The home basketball hoop used to come standard. A rim, permanently bolted to a wall overhanging the driveway where anyone interested could play.
However, the fixed height was limiting.
A hoop set too high meant that the little kids struggled to make baskets, and thus quickly disengaged. Yet a hoop set too low was quickly outgrown.
Luckily, the adjustable basketball hoop came along and changed the game. Now, in just seconds, and with the help of a broomstick, every kid can play. And keep playing.
Success is essential to continued participation. If an athlete can’t get the ball in the hoop after just a few tries, they’ll check out. It’s an innate psychological response. So from a motivational point of view, lowering the hoop for younger players makes perfect sense.
But increased motivation is not the only benefit of a lower hoop. It also improves skill acquisition.
A young athlete adapts their behaviour to the environment. When faced with a movement problem (assuming it doesn’t far exceed their current abilities), an athlete will manoeuvre their body to solve it in the easiest possible way. Note, however, that this is an automatic response and is determined by a child’s historical movement experiences.
For example, when presented with a high basketball hoop (relative to their own height), a young player will most often adopt a two-handed, underarm toss technique when attempting a shot. This is because tossing a ball into the air from a two-handed position, using the arms as a lever and the hips to generate force, is the most effective approach to gaining height.
Unfortunately, the underarm toss technique, although shown to be very accurate from the free throw line, resembles very little of a basketball jump shot – an essential skill for basketball success.
So, to encourage a young player to employ the jump shot, and thus develop their technique, a hoop set appropriately for height is critical.
Scaling equipment is a technique not only used in basketball but other sports too. In youth tennis, balls with less bounce are used to prevent a player from hitting a lot of shots above their shoulder. In doing so, they are much more likely to develop technically correct ground strokes.
To wrap up, finding new and interesting ways to adapt sport-specific and movement tasks for our young athletes can enhance both skill acquisition and motivation.