Blow to the head leads to finding some secrets about basketball that can be very helpful

Clay Moyle and son




By Clay Moyle

Special to the Sports Paper

Balance is Essential in Basketball

One of the benefits that I’ve realized as a result falling on my head and suffering a mild TBI 18 months ago is that it lead to a tremendous amount of personal research and learning concerning the brain and the vestibular system. Surprisingly, I found much of that information absolutely fascinating.

While doing all that research, I’ve occasionally came across materials that I’ve been able to relate to the sport of basketball which I love so much. And in many cases, that’s enabled me to better understand and formulate a number of concepts in my own mind. As a result, I’m better able to communicate those ideas to a group of junior high age boys I’ve been working with over the past two years and help them enjoy greater success.

While I played a lot of baseball and football as a young boy, it was the sport of basketball that I really came to love playing. I believe the biggest reason for that is that while all three are team sports, basketball is one in which an individual has so much opportunity to develop their own style and be so much more creative and imaginative in terms of their play.

Just this past week, I stumbled across an article by Aaron Chew, co-founder of Saltus Athletic Academy, titled ‘How Deceptive Players Use Rhythm to Make More Space – A Basketball Perspective’ that really grabbed my attention. It’s inspired me to share some of that information here and take a stab at combining what he’s conveyed with my own beliefs and experiences in the hope it might prove beneficial to others.

Chew say’s that one of the aspects that he finds unique to basketball is the inherent rhythm of the sport. It’s his belief that this inherent rhythm is responsible for the development of thousands of extremely athletic, skilled, crafty and creative athletes. Furthermore, he believes that the variety of athletics tasks required by basketball produces very well-rounded and powerful athletes and that by synchronizing this athleticism with some kind of rhythm players loosen up.

Now, I don’t know about all of that, but I do remember spending hour after hour on a backyard basketball court by myself throughout my high school years working on various combinations of moves and ball handling skills while listening to music.

Aaron goes on to say that the best players have excellent coordination and that’s how they appear so smooth and fast.

That’s a statement that I want to offer some insight about as a result of my recent experience with vestibular system physical therapy. But, it requires I first provide an overview of the vestibular system and its role. If I hadn’t fallen on my head, I’d still be ignorant of the role it plays in our day-to-day lives. The vestibular system is a collection of structures in our inner ear that provides us with our sense of balance and awareness of spatial orientation, i.e., sense of where we are in space, whether we’re right-side-up or upside-down.

Maintaining a sense of where we are involves two types of head movement:

1. Rotational – in which fluid flows in canals that stimulate hair cells.

2. Linear – in which fluids bend different hair cells that have crystal’s on them.

The information received from the above is matched with cervical input from the neck and our motor system and helps us to understand our movement through space. And in a fraction of a second our brain interprets and processes the input to direct well-timed body movements.

Not only did I come to learn that a head injury and/or visual impairment can throw that system out of whack, but ultimately that we’re not all created equal when it comes to how effective our respective vestibular systems perform.

Thankfully, there is a lot one can do to improve their sensory dysfunction through things such as vestibular, vision, and auditory therapy, etc. I’ve learned all about a lot of that first-hand over the last 18 months.

But, I also came to understand that the boys I’ve been coaching in basketball have varying degrees of vestibular system functionality. Once, I understood more about the vestibular system and how it worked, I wondered if the boys I thought of as more gifted and/or as quick learners on the basketball floor would demonstrate a much greater proficiency when it came to performing various exercises that one could use to access vestibular system performance.

Sure enough, when I set aside some time during one practice to have them line up and perform activities such as standing on one leg with their eyes closed, or walking in a straight-line heel to toe with their eyes closed, the “gifted” boys we’re the ones who excelled in those activities as well.

In any case, after putting the boys through a few vestibular exercises, I remembered how I’d had them try to execute a side-to-side stutter-step dribble a couple of months prior to that. A couple of the boys I thought of as uncoordinated had fallen over forward while trying to do so.

I’ve come to believe that the boys who I simply viewed as uncoordinated very likely may be suffering from some form or another of vestibular system, visual, or auditory dysfunction. I now believe it’s very likely that there are many youngsters viewed as uncoordinated who would really benefit from testing of that sort and possible therapy if more parents, teachers, and/or coaches were more aware of this and investigated the possibility.

Now, when it comes to coaching basketball and putting a team together, my personal belief is that the most important ingredient one can have on their team is a skilled point guard. I don’t mean simply a kid who can take care of the ball, and hit the open man, and shoot well. No, I want a kid who can beat his defender off the dribble to consistently create scoring opportunities for not only himself, but his teammates by passing to them when their defender leaves them to stop the penetration to the hoop of the dribbler. To my way of thinking, those players are worth their weight in gold because they create so much havoc upon a defense. Acquiring a kid who can beat their defender off the dribble is my number one priority when it comes to putting together my team.

