Ben Simmons Jump Shot
Perspectives of a Performance Coach
Fixing Ben Simmons jump shot isn't a simple task. Trust me, shooting more is not the answer. We're not even factoring in the external performance elements such as being in a real game, against live competition, with fatigue, and in front of fans all around the world. Today, we'll learn the best practices to fix techniques and why so many people get it wrong.
Sports Are Complicated
Understatement of the day brought to you by captain obvious. Sports require multiple levels of intelligence. Most of them you've never thought about. Kinesthetic, Spatial, Logical-Mathematical, and Interpersonal (Emotional). That is, expertly moving your body within a given space, at a given time while ignoring or absorbing external stimuli. It's one of the many reasons why we marvel at sport. We appreciate them because at some level we can relate. We're inspired by their performance.
Twisting Your Ankle
Whether you've played sports or not you've probably twisted your ankle. Everyone has done it. We all know just how much it hurts. How does it relate to Simmons? Because it's the easiest way to understand Biotensegrity. Keeping it simple, our body is a network of joints and bones held together by other tissues such as our muscles, tendons, etc. Our bodies are built to maintain shape and function even in adverse situations.
Which brings us back to the sprained ankle. When you sprained your ankle it hurt like hell. Perhaps you moved gingerly at first. Yet, at some point you returned to the activity. Got back in the game and you didn't feel it until the next day. Have you ever wondered how this happens?
It happens in part because of tensegrity. When you hurt your ankle you limped. Your body adjusted by changing your mechanics. Reducing your limp and your pain. You movement pattern was altered from head to toe. A subtle adjustment to keep you functioning. No thinking required. Until now.
These subtle alterations don't always work themselves out. You created a new movement pattern. Which can limit function and eventually lead to an injury. Left alone it constantly adds to the toll of trauma to the body.
You hurt your arm throwing in high school but it gave out 15 years later reaching for the top self.
Microtrauma: What Hurts Us the Most
All injuries as trauma. That's how we are defining them moving forward. They can be broken down into two categories: Macro- and Microtrauma. Macrotrauma is something big. You broke your toes when you dropped a weight on it. Microtrauma, on the other hand, represent the tiny moments that hurt us. Think about getting stress reactions in your shins from running known as shin splints. You've had this nagging pain for a while. It got better then it got worse. Now it's a stress fracture. If your discomfort and pain suddenly disappear it doesn't always mean you're healed.
After working for a decade in the performance and rehabilitation arena you’d be surprised how significant injuries occur during mundane activities. Tearing a rotator cuff tossing a tennis ball in the backyard. I once had a client that had a LisFranc injury from chasing her toddler down. An injury has ended pro football careers.
Why It Stops Hurting
Unfortunately, these nagging pains just don't disappear. Each day you're adding microtrauma to your body. Pain is always a sign that something is wrong. However, just like when you twisted your ankle, your body adjusts to it. It normalizes it to keep you going. Without proper attention there's a strong chance it didn't just fix itself.
Examples of back injuries:
- Not lifting something heavy, it was picking up a toothbrush.
- Trying to tie your shoes before you left for the gym.
- Brought in the all the groceries in one trip but pulled your back when you dropped your phone.
As the years add up, the stress in your body builds. Eventually it will break. The longer it takes the worse it can be. Then it’s surgery, therapy, and then you would run into me. My role? To help reprogram your body for optimal mechanics and proper muscle activation.
Movements can create microtrauma. Those subtle aches and pains are warning signs something isn’t right. They exists to alert us of a problem because most of us are unaware of our movement patterns. Which brings me to sports. With athletic bodies that are well equipped to adapt to stress.
Fundamentally Flawed Movement
Your movement may be flawed and it's nobodies fault. Injury is just one of the common ways our movement patterns are altered. Unfortunately, you may just get it wrong. Whenever I ask people about basic movements they look baffled. You believe because you can run you know how to run. Perhaps you run well, but do you know the mechanics? Or even understand why they are important? More often than not the answer is no.
Do You Know How to Run?
Running, jumping, and landing. We all do it and most of us have never thought twice about it. All the instructions from every coach or trainer and still the best we could do is mimic them. The problem? Well, that waffle looks tasty but what if I told you that's shaving cream? At first, it looked good but now we both know it's wrong.
That's how our movement patterns are. You sprint clawing forward and hammering your heel on the group without a second thought. To the untrained eye, there's nothing wrong. When pain develops, especially in young people, parents and coaches shrug their shoulders cause that waffle still looks good to them.
