The world-renowned skills trainer discusses coaching and player development
1-on-1 with skills guru Ryan Goodson
Since 2009, Goodson has traveled worldwide and trained more than 15,000 players from the youth to the professional levels. He even worked with two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry and directed Curry’s Skills Academy in 2011.
Winning Hoops recently caught up with Goodson to talk about coaches and skill development. Here is what he had to say.
You watch a lot of basketball. What would you say are the biggest mistakes coaches make today?
I think a lot of times coaches will do drills without knowing their purpose or having game-applicable skills behind them. That’s a big one that I see. Another is knowing how to teach and reach a player, or break down a skill.
I work with a lot of players from 6 years old up to pros, and when you’re trying to teach a new skill, knowing how to break down that skill into smaller parts is important. Some coaches bring in this complex skill they see in an NBA game and teach it to a 9-year-old and it never translates. They don’t teach how to do it properly or when, where and why to use it in a game.
How much practice time should a coach use for skill development?
In high school and college you’re so limited in your time, so a lot of it has to be spent on team skills. I empathize with those coaches.
I think you need to spend a portion of your practice on it, but I’m a big believer that individual skills are a player’s responsibility outside of practice. You’re never going to get enough shots or enough reps at practice. If you think your day is over after your two-hour team practice, you’re not setting yourself up for success.
Is it difficult to get players to take that initiative and improve on their own?
I think it can be developed. I like to challenge players where we’ll focus hard on a particular topic and we’ll give them something to take home that they currently can’t do.
I’m out there every day and it’s tough not to get in a rut. For me, what’s helpful is if I can learn something new or accomplish something I haven’t before, that’s sparks my interest and I want to get back in the gym. I would say that with players. Help them accomplish something they haven’t before or teach them something new so they’re hungry.
In your book, you called dribbling a “no-excuses skill.” Explain that.
My ball-handling skills were developed mostly off the court — my basement, my driveway. I see that with all the best ball handlers.
A hoop is only needed for shooting a basketball. You can work on footwork, rebounding, ball handling and defense without a basket. It’s a skill that anyone can develop that just has a passion and work ethic to get better.
You also talk a lot about being ambidextrous. Are too many players today single-hand dominant?
I see that a lot at every level. Sometimes even in college guards aren’t comfortable bringing the ball up the court more than three dribbles with their weak hand.
It goes back to one of my training principles: When you get in the gym, you need to fail. If you’re not willing to go through the mistakes, you can’t get better at anything. I think a lot of times players don’t like the discomfort of not being good so they don’t put in the time.
Moving without the ball is one of those undervalued skills. What does it take to become a proficient cutter?
You’ve got to have court awareness, but as far as getting open I try to give players a lot of tools. I call it “solution basketball” — if the defense does this, you do this.
I’ll teach anywhere from 18 to 20 moves to get open solo. I have a drill where you’re playing 1-on-1 but you’ve got to get open on the wing three consecutive times without a deflection before you can go and score. We’re getting a lot of reps on the skill we’re working on. I think it’s important to break down the skill where it’s competitive and you’re getting a lot of reps. That’s the key.
Do coaches rely too much on screens?
I think so. A player should be able to get open at any time with just one person on them, and they should feel that confident.
In the NBA there’s this big trend with ball screens, but at the high school level I think players don’t know how to use a screen and it just puts more defenders around the ball. It creates chaos.
You’ve worked with some of the top players in the game, including Steph Curry. Outside of raw talent, what is it that sets him apart from everyone else?
Steph is not obsessed. I think he has amazing talents, but he’s not like a Kobe Bryant where he’ll go in and just black out and it’s all he does.
One thing I will say about him is patience. I tell this story a lot to campers just to give them some perspective on progress. Steph going into his senior year when he played AAU and rarely got on the court. He sat on the bench, came off the bench. I ask players, “Do you think our MVP of the NBA the last two years was the best player in North Carolina his senior year?” They’ll say yeah, but he wasn’t. He wasn’t the best player in North Carolina, he wasn’t the best player in Charlotte, and arguably he wasn’t the best player on his team his senior year.
Obviously, he keeps working hard and goes to Davidson and blows up, but I talk to campers about how patient he is. That’s been true over his career. He gets drafted, there’s a lot of doubt, and he just continues to grow. He has this approach in practice where he is so comfortable not looking good. He’ll put himself in drills that are so far advanced, it’s probably not even basketball anymore. He just seeks to challenge himself and he has the patience to wait for the results.
I’ll tell players, everybody is running a different race as an athlete. You might be the best player in eighth grade and not the best player in 12th grade. For Steph, whereas most players would have quit, he was patient enough to wait for his skills to develop. I see a lot of players today that work hard and they’re passionate, but they’re not willing to wait long term to have that type of success.