of general strength and coordination as well as kinesthetic awareness.

The one 8-year-old who I agreed to train participated in a summer camp that I directed. Incidentally, teaching him how to shoot was easier than with any other player with whom I have worked. While he may not have developed many bad habits by that point, I attributed the ease of development to his weightlifting. At 8-years-old, he was working out with weights and doing cleans, snatches, squats and other lifts that conventional wisdom suggests are dangerous for children. At 8, he specialized in basketball. I encouraged him to play other sports because I am not a fan of early specialization. As he reached middle school, he played different sports and excelled in wrestling and football. Again, I attribute at least some of his success to his early weightlifting.

The New York Times ran an article this week featuring Dr. Avery Faigenbaum about the myths of youth weight lifting. The article highlighted research showing the safety of resistance training, despite the pervasive myths of stunting a child’s growth.

The article made two interesting points:

First, Dr. Faigenbaum said that children do not benefit in terms of hypertrophy like adults, but in terms of neurological changes. This makes sense, as the first adaptation that anyone makes when beginning a weight lifting program is neuromuscular. When you lift for the first time and see rapid gains immediately, those gains are not muscular strength; instead, it is the neuromuscular system firing more rapidly and efficiently which allows you to lift more weights.

When the eight-year-old did cleans, the improvements in terms of shooting were not due to muscular strength (at least initially). The resistance training did not make adaptations to shooting easier because he was stronger and therefore could shoot with better form from further distance. Instead, the ease was due to the neuromuscular improvements: he adapted to basketball-specific movements more quickly and easily. He understood the full-body coordination of a jump shot, while most 8-10-year-olds learn through segments and therefore do not exhibit the same full-body coordination.

Most players learn to shoot with a set shot. When they transition to a jump shot, the complexity is learning to coordinate the upper-body movement with the lower-body movement: the full-body coordination affects the transition as the body learns to turn these two movements into one (this is why I spend less and less time on form shooting drills). For the eight-year-old, he already had this movement pattern from the cleans, so his transition was easier.

The second interesting point was the lack of movement in today’s youth. Many people, including me, have written about the perils of overtraining in youth athletes. The important point is that the overtraining effects with young athletes are not necessarily due to the volume of the stress, but the lack of preparation for the physical stress.

“There was a time when children ‘weight trained’ by carrying milk pails and helping around the farm. Now few children, even young athletes, get sufficient activity’ to fully strengthen their muscles, tendons and other tissues. ‘If a kid sits in class or in front of a screen for hours and then you throw them out onto the soccer field or basketball court, they don’t have the tissue strength to withstand the forces involved in their sports. That can contribute to injury,’ said Lyle Micheli, M.D., the director of sports medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston and professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard University.”

A coaching friend called me recently and told me that every U.S. Olympic Wrestling medalist in the last 30 years grew up on a farm. That makes sense, as children on a farm grow up in a more active environment and develop strength naturally through the farming. Consequently, their bodies are prepared for activities like wrestling.

The best way to prevent overtraining is not to limit the hours of activity, but to increase the opportunities for physical activity and to incorporate preparatory activities like resistance training even (or maybe especially) with young athletes.

Despite what most people think, weight lifting is highly unlikely to stunt a child’s growth or induce injury, unless the child lifts inappropriately. The benefits of weight lifting, however, are many.

Read the article here:


Topics: Basketball Related, Brian McCormick