Education Opinion

Leadership and the Two-Handed Set Shot

By LeaderTalk Contributor — November 06, 2009 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I’m a tall person and from my earliest years was drafted into the world of basketball. I had a fair amount of success on the court ranging from high school and college teams to various tournaments and Men’s leagues. I’ve coached at the HS level and when my children were born, I was privileged to coach their tyro teams and as they got older, their AAU clubs.

When kids are young and learning to shoot basketballs in their driveways they have to generate a lot of motion and energy to get the ball up to the hoop which is 10 feet high. After all, they’re little, and that’s pretty far up. They grip the ball with two hands and heave it over and over again. Eventually, the ball starts to rattle into the basket. After lot’s of this kind of repetitive practice they get pretty good at shooting this way. It serves them well when they are playing alone or just shooting around for fun.

Then comes the day they want to take themselves to the next level. They want to play the game of basketball. They want to play on a team competitively. It’s here that they run into a coach like me.

One of the first things I do with these young players is to teach them to shoot more effectively. I let them know that the two handed set shot that they have perfected is not going to serve them as they move up the ladder in the basketball world. It’s too easy for a defender to block the shot. It takes too much time to shoot it. Watch any high school, college, or pro game and you will see players using the ‘one-handed’ jumper, not the ‘two-handed’ set shot.

So, I take the time to teach them and have them practice this new and more effective method of shooting. For them it feels clumsy and wrong. They clank shot after shot off the backboard. They can’t seem to get it near the basket. They get discouraged. When I look out of the corner of my eye (when they think I’m not paying attention), I can see them shooting their two-handed set shots and swishing them in. It feels good to them. It has brought them success to this point. I know what their thinking, “If I can make the shot with two hands, why change?”

Some of them get the message that they need to learn to master this new way of doing things, others don’t. Some work through the discomfort of abandoning something familiar and practice the new and uncomfortable way of doing it. Over time it becomes embedded in their muscle memory. It becomes their new normal. They are more prepared to compete at a higher level than they were before. Their commitment and practice pays off.

Others, for whatever reason, stick with the old and familiar ways and are not successful at the more competitive levels and, in time, drop off the team and leave basketball completely.

I believe there is a lesson here for leaders.

Most of us are self-taught. We use what we know and what talents we have to succeed. One day we are promoted, or we run into a difficult individual, a dysfunctional organization, or a challenge that requires us to move to a new level. We need to up our game. We need new competencies to succeed. For some of us, it’s just too uncomfortable to change our old behaviors. We like our two handed set-shot. The first few times we try some new leadership behaviors they flop, like the kids’ first one-handed shots clanking off the backboard. We may decide that the problems aren’t with us, it’s with the folks who are giving us the problems. They’re the ones that need to change.

A few of us, stick with it, realizing that the challenges that vex us are calls for us to abandon the behaviors that are not serving us anymore. They are calls to learn and practice new behaviors that will allow us to succeed as the game gets more competitive. We may find a leadership coach to help us perfect our ‘one-hander’. We may find a friend who can support us as we deal with the discomfort of mastering something new. It can be daunting at times; but one day we find ourselves leading effectively and the one-handed shots are raining in from all over the court.

So, are you going to keep shooting the “two-hander”, or move on?


Cross-posted at Ed Tech Journeys

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.