By: Don Kelbick

As coaches, we try to prepare our players for every possible situation they might face in a game. When we teach skills, we try to present things that that will help our players to excel in every area. In our desire to create a formidable basketball entity (team or player), we don’t realize how complex we make the game for players.

Taken individually, what we teach is not complex. However, once we start adding plays, options, contingencies, reads, film sessions, adjustments, etc., we take a simple task and make it extremely complex. We needlessly add to their cognitive load. We fail to consider the “Consequence of Choice.”

There is a psychological phenomenon called the “Consequence of Choice.” It says that the more choices you are faced with, the more difficult it is to decide. When you finally decide, it has taken longer and you are less confident that is was the correct choice.

Consequence of choice is evidenced all around us. I am in the market for a new bed. I want to choose between a traditional innerspring mattress and a pillow top. I went to the mattress store and they had 40 models of each. I was overwhelmed and decided not to buy anything. When restaurants calling in consultants to help their businesses, invariably the first thing that is recommended is to limit the menu, limit choices.

Here’s an experiment. The next time you are with you team or a group of friends, or even better, your family, and you want to decide on an activity, ask, “What would you like to do today?” See how much discussion is generated, how many questions and answers come up and how long it takes to make a decision. The next time, instead of asking just say, “Let’s get pizza.” See what happens then. You might be surprised.

How does that translate to basketball?

As we prepare out players, we lay out option after option. We give them choices. Then, we tell them to read the opponents. As they are trying to figure it out, we jump on them for not acting or taking too long with the ball. All the while, players are going through all the flip cards in their mind to see what you have taught them is appropriate for that situation. In truth, they are acting but we can’t see them. They develop “analysis paralysis” because we have given them too many options. That is a consequence of choice.

Am I saying not to prepare them or teach your player? No. I am saying, instead of giving them choices, give them a map to follow. What does that mean?

To give it some relevance, let’s look in the post. Two of the best post coaches I have ever been exposed to are the late, great Rick Majares and NBA veteran Bill Cartwright. While other coaches are teaching “Read you defense” upon receiving the ball in the post (and then probably jumping on them for holding the ball), they are teaching their players to act. Each has a definitive reason for teaching what they do, but we won’t go into that here. Upon receiving the ball, Majares taught, “immediately look baseline.” Left handed, right handed, right side, left side it didn’t matter, look baseline. If the baseline is guarded, go middle.

Cartwright teaches, “Attack the middle.” Left handed, right handed, right side, left side it didn’t matter, attack middle. If the middle is guarded, go baseline.

Even though they are different, they are the same. They give their players a plan of action and a map to follow. They consciously reduce their players cognitive load. Obviously, they go much more in depth, but the thinking is the same. They do not lay out “Consider this, this and this and then choose.” They teach act, if it does not work out, look next. If you examine post players who have been taught by these two you will find some of the most effective post players on their levels. They actually expand their players’ games by limiting choices. The result is a quicker, more definitive and effective decision-making process.

I have found that a significant limiter of player effectiveness is not that they don’t know what to do, but they have too much to choose from. I have had great success in improving players by trying to lessen the “Consequence of Choice.” In my triple threat of “Shot, Shot, Shot,” players really only have one decision to make; not to shoot. If they make that decision, I give them a map of where to go next. But, the initial decision is to act.

It might be counter intuitive to say that you can expand a players options but limiting their choices, but in actuality, that’s what happens. Indecision is a player killer. By limiting the “Consequence of Choice,” players become more aggressive, more decisive and better players.

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