John Wooden and Controlled Scrimmage
When weather permits (We live in the Seattle area), Wendy and I go to the tennis court. We’ve been doing that for over two years. We don’t play a game; we practice. I teach.
Until recently, our “practice” consisted of Wendy doing service practice, return of service practice, and just hitting the ball back and forth. Because I am a much-more experienced player, nine-percent of those rallies ended with Wendy either hitting the ball in the net or out of bounds. Ninety percent of our rallies ended in Wendy being frustrated. I never thought anything of it.
I don’t know why I didn’t see this before, but if the end result of teaching is for the student to do it right, I was not teaching. When Wendy plays a tennis match and hits a shot that ends a point, she doesn’t always hit the ball in the net or out of bounds. Sometimes, many times, she hits a good shot that wins the point. But that didn’t happen when we practiced. And this hard-headed tall drink of water had not figured that out. But one day I did.
For the return of serve, for example, I limited her shots to two, the first one being the return and the second being the next shot. No matter if she hit the ball out or in, I caught the second shot and we started over. Most of the time, she hit a great second shot. In fact, she improved tremendously as, due to the repetition, her second shots increasingly morphed into more-accurate and more-powerful connections. Since that day, we’ve been doing just that. As a result, Wendy’s confidence, disposition, and general enjoyment skyrocketed, not to mention her skill (But I already mentioned that).
After a few sessions of this, it hit me (It takes a while because I was a PE major). This is what a John Wooden UCLA practice looked like. How could I forget? When it was time for the five-on-five scrimmage, which was always toward the end of practice, we started at one end of the full-court, transitioned to the other end, and Coach blew the whistle. We never went down and back, ever. This was called, “Controlled Scrimmage.”
For example, let’s say the plan was for the starting team to work on a particular offensive play. The guard would have the ball and, on John Wooden’s signal, he initiated the play while the second team played defense. If they scored, missed the shot, or turned the ball over, the second team raced the ball down the court in an attempt to score while the starting team tried to stop us. We usually took a quick shot because if we took too long, Coach blew the whistle.
When the first team regained possession, Coach had the guard set up again, running the same play, but this time, instead of from West to East, East to West. But before they started, Coach always pointed out an improvement the first team needed to make (That is a nice way of saying, he corrected them.) Let me say it again; we never went down and back, only from one side of the full court to the other, Coach corrected, and we set up again.
Why did Coach Wooden use “Controlled Scrimmage?”
One: When you allow too much uninterrupted scrimmage, things get sloppy, bad habits form, and you are working against yourself.
Two: The only time to teach is immediately after action.
Three: Coach believed “Repetition is the Key to Learning.” This was accomplished by having the first team run the same play over and over again, usually for fifteen minutes.
Someone may ask the question, “How did you guys learn to play a full game when you never got to go up and down? I don’t know, but we were pretty good at it.