Signs of Trouble
Teenagers shouldn't have back and knee pain. The amount of young athletes developing these problems is troubling. Again, pain means something is wrong. These athletes are grinding away at their bodies. Shortening their careers and limiting their performance.
Example: An athlete that gets stuck, has low back and knee pain.
- Common Problem: Can be associated with improper hip hinging. Instead of using their hips they bend their knees and back.
- Secondary Issue: Putting the stress of their entire upper body on their low back.
Why the pain? Without their hips they lose the ability to use their posterior chain (glutes/hamstrings). Resulting in a quad dominant athlete. Driving their legs from suboptimal positions with the knee as the fulcrum.
Why they get stuck? Their feet are actually anchored in this position which is the reason why the athlete appears to be “flat footed.”
Movement patterns become imprinted on your body. The more you use it the more it sticks. You're predisposed to using those mechanics good or bad. Especially when you're stressed.
- When caught early it is a simple fix.
- All the microtrauma can create chronic pain.
- Any pain has to be treated by a medical professional before they can begin to train again or return to sport.
The Higher the Skill Level, the Harder the Fix.
Before beginning any activity you should get screened. Movement screenings detect fundamental flaws in movement patterns. From their feet, ankles, knees, and up. All mechanics should be addressed before skill development. How they jump, land, running mechanics, and change of direction. Which includes the sequence in which they activate their muscles as well.
Teaching Moment: Make sure to ask athletes two nagging questions: “How do you feel? Where do you feel?”
They've made a career out of moving their bodies. It is not difficult for them to mimic movement, even if it’s incorrect.
The reason I ask high school, college, and professional athletes these questions is simple. Any athlete could be fundamentally flawed regardless of performance. Creating a disconnect between their ability and skill. Which means the more they practice and play the worse it gets.
Imperfect Practice Makes Imperfect Athletes.
Doing something wrong repeatedly only makes it worse. Color me surprised. Yet, a lot of "coaches" and "trainers" get it wrong. Forcing their athletes to practice and rehearse in adverse conditions. It's not malicious. You can achieve short term success that way. However, they don't understand movement on a fundamental level. The athlete "looks fine" all the while introducing more stress and trauma. When it doesn't look fine but it works, they overlook the details in favor of the outcome.
The True Ticking Time Bomb in Sports.
We are not properly training athletes. We're placing kids in sports for their natural abilities hoping for the next person to fix their problems. Most High School and College coaches have become recruiters. Acquiring talent and trying to get the most out of them for their own benefit.
No, athletes are not just playing more than those in the past. Society just cares more about the product over the process.
The adults treat kids like professionals. Ruining their bodies inside and outside of sport on a fundamental level. It should be unacceptable to allow poor or improper skills to persist. Especially when you recognize them. Allowing it to become engrained in their athletes. Eventually it will become the limiting factor in their athletic career. They'll keep spinning their wheels until the gas runs out or the tires pop.
When Athletes Have Improper Mechanics
Tim Tebow was one of the most famous Quarterbacks in the world. Since High School, he was a major topic of discussion. In college, he won two national championships, including one as the starting quarterback. Fiery speeches, hard nose runs, the general public ate it up. Then, he made it to the NFL where he quickly fizzled out. So what was the problem?
Like Ben Simmons now, Tebow had natural mechanics which are not consistently functional at the professional level.
This play against the Patriots exemplifies his natural motion, the windup, and how much time it takes. It's his default. Under stress he will revert back to it. Which allows defenses to adjust in the air or strip the ball during the throw. He wasn’t great at throwing a football at the NFL level. Against the best of the best, he had difficulty delivering passes on time with accuracy.
Videos of offseason workouts are pointless for the viewers. Showing off training sessions gives false expectations. All because his whole life coaches allowed him to throw it this way.
Offseason videos just show you athletes being athletes. Mimicking movements in unrealistically ideal situations. It’s the equivalent of a dance recital. Sports rarely offer ideal situations. With the slightest sign of stress or enough fatigue they will revert back to their natural mechanics.
For Tebow it meant throwing a football like a baseball. Giving the defense extra time to jump the route or a strip sack. For Simmons it means jumping high and rotating. The fight against his lower body results in a shotput at the backboard or it's short. The patterns have mixed and he can't get a feel for it.