In the aforementioned article, Chew maintains that, “At the end of the day, there are only two ways to beat your defender; go left, or go right. And to try to shift your defender side-to-side, you can only cross the ball over from left-to-right, or right-to-left. That’s it.”

He goes on to say that while that’s the case, there are dozens of moves that accomplish this and add to the repertoire of a ball handler: Simple crossovers, inside-outs or “pull” dribbles, “push” dribbles, through the legs, behind the back, “Shamgod’s,” spin moves, Euro-steps, step-back, but that all these movements involve the same dribble with the hands, and only differ in how the player uses their footwork and shifts their bodyweight.

To demonstrate this, he shares a video of Jamal Crawford and suggests that while it seems as though he’s got a million different moves in his arsenal, when you break it down, he’s doing the same action with his hands (dribbling up and down on the spot, or crossing the ball over), but he is changing the movements, rhythm, and timing of his footwork.

And I agree with that, although I’d add that in addition to going left-to-right, or right-to-left, you can add going backward-to-forward, or forward-to-backward and that as a result there are really only four ways to beat your defender, not two.

For the longest time now, I’ve been preaching to the boys I work with that when comes to beating your defender it’s all about getting them off balance, leaning in one direction or the other, and then going the other way yourself once they do.

The question then becomes how do you do that?

Well, as I tell the boy’s it’s all about deception and how well you execute it.

For example, the inside-out dribble move is actually one I learned on my own back in the days before on-line video basketball skills instruction became so prevalent. I don’t remember how I learned that particular move now, but I’m pretty sure it resulted when I used a stutter step move to get a defender off balance and accidentally included the use of the inside-out dribble move as well.

It’s a beautifully deceptive move, and one that once I learned it usually resulted in enabling me to blow by an unsuspecting defender for an uncontested lay-in at least once a game. It can also be performed from a standing still position and I remember once putting a defender on his butt in the backcourt during one particular high school ballgame as he tripped over his own feet while trying to recover from the change in direction. See the following video for a good demonstration of the move:

Essentially what you do as the ball handler if you’re dribbling the ball with your right hand is make a very quick hard short step to the left with your left foot while starting to position your right hand to the right top of the ball and beginning to push it to the left as well. At the same time, you quickly glance to the left and shift your bodyweight in that direction as well. But, the moment you plant that left foot hard into the floor, you immediately push off it and reverse direction to the right while just as quickly shifting the position of your right hand to the top left hand side of the ball and you push it back to the right as you blow by the defender who has likely reacted the initial fake to the left by shifting their body weight in the same direction and is therefore helpless to recover in time to stop your penetration to the right.

Like I said, it’s beautiful. It’s the type of move that when executed properly is difficult to defend. Of course, it’s even better if the offensive player can do the same thing with his left hand, and ideally a skilled player will develop the capability to perform any move going in either direction.

The description of the inside-out dribble move reminds me of another very important point and something I also came across recently as a result of my efforts to reintegrate my sensory processing capabilities.

I found this while exploring something known as The Feldenkrais Method. It’s described as a system based on sound principles of physics, neurology and physiology, and the conditions under which the nervous system learns best. Its aim is to use a process of organic learning, movement and sensing to free you from habitual patterns and allow for new patterns of thinking, moving and feeling to merge.

Hey, I know that must sound pretty out there, but over the past 18 months I’ve been all about brain rewiring and sensory processing reintegration and I’ve been pretty open to anything and everything along those lines.

But, what I really loved about The Feldenkrais Method as much as anything else was the definition of good movement. Feldenkrais said that reversibility was a key criterion for determining whether a specific movement is done well. Reversibility basically means the ability to stop a movement at any point in time and then immediately go in not only the opposite direction with a minimum of hesitation or preparation but even better in ANY direction! The theory is that if you can go back where you came from, you would probably go in any other direction as well.

So, if we think about that in terms of the above inside-out dribble move example, it means that in terms of that initial quick hard fake to the left, not only could we immediately plant that left foot and reverse our direction to go right, but even more effective if we would plant that left foot and then go in any other direction we desired at that point, including continuing forward if desired.

Now clearly, in order to be able to go in any direction at any point in time one must always be in a balanced enough position to enable them to do so, being sure not to overextend in any one direction in terms of shifting their bodyweight.

That sounds seemly almost impossible, but what a great objective to strive for regardless of whether you’re on offense or defense, to maintain a position of balance so that you have the ability to instantaneously move in ANY direction at any point in time.

So, that’s something I try to stress with the boys as well. For example, when they execute a step-back move (See where you drive hard in one direction, plant the inside foot and immediately hop in a direction away from the defender to create space for a jumper, I stress the need to land in a balanced state so you can immediately drive forward in addition to being able to launch a jumper, if it’s advantageous to be able to do so.

And that brings me to my next topic, counter moves. Cleveland Cavaliers all-star guard Kyrie Irving claims that he has counters to every one of his moves (see So, when he puts a move on a defender, he tries to ensure he has a counter move of some kind to employ depending upon how the defender reacted to the initial move and how effective that move was in achieving the desired result.

