Two years ago I wrote this blog post comparing Steph Curry’s impact on basketball to John Hattie’s impact on education. From the post:
Just as Curry has forced basketball players to strategically think about how they can more effectively make points for their teams, Hattie is helping educators rethink how to be more effective in the classroom. Every strategy has an effect (just like every made shot within the three-point line is two points)–what’s important is using precious instructional time to choose the strategies that reap the greatest rewards.
My goal was to begin a discussion of Curry’s gameplay in which he shoots as often as possible behind the three-point line because, well, three points are more than two points. I wanted to explore how this is similar to incorporating strategies in one’s teaching practice that data has shown provides schools with the best results in student learning.
I’d like to reopen this dialogue because of an article I read recently about LeBron James on The Ringer, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Before we discuss King James, I have a question: Why didn’t NBA, college, high school, and club coaches stress the importance of setting up an offense that fosters more shots behind the three-point line before Curry’s recent dominance? Practicing three-point shots is essential, but setting up plays that open up a shot from downtown changes the fundamentals of how a team operates. When I was in high school (late ’90s), the strategy was all about penetration, which included lay ups, dunks, jump shots around the key, and the occasional three. It didn’t occur to many coaches that preparing all players to be proficient at threes, while at the same time providing offenses with the most strategic opportunities to hit threes instead of twos, would defeat opposing teams–many of whom were primarily going for the low-hanging two pointer.
Here are a couple answers to the above question:
- Coaches were teaching players to do what they themselves were taught.
- Coaches were caught up in the zeitgeist of aerial gameplay over the practical philosophy of getting the ball in the hoop from a place on the court that provides the highest reward.
The first answer makes sense–we continue doing what we’ve been taught. It worked for us, or at least seemed to work for us, so it’s obviously the best path forward. The second answer is a little different; sometimes we hold on to the past while embracing the shiny new theory, strategy, gameplay, etc. We create a mishmash of what we know and what’s new. In the 90s, battling it out in the key and the dominance of Air Jordan made the three-point shot boring.
But winning isn’t boring, and Curry ushered in a new era in which a team can succeed by making three points for every two points the opponent makes. The truth behind this was apparent to everyone, including one of the best athletes of his generation.
We Are Witnessing the Future of LeBron James by Danny Chau discusses how James had to change his game in order to compete against a new threat. James came into the league right after Jordan exited, but he had the opportunity to play against Kobe and many other greats who have since retired. James did well against these opponents; he was able to compete against many players who modeled themselves after Jordan and Kobe. And then 2015 came, which is when the Golden State Warriors’s dominance began. James realized the old strategies and techniques would no longer work. His team could drive to the rim and hit jump shots around the key all night, but if Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were on fire at the three-point line, the Warriors would win.
This is why James worked hard to be as big a threat pulling-up behind the three-point line as when he’s driving to the basket for two. In order to compete, he had to make threes–and so did his teammates. So that’s what he did, and if you are watching him on the Lakers this year, that’s what he’s continuing to do.
The same lesson is true for education. Like LeBron James, we need to remember the past but not be beholden to the practices that, while may be effective, are not effective enough. We need to practice shooting threes–whatever that metaphor means at your school site. As a matter of fact, we need to reengineer our whole offense so we’re better equipped to take the threes.
In basketball, the current high-leverage strategy is to move the ball around the court in order to provide opportunities for pull-ups from the three-point zone. The technique of shooting the three is mastered individually by players who practice perfectly for thousands of hours. In education, the strategy I’m proposing is examining Hattie’s effect sizes and choosing which ones will provide our students with the most growth. We must then practice our technique, which is us getting better at using the strategies–whether they be collective or individual.
LeBron James is staying relevant by changing with the times. Steph Curry created the latest shift to which James adapted. As educators, are we aware and nimble enough to see the current shifts and make the necessary change?