Unintended Consequences: Performance Paralysis
The athlete freezes. They can't process the information in time. Tebow may hold the ball because he’s afraid to throw it. Running in circles to buy time. Ben Simmons passes up shots and avoids the ball. Under stress they no longer trust their bodies and thus their own abilities.
Practicing the same in the offseason is just spinning the wheels.
- In the US specifically, we see a lot of amazing athletes that lack sports skills.
- By emphasizing results, product over the process, sports related skills become an afterthought.
As athletes reach maturity these skills become harder and harder to alter or develop. Which is the reason why they need to be reset.
Resetting an athlete is a difficult task. Ironically, an injury makes it easier. A great example in basketball is Dwight Howard. After several seasons of injuries he was finally able to develop and improve upon his shooting. The reason for this is because the body has been altered in some way. Whether temporarily or permanently injury changes the athlete's perception of their body and movements.
The Curse of Youth: Think about your 20s. Adults have been telling you what to do and how to do it. Even when they hounded you, you didn't always listen. Did things your way and it's always worked until one day it doesn't. Somethings you have to learn the hard way.
Step #1: Limiting Movement and Introducing Elements
Every movement pattern is a routine engrained in the athlete. Every movement on the court is instinctual or reactionary. The body is three steps ahead before you got to the ball. Here's what you should consider:
I've helped over 70 successful return to play ACL athletes. The primary focus was on teaching them how to run, jump, and land first. Without always calling it running, jumping, or landing. Every time the athlete heard those words they would do what they've always done. Or some version of it post injury.
Using the same terminology may inadvertently direct the athlete to use their previous understanding of the mechanics. An instinctual reaction from the vocal cue in spite of the coaches instruction.
Reduce it and start simple. Thus, it's not shooting, it doesn't even need to use a rim. Controlling the ball from a kneeling or seated position. Changing the foot position and patterning of getting into the shot. Which maybe we now call "setting the foundation."
Step 2: Paradigm Shift to Alter Perception
We can install an entirely new pattern using new terminology. Building off of the pieces in the new pattern because old pattern is too complicated. Any stimulus connected to the old pattern has a high probability of causing hesitation and paralyzes the athlete.
Psychology stress - Being on the court and having to shoot in a live ball situation gives Ben Simmons dread. Mentally, Physically, and Emotionally he is being conditioned to avoid that stimulus: the opportunity to shoot.
Step 3: Routine, Rhythm, and Rehearse Stimulus
Once the pieces have been assembled its time to put them together. The key here is making the association with each component. Adding movement, live bodies, limiting time and restricting space.
Movement: Getting the athlete used to finding and getting to their location. Simmons summer workouts videos are like this. When done correctly, it develops comfort with the athletes spacing.
Live Bodies: They need to be introduced to the stimulus and given options. Options are the patterns athletes can enter once they recognize the stimulus i.e. the situation. Gradually increasing the risk of shot interference low to high helps the athlete get familiar with the stimulus.
Simmons problem isn't just shooting. It's getting comfortable with live bodies both offensively (on-ball/off-ball) and defensively (closeouts/reading defender).
Time and Space: How much time and space do I need to complete this skill? What makes athletes special is their spatial awareness. Internal clocks. Recognizing the distance required to complete a skill. That's hard enough to learn when you're young. It will need to be incorporated as the final piece of the product.
We are burning out athletes knowing at the end of the day they'll be the ones left holding on to the receipt.
Conclusion: More Ruined Than Made
At the highest levels athletes get paid millions to get it right. This does not absolve athletes. However, fundamental mistakes stem from the adults problem. We should investigate problems we might not see and fix the ones we do see. Which is why it's much easier to mess up an athlete than it is to make them better. That's our responsibility as parents, coaches, and trainers.
Give young people the best opportunity to succeed. Their failures are often built upon our own. Fundamental flaws that should have been caught early. They eventually lead to improper technique. Improper technique can only be supplemented by athleticism for so long.
Ultimately it will fail. Progress will stop. Resulting in limited potential and skill. Even worse, they may end up wrecking their body. Resulting in a lifetime of inactivity due to chronic pain.
Athletes must be assessed prior to training. Creating a connection to their bodies for optimized movements and skill development. It's a disservice to let them do whatever they want just because it works. Focus on the process. They will be better served in the long run.
Until then, we will continue to produce athletes with limited potential. Setting them up for failures and frustrating careers. Failing to fix them by mindlessly forcing them to reinforce faulty mechanics i.e. thinking, believing, and screaming Ben Simmons to shoot more.