For example, for years I’ve used a move from a standing position where I’ll make a very quick little short jab step toward the hoop with my right foot. If the defender doesn’t react to that fake I immediately keep going forward with my momentum by falling into a larger distance right step and more often than not I’m able to get by the defender in that direction.

But, if they bite on the fake with the short right foot jab step and react by immediately starting to move backward, I can just as quickly plant that right foot and pull it back into a position where I can launch a jump shot as a result of the space that has been created between me and the defender. It’s essentially a simple move with two options depending upon how the defender reacts to the initial move.

The more of those moves an offensive player has in their arsenal the more difficult they become to defend.

It’s the same thing in terms of combinations of moves. Many ballplayers can perform individual moves such as the behind the back or between the legs dribble, use of an inside-out dribble, or step-back, etc.

But over time, as a defender encounters those individual moves they begin to anticipate them and know what’s coming next because they start to pick up on the subtle movements an offensive player exhibits in advance of carrying out the move, even if the defender is only does so on a subconscious level.

That’s why it’s so critical that an offensive player have an arsenal of counter moves to draw upon depending upon the defenders reaction to the initial fake.

The fact that a defender starts to anticipate certain moves based upon an offensive players behaviors is also what enables a wise offensive player to take further advantage of a defender by adding some of those behaviors to their deceptive tactics.

For example, if a right handed offensive player drives down the left-hand side of the key and is going to stop and shoot a jump shot he has to glance up toward the hoop as he brings his right hand over the top of the ball prior to bringing it up into a shooting position. So, the moment a defender starts to see those two things happen, his natural tendency will be to start to rise up out of the defensive stance and straighten up to defend the shot. It’s at that precise moment that the defender becomes most vulnerable and the offensive player can put his head down and beat the defender toward the hoop off the dribble.

If you take the time to think about the behaviors that you exhibit just before and/or while carrying out a specific move, you can very likely figure out a way to use that to your advantage.

For example, most defenders are used to an offensive player changing direction by going behind their back and proceeding in that direction. I saw an example of a move that was completely counter to that recently and decided to give it a try myself. Here’s how it worked:

I drove to the left hand corner of the court on offense. As I neared the baseline, I suddenly shifted the ball from my left hand to my right, and turned my back to the defender, and faced away from both the defender and basket as I went behind my back from right hand to my left hand and glanced in that direction. At that point, the defender anticipated as I expect most would that I was going to continue in the direction I’d dribbled behind my back and possibly head toward the top of the key. But, with my back to the defender and the ball still in my left hand I immediately spun back around to my left and beat the defender on a left-handed drive toward the hoop.

The point is, that defenders get used to anticipating offensive moves and direction based upon what they’ve seen, or experienced, before. The more creative an offensive player is able to be in terms of performing a move that is out of the ordinary, or unorthodox, the more likely they are to successfully deceive the defender.

For example, I think back upon my own childhood when I enjoyed watching Earl “The Pearl” Monroe perform for the Baltimore Bullets and then New York Knicks. I think of Monroe as the father of the spin dribble. When he burst onto the scene there was really nobody else using that dribble, and especially in the combinations and manner that he did. That gave him a distinct advantage against the competition and he was a nightmare for many great defenders.

I tell the boys that the first thing they have to do is master all the individual moves, i.e., behind the back, inside-out dribble, between the legs, spin moves, step backs, step arounds, etc. But, once you’ve done that you’re only limited by your imagination in terms of the combinations of those moves that you can put together.

Furthermore, once you learn about the importance of adding change-of-pace in terms of increasing or decreasing you’re speed, stopping and going, to each of those moves, or combinations of moves, you become a defenders worst nightmare.

I really didn’t understand the value of the use of change-of-pace until my second year of college ball. Until I reached college I was almost always the quickest kid on the floor and pretty much got by with that. But, once I reached college I found that there were three or four guys on my own team who were just as quick as I was. And one of them was guarding me in practice every day. He gave me fits as I tried to run the offense from the point. But, one day an assistant coach pulled me aside and suggested I quit trying to do everything in the same speed (fast) and instead use a change of pace, stopping, going, and slightly changing direction while running the offense.

It worked like a charm, I never had a lick of trouble keeping my defender off balance and creating space for myself after that. I’ve said before, change of pace, along with deception, is the reason why skilled, but slow ballplayers like former NBA great Chris Mullin, and more recently University of Washington’s Kelsey Plum, can still be extremely effective offensive players.

And that’s the real beauty of all this. You don’t need to be the quickest guy out there to be an effective offensive player, you just need to use your head and master a number of individual moves, learn to put them together in combinations, and master the art of employing counter moves while maintaining balance and the ability to reverse direction at any point in time.

Basketball, like life, is a beautiful thing when it’s in balance.